Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
EDITORS: Llamas, Carmen and Watt, Dominic TITLE: Language and Identities PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press YEAR: 2010
James Costa, Laboratoire ICAR, Institut Français de l'Éducation, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
''Language and Identities'' is a handbook on the subject of language and identities, which may be social, national, or related to gender. It consists of twenty-two relatively short articles of about ten pages each, making it easy to get straight to any particular point or topic.
After a general introduction, the book is organised according to four sections: i. theoretical issues on language and identity; ii. identity as experienced through language by individuals as opposed to groups; iii. groups and communities, i.e. mostly language and social or gender identity; iv. regions and nations, concentrating on the place of language in the creation and the fostering of territorial identity.
In their introduction, Llamas and Watt make it clear that the aim of the volume is to ''investigate the connections and correlations between different levels of our linguistic behaviour and diverse facets of our identities'' (p. 1), at both the individual and collective levels, and then proceed to describe the rationale of the next four sections.
The section entitled ''Theoretical Issues'' provides the reader with what the editors call ''an essential toolkit'' (p. 3) for the analysis of the relation between language and identity from a sociolinguistic / anthropological linguistic point of view. It is comprised of three chapters by prominent academics. The first article, by John E. Joseph, deals with ''Identity''. It intends to discuss and problematise the notion, as it appears in sociological and sociolinguistic literature, and give an overview of the various points of view from which it can be approached, mostly from a historical point of view. Joseph then describes five reasons why languages have become associated with the formation of national identities (e.g. common occupancy of a single territory leading to developing similar ways of speaking, ideology of national unity, language as a medium for the texts through which a nation is established, etc.). He finally touches upon the notion of ''indexical order'' (i.e. the capacity for linguistic and other signs to ''point towards associations that do not have to be in the same existential realm'', pp. 16-17), used increasingly in recent works on language and identity.
In the following chapter, ''Locating Identity in Language'', Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall propose a theoretical approach to identity and language, and offer five principles for the study of identity: a. emergence (i.e. identity as an emergent product rather than being based on pre-existing interactions); b. positionality (i.e. situatedness, macro and micro); c. indexicality (''the creation of semiotic links between linguistic forms and social meanings'', p. 21); d. relationality (i.e. identities and intersubjectively constructed); e. partialness (i.e. contextually situated and thus not reflecting a whole individual). They argue ''for a view of identity that is intersubjectively rather than individually produced and interactionally emergent rather than assigned in an a priori fashion'' (p. 19), and suggest in their conclusion that ''the age of identity is upon us''.
In the next chapter, ''Locating Language in Identity'', Barbara Johnstone discusses further concepts which might be useful for the scholar of language and identity: indexicality (see above), reflexivity (''language is always about itself, no matter what else it is about'', p. 32), metapragmatics (i.e. the study of the connections between linguistic form and indexical meaning) and enregisterment (i.e. the stabilising of indexical links). The chapter draws on approaches by authors in sociolingusitics and linguistic anthropology, such as Elinor Ochs, Michael Silverstein, and Asif Agha. The intention of the chapter is for the reader to be able to use all four concepts effectively in their work.
The second part of the book focuses on individuals, and contains five chapters (4-9). Chapter 4, by Jane Stuart-Smith and Claire Timmins, focuses on the central role of individuals in language variation and change, and approaches the subject matter from a variationist point of view.
Chapter 5, by David Bowie, looks at the question of language, ageing and identity, and discusses the idea that identities and speech are fixed beyond the age of adolescence. In the end, it argues in favour of an opposing view, showing how variation occurs throughout the life of an individual.
Chapter 6 deals with the (medical) issue of Foreign Accent Syndrome, and the identity-related consequences for those patients who suddenly, as a result of brain damage, start speaking with what is perceived as a foreign accent.
Chapter 7, by Dominic Watt, is concerned with the question of the individual voice, in the physical sense of the term, and personal identity, and the forensic use of such identification. It concludes that, particularly for reasons connected with individual freedom and human rights, ''it is prudent, given our current state of knowledge to approach the idea of a one-to-one mapping between individual people and voices with some scepticism'' (p. 85). In fact, according to Watt, there is no such thing as a ''human voiceprint''.
Chapter 8, by Anders Eriksson, considers, again from a forensic perspective, how individuals can put on new identities by disguising their voices and adopting new speech styles.
