LINGUIST List 23.469

Tue Jan 31 2012

Review: Applied Ling.; Lang. Acquisition; Socioling.: Varcasia (2011)

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



Date: 31-Jan-2012
From: Nicola Carty <n.carty.1research.gla.ac.uk>
Subject: Becoming Multilingual
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EDITOR: Cecilia VarcasiaTITLE: Becoming MultilingualSUBTITLE: Language Learning and Language Policy between Attitudes and IdentitiesSERIES TITLE: Linguistic Insights: Studies in Language and CommunicationPUBLISHER: Peter LangYEAR: 2011

Nicola Carty, Celtic and Gaelic, University of Glasgow

INTRODUCTIONAt an intuitive level, many readers will have an impression of what it means tobe multilingual and what multilingual communication comprises. Multilingualcommunication, however, is about much more than the use of several languages tocommunicate; rather, it draws on a variety of different systems of perception,thought patterns, knowledge, and society to produce a unique system. This,according to Cecilia Varcasia is what "Becoming Multilingual" attempts toilluminate. This edited volume brings together a selection of papers from theSixth International Conference on third Language Acquisition andMultilingualism, Bolzano, September 2009. By examining multilingualism from asociolinguistic perspective, the collection aims to show the dynamic processeswhich build multilingualism. Ultimately, the collection is intended to improveunderstanding of multilingualism as a dynamic process rather than a static system.

SUMMARYIn her introductory chapter, Varcasia notes the growing importance ofmultilingualism in a globalised world, and the ever-increasing academic interestin the field. While traditional perspectives on bilingualism have been concernedwith the acquisition of two languages to a point of high proficiency, Varcasiaargues for a holistic approach to multilingualism, whereby the multilingualrepertoire is considered a system in its own right, and each language serves itsown particular functions.

Eight chapters constitute the body of the collection, and these fall into threemain categories: the first focuses on the significance of multilingualism forthe individual and the language community (Kärchner-Ober, Kazzazi, and Mady &Carr), the second deals with approaches to multilingual research (Caruana &Lasagabaster, Cortinovis, and Melo-Pfeifer), and the third addresses therelationship between formal education and multilingualism (Hilmarsson-Dunn &Mitchell and Braun).

'Category 1: The significance of multilingualism for the individual and thelanguage community'

Renate Kärchner-Ober, "Effects of national language policies and linguisticreorganization -- Long-term issues in a society, cultures and languages",pp.17-37. This paper describes language policy in Malaysia, and the effects thishas on education and Malaysia's broader multi-ethnic society. Languages inMalaysia find themselves in a "5-C-situation" (21), in which they are in a stateof contact, competition, cooperation, conflict, and coexistence. While BahasaMalay is the sole official and national language, English is recognised as asecond language. But "[p]romoting linguistic duality (Bahasa Malaysia/English)in Malaysia is often treated as a linguistic duel" (p. 24); the Malaysiangovernment is keen to promote Bahasa Malay as the language of national unity andidentity, but the value of English as a global lingua franca is undeniable.Furthermore, the growing presence of English leaves Malaysia's other languages,of which there are over 100, in a vulnerable position. Multilingual tensions inMalaysia then, develop from state support of two languages which are notnecessarily native to large minorities in that country, which are themselves ina constant state of conflict.

Kerstin Kazzazi, "Three languages, two people, one conversation", pp. 165-187.This chapter reports on an empirical, longitudinal study focusing ontrilingualism (German, English, and Farsi) in dialogue. The study aims to shedlight on the functions of a third language, both in the discourse context, andin the context of an individual's identity building. Kazazzi introduces theconcept of "language mention", whereby the trilingual speaker refers to theirthird language in a conversation taking place through the medium of their othertwo languages. Language mention often occurred when the speaker was attemptingto express certain aspects of her identity. By examining language mention in thecontext of trilingual discourse, the author argues that we gain some insightinto the value the speaker attaches to each of her languages, and thus into herlinguistic identity.

Callie Mady & Wendy Carr, "Immigrant perspectives on French language learning inEnglish-dominant Canadian communities", pp. 189-209. This final chapter takes asits theoretical basis imagined communities (Anderson 1991) and the concept oflanguage as capital (Bourdieu 1977). These theoretical positions are exploredusing data from two earlier studies by the authors, gathered from immigrants toBritish Columbia and Ontario, who spoke neither English nor French as L1. Theauthors sought to explain why immigrant parents and students were interested inenrolling on school French programmes. As in other chapters in this volume, theparents expressed that learning French (a relative minority, but nonetheless,official language) could improve employability prospects, academic success, andincorporation into the wider Canadian community. They further found thatstudents not only viewed French in these terms, but also saw it as a means ofexpanding their own multilingual identities.

