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Review of  Bilingualism in the USA

Reviewer: Diego Pascual y Cabo
Book Title: Bilingualism in the USA
Book Author: Fredric W Field
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 23.3540

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AUTHOR: Fredric Field
TITLE: Bilingualism in the USA
SUBTITLE: The Case of the Chicano-Latino community
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism 44
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2011

Diego Pascual y Cabo, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, University
of Florida, Gainesville

Fredric Field’s “Bilingualism in the USA” examines some of the social, cultural,
and linguistic consequences that stem from language contact in the United
States. Although the focus is clearly on Spanish-English bilingualism (taking
the Chicano-Latino community of Southern California as a case study), many other
languages exist in a similarly uneven sociolinguistic environment across the
country (see e.g. Potowski 2010) and outside the United States (see e.g. Extra &
Gorter 2001), thus rendering the concepts and ideas presented throughout the
book transferable to other contexts and/or language pairings.

In aiming to provide the reader with an informed view of language diversity and
bilingualism, the author has put together eight chapters that build upon
previous work and discuss general issues related to language development and
ultimate attainment in bilingual contexts (e.g. age and second language
acquisition) as well as other more specific concepts and definitions associated
with language contact phenomena (e.g. diglossia, codeswitching, borrowing) and
educational issues (e.g. (il)literacy). These chapters are divided into two main
parts. Part I (chapters 1-4) is theory-oriented and serves as an introduction to
language-contact studies. Taking a more applied approach, part II (chapters 5-8)
focuses on (mainstream) American attitudes towards language diversity and how
these attitudes have come about to shape various domains of current US societal
bilingualism (e.g. language policy, bilingual education).

The first chapter explores bi-/multilingualism in general terms and how it comes
to be. In doing so, the author introduces the goals, purposes, and rationales
behind-language-contact studies. Within the specific US context, it is not
surprising that the focus is on the Hispanic/Latino population and the Spanish
language since approximately 16% of the people that reside in the US are of
Hispanic or Latino origin (US Census Briefs 2010).

In chapter 2, the author examines the complex and multilayered process of
language acquisition focusing on bi-/multilingual situations which -- though not
necessarily true in the case of mainstream US society -- are the norm in most of
the world. Before discussing some of the social and linguistic outcomes that
stem from this process in the remaining chapters, Field familiarizes the reader
with a few basic concepts related mainly to (i) developmental issues in language
acquisition (e.g. age, first language acquisition, second language acquisition);
(ii) types of bilingualism (e.g. sequential, simultaneous, etc.); and (iii)
types of bilingual families (e.g. one parent -- one language, one language --
one environment, etc.) and the resulting types of bilingual individuals (e.g.
balanced, passive, etc.).

In Chapter 3, the author discusses a variety of phenomena that take place in
typical contact language situations. In this context, particular attention is
given to two main issues related to the asymmetrical relationship that exists
between the languages involved: namely (i) issues related to language
maintenance and shift of the minority language, and (ii) the linguistic
strategies that are available to bilingual speakers (e.g. intra- and
intersentential code-switching, lexical borrowing, etc.).

Chicano English, as a non-standard minority dialect spoken mainly in the
Southwest of the United States, takes center stage in chapter 4. Here, the
author describes the most representative linguistic properties of this dialect,
accentuating the specific features that make up the Chicano identity: the
pronunciation, the lexicon, and the syntax (e.g. word order). This (linguistic)
identity, though valid in its own right, is stigmatized and marginalized by
mainstream American monolingualism and monoculturalism, an issue the author
further expands on in the second part of the book, as it certainly has an
important impact on many related aspects of this community (e.g. social,
cultural, educational).

Chapter 5 offers a comprehensive discussion of mainstream American attitudes
towards bi/multilingualism in general and the use of (Chicano) Spanish in the
Southwest in particular. Though this review focuses on today’s attitudes, the
author guides the reader through a diachronic survey of critical social,
economic, and educational factors. Combined, these factors best explain the
negative effects on today’s attitudes towards the abovementioned dialect and, by
extension, towards the speakers that make up the Chicano-Latino speech community.

The focus in chapter 6 is on bilingual education in the US (see Baker 2011 and
references therein for more information), a topic that has motivated a
significant number of educational and political debates (e.g. the English Only
Movement). Field’s research-informed view argues against such unsupported
language policies and promotes a view of (bilingual) education, grounded in an
understanding of both pedagogical implications as well as the community’s needs.

