LINGUIST List 23.1102

Mon Mar 05 2012

Review: Sociolinguistics; Anthropological Ling.: Fishman & García (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 05-Mar-2012
From: Jessica Boynton <>
Subject: Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity
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EDITORS: Joshua Fishman and Ofelia GarcíaTITLE: Handbook of Language and Ethnic IdentitySUBTITLE: The Success-Failure Continuum in Language and Ethnic Identity Efforts (vol. 2)PUBLISHER: Oxford University PressYEAR: 2011

Jessica Boynton, English Department, Gillette Community College; LinguisticsDepartment, University of Western Australia

SUMMARYThe Handbook of Language and Ethnic Identity: The Success-Failure Continuum inLanguage and Ethnic Identity aims to understand why some language and ethnicidentity efforts succeed and others fail. It is intended for a general audience,but also aims to be of use to expert readers. The majority of the content isdivided into four regional sections, while an additional section supplies expertcommentary on the volume as a whole and on the implications of its contents.

African and the Middle EastThe book begins with contributions covering six ethnolinguistic situationsacross African and the Middle East. Neville Alexander examines Afrikaans as aracialized standard for which a loss of power is regarded by speakers asinevitably connected to the Afrikaner's loss of political power since the end ofapartheid. Peter Unseth compares the invention of West Africa indigenous scriptsto identify traits that lead to success, such as careful corpus and domainplanning, while also highlighting the importance of symbolic success even in theface of technical failure. Fatima Sadiqi discusses Amazigh, an indigenouslanguage of Morocco, which enjoys increasingly positive status in part due toits simultaneous connections to an ancestral past and modern (non-Islamic)secularism. Moha Ennaji identifies the successes and failures of Moroccan Arabicin its polydiglossic environment with languages that have more power at theformal level but do not index cultural authenticity as successfully as it does.Mohamed Daoud describes the changing roles of and attitudes about French inTunisia, where a formerly colonized people embrace the language as a benefit ofcolonization and a symbol of modernity. Finally, Ghil'ad Zuckermann discussesthe state of modern Hebrew, analyzing the linguistic and social impact of therevival of Hebrew from a largely frozen liturgical language to a vital (albeitvery much changed) spoken one.

The AmericasThe volume then shifts to the Americas, with five contributions. Django Parisand Arnetha Ball analyze African American Language in the United States, a fullyvital linguistic variety with an enduring stigma that has come to the forefrontduring attempts to accommodate AAL speakers in schools. Miriam EisensteinEbsworth and Timothy John Ebsworth discuss the curious and precarious positionof English in Puerto Rico, where high status and global appeal do not result ina strong speaker base. David F. Marshall traces the history of English spellingreform, finding that reform efforts only even marginally succeed when popularopinion agrees with the reform's goals. Serafín M. Coronel-Molina shares thehistory of Quechua status in Peru to help explain how the former colonial linguafranca has come to endure a strong social stigma despite growing officialsupport. Finally, Aurolyn Luykx describes the 'Reversing Language Shift' effortsfor Quechua in Bolivia, highlighting the unintended conditions and consequencesof recent efforts to 'acknowledge and preserve' the culture and language of anethnic group that suffered massive disruption during colonization.

AsiaThe volume features ten contributions regarding Asia. Robert B. Kaplan andRichard B. Baldauf Jr. treat the unforeseen consequences of ad hoc languageplanning in North Korea, which adhered to socialist principles as part of anattempt to validate North Korea as a socialist state. Shouhui Zhao and RichardB. Baldauf Jr. analyze the successes and failures of multiple attempts tosimplify Chinese characters, finding that success depended largely upon how wellthe reform's goals reflected the social environment of its time. David Bradleycompares the context and outcomes of three reformed orthographies for the Yi inChina, where language planning must take into account the existence of varieddialects, previously existing systems and even a lack of a tradition ofliteracy. M. Obaidul Hamid analyzes the successes and failures of Englishlanguage policy in Bangladesh, a country in which the national language (Bangla)is perceived as a cornerstone to national identity. Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chewdescribes the changing status of Malay in Singapore, which surged in use whenSingapore joined with Malaysia, and then declined as social environment changed.