'Category 2: Approaches to multilingual research'

Sandro Caruana & David Lasagabaster, "Using a holistic approach to explorelanguage attitudes in two multilingual contexts: the Basque Country and Malta",pp. 39-64. In this empirically-based study of multilingualism in two regions,the authors advocate a holistic approach to the study of multilingualism,whereby the languages in question are treated as a single unit. The resultspresented are taken from a questionnaire-based survey of university students intwo officially bilingual regions: the Basque Country, and Malta. In bothregions, students are taught the local official languages and a third languageat school. Results show that a holistic approach, in which students are askedfor their attitudes towards all three languages and the way they interact,provides different results to more traditional questionnaires focusing onlanguages in isolation. The authors conclude that encouraging holisticapproaches to multilingualism will change perspectives on multilingualism, asspeakers and residents come to see that sociolinguistic space can be shared bymany languages, which do not necessarily threaten or demean one another. Thiscould have implications, not only for language policy, but also for education,as teachers promote positive attitudes towards multilingualism and multilingualsocieties.

Enrica Cortinovis, "Eliciting multilingualism: Investigating linguisticdiversity in schools", pp. 87-111. This chapter reports on research conducted aspart of the LINEE project, and deals with migrant multilingualism and minoritylanguages. In addition, this paper suggests new ways of eliciting data frommultilingual speakers, which the author argues should include questionnaire datato elicit the language used by multilingual speakers in a variety of specificsettings and sociolinguistic environments. The study took place in secondaryschools in South Tyrol, a bilingual region of Northern Italy where the Germanand Italian speech communities have equal rights. Furthermore, there is a highincidence of immigration to this region, particularly from Albania, Morocco andPakistan. Although Cortinovis observed very little multilingualism in action, asmonolingualism in many contexts seemed to be more typical, she argues that ifthis method is combined with other, more traditional, methods of datacollection, students' responses could be expanded upon (e.g., their reasons forchoosing to use different languages in different contexts), and the examinationof individual multilingualism could be enhanced.

Silvia Melo-Pfeifer, "Researchers' multilingual awareness in an internationalresearch team", pp. 135-163. In a departure from the norms of linguisticresearch, this chapter turns the focus on researchers themselves. Melo-Pfeiferdescribes the analysis of a corpus of multilingual communication gathered fromthe interactions of the members of an international research team. The studycomes in the context of recent research showing the effects of teachers'language attitudes on their students, and argues that the language awareness andattitudes of researchers will in turn affect the attitudes of those involved inlanguage education or language policy. The paper sets out to establish how todefine multilingual awareness in multilingual interaction, and the implicationsof this for multilingual research in international research teams. Thetheoretical perspective is largely rooted in socio-constructivism. Data showedthat although French was a common language to all researchers, it was usedmostly for the resolution of methodological or research issues, while humour,banter, courtesy, and discussion of the multilingual linguistic contract tendedto be addressed multilingually in the native languages of individualresearchers, even within one discourse context. By being aware ofmultilingualism, the researchers in this study could predict and resolvepotential linguistic problems, could help promote linguistic self-confidenceamong members of the team, and enhance their own understanding of the issue.Positive attitudes towards multilingualism, and positive awareness ofmultilingualism among researchers, could also contribute to an increase inmultilingual research.

'Category 3: The relationship between formal education and multilingualism'

Andreas Braun, "The role of education in the language practices of trilingualfamilies", pp. 113-134. This study specifically examines how educationalpractices affect trilingual families' language use in England and Germany. Braunargues that, as a multilingual child's dominant language is likely to changeonce he starts formal education, the challenge to maintain the home languagebecomes ever more difficult. The parents of school-aged children wereinterviewed in order to establish their own and their children's communicativemethods in different social contexts. Results show the important effectscommunity language education can have on multilingualism in the home, andsuggest that restricting use of the community language to the wider communitycan impact positively on home language maintenance.

Amanda Hilmarsson-Dunn & Rosamond Mitchell, "Multilingual migrants in England:Factors affecting their language use", pp. 65-86. This study of multilingualismin English secondary schools is also part of the LINEE project (cf. Cortinovisabove). This particular project applies social network theory to themultilingualism of migrants in England. The authors note that despite officialEU cultural policy (which encourages individual multilingualism and languagelearning), the dominant ideology in most EU states is monolingualism. In the UKin particular, official education policy does not support multilingualism orcommunity languages, which typically fall on the periphery of de Swaan'shierarchy of global languages (2001). Attitudes towards multilingualism wereestablished through classroom observation, interviews, and questionnaires, whichwere distributed to monolingual and multilingual students, and their teachers.Results indicate that students were keen to integrate into English-speakingnetworks in order to improve economic and career opportunities and to formfriendship groups. Nonetheless, students were very proud of their multilingualabilities and identities as multilingual speakers.

EVALUATIONThe most positive aspect of this volume is its emphasis on multilingualism andmultilingual identity as unique systems, rather than the combination of a numberof "monolingualisms". This stance is an important step in encouraging positiveviews towards multilingualism and language learning. Five of the volume's eightchapters deal explicitly with this issue (Caruana & Lasagabaster,Hilmarsson-Dunn & Mitchell, Melo-Pfeifer, Kazzazi, and Mady & Carr), and it isclear how this fits into the overall theme of the volume (as indicated in itstitle) of becoming multilingual.

