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Review of  Invisible Work

Reviewer: Marian Sloboda
Book Title: Invisible Work
Book Author: Toshie Okita
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 13.2118

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Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 22:38:05 +0200 (CEST)
From: Marian Sloboda
Subject: Okita (2002) Invisible Work: Bilingualism, Language Choice and Childrearing in Intermarried Families

Okita, Toshie (2002) Invisible Work: Bilingualism, Language Choice and Childrearing in Intermarried Families. John Benjamins Publishing Company, x+275pp, hardback ISBN 9027218471, EUR 85.00, ISBN 1588111067, USD 77.00, IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society, 12.

Marian Sloboda, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

The monograph "Invisible Work" by Toshie Okita (TO) is an interdisciplinary study - it combines concepts and methods of family studies, ethnicity studies and research on bilingualism. The main focus is on the diachrony of several aspects of language management and childrearing in intermarried Japanese mother - British father families. (TO herself does not use the concept of language management, she speaks about "language use" and "language choice".) TO's experience with Japanese-British families she studies is not only as a researcher but is also personal.

The book is not an instruction guide for heterolinguistic parents but it addresses rather students and researchers in the field of bilingualism and family studies. The book might, however, "serve to inform the advice offered by practitioners," (p. 8). The approach is predominantly qualitative but TO skillfully combines both qualitative and quantitative research practices.

In Chapter 1, "Introduction", TO briefly describes her study in general, sketches the contents of each chapter, and poses several questions which define the topic. The key question is: "How do a mother's and father's values and aspirations concerning childrearing come together in ethnically intermarried families, what structural and situational characteristics influence this process, and how are language decisions and practice located in this process?" (p. 1)

From the above question, four questions arise, and TO tries to give answers to them in the following parts of her study. The questions are (p. 1-2):

(1) "What are the major influences on childrearing in these families?"
(2) "How do two potentially diverse parental values interact, and how are they negotiated in the construction of childrearing?"
(3) "What structural and situational factors influence the language decision parents make? How, in turn, do the decisions influence family arrangements?"
(4) "How do these dynamics change over time, in response to new challenges, as children grow older?"

TO gives/offers answers especially to the question (3) and (4). The questions (1) and (2) are dealt with to lesser extent (see discussion in General Notes).

Chapter 2, named "Developing conceptual framework", discusses relevant literature, introduces concepts (such as "bilingualism", "situational ethnicity", "child-centredness" etc.) and presents the author's perspective.

In Chapter 3, "Research methods", TO introduces her methodological approach and discusses her selection of methods: life and family history method (to the literature TO mentions important work by R. Miller (2000) can be added), questionnaire survey, semi-standardized interviews. Then, the author describes the sample of her respondents and the process of interviewing. She also raises important ethical issues, e.g. considers that interviewing might burden the interviewer very much. On the other hand, it is shown but not discussed that the interviewer has intervened into the thinking of her respondents; it might be interesting to know what consequences such intervention have had. Then, TO proceeds with short description of data analysis and concludes the chapter by discussion of validity, reliability and generalizability.

In Chapter 4, "Japanese-British families in the UK", the author first gives brief information on the Japanese community in the UK, then deals with her questionnaire, results of the questionnaire survey, their implications for interviews, and eventually formulates several hypotheses. On the basis of the survey she chooses 28 Japanese-British intermarried families for interviews.

"Initial language decision" is the name and at the same time the main focus of Chapter 5. TO discusses factors which influenced the decision.

Chapter 6, "Getting on: Adaptations in language use", deals with adjustments in language use made by parents during four stages of their child's childhood. The stages were defined on the basis of the data (they were not presupposed). Again, the most influential factors are pointed out.

In Chapter 7, which is named "Childrearing", TO deals with language use as an inseparable part and constituent of the childrearing process in the pre-school period. Consequently, situation in whole families and intra-family relations are described. Three families are chosen for a case study.

Chapter 8, "Going to school", focuses on new factors (fears, time pressures and interest conflicts) in childrearing and family daily lives, which arise when the child enters the education system. Coping with the difficulties and family-life management are described in detail.

Chapter 9, "Family relationship, identity and ethnicity", deals with the situation in the families after the child reaches teen-age, acquires her/his own will, forms her/his own individuality (incl. ethnic identity) and, eventually, becomes independent and leaves the parents.

Chapter 10 is a concluding discussion and a summary of the main points of the study.

Three appendices contain a summary information of the 28 families, the questionnaire form and a summary of interview guides.

