LINGUIST List 23.3540

Thu Aug 23 2012

Review: Sociolinguistics; Language Acquisition: Field (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 23-Aug-2012
From: Diego Pascual y Cabo <dpascualufl.edu>
Subject: Bilingualism in the USA
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AUTHOR: Fredric FieldTITLE: Bilingualism in the USASUBTITLE: The Case of the Chicano-Latino communitySERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism 44PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing CompanyYEAR: 2011

Diego Pascual y Cabo, Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies, Universityof Florida, Gainesville

SUMMARYFredric Field's "Bilingualism in the USA" examines some of the social, cultural,and linguistic consequences that stem from language contact in the UnitedStates. Although the focus is clearly on Spanish-English bilingualism (takingthe Chicano-Latino community of Southern California as a case study), many otherlanguages exist in a similarly uneven sociolinguistic environment across thecountry (see e.g. Potowski 2010) and outside the United States (see e.g. Extra &Gorter 2001), thus rendering the concepts and ideas presented throughout thebook transferable to other contexts and/or language pairings.

In aiming to provide the reader with an informed view of language diversity andbilingualism, the author has put together eight chapters that build uponprevious work and discuss general issues related to language development andultimate attainment in bilingual contexts (e.g. age and second languageacquisition) as well as other more specific concepts and definitions associatedwith language contact phenomena (e.g. diglossia, codeswitching, borrowing) andeducational issues (e.g. (il)literacy). These chapters are divided into two mainparts. Part I (chapters 1-4) is theory-oriented and serves as an introduction tolanguage-contact studies. Taking a more applied approach, part II (chapters 5-8)focuses on (mainstream) American attitudes towards language diversity and howthese attitudes have come about to shape various domains of current US societalbilingualism (e.g. language policy, bilingual education).

The first chapter explores bi-/multilingualism in general terms and how it comesto be. In doing so, the author introduces the goals, purposes, and rationalesbehind-language-contact studies. Within the specific US context, it is notsurprising that the focus is on the Hispanic/Latino population and the Spanishlanguage since approximately 16% of the people that reside in the US are ofHispanic or Latino origin (US Census Briefs 2010).

In chapter 2, the author examines the complex and multi-layered process oflanguage acquisition focusing on bi-/multilingual situations which -- though notnecessarily true in the case of mainstream US society -- are the norm in most ofthe world. Before discussing some of the social and linguistic outcomes thatstem from this process in the remaining chapters, Field familiarizes the readerwith a few basic concepts related mainly to (i) developmental issues in languageacquisition (e.g. age, first language acquisition, second language acquisition);(ii) types of bilingualism (e.g. sequential, simultaneous, etc.); and (iii)types of bilingual families (e.g. one parent -- one language, one language --one environment, etc.) and the resulting types of bilingual individuals (e.g.balanced, passive, etc.).

In Chapter 3, the author discusses a variety of phenomena that take place intypical contact language situations. In this context, particular attention isgiven to two main issues related to the asymmetrical relationship that existsbetween the languages involved: namely (i) issues related to languagemaintenance and shift of the minority language, and (ii) the linguisticstrategies that are available to bilingual speakers (e.g. intra- andintersentential code-switching, lexical borrowing, etc.).

Chicano English, as a non-standard minority dialect spoken mainly in theSouthwest of the United States, takes center stage in chapter 4. Here, theauthor describes the most representative linguistic properties of this dialect,accentuating the specific features that make up the Chicano identity: thepronunciation, the lexicon, and the syntax (e.g. word order). This (linguistic)identity, though valid in its own right, is stigmatized and marginalized bymainstream American monolingualism and monoculturalism, an issue the authorfurther expands on in the second part of the book, as it certainly has animportant impact on many related aspects of this community (e.g. social,cultural, educational).

Chapter 5 offers a comprehensive discussion of mainstream American attitudestowards bi/multilingualism in general and the use of (Chicano) Spanish in theSouthwest in particular. Though this review focuses on today's attitudes, theauthor guides the reader through a diachronic survey of critical social,economic, and educational factors. Combined, these factors best explain thenegative effects on today's attitudes towards the above-mentioned dialect and, byextension, towards the speakers that make up the Chicano-Latino speech community.

The focus in chapter 6 is on bilingual education in the US (see Baker 2011 andreferences therein for more information), a topic that has motivated asignificant number of educational and political debates (e.g. the English OnlyMovement). Field's research-informed view argues against such unsupportedlanguage policies and promotes a view of (bilingual) education, grounded in anunderstanding of both pedagogical implications as well as the community's needs.

