LINGUIST List 20.2338

Tue Jun 30 2009

Review: Sociolinguistics: Meyerhoff & Nagy (2008)

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        1.    Ronald Kim, Social Lives in Language

Message 1: Social Lives in Language
Date: 30-Jun-2009
From: Ronald Kim <>
Subject: Social Lives in Language
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EDITORS: Meyerhoff, Miriam; Nagy, NaomiTITLE: Social Lives in LanguageSUBTITLE: Sociolinguistics and Multilingual Speech Communities. Celebrating theWork of Gillian SankoffSERIES: IMPACT Studies in Language and Society 24PUBLISHER: John BenjaminsYEAR: 2008

Ronald I. Kim, Institute of English Philology, Wroclaw University

For almost four decades, Gillian Sankoff has been a leading figure in the fieldsof anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics, language contact, and pidginand creole studies. From her pioneering fieldwork in Papua New Guinea to herstudies of Montreal French, and more recently her research on language changeacross the lifespan, Sankoff has endeavored to understand language within itsproper social and cultural context. _The Social Life of Language_, a collectionof her earlier papers (Sankoff 1980), is still widely cited for its manygroundbreaking descriptions and analyses of multilingual speech communities,which sought to relate variation and change in languages to ongoing developmentsin the lives of their speakers.

The present _Festschrift_ is a worthy tribute to Sankoff's achievements, andcontains articles by a representative cross-sample of her colleagues,collaborators, and students. Not surprisingly given the honorand's researchinterests, many of them address aspects of variation and change in CanadianFrench (in contact with English) and the Melanesian pidgins of the southwestPacific -- respectively six and three, out of a total of 13 -- but South Africa,Australia, France, and the United States are represented as well. Thisgeographic and linguistic diversity is highlighted by the editors in theirintroduction (1-16), which summarizes Sankoff's career and significant role inthe development of modern sociolinguistics.

Below I summarize the book, followed by critical evaluation. Where warranted, Ifollow a chapter summary with specific evaluative remarks about the chapter.

SUMMARYThe contributions are organized into three sections, which move along a roughspectrum from more ''socially'' to more ''linguistically'' focused approaches.

Section 1, ''Language Ideology'', begins with Michelle Daveluy's discussion ofFrancophone Canadian language use and identity (27-42). Although the greatmajority of Canadian French varieties (excluding Acadian) share common dialectalorigins and linguistic histories, Daveluy claims that what unites and dividesFrancophones in Canada today is their linguistic attitudes toward each other,and that they are best seen as ''a set of multilingual speech communities'' (28).

Daveluy's observations about the linguistic insecurity of certain Frenchspeakers in the Atlantic Provinces toward Québécois, or the friction betweenlocal and outside Francophones in Alberta, are well taken, but I fail to see howthese situations differ significantly from other such identity conflicts amongspeakers of the same language elsewhere around the globe.

Christine Jourdan (43-67) explores the changing linguistic repertoires ofmiddle-class Solomon Islanders living in the capital Honiara, in relation totheir extended family in different parts of the Solomon Islands archipelago. Herethnographic study demonstrates that the earlier dichotomy between (multiple)local languages and Solomon Islands Pijin is shifting toward one between Pijinand English for younger Honiarans, a process which resembles that taking placein neighboring Pacific societies (e.g. Papua New Guinea, as studied by Sankoffin the 1970s) and much of the postcolonial world.

Felicity Meakins (69-94) reviews the history of the Gurindji people inAustralia's Northern Territory and convincingly argues that their struggle forland rights in the 1960s-70s and strong sense of group identity are intimatelylinked to the creation of Gurindji Kriol, a mixed language intertwining elementsof Gurindji and Kriol, the English-lexifier creole now spoken by most NorthernTerritory Aborigines. The social history of the Gurindji explains why theyacquired knowledge of Kriol to communicate with other Aborigines, both beforeand especially after the onset of the land struggle and political activism inthe 1960s; but also why, unlike most other Aboriginal groups, they have not(yet) abandoned their traditional language in favor of Kriol. From the briefdiscussion on pages 73-5 and 84-5, this mixed language bears interestingparallels to the neighboring Light Warlpiri, in that the NP is mainly taken fromGurindji, the VP from Kriol, and the vocabulary in roughly equal measure fromboth sources. There are some signs, however, that the situation is not stable,and that younger speakers are moving towards a language that is increasinglyKriol in structure and content.