One of the merits of the TO's work is that she includes into her research not only mothers but also fathers, mother and father as a couple and, although to a lesser extent, children as well. The language management and childrearing process is rarely reflected by the subjects themselves, it is "invisible" in the course of the process. TO's aim is to "visualize" it as much as possible. The term "invisible WORK" suggests that it is the interaction process (e.g. negotiation of attitudes as mentioned in the question (2) above) that will be dealt with. In fact, "only" a part of it is described in the study. TO focuses mainly on what we can call "input" of the process, i.e. parents' background, experience from childhood, current social situation, influence from social network, own opinions, attitudes, feelings, strategy and decisions concerning childrearing and language use.

In the study, the "input" is (1) reconstructed from the respondents narratives and (2) reproduced, that is, it is given how respondents themselves reflect the issues, present and defend their point of view. Sometimes it might not be clear enough in the text of the book whether a statement is a reconstruction (interpretation) or a reproduction, but in the majority of cases, reproductions are explicitly indicated. The reconstructions are convincingly argued for, only several reconstructed implications would be worth describing in more detail because they might not be self-evident, e.g. child's communication at (English) school and with her/his friends causes the child stops speaking Japanese with her/his mother (p. 134).

The "input" is dealt with in its diachrony (evolution). It is shown how it changes in reaction to the more or less successful implementation of the decisions parents have made on the basis of the "input", and also in reaction to new, expected or not, problems and dilemmas which arise during the family life course. It is also demonstrated, esp. dramatically in Chapter 8, that the language management and bilingual childrearing at least in the 28 Japanese-British intermarried families is psychologically very demanding work, esp. for the mothers but for some fathers, too.

The evolution of the "input" is observed in context. TO assigns much importance to context and works with several types of it (although she does not make its formal typology). Her book proves how useful and illuminative is to take it into account while describing the complexities of childrearing in intermarried families. Worth noting are, for instance, differences between the older and younger Japanese-British families, which point at a larger context - general socio-cultural change in the British and Japanese society.

Interesting is the author's critique of research and extant literature on bilingualism, childrearing and Japanese studies. Criticizing the research and the literature, TO considers also the context in which the literature has arisen and the research has been carried out. This sociology-of-science view enables TO to, for example, reveal serious shortcomings, causes of failure and sometimes even contraproductivity of instruction books for parents who want to (know how to) raise their children bilingually.

Context plays a role also in data gathering, which TO, on the basis of literature and her own researcher experience, more accurately conceives as data generation. It is interesting to see how the data generation is influenced, for instance, by different language use (use of Japanese or English respectively). TO has not tried to eliminate the influence of the context of her research (which is actually impossible), but takes it into account in data analysis and in conclusions.

Concerning the role of context in the text of the book, TO gives the results and interpretations of her data. She quotes her respondents mostly in order for demonstration or to support her statements. The author often cuts short parts out of audio-tape transcripts and put them into a context they have not virtually occurred in (thus making them an inherent part of her "story") without making a comment on this way of handling the data. On the other hand, instead of merely retelling respondents' words, TO gives the reader the opportunity to see how the interviewees themselves verbalized their attitudes and feelings.

Concerning, again, TO's writing style, it has to be said that TO is particular with guiding the reader through the book. Every chapter has a clearly formulated introduction or concluding summary. In addition, the process of the author's research is put very instructively, so the book might be much appreciated by university students who intend to carry out their own research similar to this.

Finally, we will turn our attention to the problem of generalization. TO interviewed 28 families. They were chosen according to the results of the survey. TO had tried to determine several types of families and interview families from each type in order to find out their specific features comparing them. However, she confined her research to long-term resident Japanese mother - British father families in the UK. It is thus a question which findings apply only to them and which they share with other types of families, e.g. majority mother - minority father families, homogeneous minority families, minority-majority families in traditionally ethnically heterogeneous areas (such as the Balkans), etc. TO is aware of this and discusses the matter in the final parts of her book. Several suggestions are made, other (implicit) specific features can be found scattered throughout the book. In spite of the fact that TO takes up the typological (paradigmatic) approach to the data, she does not overlook the specialties of each individual family. Her aim is to make theoretical generalizations, not empirical, i.e. to make generalizations for a certain setting with the idea that they might apply also to other settings which possess the same key characteristics. "Invisible Work" not only "visualizes" a great part of the invisible and extremely complex language-management and childrearing work in certain type of intermarried families, but it also provides comparative and inspirative material for researchers who deal with similar topics.

Miller, Robert L. (2000) Researching Life Stories and Family Histories. London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage Publications.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Marian Sloboda is an undergraduate student of linguistics, phonetics and Slavic studies. His main interests are small ethnolinguistic groups in heterolinguistic environment, bilingualism, identity, and autobiographic narratives of members of such groups. He is working on his M.A. thesis on the Slovaks in Croatia and idiolectal networks.