Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Fri, 27 Dec 2002 17:00:20 +0900 From: Guido Oebel Subject: Gubbins and Holt (2002) Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe
Gubbins, Paul and Mike Holt, eds. (2002) Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe. Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-555-1, vi+162pp, Multilingual Matters 122.
Guido Oebel, Saga National University (Japan)
It is not only from outside Britain that national identity is challenged. Even from within the state, linguistic, ethnic and other social phenomena seek constantly to question identity and to redefine it. As language -- and to a similar extent identity -- is complex and manifold it is continually pushing at the boundaries defined for it by society and state. Due to this fact and considering the old saying that we are what we speak, then it should be true that what we are is undergoing constant changes. As many of the contributions to the present volume evidence 'multiple identity as well as linguistic allegiance are increasingly questioning the cosy assumptions of traditional homogeneity'. One theme running through this volume is 'that identity is not a mere reflection of reality ... but rather a socially constructed phenomenon'.
SYNOPSIS Chapter 1: Stephen Barbour: Language, Nationalism and Globalism: Educational Consequences of Changing Patterns of Language Use, pp 11-18. Barbour adopts a broad approach examining nationalist and internationalist discourse. By doing so, he regards language and national identity as allies assuming every nation should have its own nation-state in which the national language should dominate. According to Barbour, international discourse, however, demonstrates awareness not only of languages spoken by small groups but also of English as a globally spoken lingua franca. Nevertheless, much internationalist discourse overstates the dominance of English in international exchanges. Bearing this in mind, Barbour examines policies at both national and international level in order to bring education into line with the need for effective communication across language boundaries.
Chapter 2: Jenny Cheshire: Who We Are and Where We're Going: Language and Identities in the New Europe, pp 19-34. In this chapter, Cheshire continues the debate about English and emphasizing on shifts in the spoken language that reflect changes in young adults' identity. That's why she draws on research on dialect levelling in contrastive English towns where young people -- through the variable use of certain vowels and certain non-standard grammatical features -- construct both regional and class identity. Cheshire compares the situation with mainland Europe where English in daily life is increasingly invading young people's expression or construction, respectively, of their multiple identities. According to Cheshire, this target group responds emotionally to English even incorporating it in their language rather than just learning it. By doing so, English tends to become a language separated from association with native speakers of British English and elsewhere. Despite the just concern about an English dominance in a multilingual Europe -- particularly voiced by non-native English speakers -- the present situation augurs well for the development of an original European identity.
Chapter 3: Richard Trim: The Lexicon in European Languages Today: Unification or Diversification, pp 35-45. Richard Trim's paper, too, deals with dominance by a particular language and its impact on other languages. Trim suggests that, despite the ongoing internationalization of lexis and technology, business and politics, and unifying trends in borrowing processes, the meanings of words, at least in the figurative lexicon, are unlikely to become uniform. This, Trim continues, appears particularly true because cross-fertilisation of meaning has not prevented a proportion of the lexicon choosing paths specific to either one language or groups of languages. He impressively illustrates his findings analysing the shared metaphor 'dryness' in English and French.
Chapter 4: Paul Gubbins: Lost in Translation: EU Language Policy in an Expanded Europe, pp 46-58. Paul Gubbins' contribution is about language policy and its confusion causing linguistic identity within the European Union (EU) claiming the EU is ill-prepared for the linguistic challenges owing to the enlargement to possibly 25 nations. By looking at the gap between EU-policy and its practice in reality Gubbins considers some of the options suitable for bridging it including proposals tabled by the 'Italian Radical Party' such as calling for Latin and Esperanto as lingua franca. Despite Gubbins' conclusion the EU had a long way to go before reaching consensus on a democratic language policy it may yet avoid the fate envisaged by the Radical Party that the 'lack of a lasting solution for the language problem may threaten long term political cohesion of the EU'.
Chapter 5: Harald Haarmann: Identity in Transition: Cultural Memory, Language and Symbolic Russianness, pp 59-72. Haarmann applies himself to a more specific approach examining the implications of the feminine gender in determining Russian identity in the post-Soviet era. He highlights the efforts of leaders such as Lenin to play down nationalistic overtones in a concept such as 'Mother Russia'. Despite prevailing communist doctrine, the linguistic pull of feminism as a form of national identity proved so strong that even in the 1960s it was reflected in national documents. In 1991, however, a significant change occurred when many non-Russians decided to abandon 'Mother Russia' in favour of separation from the former Soviet Union as they considered the idea of 'Mother Russia' an obsolete one. Some of them such as Chechens, to a less extent among peoples in southern Siberia and the far north (Slezkine, 1994), associate an enemy vision, a somehow disguise of covert colonialism. Haarmann comes to the conclusion that owing to the current stalemate between the conflicting ideologies of moderates and reformers and to incursions into the Russian language by English there is a yearning at least in Russia for the historical security of the past epitomised by 'Mother Russia'.