Rajend Mesthrie (95-109) proposes that Tsotsitaal/Flaaitaal and comparablevarieties spoken in urban South Africa, which he refers to collectively as''tsotsitaals'' and whose origin and status have long been debated (pidgin-likecontact languages? antilanguages? fossilized code-switching?), have mainlyborrowed lexical items associated with male-oriented youth culture, from prisonsand gangs to everyday street life. As supporting evidence, he adduces thepreviously undescribed English-based tsotsitaal spoken by young Indian andColoured men in KwaZulu-Natal province since the 1960s, which contains manywords and elements from Afrikaans (and Zulu) whose meaning would have beenobscure to the Indian community at large. Mesthrie concludes that tsotsitaalsare marked by ''a lexical code...that has the permeable, areal quality ofpenetrating just about any prior-existing variety in certain gender-specificsub-cultures, domains and semantic fields'' (97), and offers a list of featurescommon to them (107-8).

Bambi Schieffelin (111-34) examines Christian evangelization and social andcultural transformation among the Bosavi in southern Papua New Guinea through ananalysis of translations for the Christian concept of ''parable''. This term wasfirst translated into Tok Pisin in 1969 as _tok bokis_ 'secret language', butthe lack of literacy among the Bosavi, the great differences between theirtraditional narrative styles and those of Christian preaching, and the omissionof three crucial verses in the _Parable of the Sower_ left most Bosavi in thedark as to its deeper meaning; furthermore, the Bosavi rendering of _tok bokis_referred to traditional styles of indirect speaking, e.g. circumlocution oftaboo topics or secret languages, and so was ill suited to describing the newknowledge of the Christian Gospel. After the revised 1978 Tok Pisin Biblereplaced _tok bokis_ with _tok piksa_ 'simile', Bosavi preachers began topresent parable as a kind of 'explanation', but Schieffelin argues that this toohas had only limited success in communicating the full meaning of parable, andhence of Christian theology in general, to the Bosavi.

Part II, ''Bridging Macro- and Micro-sociolinguistics'', contains studies thatfocus more or less equally on the social and political contexts of speechcommunities and the quantitative analysis of linguistic variation. Ruth King'scontribution (137-78), the longest in the volume, provides a detailed analysisof _chiac_, the form of Acadian French spoken in southeastern New Brunswick inand around the city of Moncton. _Chiac_ has long been in intensive contact withlocal varieties of English, and all speakers today are bilingual. King presentsthe major contact-induced features of _chiac_, comparing them with similarphenomena in other Acadian varieties of the Atlantic Provinces. In line with heranalysis of Prince Edward Island French (King 2000), she argues that theappearance of English discourse markers (e.g. _I guess_, _whatever_) andphrase-final prepositions is not due to syntactic borrowing, but reflectssemantic and syntactic reanalysis on the part of _chiac_ speakers, such as hasclearly taken place with English _back_ 'again, re-' in e.g. _Il m'a backfrappé_ 'He hit me again'.

David Sankoff (179-94) presents a computational model for predicting the numberof speakers of a language in the process of revival (e.g. Catalan), which mayalso be applied to the growth of literacy in a language undergoing expansion andnativization (e.g. Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea, where Sankoff was brieflyemployed as a demographer in the 1960s). The model, which takes into accountongoing language shift and transmission, school-age acquisition, and laterdecline in usage, appears to correspond well with literacy data from Papua NewGuinea census statistics.

Pierrette Thibault (195-219) reports on fieldwork conducted in 2001-3 in theborder community of Stanstead in Quebec's Eastern Townships, where young peopleare fully bilingual in French and English. Her research has not yet definitivelyanswered the question in the title, whether the local variety of French signalsa border identity distinct from that of the rest of Quebec: the neutralizationof the singular-plural distinction in present third-singular verbs is wellattested elsewhere in Canadian French minority communities, and thepronunciation of /r/ (now almost universally dorsal) reveals influence fromAmerican English only in loanwords. However, the aspiration of /p/ does show acorrelation with use of English in the home. Aside from this and perhaps someother phonetic features, Thibault plausibly conjectures that stable bilingualismand widespread code-switching may be the most salient linguistic markers oflocal identity for Stanstead and similar border towns.

Part III, ''Quantitative Sociolinguistics'', features five chapters from thecutting edge of contemporary variationist linguistic research. Julie Auger andAnne-José Villeneuve (223-47) examine the distribution of _ne_ deletion inspoken Picard and French of the Vimeu region in northern France. Her researchdemonstrates the contrast between the grammars of Picard and French for thisfeature, related _inter alia_ to the differences in negative adverbs (French_pas_ vs. Picard _point_, _mie_) and expletive subjects.