Madhav M. Deshpande traces the history of Sanskrit in India to explain thedifference between its vitality and ideological acceptability as a classicallanguage and as an altered vernacular. E. Annamalai discusses the rise and fallof Tamil as a symbol of a unified non-Brahmin identity during the Dravidianmovement in southern India. Sipra Mukherjee examines the case of Asamiya, alanguage traditionally associated with Assam that has over time prevailedagainst the imposition of Bengali language and culture through Britishcolonization. Maryam Borjian and Habib Borjian discuss Persian in Iran, focusingon the modern struggle between innovation to meet the demands of modern timesand purification of the language to more authentically index ancient Persianidentity. Finally Jala Garibova discusses the efforts to unify Turks under asingle Turkic language despite the multinational residence and identities ofTurkic people.

EuropeEurope receives the most attention in the volume with twelve contributions.Sabine Ehrhart and Fernand Fehlen discuss the status of Luxembourgish within theplurilingual and pluricultural country of Luxembourg, where writtenLuxembourgish struggles while spoken Luxembourgish flourishes. Anthony R. Rowleyexamines Bavarian, finding that efforts to standardize Bavarian or fight for itsofficial recognition are 'not so much failed as nonexistent' in an environmentwhere minority (Bavarian) identity is not seen as antithetical to majority(German) identity. Michael Hornsby and J. Shaun Nolan present the cases ofBreton and Gallo -- two regional languages of Brittany that are in competitionwith French and, in many ways, with one another. Maria-Jose Azuermendi and IñakiMartinez de Luna investigate the failures and successes of the Euskara (Basque)language movement in Spain and France, finding that success varies according tothe level of political tumult in the different regions where it is spoken.Miguel Ángel Lledó describes Valencian in its position alongside Spanish andclosely-related Catalan in Spain, focusing on the competing approaches inspiredby linguistic proximity to Catalan. Joshua A. Fishman overviews the history andstatus of Yiddish in relation to the Holocaust and the revival of Hebrew.

Marc L. Greenberg explains the history of the Illyrian movement that aimed tounite South Slavic nations under a single identity, which has been successful asa political movement for Croatia but was unsuccessful in its stated goals.Marián Sloboda presents the case of Belarusian, a Slavic language that has seenwide fluctuation in support through beneficial and detrimental symbolic andlinguistic associations. Anna Veronika Wendland shares some of the history oflanguage politics and planning in Austrian Galicia to explain the success ofvernacular-based Standard Ukrainian over liturgical Ruthenian, global languages,and even modern vernacular variants. Erling Wande focuses on Meänkieli, thelanguage of Tornedalians on Sweden's border with Finland that was developed toassert their uniqueness against both Sweden and Finland. Tove Bull discusses thesuccesses and failures of Samnorsk efforts in Norway, where two versions ofNorwegian have been in use since Denmark's rule over Norway. Giedrius Subačiustracks efforts to promote a standard Low Lithuanian to take the place of thethree written varieties that had regional associations.

Concluding ThoughtsNancy Dorian discusses difficulties that language maintenance and revitalizationefforts face and problems associated with diagnosing the success or failure oflanguage efforts. She begins by highlighting the fact that speakers worldwiderecognize the utility of the handful of extremely powerful world languages -- arecognition that often results in language shift. However, she also notes,speakers of minority languages have maintained their traditional tongues theworld over, and efforts abound to revive those that have fallen out of use.Those efforts face practical difficulties, including bridging generation gaps,but at the very least demonstrate the value of the traditional language. Dorianwonders who precisely benefits from language support efforts, citing Matras'claim that some speech communities exhibit no regret over losing their language,possibly because use of the language opened them to such strong social stigma.However, Dorian argues, even individuals from those speech communities havebenefitted from the validity and recognition that language support efforts havegarnered for their identity. Dorian concludes that language maintenance effortswill no doubt continue, and their success and failure is never absolute in partbecause strategies that work for one group will not work for another, and won'teven work for that group indefinitely as the social environment changes.