Likewise, chapter 7 addresses a variety of general misunderstandings about
literacy and education as they relate to language and bilingualism. In an effort
to shed some light on these misconceptions, the author discusses a variety of
(counter) intuitive ideas as well as previous studies and their findings. Some
of these fallacies include the unlikely connection between education and
cognition or the idea that literacy only counts if it is in (standard) English.

The eighth and final chapter highlights the socio-economic and educative needs
of the Chicano-Latino community in Southern California. After an initial
demographic description, Field expands on the learning experience of
Chicano-Latino students, focusing on their academic achievement (or lack
thereof). This concern is supported with a discussion of data that unequivocally
shows a trend of generalized poor performance across the Latino student
population in the state of California’s public school system. By the end of the
chapter Field identifies ways to improve current schooling practices (e.g.
readjustment of preconceived notions about the students’ home language and

‘Bilingualism in the USA’ constitutes a significant contribution to the
development of scholarship and research in areas related to bilingualism and
bilingual education. It successfully provides an informed response to some
long-held popular misunderstandings about language diversity in the United
States, taking the Chicano-Latino community in Southern California as a case study.

Throughout, the author promotes a view in which innovative linguistic forms are
part of the normal course of grammatical development among bilingual individuals
living in language contact environments. This has obvious implications for
issues related to minority language maintenance in the United States where the
number of immigrants is not expected to decrease. But it does much more than
that: its most significant contribution can be found in the last 3 chapters
where the author highlights how such an open view towards language diversity can
and should be applied to other areas of our everyday lives (e.g. social,
cultural, economic, educational). The last chapter is of particular interest
(especially for (prospective) teachers and administrators) as it spells out the
current difficulties that the educational system faces when dealing with
(Chicano-Latino) bilingual students in Southern California.

The intended audience for this book is advanced undergraduate and graduate
students interested in the broad areas of bilingualism and bilingual education.
Because each chapter ends with a series of subsections that promote discussion
and critical thinking (activities, topics for discussion & practice essay
questions), it would be fairly easy to adopt it as a textbook for a variety of
university courses (e.g. Spanish in the US). It would also be an easy read for
any non-specialist (e.g. current teachers as well as those considering teaching
as a profession) curious enough about language and language diversity since, in
spite of the jargon, the author has successfully simplified a topic that is very
complex while still treating it in a serious manner.

Unfortunately, this book is not flawless. In a close reading, one cannot help
but notice a couple of issues. First, many of the references cited are somewhat
outdated and bring up work that, in spite of being relevant, dates from the
1990’s and early 2000’s. For example, when discussing codeswitching as one of
several bilingual phenomena (chapter 3), the author makes reference to very
prominent work in the field (e.g. Gumperz 1982; Myers-Scotton 1993; Zentella
1997) but does not mention other more recent publications (see e.g. Bullock &
Toribio 2009 and references therein; Toribio 2011 and references therein). The
book would benefit greatly from including some of the most recent work so as to
represent more faithfully the current state of affairs in the field. Also, even
if the information presented throughout is by and large accurate, it lacks a
certain level of detail, though this is not necessarily a problem considering
its intended audience. Despite such matters, ‘Bilingualism in the USA’ is a
welcome contribution to the field.

Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 5th
edition. Bilingual Education & Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters.

Bullock, B. E. & A. J. Toribio (Eds.). (2009). The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic
Codeswitching. Cambridge University Press.

Extra, G. & D. Gorter (Eds.). (2001). The Other Languages of Europe:
Demographic, Sociolinguistic, and Educational Perspectives. Multilingual Matters.

Gumperz, J.J. (1982). Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: CUP.

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure in
Codeswitching. Oxford: OUP.

Potowski, K. (Ed.). (2010). Language diversity in the United States. Cambridge: CUP.

Toribio, A.J. (2011). Code-Switching among US Latinos. In M. Díaz-Campos (Ed.),
The Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Zentella, A.C. (1997). Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York.
Oxford: Blackwell.

Diego Pascual y Cabo is a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic linguistics at the University of Florida. His primary research interests lie in the area of formal approaches to heritage speaker bilingualism and second language acquisition.