The third part of this volume problematises identity in terms of groups and communities. Chapter 9, by Nikolas Coupland, adopts a theoretical perspective in order to discuss the notions of ''authentic speakers'' and ''speech communities'' in variationist sociolinguistics, arguing that when dealing with such speech communities, much emphasis is put on ''speech'', and (too) little on ''community''. He argues in favour of a conception of ''community-as-value'', based on a subjective understanding of human groupings. After a thorough theoretical discussion, Coupland illustrates his own approach to the notion of community, drawing on an example taken from a BBC Wales radio talk show.
Chapter 10, by Norma Mendoza-Denton and Dana Osborne, ''reviews the literature on bilingualism and identity'' (p. 114). The authors are concerned with several themes and concentrate especially on the literature on code-switching and identity. They reach the conclusion that ''[t]he next task of research is to trace more thoroughly the connections between political economies, their indexical relationships with social types and personae, and the specific linguistic deployments of these personae in voicings'' (p. 122).
Chapter 11, by Emma Moore, deals with the ''Community of Practice approach'' in sociolinguistics, and more specifically, in the role of apparently peripheral speakers, emphasising what she sees as their centrality to sociolinguistic analysis.
The next three Chapters, 12, 13 and 14, examine the question of language and ethnic identity in England and the United States. Chapter 12, by Ben Rampton, brings the question of social class into the picture, and crosses it with issues of ethnicity. He shows how stylisation of speech enables young speakers of diverse ethnic backgrounds in England to cross into issues of social class, understood as ''a sensed social difference that people and groups produce in interaction'' (p. 135).
Chapter 13, by Sue Fox, explores the way in which Bangladeshi adolescents in Tower Hamlets, London, ''construe themselves in terms of ethnicity and religion'' (p. 144). She concentrates on social networks and vowel use, and shows that Bangladeshis have not adopted traditional London varieties of speech (Cockney), arguing that in doing this they might be both ''prioritising their Muslim identity [but also] emphasising their alienation from a Cockney identity'' (p. 156).
Chapter 14, by Erik R. Thomas and Alicia Backford Wassink, focuses on internal linguistic (regional) variation within African-American English (AAE) in the United-States, and the implications of such variation in the formation of identities. They challenge the common assumption that AAE is monolithic, and instead urge researchers to consider it as existing in a wide range of social and regional backgrounds, and most importantly, in ''spaces of contested identities'' (p. 165).
The next two chapters concentrate on issues of language and gendered identities. In Chapter 15, Lal Zimman and Kira Hall discuss the way in which not only gender, but also sex, are ideological constructs, as well as the notion of a ''third sex'' (''groups whose gender identities and enactments fall outside of socio-cultural norms for women and men'', p. 166) which they examine critically. Zimman and Hall draw on an analysis of discourse of transsexual men on internet forums, as well as on fieldwork in India among hijras (traditionally defined as physiological males who display feminine gender identities), in order to ''demonstrate the importance of the body in shaping the relationship between language and identity among gender-variant groups'' (p. 166).
In Chapter 16, Louise Mullany investigates gender identities in the professional workplace, and explores how sociolinguistics can play a part in ''attempting to bring about gender equality'' (p. 180), drawing on two ethnographic fieldwork studies carried out in England.
The fourth and last part of ''Language and Identities'' turns to the role of language in the creation of regional and national identities, using mostly examples from Britain, but also some from Africa. Chapter 17, entitled ''Supralocal Regional Dialect Levelling'', by David Britain, analyses how sound changes reflect how people in Britain tend to reflect new social patterns of mobility and social network formations on a larger scale than before. In his chapter, Britain also questions the reasons for ''supralocalisation'' (i.e. regional dialect levelling), drawing on the example of London and its wider metropolitan area.
Chapter 18, by Judy Dyer, looks at some linguistic features typical of Scottish English brought by Scottish immigrants into the Midland town of Corby in England. She explains how those forms tend not to recede, but rather advance, while losing their associations with Scottish English, at least locally.
A similar point of view to that seen in Chapter 17 is adopted by Joan Beal in Chapter 19, where she analyses how the Local Government Act of 1972 in Britain reshaped local (county-based) authorities into wider regional areas. She also examines how, while some associations are keen to maintain and further older links of indexicality between some local features and particular counties, the younger generations tend to link linguistic variables with urban areas and the new larger local authorities.
In Chapter 20, Carmen Llamas takes a close look at the Scottish-English border, and at how language has shaped local, national, and regional allegiances. This example enables Llamas to draw further conclusions on the theme of language and borders. In the paragraph preceding the conclusion, she states that ''each border locality has its own relationship to the border'' (p. 236) and uses language in its own way.