A further strongpoint is the inclusion of papers which use or suggest innovativeapproaches to the investigation of multilingualism. As this is a relatively newand rapidly growing field of interest, it is important to develop new approachesto its investigation, rather than simply rely on previous methods designed toinvestigate mono- and bi-lingualism. Furthermore, those chapters which suggestnew approaches to previously identified phenomena -- e.g., Caruana &Lasagabaster and Cortinovis -- ensure the study of multilingualism as a 21stcentury phenomenon is kept up to date and in line with modern best practice.Melo-Pfeifer's chapter is of particular interest, as it is one of the very fewstudies which conducts a meta-analysis of researchers' attitudes and theimplications of these. The innovative nature of the volume is further enhancedby the inclusion of a selection of papers which are almost entirely based onrecent empirical research, and in the investigation of the multilingualism ofmigrant communities. Large sweeps of migration have been a continuing trend fora number of decades, and it is important therefore to ensure that linguisticresearch keeps up with these societal phenomena.

A number of theoretical approaches are drawn upon in this volume. These includesocial network theory, imagined communities, language hierarchies, andsocio-constructivism. While the broad theme of sociolinguistics ensures atheoretical and topical consistency, the inclusion of a range of theoreticalstandpoints leads to a volume which will surely appeal to a wide readership, andwhich maintains the reader's interest throughout. This variety also highlightsthe range of approaches that can be taken to the study of multilingualism, evenwithin one subfield of linguistics.

The papers in this collection explore multilingualism from the perspective ofboth minority and majority language communities. Addressing the multilingualismof migrants in positive terms affords under-represented languages some prestigeand highlights the day-to-day reality of multilingualism even in societiestraditionally considered monolingual. At the same time, the inclusion ofmajority language multilingualism (or at least part-majority language, e.g.,Kazzazi's speaker of English and German) shows that multilingualism is theunmarked language state of many speakers in all communities.

The volume is not without its weaknesses. As global economics becomes moredependent on Asia, and India and China in particular, a discussion ofmultilingualism in these countries, or in relation to them, would have beenwelcome. Of course, Kärchner-Ober's chapter on multilingualism in Malaysia dealsdirectly with Asia and Asian languages. However, this chapter constitutes only1/8 of the volume, and its inclusion seems to be almost a token gesture: whilethe remaining seven studies are focused on empirical data, this is more a reporton the state of affairs in Malaysia, and does not gel quite so well with thestyle of the remaining chapters. Although the final chapter focuses on Canada,it is important to note that again this study deals not only with the West, butalso with European languages. More focus on multilingualism as a phenomenonoutwith Europe and its languages would have been welcome. Whether the absence ofsuch discussion is a deliberate decision of the editor, or reflects theEurocentric nature of the conference from which these papers were selected, isunclear.

A focus on multilingualism in the education system is very important,particularly as this area has many implications for language policy. However,some more focus on adult multilingualism would have been appreciated. As moreadults are encouraged to become multilingual for the purposes of work or travel,the number of new multilingual speakers increases. The issues these multilingualspeakers face would likely be quite different to those faced by migrants, orthose living in multilingual regions, and indeed the motivations behind andultimate goals of these speakers may be quite different to those of school-agechildren. We should not forget that language learning is for people of all ages,and the volume may have benefitted from slightly more emphasis on the adultexperience.

There are also several minor editorial issues: these include the fact that twochapters are somewhat difficult to follow, and are quite repetitive. Although itis not the duty of the editor to rewrite submissions, the readability of thesepapers might have been enhanced by a more rigorous editorial process.

These weaknesses, however, do not detract from the overall quality of thevolume. The book remains an exciting read for those with an interest in languageeducation, multilingual societies, and sociolinguistic communities. It is anecessary and strong addition to the "Linguistic Insights" series, providing newinsight into an emerging field, and innovative approaches to linguisticresearch. For the most part, papers appear well chosen and reflect a range ofunique contributions. The sociolinguistic theme also lends a cohesiveness, forwhich Varcasia should be applauded. Most chapters engage well with the aims ofthe collection, highlighting that multilingualism is dynamically constructed,and occurs in a variety of social contexts. Varcasia's academic background,which includes multilingualism and cross-cultural pragmatics, has positioned hervery well to edit a volume such as this, and she does so commendably. Thisvolume is highly recommended to postgraduate and senior researchers alike, andwill bring the reader up to date with the most recent developments in thisexciting field.

REFERENCESAnderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin andspread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1977. Outline of a theory of practice, Translated by R Nice.New York: Cambridge University Press.

Commission of the European Communities. 2007. Final report: High level group onmultilingualism. Education and Culture DG.

Swaan, Abram de. 2001. Words of the world: The global language system.Cambridge: Polity Press.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERNicola Carty is a PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow, conductingresearch as part of the Soillse initiative. Her research interests includesecond language acquisition, language planning and policy, languagecontact, and Construction Grammar.

Page Updated: 31-Jan-2012