I must emphasize, however, that these and other divergences do not ''prove'' thatPicard is a language in its own right. The status of Picard, or any otherminority regional variety in the world today, rests on political developmentswhich are often wholly unrelated to the _Abstand_ of the linguistic varietiesinvolved: witness the violent disintegration of Serbo-Croatian into severalstill evolving, fully mutually intelligible state languages, in contrast to theso far limited success of regional languages in most of western Europe oreastern Asia, from Scots to Sicilian to Shanghainese.

Hélène Blondeau (249-71) analyzes data from 19th-century Quebec and modernsociolinguistic studies of French- and English-speaking Montrealers to trace thechanges in the Québécois French system of personal pronouns. Despite thedivergent nature of the corpora, her results clearly show that _on_ for _nous_'we' is an old feature of Québécois French, almost categorical already in the19th century. The use of second-person _tu_ and _vous_ for indefinite _on_ (cf.English _you_) and of simple nonclitic plural pronouns for compound _nousautres_, _vous autres_, _eux autres_ has increased during the 20th century, butBlondeau questions the assumption that contact with English is responsible,stressing that changes in interactional patterns, as well as social andstylistic factors, have surely played a role. For all three variables, the L2French of Anglophone Montrealers (especially the more proficient speakers)closely follows the usage of native speakers, a pattern also confirmed by otherstudies.

Blondeau and Naomi Nagy (273-313) examine variation in the use of full vs. nullcomplementizers in the French and English of Anglophone Montrealers, and comparetheir usage to that of L1 Québécois French and Quebec City English speakers.Multivariate analysis reveals that lexical identity/frequency of the main verband subject of the matrix clause are significant in both languages, while thefollowing phonological environment is unsurprisingly more significant in French(a following obstruent favors deletion of _que_). The results for AnglophoneMontreal French accord well with those for the L1 French speakers, and likewisefor the two English corpora. The authors conclude with a syntactic analysis ofEnglish _like_ and French _comme_, and persuasively argue that _like_ in thespeech of Montreal (and other) Anglophones functions as a complementizer as wellas a verb of quotation, whereas _comme_ is only now beginning to take on thelatter role in the French of native speakers.

William Labov's paper (315-26) investigates several American English variablesassociated with ethnicity, and points out that none of them is a straightforwardinstance of transfer from the language of the immigrant generation. Some, suchas the confusion of _let_ and _make_ among Italian Americans or the use of_later_ for 'earlier' among Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, remain completelymysterious. On the other hand, the _r_-less pronunciation of Italian Americansin rhotic (white) Philadelphia may be a ''reverse ethnic effect'', a reaction tothe stigmatized, frequently stereotyped rolled _r_ of central and southernItalian dialects and Italian-accented English

However, I would not discount the importance of family and social ties to theItalian community of _r_-vocalizing New York City. The _Don_-_Dawn_ merger inthe northeastern Pennsylvania coal country is also only indirectly related totransfer. I suggest that, because the contrast of /o/ and /oh/ was notphonetically salient and carried a low functional load, the predominantly Polishand other Slavic-speaking immigrants did not acquire it, and this merger wasthen adopted by their children. Other ethnic patterns are not related tosubstrate effects at all, e.g. the advance of ingliding /oh/ among speakers ofEast European Jewish background in New York City; pace Labov, I take this toreflect an association of particular phonetic variants with membership in anethnically defined subgroup of the local community of native U.S. English speakers.

Miriam Meyerhoff (327-55) addresses the recent debate over the allegedsimplicity of creole grammars and their constituting a typological class oflanguages, definable independently of their social history and evolution. Basedon her years of research on Bislama, she argues that seemingly ''simple''morphosyntactic features may conceal a wide range of categorical distinctions,which frequently correspond to those of local substrate languages and are bestgrasped by considering different levels of linguistic structure together(phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics). Thus the use of null vs. pronominalobjects is correlated with alienable vs. inalienable possession; null subjectpronouns are more common in the 3rd person and when the subject NP waspreviously mentioned (i.e. contains given information); and the distribution of_se_ and _olsem_ offers ''very limited support for an emergent complementisersystem'' based on evidentiality (350). In a fourth example from Tayo, theFrench-lexifier creole of New Caledonia, a complicated form of substratetransfer likewise underlies the three-way contrast in possessive marking.

I would note simply that both Bislama and Tayo have been spoken natively for atleast two generations now, and alongside numerous local languages, so that evenif one accepts a restricted version of the ''simplicity'' hypothesis -- e.g., oneconfined to surface morphosyntactic simplicity and derivational transparency --the kinds of incipient grammaticalization and semantic-pragmatic ''complication''reported by Meyerhoff are fully expected outcomes of natural language changeand/or transfer in multilingual contact situations.

