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EDITOR: Cecilia Varcasia TITLE: Becoming Multilingual SUBTITLE: Language Learning and Language Policy between Attitudes and Identities SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights: Studies in Language and Communication PUBLISHER: Peter Lang YEAR: 2011
Nicola Carty, Celtic and Gaelic, University of Glasgow
INTRODUCTION At an intuitive level, many readers will have an impression of what it means to be multilingual and what multilingual communication comprises. Multilingual communication, however, is about much more than the use of several languages to communicate; rather, it draws on a variety of different systems of perception, thought patterns, knowledge, and society to produce a unique system. This, according to Cecilia Varcasia is what “Becoming Multilingual” attempts to illuminate. This edited volume brings together a selection of papers from the Sixth International Conference on third Language Acquisition and Multilingualism, Bolzano, September 2009. By examining multilingualism from a sociolinguistic perspective, the collection aims to show the dynamic processes which build multilingualism. Ultimately, the collection is intended to improve understanding of multilingualism as a dynamic process rather than a static system.
SUMMARY In her introductory chapter, Varcasia notes the growing importance of multilingualism in a globalised world, and the ever-increasing academic interest in the field. While traditional perspectives on bilingualism have been concerned with the acquisition of two languages to a point of high proficiency, Varcasia argues for a holistic approach to multilingualism, whereby the multilingual repertoire is considered a system in its own right, and each language serves its own particular functions.
Eight chapters constitute the body of the collection, and these fall into three main categories: the first focuses on the significance of multilingualism for the individual and the language community (Kärchner-Ober, Kazzazi, and Mady & Carr), the second deals with approaches to multilingual research (Caruana & Lasagabaster, Cortinovis, and Melo-Pfeifer), and the third addresses the relationship between formal education and multilingualism (Hilmarsson-Dunn & Mitchell and Braun).
‘Category 1: The significance of multilingualism for the individual and the language community’
Renate Kärchner-Ober, “Effects of national language policies and linguistic reorganization -- Long-term issues in a society, cultures and languages”, pp.17-37. This paper describes language policy in Malaysia, and the effects this has on education and Malaysia’s broader multi-ethnic society. Languages in Malaysia find themselves in a “5-C-situation” (21), in which they are in a state of contact, competition, cooperation, conflict, and coexistence. While Bahasa Malay is the sole official and national language, English is recognised as a second language. But “[p]romoting linguistic duality (Bahasa Malaysia/English) in Malaysia is often treated as a linguistic duel” (p. 24); the Malaysian government is keen to promote Bahasa Malay as the language of national unity and identity, but the value of English as a global lingua franca is undeniable. Furthermore, the growing presence of English leaves Malaysia’s other languages, of which there are over 100, in a vulnerable position. Multilingual tensions in Malaysia then, develop from state support of two languages which are not necessarily native to large minorities in that country, which are themselves in a constant state of conflict.
Kerstin Kazzazi, “Three languages, two people, one conversation”, pp. 165-187. This chapter reports on an empirical, longitudinal study focusing on trilingualism (German, English, and Farsi) in dialogue. The study aims to shed light on the functions of a third language, both in the discourse context, and in the context of an individual’s identity building. Kazazzi introduces the concept of “language mention”, whereby the trilingual speaker refers to their third language in a conversation taking place through the medium of their other two languages. Language mention often occurred when the speaker was attempting to express certain aspects of her identity. By examining language mention in the context of trilingual discourse, the author argues that we gain some insight into the value the speaker attaches to each of her languages, and thus into her linguistic identity.
Callie Mady & Wendy Carr, “Immigrant perspectives on French language learning in English-dominant Canadian communities”, pp. 189-209. This final chapter takes as its theoretical basis imagined communities (Anderson 1991) and the concept of language as capital (Bourdieu 1977). These theoretical positions are explored using data from two earlier studies by the authors, gathered from immigrants to British Columbia and Ontario, who spoke neither English nor French as L1. The authors sought to explain why immigrant parents and students were interested in enrolling on school French programmes. As in other chapters in this volume, the parents expressed that learning French (a relative minority, but nonetheless, official language) could improve employability prospects, academic success, and incorporation into the wider Canadian community. They further found that students not only viewed French in these terms, but also saw it as a means of expanding their own multilingual identities.
