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Review of 'Ja toch?' Linguistic style, discourse markers and construction of identity by adolescents in Amsterdam
AUTHOR: Gerda H. Schokkin TITLE: ‘Ja toch?’ Linguistic style, discourse markers and construction of identity by adolescents in Amsterdam SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Sociolinguistics 11 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2011
Joshua Raclaw, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado at Boulder
This book provides a multimodal analysis of two Dutch discourse markers, “maar” and “toch”, investigating their use among multi-ethnic youth in Amsterdam. Based on Schokkin’s MA thesis at the University of Amsterdam, the text is a relatively short seventy pages (excluding the table of contents and references) spread across seven chapters. Despite its length, the book contributes to two diverse areas of research, as noted by the author: sociolinguistic analyses of linguistic style and identity, and pragmatics-oriented analyses of discourse particles. To the former, Schokkin’s work provides an impetus for future work to explore the sociolinguistic functions served by discourse particles, which have often been overlooked in favor of other (e.g. phonological and morphosyntactic) variables. To the latter, the book illustrates how analyses of interactional and pragmatic functions of discourse particles can be well supplemented by examining their use in performing acts of identity.
The book’s first chapter, formally titled as its Introduction, is more accurately an abstract of the overall study. At only a page long, it outlines the scope of the book in general terms, and frames the study as contributing primarily to work on linguistic style and multi-ethnic youth language.
The second chapter provides the theoretical background for the study. The chapter is divided into multiple sections that introduce the reader to key concepts in sociolinguistic analysis (e.g. “style”, “crossing”, and “audience design”) and provide a literature review of previous work on ethnolects and discourse particles. The chapter also provides an overview of Moroccan Flavoured Dutch, an ethnicized variety that is later discussed in the qualitative analysis of the data. The final sub-sections of this chapter introduce the two particles that are investigated in the study, “maar” and “toch”. As with most discourse particles, providing a gloss of the terms is difficult. “Maar” is alternately translatable as ‘but’ when used as a conjunction and ‘only’ when deployed in its adverbial sense, and is largely untranslatable in its role as a modal particle. Schokkin notes that “maar” can be used to accomplish a range of social actions in its use as a conjunction, such as beginning topics or returning to a prior one. The author’s description of these interactional functions is brief, however, with far more of the chapter providing discussion of those functions of the particles related to stance and identity. The chapter provides a similar analysis of the second particle to be examined, “toch”, the meaning of which is much harder to pin down than “maar”. In stressed instances of use, the particle highlights the opposition between two propositions, while in unstressed instances it may be used as a tag question or to project a particular stance.
The third chapter, at just over a page in length, outlines the research questions posed by the study. Though the author provides a short list of five sub-questions that she goes on to answer in the concluding chapter of the book, the study is primarily geared towards two larger research questions. First, at the more local level of analysis, how does the use of the particles “maar” and “toch” differ across ethnic groups? Second, at a broader, more macro-level, how does variation in pragmatic or discourse particles relate to identity construction? While the second chapter highlights the use of both quantitative and qualitative sociolinguistics as research methodologies, the author frames the larger goal of the book during the third chapter in distinctly variationist terms: to illustrate how quantitative variation in the use of pragmatic or discourse particles is related to identity construction.
The fourth chapter provides an overview of the data and introduces the speakers whose interactions were analyzed. The speakers were split into two groups during recordings, a younger (ages 10-12) and an older group (ages 18-20). For analytic purposes, the age-based groups were further divided into two types of ethnic groups: speakers that were ethnically Dutch and spoke Dutch as a mother tongue, and speakers that were either of Moroccan or Turkish descent and spoke Moroccan Arabic, Berber, or Turkish as a mother tongue.
