By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik 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"
AUTHORS: Jones, Mari C. and Singh, Ishtla TITLE: Exploring Language Change PUBLISHER: Routledge YEAR: 2006
David Hornsby, Lecturer in French, School of European Culture and Languages, University of Kent.
This book explores the phenomenon of language change, with a particular focus on the social contexts of its occurrence and its possible motivations, including speakers' intentions and attitudes.
Using wide-ranging case studies presenting new or little-known data, Jones and Singh draw a distinction between 'unconscious' and 'deliberate' change. The discussion on 'unconscious' change considers phenomena such as the emergence and obsolescence of individual languages, while the book also includes detailed discussion on 'deliberate' change, traditionally marginalised in favour of explorations of the 'unconscious' variety. The sections on 'deliberate' change focus on issues of language planning, including the strategies of language revival and revitalisation movements, and also include a detailed exploration of what is arguably the most extreme instance of 'deliberate' change; language invention for real-world use.
As a student-friendly text which covers a wide variety of language situations, it also makes a clear, but often ignored, distinction between concepts such as language policy and planning, and language revival and revitalisation, and the innovative case studies which permeate the text demonstrate that real-life language use is often much more complex than theoretical abstractions might suggest.
This book will be extremely useful to students on a variety of courses including sociolinguistics, historical linguistics and language policy and planning.
From a teacher's perspective, an ideal textbook should be accessible without over-simplifying, summarize current debates and thinking while offering new perspectives, and present familiar and unfamiliar material in an interesting way. These are clearly difficult tightropes for authors to walk, but in ''Exploring Language Change'' Jones & Singh balance the conflicting objectives admirably. Informative and eminently readable, the book covers most of the ground one would expect in an introductory work, using a refreshing mix of well-known and less familiar examples. The book is neatly structured, its seven chapters following a logical sequence and guiding the reader almost seamlessly through the separate stages of a well-developed argument. While all the chapters are self-contained and the reader may 'dip in' at any point, this is one linguistics textbook which reads well from cover to cover. Each chapter contains an introduction to a theme, one or more illustrative case-studies which are covered in some detail, and a useful concluding discussion which summarizes the key findings while challenging received views, and sets the scene for the next chapter. A very strong feature of this book is the authors' readiness to refine or challenge terminology which is often left ill-defined, and to draw important new distinctions where necessary, for example between language revitalisation (Ch.5) and language revival (Ch.6).
From the outset, Jones and Singh argue that language cannot profitably be explored in isolation from its speakers, and accordingly reject a rigid distinction between internally and externally motivated change. Conceptions of internally motivated change, as the term is normally understood, are discussed in Chapter 1. The material here is expertly handled and well exemplified, but the authors can, I think, be accused of trying to do too much: structuralist, neogrammarian, typological and generative approaches are shoe-horned into 28 pages, and undergraduates in particular may the discussion a little hard-going in places.
The main focus of the book, however, is on externally motivated change, which is introduced in Chapter 2. A section on lexical borrowing and loan-translation blends examples from French with fascinating data drawn from Jèrriais, Breton and Turkish. Two well-known case studies of convergence, namely the Balkans (2.4) and Kupwar (2.5) are presented before a discussion of code-switching and code-mixing (2.6 and 2.7), and two final case-studies, of Guernsey Norman French and Middle English, reinforce the point that internal or external motivations of changes may in practice be difficult to disentangle. Chapters 3 and 4 address two extreme outcomes of externally-motivated change, namely language birth (Ch.3) and language death (Ch.4). Sociopolitical considerations are, of course, central to both, and these figure largely in two case studies of 'language birth': Tok Pisin (3.3) and Scots (3.4). In their examination of language death, Jones and Singh distinguish setting (the sociopolitical background which precipitates obsolescence) and structure (changes resulting from contact with a dominant variety). Using the case studies of East Sutherland Gaelic, Pennsylvania German, French, and Welsh, they demonstrate how an understanding of the social context is essential in distinguishing changes in threatened varieties from those observed in 'healthy' ones.
Having considered what might be termed 'unconscious' changes, the authors turn to 'conscious' changes in Chapters 5 (Language Planning and Revitalization) and 6 (Language Revival). Aspects of status, corpus and identity planning are explored via the examples of Jersey and the Seychelles in Chapter 5, and the important distinction between language planning and language policy is illustrated by a detailed and well researched case study of the United States, which argues, not uncontroversially, that the absence of an official language policy has in fact masked de facto promotion of English. From revitalisation of obsolescent languages, e.g. Jèrriais (5.4), Jones and Singh move to the specific and highly complex issues surrounding revival of 'dead' languages in Chapter 6. The case study of Revived Cornish (6.2) was for me the highlight of the book, offering a fascinating insight into the resurrection of a language whose last native speaker died in 1777. The discussion highlights the difficult choices revivalists have had to make, and the inevitable squabbles which have ensued, many of which reflect fundamentally different conceptions of what Cornish is, or should be. Familiar problems of dialectal fragmentation in a low-prestige language are compounded by disputes over the appropriate temporal period to select as a model. A paucity of linguistic resources has to be overcome either lexical borrowing or by the creation of 'purer' but arguably more artificial neologisms from Brythonic roots, with no agreement between 'realists' and 'fundamentalists'. Disputes over, for example, language planning goals or orthography will be familiar from language obsolescence studies elsewhere (e.g. Brittany), as will the failure of largely middle class revivalist activity to resonate with the mass of the population: further evidence, if it were needed, that language choices cannot be imposed from the top down.
The final chapter on artificial languages ('Language Invention') will certainly raise eyebrows among linguists, but its inclusion is entirely logical and, arguably, the book would have been incomplete without it. There is, as the authors point out, relatively little to separate the conscious linguistic invention involved in language revival from the wholesale creation of entirely new languages. The case studies of Esperanto (7.3) and Láadan (7.4), Suzette Haden Elgin's constructed language for women, are used to illustrate the theme which underpins this book, namely that languages cannot exist in a vacuum, and will ultimately develop along the lines that their speakers, rather than an elite, want or need them too. Both these languages, in very different ways, can be seen to have fallen foul of this principle. In their desire to preserve an 'ideologically neutral' Esperanto, for example, its creator Zamenhof and his supporters appear to have become almost puritanical in their attempts to resist reform or spontaneous change. That their efforts were unsuccessful is seen in the fragmentation of the movement which followed the creation of its modified form Ido, and in first-world war Esperanto usage for German propaganda purposes. While Elgin's attitude to her creation was genuinely non-proprietorial, the failure of Láadan to strike a chord among women stemmed largely, the authors argue, from the flawed premise of universal female experience on which it was based.
A number of excellent sociolinguistic histories of individual languages are already available, but the publication of a wide-ranging, speaker-centred introduction to language change is timely and welcome. This interesting and thought-provoking book will be a fixture on undergraduate and graduate reading lists for many years to come.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
David Hornsby is Lecturer in French at the University of Kent, where he teaches a range of courses in French and general linguistics. His research interests are in variationist sociolinguistics and the history of French, and he published 'Redefining Regional French: Koinéization and Dialect Levelling in Northern France' in 2006.