‘Category 2: Approaches to multilingual research’
Sandro Caruana & David Lasagabaster, “Using a holistic approach to explore language attitudes in two multilingual contexts: the Basque Country and Malta”, pp. 39-64. In this empirically-based study of multilingualism in two regions, the authors advocate a holistic approach to the study of multilingualism, whereby the languages in question are treated as a single unit. The results presented are taken from a questionnaire-based survey of university students in two officially bilingual regions: the Basque Country, and Malta. In both regions, students are taught the local official languages and a third language at school. Results show that a holistic approach, in which students are asked for their attitudes towards all three languages and the way they interact, provides different results to more traditional questionnaires focusing on languages in isolation. The authors conclude that encouraging holistic approaches to multilingualism will change perspectives on multilingualism, as speakers and residents come to see that sociolinguistic space can be shared by many languages, which do not necessarily threaten or demean one another. This could have implications, not only for language policy, but also for education, as teachers promote positive attitudes towards multilingualism and multilingual societies.
Enrica Cortinovis, “Eliciting multilingualism: Investigating linguistic diversity in schools”, pp. 87-111. This chapter reports on research conducted as part of the LINEE project, and deals with migrant multilingualism and minority languages. In addition, this paper suggests new ways of eliciting data from multilingual speakers, which the author argues should include questionnaire data to elicit the language used by multilingual speakers in a variety of specific settings and sociolinguistic environments. The study took place in secondary schools in South Tyrol, a bilingual region of Northern Italy where the German and Italian speech communities have equal rights. Furthermore, there is a high incidence of immigration to this region, particularly from Albania, Morocco and Pakistan. Although Cortinovis observed very little multilingualism in action, as monolingualism in many contexts seemed to be more typical, she argues that if this method is combined with other, more traditional, methods of data collection, students’ responses could be expanded upon (e.g., their reasons for choosing to use different languages in different contexts), and the examination of individual multilingualism could be enhanced.
Silvia Melo-Pfeifer, “Researchers’ multilingual awareness in an international research team”, pp. 135-163. In a departure from the norms of linguistic research, this chapter turns the focus on researchers themselves. Melo-Pfeifer describes the analysis of a corpus of multilingual communication gathered from the interactions of the members of an international research team. The study comes in the context of recent research showing the effects of teachers’ language attitudes on their students, and argues that the language awareness and attitudes of researchers will in turn affect the attitudes of those involved in language education or language policy. The paper sets out to establish how to define multilingual awareness in multilingual interaction, and the implications of this for multilingual research in international research teams. The theoretical perspective is largely rooted in socio-constructivism. Data showed that although French was a common language to all researchers, it was used mostly for the resolution of methodological or research issues, while humour, banter, courtesy, and discussion of the multilingual linguistic contract tended to be addressed multilingually in the native languages of individual researchers, even within one discourse context. By being aware of multilingualism, the researchers in this study could predict and resolve potential linguistic problems, could help promote linguistic self-confidence among members of the team, and enhance their own understanding of the issue. Positive attitudes towards multilingualism, and positive awareness of multilingualism among researchers, could also contribute to an increase in multilingual research.
‘Category 3: The relationship between formal education and multilingualism’
Andreas Braun, “The role of education in the language practices of trilingual families”, pp. 113-134. This study specifically examines how educational practices affect trilingual families’ language use in England and Germany. Braun argues that, as a multilingual child’s dominant language is likely to change once he starts formal education, the challenge to maintain the home language becomes ever more difficult. The parents of school-aged children were interviewed in order to establish their own and their children’s communicative methods in different social contexts. Results show the important effects community language education can have on multilingualism in the home, and suggest that restricting use of the community language to the wider community can impact positively on home language maintenance.
Amanda Hilmarsson-Dunn & Rosamond Mitchell, “Multilingual migrants in England: Factors affecting their language use”, pp. 65-86. This study of multilingualism in English secondary schools is also part of the LINEE project (cf. Cortinovis above). This particular project applies social network theory to the multilingualism of migrants in England. The authors note that despite official EU cultural policy (which encourages individual multilingualism and language learning), the dominant ideology in most EU states is monolingualism. In the UK in particular, official education policy does not support multilingualism or community languages, which typically fall on the periphery of de Swaan’s hierarchy of global languages (2001). Attitudes towards multilingualism were established through classroom observation, interviews, and questionnaires, which were distributed to monolingual and multilingual students, and their teachers. Results indicate that students were keen to integrate into English-speaking networks in order to improve economic and career opportunities and to form friendship groups. Nonetheless, students were very proud of their multilingual abilities and identities as multilingual speakers.
EVALUATION The most positive aspect of this volume is its emphasis on multilingualism and multilingual identity as unique systems, rather than the combination of a number of “monolingualisms”. This stance is an important step in encouraging positive views towards multilingualism and language learning. Five of the volume’s eight chapters deal explicitly with this issue (Caruana & Lasagabaster, Hilmarsson-Dunn & Mitchell, Melo-Pfeifer, Kazzazi, and Mady & Carr), and it is clear how this fits into the overall theme of the volume (as indicated in its title) of becoming multilingual.
