Review of Beyond Boundaries
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
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'.
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
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
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,
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,
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!
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).