Likewise, chapter 7 addresses a variety of general misunderstandings aboutliteracy and education as they relate to language and bilingualism. In an effortto shed some light on these misconceptions, the author discusses a variety of(counter) intuitive ideas as well as previous studies and their findings. Someof these fallacies include the unlikely connection between education andcognition or the idea that literacy only counts if it is in (standard) English.

The eighth and final chapter highlights the socio-economic and educative needsof the Chicano-Latino community in Southern California. After an initialdemographic description, Field expands on the learning experience ofChicano-Latino students, focusing on their academic achievement (or lackthereof). This concern is supported with a discussion of data that unequivocallyshows a trend of generalized poor performance across the Latino studentpopulation in the state of California's public school system. By the end of thechapter Field identifies ways to improve current schooling practices (e.g.readjustment of preconceived notions about the students' home language andculture).

EVALUATION'Bilingualism in the USA' constitutes a significant contribution to thedevelopment of scholarship and research in areas related to bilingualism andbilingual education. It successfully provides an informed response to somelong-held popular misunderstandings about language diversity in the UnitedStates, taking the Chicano-Latino community in Southern California as a case study.

Throughout, the author promotes a view in which innovative linguistic forms arepart of the normal course of grammatical development among bilingual individualsliving in language contact environments. This has obvious implications forissues related to minority language maintenance in the United States where thenumber of immigrants is not expected to decrease. But it does much more thanthat: its most significant contribution can be found in the last 3 chapterswhere the author highlights how such an open view towards language diversity canand should be applied to other areas of our everyday lives (e.g. social,cultural, economic, educational). The last chapter is of particular interest(especially for (prospective) teachers and administrators) as it spells out thecurrent difficulties that the educational system faces when dealing with(Chicano-Latino) bilingual students in Southern California.

The intended audience for this book is advanced undergraduate and graduatestudents interested in the broad areas of bilingualism and bilingual education.Because each chapter ends with a series of subsections that promote discussionand critical thinking (activities, topics for discussion & practice essayquestions), it would be fairly easy to adopt it as a textbook for a variety ofuniversity courses (e.g. Spanish in the US). It would also be an easy read forany non-specialist (e.g. current teachers as well as those considering teachingas a profession) curious enough about language and language diversity since, inspite of the jargon, the author has successfully simplified a topic that is verycomplex while still treating it in a serious manner.

Unfortunately, this book is not flawless. In a close reading, one cannot helpbut notice a couple of issues. First, many of the references cited are somewhatoutdated and bring up work that, in spite of being relevant, dates from the1990's and early 2000's. For example, when discussing codeswitching as one ofseveral bilingual phenomena (chapter 3), the author makes reference to veryprominent work in the field (e.g. Gumperz 1982; Myers-Scotton 1993; Zentella1997) but does not mention other more recent publications (see e.g. Bullock &Toribio 2009 and references therein; Toribio 2011 and references therein). Thebook would benefit greatly from including some of the most recent work so as torepresent more faithfully the current state of affairs in the field. Also, evenif the information presented throughout is by and large accurate, it lacks acertain level of detail, though this is not necessarily a problem consideringits intended audience. Despite such matters, 'Bilingualism in the USA' is awelcome contribution to the field.

REFERENCESBaker, C. (2011). Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. 5thedition. Bilingual Education & Bilingualism. Multilingual Matters.

Bullock, B. E. & A. J. Toribio (Eds.). (2009). The Cambridge Handbook of LinguisticCodeswitching. Cambridge University Press.

Extra, G. & D. Gorter (Eds.). (2001). The Other Languages of Europe:Demographic, Sociolinguistic, and Educational Perspectives. Multilingual Matters.

Gumperz, J.J. (1982). Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: CUP.

Myers-Scotton, C. (1993). Duelling Languages: Grammatical Structure inCodeswitching. Oxford: OUP.

Potowski, K. (Ed.). (2010). Language diversity in the United States. Cambridge: CUP.

Toribio, A.J. (2011). Code-Switching among US Latinos. In M. Díaz-Campos (Ed.),The Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Zentella, A.C. (1997). Growing Up Bilingual: Puerto Rican Children in New York.Oxford: Blackwell.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERDiego Pascual y Cabo is a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic linguistics at theUniversity of Florida. His primary research interests lie in the area offormal approaches to heritage speaker bilingualism and second languageacquisition.

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