EVALUATIONThe book is beautifully produced and well edited, and most of the relatively fewerrors involve phrasing and are self-correcting. Diagram 1b on p. 55 is notentirely clear: if I have understood Jourdan's discussion correctly, Mrs. 1 andMrs. 4 spoke two vernaculars as well as their later acquired Pijin; Mrs. 8 hasapparently learned Pijin as well, though this is not mentioned; and children16-18 should be shaded ''1V+P''. On p. 65, the first sentence of the lastparagraph should read ''the shift to the dyad Pijin/English''. At the bottom of p.172, King's quote from her 2000 book should end ''to the whole set of PrinceEdward Island [French -- RIK] prepositions''. In David Sankoff's article, thefirst summation in the formula on p. 182 should read ''a=3,...,9'' underneath; inthe formula for C(0) in section 2.4 (p. 186), the denominator should read''(t2-t1)+1''. In Blondeau and Nagy's Table 11 (p. 297), ''Overall rate of COMP''should be gray-shaded for Quebec City English and Anglophone Montreal English,which have similar percentages; perhaps different shades could have been usedfor the English resp. French data sets. In light of Table 8, I am also not surewhy ''Subordinate clause subject'' is given as ''not sig.'' for AME.

The appearance of this volume is an important event in sociolinguistics andvariationist linguistics, and many of the studies in it will be of interest to awider audience. Thus Meakins's article is a major contribution to the growingliterature over mixed languages as the products of peculiar identity-formationprocesses (see e.g. the papers in Matras and Bakker 2003); and Mesthrie'sanalysis of South Africa's tsotsitaals naturally raises the possibility of asimilar interpretation for such ''slanguages and ganguages'' elsewhere, especiallyamong young urban males. King's study of _chiac_ adds to the arguments from her2000 monograph that what appears at first glance to be syntactic borrowing inreality stems from speakers' reinterpretation of borrowed lexical material, hereEnglish discourse markers and verb + preposition combinations. Finally, Labov'sarticle forces scholars of American English dialectology, and of languagecontact more generally, to rethink some of their assumptions about substrateeffects; and Meyerhoff's Bislama and Tayo case studies illustrate how seeminglysimple surface morphosyntax may mask considerable complexity on other levels ofcreole grammar. The remaining studies, although containing a wealth of data andinsightful analyses of linguistic and social variation, are likely to appealprimarily to those working on the languages concerned.

The papers collected here also demonstrate that quantitative variationistmethods and anthropologically grounded paradigms are not only indispensable, butmutually complementary approaches to the study of language and society. Inrecent years, a number of younger sociolinguists have lamented the trend towardgrowing polarization in the field, between statistical studies of linguisticvariation (including, but hardly limited to, sociophonetics) which pay littleattention to the larger historical and social contexts of the speech communitiesconcerned, and ethnographic studies of language use, in which linguisticfeatures themselves take a distinct back seat to the construction andnegotiation of individual and/or group identities. Every scholar will of coursehave her/his own perspectives and research priorities, but the best and mostsatisfying results in my opinion will continue to arise from the sort ofintegrated approach that characterizes most of the studies in this_Festschrift_, i.e. one which seeks to describe and explain linguisticstructure, variation, and change in all their real-life complexity _and_ relatelanguage use to the social and political lives of the users.

In all, _Social Lives in Language_ bears elegant witness to the robust state ofsociolinguistics today, 40 years after Gillian Sankoff entered what was thenuncharted intellectual territory. One wishes her and all of the contributorsmany more productive years of health, collaboration, and exciting new discoveries!

REFERENCESKing, Ruth Elizabeth. 2000. _The Grammatical Basis of Lexical Borrowing: APrince Edward Island French Case Study_. (Amsterdam Studies in the Theory andHistory of Linguistic Science. Series IV: Current Issues in Linguistic Theory,Vol. 209.) Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Matras, Yaron and Peter Bakker, eds. 2003. _The Mixed Language Debate:Theoretical and Empirical Advances_. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Sankoff, Gillian. 1980. _The Social Life of Language_. Philadelphia/London:University of Pennsylvania Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERRonald I. Kim is currently Visiting Professor in the Institute of EnglishPhilology, Wroclaw University, where he teaches English and general linguistics.His research interests include historical linguistics, primarily of theIndo-European languages, as well as sociolinguistics, dialectology, and languagecontact.