Ofelia García summarizes the three major themes that emerge in the volume:positionality, dynamism, and interrelationships & different meanings. Drawingfrom the contributions, she argues that one must never forget the importance ofthe varied positions of language and identity efforts (L&I efs) and theirproponents: the variation on the success -- failure continuum can be partiallyexplained by the varied influences of people from different positions, focusingon different domains, living in different regions and under differentideologies. García also reminds us that the direction of L&I efs is not onlytop-down versus bottom-up, but can be both simultaneously. Likewise, ideologiesconcerning languages don't necessarily battle one extreme versus another, butoften encompass both (for example, tradition and modernism). Finally, thehistorical evolution of language movements is not constant across the globe --different movements follow different paths, and rarely take things one step at atime. Lastly, García notes that power does not necessarily guarantee alanguage's success because that power is interpreted and responded to by people.Furthermore, language use and the value of language are interpreted withdifferent meanings by different people, and identity itself means differentthings to different people. García concludes that the volume provides richdescriptions of L&I efs and questions the ability of authorities to completelycontrol such efforts.

Joshua Fishman discusses the attempt to quantify the placement of contributionson the success -- failure continuum, even tabulating the data to demonstratethat no strong relationship seems to have been demonstrated between particularsociofunctional categories and degrees of success-failure. Therefore, after allthe volume's contributions, one cannot conclude that classic revival tends to besuccessful while those treating narrower language planning focused on linguisticconventions (such as orthography reform) are less likely to be. Instead, one isfaced with a provocative lack of conclusion as a conclusion: no single type ofeffort is overwhelmingly likely to either succeed or fail, and this is part ofthe reason that individuals and groups are willing to take on languagemaintenance and revitalization efforts that may seem doomed to fail. Since noquantifiable tipping point has yet been determined, individuals who undertakethese efforts can 'hug the middle' and 'never say die' after years of moderatelyproductive language work, looking forward to the time when their efforts willtip the scales to success. The contribution of the volume then is, according toFishman, not the identification of quantifiable categories or scalar qualities,but rather further explanation as to why human beings behave as they do inregard to language and ethnic identity.

EVALUATIONThis book is readily accessible to a general academic audience, but can also beuseful to linguists. Most special terms, such as einbau and ausbau, are defined,and each chapter can be understood independently of others. However, someindividual chapters fail to provide clear summaries of their content andimplications, leaving (novice) readers to formulate connections and conclusionsunaided. The contributions at the end of the book, however, make up for this byproviding ample coverage of the implications of the volume as a whole.

This volume balances comparability across contributions against allowing salientelements of each situation covered to emerge, favoring the latter. Eachcontribution has the same basic aim: to describe important aspects of a specificlanguage and ethnicity effort and evaluate its successes and failures. Theregional organization is problematic for topical coherence, and it omits ratherlarge sections of the globe. (Australia, for example, is absent, and its absenceis not acknowledged.) Furthermore, quantitative ratings are attempted to enhancethe cross-comparability between contributions, but they are not consistentlyapplied and seem fairly arbitrary. However, the expert commentary at the end ofthe book brings all the contributions together and even evaluates the rating'problem' as a phenomenon is its own right.

Salient and overarching themes do emerge:

Opposition is essential to language movements.Efforts to revitalize or maintain a language almost always form part of apolitical movement against a perceived threat to unique identity. In some cases,this opposition lacks power because there is no clear political enemy. There maybe multiple culprits but no agreed-upon force to align against -- for example,various languages and governments have been blamed for the decay of Persian inIran (Borjian and Borjian).

Otherwise, speakers may consider themselves and their identities as constituentparts of the majority group. Bavarians, for example, consider themselvessimultaneously Bavarian and German, and have not yet fought for recognition ofBavarian as a language rather than a dialect of German, partly because they seea comfortable distinction between language as it is spoken (Bavarian) and as itis written (German) (Rowley). Euskara (Basque), spread across three regions inSpain and France, shows the importance of perceived distinctiveness: French andBasque identity have been effectively reconciled, but Basque and Spanishidentity are perceived as oppositional. This, among other factors, explains whyBasque is most successful in Spain (and in the Basque Autonomous Community inparticular), and least successful in France (Azurmendi and de Luna).