Chapter 6: Brendan Murphy, Cristina Diaz-Varela and Salvatore Coluccello: Transformation of the State in Western Europe: Regionalism in Catalonia and Northern Italy, pp 73-90. The three co-authors' paper is about the distinction between policies in Spain (Catalonia) and Italy (Padania). According to them, Catalonia's coherent national identity has grown over centuries of distinct development from the central state whereas Padania might be regarded a political construct rather than a social reality. In comparison with Catalonia, achievements of the Padanian separatists remain disparate and elusive, both most prosperous regions of Spain and Italy, however, continue to press for increased autonomy and even secession. Despite the separatist tendencies standing in contradiction to national unity at a quick glance, the federalist direction of the EU seems to facilitate the construction of alternative identities, particularly by weakening the prestige of established states (Keating, 1998).
Chapter 7: Sue Wright: Fixing National Borders: Language and Loyalty in Nice, pp 91-100. Sue Wright examines border regions and the identity changes they almost inevitably go through. According to her, many of these regions are spearheading cross-frontier initiatives in the context of a Europe of the regions. To illustrate her theory, she analyses the relations between Nice and Italy, in particular between 1855 and 1865, suggesting the alignment from the House of Savoy to incorporation in the French state was so swift and at the same time so comprehensive that it cut Nice from its old links and networks. Despite today's politicians serious efforts to restore Nissart -- the autochthonous language of the Nicois -- to life again it obviously means only little to the present Nicois as a research conducted in early 1999 revealed when merely 10% of those using the Nice bus service recognized that the timetable was given in French and Nissart. Wright concludes a similar process of shifting identity as in the Nice area can be seen to some extent in the rest of present-day Europe through 'colonisation' by English.
Chapter 8: Mike Holt: The French Language, Universalism and Post-colonial Identity, pp 101-110. Mike Holt's contribution deals with French as a 'colonising' language, too. He picks out as a central theme the increasingly violent conflict between the proponents of French and Arabic for the right to represent Algerian identity. Holt argues that despite Algeria being often portrayed as a country assimilated into French culture and language, this was never truly the case. Although universalist claims for French provide strong cultural identity the same claims enabled Algeria after independence to seek another universalism, one associated not with French language and culture but with Arab nationalism. However, French still plays a role in national life and, according to Holt, yet can make no claims to represent national identity. Instead standard Arabic tends to take over the role of representing Algerian identity even though it also has no specifically Algerian pedigree.
Chapter 9: Michael Anderson: 'It's a Culture Thing': Children, Language and 'Boundary' in the Bicultural Family, pp 111-125. Michael Anderson's paper is about identity and raising issues concerning children from parents of different European nationalities. He takes a social anthropological perspective and offers an insight into cultural 'boundaries' in domestic family settings. Referring to fieldwork from Greek-British bicultural families Anderson notes that children can sometimes be co-creators of their own hybrid identities rather than a receptacle of parental beliefs. He supports his findings by giving illustrating examples from children's use of language in their home and beyond.
Chapter 10: Lerleen Willis: Language Use and Identity Among African-Caribbean Young People in Sheffield, pp 126-144. Lerleen Willis maintains the bilingual debate examining Creole-English bilingualism and the manner in which second- and third-generation African-Caribbeans in Britain overcome the constraints of societal attitudes and prejudice. According to Willis, these young people manage to define a personal and group identity based on in-group language despite the fact their mother tongue being often a Creole and thus regarded a low-status language complicating recognition of bilingual competence. Supposedly, many young African-Caribbeans are reluctant to embrace the culture and identity of Britain into which they were born. By doing so, they support the desire to maintain a separate black African identity within a wider British and as a consequence European context.
Chapter 11: Mike Reynolds: Punjabi/Urdu in Sheffield: Language Maintenance and Loss and Development of a Mixed Code, pp 145-162. Mike Reynolds presents the findings of a three-year study carried out in Sheffield dealing offering a different perspective on minority language use. It is about bilingual speakers of Punjabi/Urdu focusing on mixed code and thus examining its causality within the framework of social network membership, code-switching behaviours and language maintenance or shift, respectively.
CRITICAL EVALUATION Most of the chapters summarized above illustrate the complex and multifaceted nature of language identity. What becomes clear from all the contributions in the present volume is that language identity in Europe is diverse, complex and ever changing. Some chapters focus on the territorial and regional issues and others on the multiple identities associated with migration and urban environments. Some are concerned with identity in relation to the state and others with the individual's sense of identity. What they all have in common is somehow a kaleidoscope of shifting identities and loyalties in Western Europe and beyond. Although to some readers and especially to members of ethnic groups affected born and bred into the relative stability of white-class Britain it might appear that much of the discussion in this book is distant and irrelevant. I take the liberty to dispel such criticism as depicted in each single chapter change -- no matter whether at transitional, national, regional or local level -- is manifest in a variety of linguistic and other ways. Even though this change takes place gradually and seldom immediately apparent, in my opinion, this book represents an essential contribution to sharpen awareness of acknowledging linguistic borders' fluidity, i.e. atrophying them -- highly recommendable, hopefully not only for those interested in sociolinguistics!
REFERENCES Keating, M. (1998) The New Regionalism in Western Europe. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Slezkine, Y. (1994) Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching German as A Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at Saga National University and Kurume University, both on the Southern island of Kyushu (Japan). His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilinguism and autonomous learning and teaching approaches, respectively, particularly Learning by Teaching (LdL).