The fifth chapter provides a quantitative analysis of how these speakers used “maar” and “toch” in the recorded interactions. The data is presented primarily in terms of frequency of use: how often each pragmatic function of the particle is used across ethnic groups, across age groups, and according to combinations of speaker and interlocutor ethnicity. For example, “zeg maar” (a multifunctional formulaic phrase that can mark contemplation, maintain a turn at talk, or accomplish other social actions) was used around three times as often by the older Dutch participants as it was by the older Moroccan or Turkish participants. Schokkin argues that the Turkish participants appear to orient to this occurrence of “maar” as indexical of Dutch identity, as they make use of the particle phrase far more often with Dutch speakers than with Turkish or Moroccan speakers (indicating likely speaker accommodation).
The sixth chapter presents a qualitative analysis of the data, which largely illustrates the larger discursive contexts in which particular functions of particles are used by speakers. For example, the phrasal “ja weet toch” (an epistemically-oriented tag question) can be used within Moroccan Flavoured Dutch to strengthen a claim, particularly when co-occurring with other “ethnically marked” language (such as Turkish/Danish code-mixing). When used with interlocutors of the same ethnic background, these same uses of “toch” can be used to seek solidarity with other speakers. The author also provides a brief analysis of speakers’ metalinguistic awareness of how particle use is tied to ethnically-linked social positions. For example, one Turkish speaker (Mehmet) notes that Dutch speakers will put “strange words” in their speech, and we see two Moroccan speakers perform a stylized “cool” identity with frequent use of the phrasal “ja toch” (Eng. “yeah sure”).
The seventh chapter closes the analysis with a brief conclusion based primarily on providing answers to the research “sub-questions” posed in the third chapter. The author concludes by reiterating some of the cross-ethnic functions and frequencies of particular uses of “maar” and “toch”, arguing the strong role that particles play in her data as markers of ethnically-tied youth identities. The book ends with suggestions for future research, such as including other local immigrant groups (such as Surinamese and Antillean speakers), and including gender as a variable of analysis (which was largely absent from the present analysis).
Though Schokkin situates her text as a response to work in sociolinguistics, linguistic pragmatics, and forms of socially-oriented discourse analysis, it will likely also be of interest to sociologists and communication scholars interested in issues related to ethnicity and identity. The book is readily accessible to a general academic audience; the majority of terms and concepts related to sociolinguistic analysis are found in the second chapter, which provides the theoretical background to the study. In fact, only one of the other chapters -- the sixth chapter, providing the qualitative analysis of the data -- significantly draws on any type of sociolinguistic theory or key terms. The second chapter provides a thorough introduction to both prior work and key concepts in sociolinguistics, and parts of it would make for a valuable introductory reading to graduate-level courses. However, the chapter feels slightly out of fit with the rest of the text. A number of the concepts presented in this section are rarely, if ever, drawn upon again in the remainder of the book. Given that the second chapter takes up over a third of the book, it occasionally felt like the space devoted to the background for the analysis could have been better spent on the analysis itself.
The analysis of the data in the fifth and sixth chapters is convincing, and the author makes a strong case for the complementarity of quantitative and qualitative approaches. While arguing for mixed methods, the author appears to favor quantitative approaches to the data throughout the text -- for example, by framing the study’s research questions in variationist terms, noting the “problem” that qualitative studies cannot be effectively reproduced, and by framing qualitative work as providing supplementary insight into quantitative analyses without also considering how the opposite may be true. Overall, the book presents a smart, though concise, analysis of a largely undiscussed sociolinguistic phenomenon: the role played by discourse particles in ethnolectal styles. It is likely that the text will pave the way for similar, further research within both sociolinguistics and socially-oriented discourse analysis.
Eckert, P. (2000). Linguistic variation as social practice. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Joshua Raclaw is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Linguistics at
the University of Colorado at Boulder. His dissertation is a conversation
analytic study of two of the non-disagreeing functions of the English
response particle ‘no’. His research interests include the broader
functions of response particles and discourse markers in English, the use
of prosody and gesture in interaction, the relationship between language,
gender, and sexuality, the sociolinguistics of computer-mediated discourse,
and qualitative research methods (especially conversation analysis and