Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005 13:08:26 -0600 From: Rachel Shuttlesworth Subject: Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century
EDITORS: Finegan, Edward; Rickford, John R. TITLE: Language in the USA SUBTITLE: Themes for the Twenty-first Century PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press YEAR: 2004
Rachel E. Shuttlesworth, University Libraries, University of Alabama
"Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century," edited by Edward Finegan and John Rickford, is a collection of short scholarly essays that offers an expansive overview of linguistic topics in the USA. This volume is an appropriate textbook for upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses that address language issues in the USA, but can also serve as an approachable introduction for a general audience, as well as a concise, current summary and update for linguistics scholars. While one's understanding of the text would likely be enriched by some previous knowledge of linguistics, "Language in the USA" is written so that little or no prior experience is necessary. The chapters maintain a social perspective on the subject matter addressed, continuously reminding the reader that language cannot be isolated from its societal situations. As Geoffrey Nunberg states in his Foreword (xiii-xvi): "the chapters in this Language in the USA make clear [that] there is virtually no important social issue or cultural development in American life that isn't somehow signaled in language" (xv). The creation of this volume was motivated by the need to return to issues addressed in the first "Language in the USA" (Ferguson and Heath, 1981) as well as developments of the past two decades. It is intended to complement, not replace, the seminal 1981 volume.
The book comprises three parts: "American English," "Other Language Varieties," and "The Sociolinguistic Situation." Each of its twenty-six chapters is introduced by the editors and includes recommended further readings.
The first section includes six chapters that discuss American English varieties, including their histories, features, social variation, and methods of their study.
The first chapter (3-17), "American English: its origins and history," by Richard W. Bailey, examines the genesis of American English varieties through the lens of settlement history. Bailey demonstrates that the American English lexicon comes from a complex social situation, where Amerindian, European, and African languages and peoples coexisted. He also offers a brief account of early nineteenth century debates regarding the value of American English as a marker of national identity.
In Chapter 2 (18- 38), "American English and its distinctiveness," Edward Finegan addresses the actual and perceived differences between American and British English varieties. Finegan examines variations in American and British pronunciations (represented with the International Phonetic Alphabet and pronunciation-based respellings), lexical items, grammar, semantics, discourse, and orthography.
Chapter 3 (39-57), "Regional Dialects," by William A. Kretzschmar, Jr., points out the problems with broad generalizations regarding regional speech, yet acknowledges that Americans are justified in thinking that persons from distinct areas speak English differently. Kretzschmar presents historical origins of and linguistic examples from U.S. regional dialects using maps and tables, including an explanation of the creation and use of these scholarly tools.
In the fourth chapter (58-75), "Social varieties of American English," Walt Wolfram discusses group-based linguistic differences and the value judgments that accompany them. Wolfram explains the consensus and conflict models of class interaction, as well as the systematic variability of dialect features and the distinctions between the sociolinguistic terms 'stereotype', 'social marker', and 'social indicator.'
Chapter 5 (76-91), "African American English" by Lisa Green, discusses aspects of African American English (AAE) historical and linguistic issues. Green addresses complex issues, beginning with the debates regarding the names and origins ascribed to African American English (AAE), then moving to the linguistic system of AAE.
The last essay in Part 1 is Chapter 6 (92- 112) Joan Houston Hall's "The Dictionary of American Regional English," (DARE), which offers readers an introduction to collecting and classifying instances of linguistic variation. Hall describes the DARE methodology, history, and maps, as well as the social, age, gender, racial and other patterns made perceptible by the DARE findings.
Part 2: "Other Language Varieties" covers issues related to non-English languages in the USA. As may be necessary considering the convolution of political and linguistic issues in the topics addressed, several of these chapters include more of a tone of advocacy than is present in Part 1.
In Chapter 7 (115-132), "Multilingualism and non-English mother tongues," Joshua Fishman dispels popular myths about multilingualism and addresses the cultural need for its promotion. Fishman offers numeric data to demonstrate how in the USA sidestream (his term for 'non-mainstream') cultures and non-English languages are quickly assimilated and he argues for national efforts towards proactive multilingualism awareness and education, as well as the creation of cultural democracy.
In Chapter 8 (133-152), "Creole languages: forging new identities," Patricia Nichols examines the linguistic situations of the creoles found in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Hawai'i and gives general information regarding creole formation. The chapter includes sections on Gullah, Hawaiian Creole, and Louisiana Creole. For each, its history, features, and current circumstances are discussed.