In other cases, this opposition lacks power because the languages of the opposedpopulations are considered dialects of the same language. In these cases, thefirst step for language movements is often to gain recognition as a language.The Asamiya language movement's great success, for example, was in assertingAsamiya as a language rather than a dialect of politically overpowering Bengali,and that success extends to the political realm (Mukherjee). Likewise, Meänkieliin Sweden was fashioned as a distinctive linguistic entity against Finnish andlinguistically similar Swedish to assert the cultural uniqueness of Tornedalians(Wande). Breton and Gallo in Brittany demonstrate how languages in two differentpositions in this regard fair in the same environment: Breton is more successfullargely because, being a Celtic language, its distinction from majority Frenchis obvious; Gallo, a Romance language, struggles to distinguish itself fromlinguistically similar French and is even villainized by some as part of theoppressive dominant language (Hornsby and Nolan).

Languages are symbolically associated with extralinguistic factors.In most cases where language movements form part of a political movement, thelanguage itself becomes symbolically associated with the ideologies and membersof that movement. As a result, some language movements lose ground because thepolitical turmoil in which they were conceived fades (either actually orperceptively). For example, the Illyrian movement, conceived in oppositionagainst Hungarian dominance in South Slavic affairs, has fallen away as theHungarian threat has receded (Greenberg). Likewise, Tamil's power as theunifying Dravidian language faded as India's non-Brahmin movement itself lostpolitical traction (Annamalai). Sometimes, language movements suffer because themovement they were initially associated with loses popularity or becomesassociated with an enemy. Belarusian, for example, began with strong nationalistassociations, but lost popularity when those associations became equated withfascism during Nazi occupation (Sloboda).

Languages also often become associated with a particular time, whether it be anunspecified ancestral epoch or simply the time before detrimental contact withanother population. This nostalgic power often inspires language purism, whichcan often hinder language maintenance and revitalization efforts. Many languageefforts struggle to maintain the purity of the language while still allowingenough innovation to empower the language to address modern concepts. Persian,for example, lends itself well to purist notions because of its long literarytradition, and modern efforts to innovate are constantly hindered by efforts toprevent borrowings (Borjian and Borjian). Likewise, in India a schism betweenVedic language and daily speech has been observed since Panini's famous work,and the form, domains and status of modern Sanskrit have changed drastically asits use has spread to a wider population (Deshpande). Amazigh proves to be aspecial case where a language is simultaneously symbolic of ancient traditionand (secular) modernism against the backdrop of Arabic (Islamic) dominance(Sadiqi).

The power of majority languages is recognized.Majority languages can either succeed or fail because of their association withpower. French, for example, enjoys high prestige in Tunisia despite itsassociation with French colonialism because it is seen as a benefit ofcolonization, not an imposition (Daoud). Afrikaans, on the other hand, hasfailed to be adopted across ethnic boundaries in part because it is stronglyassociated with Afrikaner power and apartheid (Alexander).

Majority languages provide greater access to global identity and resources. Insome cases, this means access to the global economy. For example, MoroccanArabic struggles because the other languages of Morocco, French and StandardArabic, are more widely used in global affairs (Ennaji). In other cases, thismeans access to the resources of a neighboring, better-supported group. Malay,for example, was adopted as the national language of Singapore to improve accessto the manufacturing and political power of Malaysia and Indonesia (Chew). Witha more linguistic focus, one approach to Valencian language standardizationcalls for a common standard between Catalan and Valencian so that each wouldbenefit from combining resources and power (Lledó).

Yiddish seems to be an exception that proves the rule: during the Holocaust era,even though German was the language of power in areas where Yiddish was spoken,Jews were denied access to that power for non-linguistic reasons (Fishman).Therefore, many benefits normally associated with adopting a majority languagewere not available to speakers.

Success and failure can vary depending on the domain considered.Some languages achieve high status, but still aren't actually used, in partbecause strictly top-down approaches often fail. Korean language mandates passeddown from Kim Il Sung were largely successful because they were given massiveofficial and financial support, but the revisions passed down are at odds withthe will of the people, who were not in any way included in the planning process(Kaplan and Baldauf). Even when the target population is on-board with officialgoals, the top-down approach is not sufficient: Quechua in Peru enjoys officialstatus and inclusion in schools, but still suffers in vitality because it isstigmatized among Peruvians (Coronel-Molina). Sometimes symbolic associationsprevent adoption. The value of English, for example, is recognized worldwide,but use of English in Puerto Rico is viewed with contempt to a degree thatactually hinders its adoption in the country (Eisenstein Ebsworth and Ebsworth).