A further strongpoint is the inclusion of papers which use or suggest innovative approaches to the investigation of multilingualism. As this is a relatively new and rapidly growing field of interest, it is important to develop new approaches to its investigation, rather than simply rely on previous methods designed to investigate mono- and bi-lingualism. Furthermore, those chapters which suggest new approaches to previously identified phenomena -- e.g., Caruana & Lasagabaster and Cortinovis -- ensure the study of multilingualism as a 21st century phenomenon is kept up to date and in line with modern best practice. Melo-Pfeifer’s chapter is of particular interest, as it is one of the very few studies which conducts a meta-analysis of researchers’ attitudes and the implications of these. The innovative nature of the volume is further enhanced by the inclusion of a selection of papers which are almost entirely based on recent empirical research, and in the investigation of the multilingualism of migrant communities. Large sweeps of migration have been a continuing trend for a number of decades, and it is important therefore to ensure that linguistic research keeps up with these societal phenomena.
A number of theoretical approaches are drawn upon in this volume. These include social network theory, imagined communities, language hierarchies, and socio-constructivism. While the broad theme of sociolinguistics ensures a theoretical and topical consistency, the inclusion of a range of theoretical standpoints leads to a volume which will surely appeal to a wide readership, and which maintains the reader’s interest throughout. This variety also highlights the range of approaches that can be taken to the study of multilingualism, even within one subfield of linguistics.
The papers in this collection explore multilingualism from the perspective of both minority and majority language communities. Addressing the multilingualism of migrants in positive terms affords under-represented languages some prestige and highlights the day-to-day reality of multilingualism even in societies traditionally considered monolingual. At the same time, the inclusion of majority language multilingualism (or at least part-majority language, e.g., Kazzazi’s speaker of English and German) shows that multilingualism is the unmarked language state of many speakers in all communities.
The volume is not without its weaknesses. As global economics becomes more dependent on Asia, and India and China in particular, a discussion of multilingualism in these countries, or in relation to them, would have been welcome. Of course, Kärchner-Ober’s chapter on multilingualism in Malaysia deals directly with Asia and Asian languages. However, this chapter constitutes only 1/8 of the volume, and its inclusion seems to be almost a token gesture: while the remaining seven studies are focused on empirical data, this is more a report on the state of affairs in Malaysia, and does not gel quite so well with the style of the remaining chapters. Although the final chapter focuses on Canada, it is important to note that again this study deals not only with the West, but also with European languages. More focus on multilingualism as a phenomenon outwith Europe and its languages would have been welcome. Whether the absence of such discussion is a deliberate decision of the editor, or reflects the Eurocentric nature of the conference from which these papers were selected, is unclear.
A focus on multilingualism in the education system is very important, particularly as this area has many implications for language policy. However, some more focus on adult multilingualism would have been appreciated. As more adults are encouraged to become multilingual for the purposes of work or travel, the number of new multilingual speakers increases. The issues these multilingual speakers face would likely be quite different to those faced by migrants, or those living in multilingual regions, and indeed the motivations behind and ultimate goals of these speakers may be quite different to those of school-age children. We should not forget that language learning is for people of all ages, and the volume may have benefitted from slightly more emphasis on the adult experience.
There are also several minor editorial issues: these include the fact that two chapters are somewhat difficult to follow, and are quite repetitive. Although it is not the duty of the editor to rewrite submissions, the readability of these papers might have been enhanced by a more rigorous editorial process.
These weaknesses, however, do not detract from the overall quality of the volume. The book remains an exciting read for those with an interest in language education, multilingual societies, and sociolinguistic communities. It is a necessary and strong addition to the “Linguistic Insights” series, providing new insight into an emerging field, and innovative approaches to linguistic research. For the most part, papers appear well chosen and reflect a range of unique contributions. The sociolinguistic theme also lends a cohesiveness, for which Varcasia should be applauded. Most chapters engage well with the aims of the collection, highlighting that multilingualism is dynamically constructed, and occurs in a variety of social contexts. Varcasia’s academic background, which includes multilingualism and cross-cultural pragmatics, has positioned her very well to edit a volume such as this, and she does so commendably. This volume is highly recommended to postgraduate and senior researchers alike, and will bring the reader up to date with the most recent developments in this exciting field.
REFERENCES Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice, Translated by R Nice. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Final report: High level group on multilingualism. Education and Culture DG.
Swaan, Abram de. 2001. Words of the world: The global language system. Cambridge: Polity Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Nicola Carty is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, conducting
research as part of the Soillse initiative. Her research interests include
second language acquisition, language planning and policy, language
contact, and Construction Grammar.