In Chapter 9 (153-181), "Native American languages," Akira Y. Yamamoto and Ofelia Zepeda offer linguistic examples that illustrate the vast diversity among Native American languages with regard to concepts such as gender, number, animacy, possession, and substance. The authors describe the geographical and numeric scope of each language, emphasizing that many of these languages face extinction. Also discussed are the history of and reasoning behind the USA's discouraging record of oppression of Native American cultures and languages, as well as current linguistic preservation and rejuvenation efforts by Native American and scholarly communities.
Ana Celia Zentella writes Chapter 10 (182- 204), "Spanish in the Northeast" focusing on the diversity of national origin amongst Spanish speakers in the Northeast and their differing receptions, experiences, and success levels in USA society. Zentella covers pronunciation and lexical variation in Spanish dialects of the Northeast, as well as ongoing changes caused by their contact with each other and English.
In Chapter 11 (205- 229), "Spanish in the Southwest," Carmen Silva- Corvalán, explores the long history of Spanish in the Southwest. The chapter includes discussion of Southwest population figures, the history and features of Southwest Spanish, and its relationship to English. The author also examines the apparent growth and vitality of Southwest Spanish, as well as its dependency on a constant influx of Spanish speakers, not on the intergenerational transmission of Spanish proficiency.
In Chapter 12 (230-244), "American Sign Language," Ceil Lucas and Clayton Valli offer information about signed language in the USA, including the challenges faced in the development of ASL and Deaf culture. Lucas and Valli also explore ASL features, including vocabulary formation and sign structure, as well as other modes of communication used by and with deaf persons.
In Chapter 13 (245-267), "Asian American voices: language in the Asian American community," Thom Huebner and Linda Uyechi give historical information and statements from speakers regarding Asian languages in the USA and explore the multiplicity of national and linguistic identities each group of speakers has brought to the USA. Huebner and Uyechi discuss immigration laws, the role of English varieties in building Asian American communities and identities, as well as the language-based discrimination encountered by Asian Americans, and the differences between Asian and USA discourse styles.
Robert Bayley's Chapter 14 (268-288), "Linguistic diversity and English language acquisition," examines the USA's varied linguistic situation, debunking many common preconceptions about language in the USA. Bayley discusses census data trends, as well as myths and realities regarding the cognitive effects of bilingualism. The shift to English by immigrants is also examined, as are the classroom and untutored means immigrants use to learn English and the social, economic, and personal barriers to their success.
Part 3: "The sociolinguistic situation" contains twelve chapters, more than the first two parts, and offers glimpses into many areas of language in the USA.
In Chapter 15 (289-304): "Language ideology and language prejudice," Rosina Lippi-Green shares examples of the damaging consequences of language prejudices and the linguistic myths that function as their justification. To do so, she discusses the concept of "standard language ideology," and describes her language subordination model, through which speakers of stigmatized language varieties are indoctrinated into standard language ideology.
In Chapter 16 (305-318), entitled "Ebonics and its controversy," John Baugh examines the history of and topics raised by the 1996 resolution of the Oakland, California, School Board regarding Ebonics. Baugh offers information regarding the oft-ignored complexity of Ebonics history, definitions, and debates, as well as presenting the original and amended Oakland declarations, the Linguistic Society of America Resolution (largely authored by John Rickford), and other public and scholarly reactions to Ebonics.
Terrence G. Wiley, in Chapter 17 (319-338): "Language planning, language policy, and the English-Only Movement," offers an in-depth look at USA language policies. He gives an explanatory history of language planning and policy decisions and the principles on which they are based, focusing on the USA and its monolingual English ideologies. Discussion is also given of the current English-Only Movement, including Propositions 227 and 203 in California and Arizona, as well as of the English-Plus Movement, which has arisen in response to monolingual English ideologies.
In Chapter 18 (339-361), "Language in education," Lily Wong Fillmore continues to address issues covered by Wiley but with a focus on bilingual education. The author addresses the linguistic conflicts that exist in American schools and communities, including legal decisions that have affected school language use. Particular attention is paid to the changes in the status of bilingual education, common arguments against it, and substantiated refutations to them.
Chapter 19 (361-374), "Adolescent language," by Penelope Eckert, examines the adolescent life stage, including its origins in industrialized societies, its characteristics, and its effects on language use. The author notes that adolescent language is often thought of as homogeneously careless and casual although it does have systematicity and variation.
Chapter 20 (375-386), "Slang," by Connie Eble details the ways in which slang is formed, often through the appropriation of existing linguistic forms, and demonstrates how slang differs from regionalisms, jargon, profanity, and colloquialisms. Common characteristics of slang are discussed, such as a short life span, informality, association with particular social groups, and connections to contemporary cultural trends, and its use as a means to project attitudes and identity.