Other languages are partly revived or maintained and hold strong symbolic value,but would be considered failures from purist perspectives. Modern Hebrew, forexample, has changed enough through its revival that Zuckermann prefers to callby a different name -- 'Israeli' -- but it has strong symbolic value as thelanguage of Israel and the Jewish faith. Likewise, some West African indigenousscripts have failed to be adopted widely, but their development has symbolicvalue in differentiating the language from either Arabic or French influence andgiving the language higher perceived validity (Unseth).

Some efforts may more or less fail on linguistic grounds, where the workundertaken for language maintenance or revitalization has still achievedpolitical gains. Attempts to unify the two versions of Norwegian into Samnorsk,for example, have not succeeded in their stated goal, but the unificationideology itself has been adopted by many (Bull). Similarly, attempts to unifyTurks under a single Turkic language have at least increased awareness of andactivity towards cultural unification among Turks (Garibova).

A split in domains isn't always between formal and informal. Luxembourgishsucceeds in some formal domains, but not others: spoken Luxembourgish is thelanguage of administration and government sectors, but written Luxembourgish haslimited (albeit undeniable) use in the labor market, and students graduallyshift away from Luxembourgish in schools (Ehrhart and Fehlen).

Language efforts of any kind must be carefully planned.Appropriateness to social environment is key. Many attempts to simplify Chinesecharacters failed because their implementation was insensitive to socialenvironment: one, for example, posed radical changes shortly after the politicaltumult of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to a population that cravedstability for rebuilding, not change (Zhao and Baldauf). On the other hand, themost successful attempt to reform English spelling aligned with a strongideological movement, differentiating American English from British English amidstrong nationalist and independence sentiments nationwide (Marshall).

Competing goals, ideologies and even identities can hinder maintenance andreform. The Ukrainian language movement in Austrian Galicia, for example,spawned from four competing models, only one of which proved at all successful(Wendland). Of the three reformed orthographies for the Yi in China, the leastsuccessful was attempted in the most linguistically heterogeneous population,which varied in their proposed approaches to creating a single standard amongstwide variation in (spoken and written) practice (Bradley).

Education is a frequent stumbling block because changes are mandated butinfrastructure such as teacher training isn't supported. In Bangladesh, forexample, English study is compulsory in schools, but expensive private schoolsoffer much higher quality English education than under-funded public programs --as a result, English can only be adequately acquired by the wealthy (Hamid).Other cases demonstrate that school alone isn't enough. Attempts to includeQuechua in Bolivian schools have lost official support, and a focus on schoolinghas left important domains of use (or attrition) unattended (Luykx). Languagereformers must plan how to make the language available to their public as well.For example, efforts to create a standard Low Lithuanian failed in part becausethe economic troubles of the population prevented wide dissemination ofresources, and the majority of the population was illiterate anyway (Subačius).

Finally, language attitudes must be addressed. The vast majority of casesinvolve languages that have some sort of negative association. Perhaps the mostprovocative example is African American Language: there is no immediate threatto its vitality across its speech community, but extremely negative attitudesabout it prevent educational reform that would benefit its speakers (Paris andBall).

Overall, the volume provides a diverse set of accounts that are cross-comparableenough to serve as a miniature dataset in their own right, but unique enoughthat each contribution can focus on the factors that matter most for the casebeing studied. Themes emerge, as discussed here and in the concluding thoughtsof the volume, but critical individual circumstances prevail in the full text.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERJessica Boynton is completing her Master's in Linguistics through theUniversity of Western Australia while teaching writing at GilletteCommunity College in Wyoming. She received her Bachelor's in Linguisticsfrom Eastern Michigan University and worked at LINGUIST List. She hasconducted fieldwork in Indigenous Argentina under the mentorship ofVeronica Grondona and Lyle Campbell with funding through a HRELP grant, andin Aboriginal Australia under John Henderson with Fulbright support. Herresearch interests include language ideologies, language endangerment andthe ethnography of language documentation.

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