By Sari Pietikäinen, FinlandAlexandra Jaffe, Long BeachHelen Kelly-Holmes, and Nikolas Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users."
This monograph, composed of eight chapters, explores the relationship between multilingualism and creativity, which has been ignored in previous literature and therefore stands out as a big gap awaiting to be bridged. With this motivation, the book aims to revive this theme with the provision of a theoretical framework strengthened by present-day experimental studies of the relationship between multilingualism and creativity. In order to show the impacts of multilingual practice on one’s creative potential, the findings of a longitudinal empirical study conducted by the author himself are presented to the readers. In the preface, one can find the rationale for writing the book, along with its aims and organization, and a summary of the work. Below is a summary of the book presented chapter by chapter.
Chapter 1, “Creative Cognition”, acquaints the readers with the ‘creative cognition approach’, which takes “creativity as the generation of novel and appropriate products through the application of basic cognitive processes to existing knowledge structures” (Ward, 2007, p. 29). The association between multilingualism and creativity is grounded within this research paradigm, on which the rest of the book is built. The centerpiece of the discussion here is laid mainly on two processes: ‘divergent and convergent thinking’. Of these, divergent thinking relates to the process in which many different ideas on a given topic are generated, while convergent thinking simply refers to the process of combining different ideas on a topic into a single idea. The chapter strongly stresses that any inattention to either of the processes, or demeaning one at the expense of the other in creative research might end up generating limited and incomplete results. In sum, the author here forms the basis of the research via setting up a general framework in which the association between multilingualism and creativity is weighed carefully.
Chapter 2, “Multilingual Cognition”, concisely provides a critical review of relevant research on bilingualism and cognition by foregrounding bilinguals’ advantages, particularly on non-verbal cognitive tasks, based on a large body of empirical studies. Certain focal issues, such as the link between multilingualism and cognitive and linguistic development (e.g. of children and adults), and advantages of being multilingually cognitive, are introduced to the reader. The author elaborates on factors such as language proficiency and age of language acquisition playing an inescapable role in characterizing multilingual development. The chapter concludes with the presentation of a structural model called ‘The Architecture of Bilingual Memory’ (for further review see Bartolotti & Marian, 2012, Chapter 1), which constitutes the author’s theoretical backcloth. Within this framework, certain factors that influence multilingual cognition are explained to the reader.
Chapter 3, “Multilingual Creativity”, handles the main theme of the book: ‘creativity and multilingualism’. The relationship is demonstrated based on the findings of a large quantity of empirical research on these two fields. The writer shows that findings obtained in psychometric and historiometric research favor bilinguals’ advantage over monolinguals, indicating a positive link between multilingualism and creativity. However, it is also seen that real life observations and laboratory findings do not overlap. This inconsistency led methodological constraints like reliability and validity to be cited by the author as potential issues of concern. It is also pointed out that adults as a sampling group have not received much attention thus far. Finally, the author presents his own longitudinal empirical project, which aimed to overcome the identified restrictions and bring a new focus to this area of research by including bilinguals from various historical, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. The inclusion of bilinguals who are culturally and linguistically unalike was a distinguishing feature compared to other studies of the research area. By applying strong methodological strategies, he compared the creative performance of monolinguals and bilinguals from the same linguistic and cultural background, as well as culturally and linguistically different bilinguals. The findings generally support the hypothesis that cross-culturally and linguistically experienced people have a higher level of creative potential.
Chapter 4, “Multilingual Creative Cognition”, presents a line of empirical studies conducted within the scope of multilingual creative development. Potential cognitive mechanisms are sketched out, as inspired by participants’ cross-linguistic and cross-cultural experiences. The writer elucidates assessment techniques – five different assessment tools – utilized in order to realize the objectives of the project, which also included a group of subsequent studies. The tools used are as follows: (1) ‘biographical questionnaires’ to acquire information about participants’ personal backgrounds like their place of origin, age of migration and languages spoken; (2) ‘language proficiency assessment test’ to determine their linguistic competences; (3) ‘divergent thinking assessment tests’ to measure their divergent thinking abilities; (4) ‘structured imagination assessment’ to assess their creative imagination; and (5) ‘fluid intelligent assessment’ to evaluate their abilities to solve problems in an abstract way, which is “relatively uninfluenced by experience” (Nairne, 2009, p. 316). The chapter ends with a discussion of the findings. The main conclusions can be summarized as follows: students of multilingual backgrounds outranked their monolingual counterparts on various assessment tools; bilingual students exceeded their monolingual English classmates in non-verbal creativity, whereas monolingual students achieved higher scores in verbal creativity tests. To recap, the results pointed to a clear bilingual advantage not only in creative but also in cognitive skills.
Chapter 5, “Multilingual Creative Development”, complements the previous chapter by expanding on the findings of previously mentioned studies with regards to bilingual creative behavior. It specifies which factors play a part in triggering the functioning of the mechanisms. It shows that there are three major factors presumed to aid multilingual creativity, which are as follows: cross-linguistic factors (e.g. age); cultural factors (e.g. socio-cultural norms, values); and other factors (e.g. education, experience, personality traits, and socioeconomic differences, among many others.