In Chapter 21 (387-409), "Hip Hop Nation Language," H. Samy Alim addresses the linguistic and cultural features of the Hip Hop Nation Language (HHNL), including its roots in and relationship to African American English and its inherent connection to speakers' social and political contexts. Its discursive, musical, and literary characteristics are discussed, as are its internal diversity and geographic spread.
In Chapter 22 (410-429), Mary Bucholtz examines, "Language, gender, and sexuality," focusing on the historical trends in their study and the conceptual revolution reflected therein. Bucholtz discusses debates over sexism in English, the 'difference' versus 'dominance' theories of gendered cultures, the growth of studies regarding multicultural speech communities, and the trends of study examining the relationship between language and sexuality. Bucholtz also addresses new research efforts in language, gender, and sexuality studies which focus on agency.
In Chapter 23 (430-444), "Linguistic identity and community in American literature," James Peterson asks how readers determine the characteristics of literary characters and addresses the role of the author's personal experiences in successful character creation. The chapter examines the analysis of literary character creation in various texts by Native American, Latino/Latina, and African American authors.
Chapter 24 (445-462), by Cynthia Hagstrom, entitled "The language of doctors and patients," discusses various approaches to medical communication study and the linguistic characteristics of the medical encounter. Hagstrom explains a methodological focus on linguistic details through examples of open-ended and closed-ended questions, turn-taking, and patient-centered and doctor-centered speech.
In Chapter 25 (463-479), "The language of cyberspace," Denise E. Murray explores the advent of computer-mediated communication (CMC), examining CMC as new language use, metaphors for new technology, and English's role in CMC. The chapter offers discussion of technology access issues, CMC word formation, and issues related to categorizing CMC within established paradigms for discussing language use.
"Language in the USA" closes with Chapter 26 (481-492), "Language attitudes to speech," by Dennis Preston, which discusses the systematic study of linguistic value judgments and the methodological questions that face language attitude researchers. The author demonstrates how geographical dialect boundary judgments and attitudinal characteristics (personality traits) of speakers can be collected and studied and offers selected findings related to USA English (particularly that the South and New York City are perceived as least correct). Preston concludes with several speakers' overt statements regarding language varieties in the USA, noting their value in the study of language attitudes.
"Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century" is an excellent resource for persons interested in linguistic issues in the USA. My immediate reaction to its announcement was excitement over the editors, the list of contributors, and the vast range of topics covered. Whereas more discussion could not be offered for economy of publishing reasons, the brevity of the chapters does make them more accessible to college students. While if longer the text could include greater depth of discussion from these and other scholars, the recommended readings given at the end of each chapter offer this opportunity to readers.
Some features could have been added to make this text more easily usable in the classroom and more accessible to linguistics novices. A glossary of linguistic terminology would be useful; while many authors (e.g. Wiley, Hagstrom) offer definitions to important terms, the inclusion of definitions for all linguistic terminology used would facilitate ease of readability. Readers could also benefit from an explanation of the International Phonetic Alphabet and other means used by scholars for conveying pronunciation, perhaps through an appendix. In some chapters (Yamamoto and Zepeda, for one), pronunciation guidance is offered in footnotes. In others, the International Phonetic Alphabet is used in conjunction with pronunciation-based respellings (Kretzschmar, Wolfram) with varying degrees of explanation. A consistent method of conveying pronunciation could aid in reader comprehension. Another useful tool would have been discussion questions at each chapter's end. Although one could certainly create some, their inclusion would have given each author the opportunity to reinforce the ideas presented in each chapter and to emphasize particularly important concepts.
This volume is well-edited with few (if any) typographical errors. The articles are articulately written and, while each author's individual style is maintained, the editors' introductions and the chapters' arrangement give the volume continuity. In many cases, the authors are faced with presenting complicated subject matter and intensely debated topics with extreme length limitations and no presumed reader background knowledge. In every case, this is done well; in many, spectacularly. Collectively, the book leaves one with the impression that there is much more to be studied and discussed regarding language use in the USA. It also serves to make readers aware of the many linguistic issues that have ramifications in their daily lives and may serve as an impetus for them to appreciate linguistic diversity and, through it, cultural democracy.
Ferguson, Charles A. and Shirley Brice Heath, eds. 1981. "Language in the USA." New York: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Rachel E. Shuttlesworth is a Council on Library and Information Resources Post-Doctoral Fellow in Scholarly Information Resources for Humanists at the University of Alabama Libraries. She holds a doctorate in English Applied Linguistics and received her Masters in Spanish Applied Linguistics. Dr. Shuttlesworth's research interests include language ideology, Southern American English, Papiamentu, and others. She has taught introductory linguistics, TESOL and applied linguistics, and Spanish and is now working on a project to make Southern English resources available through an online data repository and collaborative analysis community.