Chapter 21 is particularly notable, as it is the only one in the book to draw solely on a non-UK or US context. Tope Omoniyi analyses the diverse layers of identification available to individuals in Nigeria, and starts with the idea that ''we need to sharpen how we conceptualise identity in Africa'' (p. 238) as a complex construction taking into account several layers such as the national, the ethnic, etc.
The final chapter, Chapter 22, by Robert McColl Millar, examines the complex case of Scotland in terms of language and identity. Millar looks into why Scots did not, and maybe cannot, serve as a national language in Scotland for a number of historical reasons, which resulted in Scottish nationalism not being based principally on language issues. He analyses these phenomena in terms of dislocation: ''The Scottish state is dislocated from Scots speakers; the Scots language movement is dislocated from Scots speakers; Scots speakers may themselves be dislocated from Scots'' (p. 256).
When I first opened the book, I must confess I was a little sceptical about what appeared to be one more addition to the literature on language and identity, which the editors themselves call an ''ever-expanding field'' (p. 5). The wealth of articles on these subjects aside, there is a very large number of books referring to this field that seems to have blossomed considerably, particularly over the past fifteen years. Since Gumperz's (1982) book on language and social identity, many others have indeed appeared, with some of them having found their way among the classics of sociolinguistics, such as Joseph's (2004) ''Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious''. One may also mention Edward's (2009; 2010) additions to the literature, not to mention several studies on regional aspects of the connections between language and identity (see for instance Fishman 1999; Greenberg 2004; Simpson 2007; Douglas 2009, etc.).
Yet, all these books tend to concentrate on but one aspect of ''language and identity'' at a time, usually national identity in a particular context. What the volume edited by Llamas and Watt seeks to do has a much wider scope, since it addresses all aspects of identity, not just national identity. While the latter type is touched upon in several chapters, others deal with gender identity, social class, ethnicity, age, forensic linguistics, or language disabilities, such as Foreign Accent Syndrome. In this respect, this collection is unique, for it enables any student of linguistics, applied linguistics, sociolinguistics or linguistic anthropology to come to grips with a large collection of short and accessible articles written by leading academics in their fields.
The volume succeeds in not being simply a collection of case studies, in that each chapter is an open gate to a wider field of study and research. The first section on ''Theoretical Issues'' is also a particularly welcome addition to this volume, with some excellent articles by leading scholars in contemporary sociolinguistics. This section fully succeeds in providing the reader with an adequate toolkit for the analysis of identity through and association with language.
Finally, this volume is also unique in its bringing together studies on variationist and interactionist sociolinguistics in almost equal numbers, thus helping to demonstrate that both angles are not as far apart as can sometimes be heard.
Of course, some criticisms could be made. For example, I feel that each section lacks a more general introduction. One point which should also be emphasised is the very British-American orientation of the book, as it contains only contributions from researchers based in the US or the UK. Although it does touch upon a couple of other contexts, such as India or Nigeria, the bulk of material comes from England, Scotland, Wales or the US. This could be seen as a serious downside to this book, yet the tools it provides are sufficiently general to enable researchers in any other contexts to find it helpful.
Some aspects are also left aside, such as the ways in which more and more local government authorities are using language to promote a sense of identity among inhabitants of a given region. A more general historical perspective would also have been a welcome addition, in order to show how precisely this ''age of identity'' came to be and what role language has played in its construction. More attention could have been paid to the ways current processes of globalisation may or may not be affecting how language is used to shape identities.
However, these criticisms do not in any way affect the overall quality of this excellent volume, which will be an extremely useful resource to students and confirmed academics alike.
Douglas, Fiona M. 2009. Scottish Newspapers, Language and Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Edwards, John 2009. Language and Identity: an Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Edwards, John 2010. Minority Languages and Group Identity Cases and Categories. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Fishman, Joshua A. 1999. Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Greenberg, Robert D. 2004. Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and its Disintegration. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Gumperz, John J. (ed.). 1982. Language and Social Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Joseph, John E. 2004. Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Simpson, Andrew (ed.). 2007. Language and National Identity in Asia. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
James Costa is currently working as a research assistant at the Ecole
Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France. In his PhD thesis on language
revitalisation in Provence and Scotland from a critical sociolinguistic
point of view, he proposes a general framework for analysing language
revitalisation movements, and seeks to propose a socially oriented and
critical definition of language revitalisation. He is currently working on
a project on language socialisation among bilingual Occitan/French-speaking
children together with Patricia Lambert, at the ICAR laboratory in Lyon.