LINGUIST List 20.2672

Mon Aug 03 2009

Review: Sociolinguistics: Block (2009)

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        1.    Laura Callahan, Second Language Identities

Message 1: Second Language Identities
Date: 03-Aug-2009
From: Laura Callahan <>
Subject: Second Language Identities
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AUTHOR: Block, David TITLE: Second Language Identities PUBLISHER: Continuum YEAR: 2009

Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York

SUMMARY This is the paperback edition of a book first published in 2007. It contains seven chapters, references, and an index. Notes are placed at the end of the chapter in which they appear.

Chapter 1: Introduction. Here the author situates identity as it is to be examined in this book, beginning with a brief acknowledgement of popular perspectives on the concept. With respect to second language learning (hereafter SLL), he quotes Norton (1995: 12), who states that ''SLA theorists have not developed a comprehensive theory of social identity that integrates the language learner and the language learning context'' (p.1); Block notes that much work in identity has been done since the 1990s. He next provides a brief overview of its theoretical trajectory in various social sciences disciplines, from which the field of applied linguistics has borrowed as identity has grown in interest for SLL researchers. Block maintains that ''[t]he rise of identity in SLL has [...] been a question of catching up with developments in other social sciences'' (p. 2). He provides several references of work on the history of identity, from the Western European enlightenment to the postmodern age. Finally, he summarizes the content of the remaining chapters, and also anticipates questions readers might raise about this volume's scope.

Chapter 2: Identity in the social sciences today. Block examines the poststructuralist view of identity, with a comprehensive overview of significant work from the past 20 years, as well as its foundations from earlier decades. Concepts elucidated include subjectivity, discursive construction and discourse; performativity and presentation of self; positioning; ambivalence and hybridity; communities of practice; and power and recognition. He then contemplates the seven most common angles from which identity has been examined: race and ethnicity (considered in combination here to reflect their frequent, if erroneous, conflation), national identity, migrant identity, gender identity, social class identity, and language identity. He cites authors who have objected to an over-reliance on the construct of individual agency (e.g. May 2001), and ultimately demonstrates that the progression from essentialist to poststructuralist and social constructivist views can be seen as a building onto rather than a full scale replacement of one school by another.

Chapter 3: Revisiting the past: identity in early SLL research. In this chapter Block reviews pertinent studies from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, teasing out references to identity. He points out that some work in the social sciences decades prior to this contains ''the seeds of poststructuralism'' (p. 47), citing Whyte's 1943 book Street Corner Society. He then details early research on motivation and French/English bilingualism, moving on to studies of the language ego and adult ESL learners' pronunciation, work on the experience of migrant laborers and the Acculturation Model, studies of affect in SLL, diary accounts of foreign language learning experiences, the professional migrant experience and fossilization, and the professional sojourner experience.

Chapter 4: Identity in adult migrant contexts. This chapter is the first in a series of three, each one of which focuses on a specific SLL context. Block argues that ''it is in the adult migrant context that identity and one's sense of self are most put on the line [... and] individuals are forced to reconstruct and redefine themselves, both for their own sense of ontological security (Giddens, 1991) and the positions ascribed to them by others in their new surroundings'' (p. 75). He examines investigations from the 1990s and 2000s on adult migrants and gate-keeping encounters in Western European countries, Portuguese among Toronto factory workers, life stories of female immigrants in Toronto, the language-based masculinities of a Polish immigrant in California, and Spanish-speaking Latinos in London.

Chapter 5: Identity in foreign language contexts. Here Block considers the possibilities that ''the emergence of significant new subject positions mediated by the TL [target language]'' (p. 113) will actually take place in classroom settings in which students attempt to ''learn a language that is not the typical language of communication outside the classroom'' (p. 112). Studies discussed include ones focusing on interlanguage pragmatics and the identity of the foreign language learner; intercultural language learning; textual identity, language play, and the identity of the foreign language learner; foreign language learning diaries; and the interpersonal language learner. Block then reviews two cases that present exceptions to his conclusion that identity in foreign language contexts is not often subject to target language mediation. Both feature variations from the traditional pedagogical context. The first involves Japanese women studying English in Japan, in classes in which instruction is organized around feminist themes. The second involves university students in a French course in the U.S. who use the Internet to communicate with French speakers in France.

Chapter 6: Identity in study abroad contexts. In the final context of the tripartite series, Block examines work on the study abroad experience that includes case studies of sexual harassment of female students in three countries, gendered subject positions, student-teacher subject positions, and enhanced national identity as a result of the study abroad experience. It is worth noting that this last outcome, an enhanced national identity, is the exact opposite of what language educators have in mind when they encourage students to spend one or more academic terms living abroad. In addition, as is also the case in adult migrant contexts, mere physical presence in a country where the target language is spoken does not guarantee an abundance of opportunities to interact in the second language, even when potential interlocutors do not speak the learner's first language. The chapter ends with a call for more research on the study abroad experience. While acknowledging the diverse perspectives offered in recent investigations, Block argues that more investigations need to be done, including ones covering a broader range of nationalities of both students and host countries.

Chapter 7: Second language identities: future directions. In the closing chapter, Block suggests five angles for future work on identity: a greater emphasis on social class, expanding the ambit of the 'First Language', the emergence of local lingua francas, electronically mediated SLL experiences, and the psychoanalytic perspective. In regard to this last item, he points out problems that may arise when researchers who lack a thorough grounding in a discipline not central to their field of expertise attempt to incorporate psychoanalysis into SLL studies.

EVALUATION For its extensive survey of authors (too numerous to have included more than a few names in this review) along with Block's lucid observations of their significance and connections to other work, Second Language Identities is to be recommended to graduate students and researchers who wish to acquaint themselves with seminal studies in the discipline of identity in SLL. The volume contains a cohesive sample of not only recent work - in which identity is the explicit object of investigation - but also of earlier studies in which it was not in the foreground but was nevertheless present in a less developed form. Two qualities make the book especially readable. The first is that a case study-like approach is taken with the investigations presented, in that Block goes into enough detail to give a genuine sense of each one he has chosen to include. The second is that information essential to an understanding of fundamental issues is repeated at a rate appropriate to the volume's denseness.

With respect to Block's assessment of the studies he describes, it is important to note, as he duly does, that the original authors did not in most cases set out with the same objectives that Block and other writers he mentions use to criticize these studies' shortcomings. As Block warns us in the first chapter, ''[a]s I discuss these studies, the reader should bear in mind that I am deliberately misreading them, as I frame findings according to my own purposes and intentions'' (p. 4). This approach works well, even if at times it may seem as though work not intended to address the issue of identity in SLL is unjustly criticized for not going far enough in that direction.

REFERENCES Giddens, A. (1991). _Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age_. Cambridge: Polity.

May, S. (2001). _Language and Minority Rights_. London: Longman.

Norton (Pierce), B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. _TESOL Quarterly_, 29 (1), 9-31.

Whyte, W. F. (1943). _Street Corner Society_. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Laura Callahan is currently Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY), and Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in Urban Society (RISLUS), at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include intercultural communication, language and identity, and heritage language maintenance. Her most recent publication is _Spanish and English in U.S. Service Encounters_ (Palgrave Macmillan 2009).