Chapter 6, “Implications of Multilingual Creativity Cognition for Creativity Domains”, discusses the theoretical and speculative implications of the researcher’s project by clarifying two creative capacities found in the research: generative and innovative capacities are discussed along with divergent and convergent thinking. The author suggests a more careful definition of the notion of ‘creativity’. To this end, he proposes a four-criteria construct that comprises the following functions: novelty, utility, aesthetic and authenticity. Using this construct as a basis, the author suggests an alternative model of creativity embracing various approaches to creative thinking.
Chapter 7, “Implications of Multilingual Creativity Cognition for Education”, centers on multilingual and creative dimensions of general education. Furthermore, it raises particular concerns about bilingual and creative education programs through a wide description of five essential attributes that such programs should have. Next, the chapter places emphasis on integrating bilingual and creativity education into school curricula, against which criticisms are expressed for not encouraging students’ creative abilities adequately. Following this argument, the chapter closes with a suggestion of a new education program – bilingual creative education – within which techniques and methods used both in bilingual and creative education are blended for the purpose of fostering students’ creative capabilities in school environments.
Chapter 8, “Conclusions”, sums up the main themes covered throughout the book, with special attention on the theoretical framework of research. Having summarized the findings of the project and compared it with previous studies, the chapter closes by suggesting directions for future research and stressing the need to further investigate the impact of multilingual practices on creativity.
This book is a ground-breaking contribution to the fields of multilingualism and creative cognition, which is also expressed in the words of Viorica Marian on the back cover of the book: “There are books on multilingualism, and there are books on creativity. Anatoliy V. Kharkhurin [the author] does a masterful job at bringing together these two fields in a comprehensive review that will hold the interest of both a novice student and a seasoned scientist”. The author achieves the aims of the book through a thorough examination of the relationship between multilingualism and creativity and by supporting this relation with solid evidence discovered as a result of his own research project. The book is particularly intended for those having a special interest in bilingualism, multilingualism and creativity. Further, it is also possible that scholars and students of linguistics, along with educators keen to foster learners’ creativity and boost their foreign language learning, might find the monograph helpful, interesting and inspiring.
The first two chapters of the book are devoted to creative and multilingual cognition. These two chapters may be regarded as a little too technical for readers with no background knowledge of creativity, even if they are specialists in multilingualism and bilingualism. They require further understanding and background knowledge on the part of the reader. An issue that may raise confusion in the reader is the terminological ambiguity in the book. For example, even though the book claims its aim to be an ‘investigation of the relationship between multilingualism and creativity’, the great majority of the findings cited are the results of studies that were carried out with bilinguals rather than multilinguals. This pitfall is also evident in the writer’s own project, in relation to the participants’ status; namely, it is unclear whether they are multilingual or bilingual, and how the application of these labels was determined.
The book is well-situated in the literature as a complement to past research that failed to address the issues of creativity and multilingualism as an interdisciplinary research area. The assumptions raised within the book find support in the findings of earlier studies on bilingualism, multilingualism and creativity separately. Moreover, the research introduced in the book opens new potential directions for investigating the relationship between multilingualism and creativity, and the positive impacts of multilingual practices on an individual’s creativity.
‘Multilingualism and Creativity’ is not a complete summary of the relationship between creativity and multilingualism, but rather a recent and initial spark ignited to illuminate that relationship. It is clear that the author has achieved what he aimed to do: give a substantial amount of evidence showing the positive impacts of multilingualism/bilingualism on creativity. The author presents both empirical and theoretical instructive information regarding this interdisciplinary field, which has so far, regrettably, received little attention. While doing this, the author has a clear, personal style that makes the text reader-friendly and manageable. The findings are informative, the arguments raised are thought-provoking, and the conclusion is clear, concise and coherent. All in all, this work is commendable, involving the reader in a multidisciplinary understanding of multilingualism and creativity. In short, it is a marvelously readable book and well worth the time and effort.
Bartolotti, J. & Marian, V. (2012). Bilingual memory: structure, access, and processing. In J.
Altarriba & L. Isurin (Eds.). Memory, Language, and Bilingualism: Theoretical and Applied Approaches (pp. 7-47). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nairne, J. S. (2009). Psychology (5th. Ed.). Belmont: Thomson Higher Education.
Ward, T. B. (2007). Creative cognition as a window on creativity. Methods, 42(1), 28-37.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Ali Karakas is a Research Assistant at Mehmet Akif Ersoy University, Burdur, and is currently working on his Ph.D thesis on the perceptions of English in English-medium Universities in Turkey at the University Of Southampton, UK. His main research interests include ELF, World Englishes, Sociolinguistic, Linguistic Anthropology, Language Teacher Education, Applied Phonetics and Computer Assisted Language Teaching.