LINGUIST List 24.271

Tue Jan 15 2013

Review: Applied Ling; General Ling; Sociolinguistics: Weber & Horner (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 25-Nov-2012
From: Ilaria Fiorentini <>
Subject: Introducing Multilingualism: A social approach
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Book announced at

Author: Jean-Jacques WeberAuthor: Kristine HornerTitle: Introducing MultilingualismSubtitle: A Social ApproachPublisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)Year: 2012

Reviewer: Ilaria Fiorentini, University of Pavia


Jean-Jacques Weber and Kristine Horner’s “Introducing multilingualism: Asocial approach” is a textbook expressly conceived for undergraduate andpostgraduate students as an introduction to the wide topic of multilingualism.The book is divided in four parts, for a total of 15 chapters; at the end ofeach chapter (sometimes within), the authors give the readers suggestions fordiscussion, activities and projects, as well as references and suggestions forfurther readings. The first and the last chapter also have a “Test yourselfquiz” (with suggested answers at the end of the book).

The first part of the book (Chapters 1-2) introduces issues aboutmultilingualism as well as the theoretical and methodological framework withinwhich the book is situated. Chapter 1 problematizes the concept of languageand presents multilingualism in terms of linguistic resources and repertoires.The authors prefer to use the term ‘multilingualism’ instead of ‘bi-‘ or‘trilingualism’, in order to avoid the problematic issue of how languages canactually be identified and counted. The chapter includes a note onterminology, a brief description of the issues concerning globalization (thatis, according to the authors, “the main reason why sociolinguistics needs tochange and adapt its core concepts”, p. 6) and a summary of how the book isstructured.

Chapter 2 discusses the construction of meaning of a text in differentcontexts by different hearers or readers, introducing the distinction betweendominant vs. critical readings (with a suggested activity on the importance ofbeing critical, p. 13); these premises lead the authors to claim that, instudying sites of multilingualism, “it is optimal to combine the analysis ofdiscourse with ethnographic investigation” (p. 14), pointing to anethnographically based discourse analysis, with the aim to make “as explicitas possible the discourse models (beliefs and assumptions) that inform aparticular text” (p. 21) . Finally, they give a brief description of thelanguage ideologies discussed in the book (such as hierarchy of languages,standard language ideology, one nation-one language ideology, etc.).

Part II (Chapters 3-5) deals with the difficulty in the definition of what alanguage is. Chapter 3 investigates people’s beliefs about language; with asuggested activity about what English and Standard English actually are (p.27), the authors aim to show the “fuzzy boundaries of named languages” (p.29); in order to further illustrate the concept, they describe a case in whichit is difficult to distinguish dialects and languages (Scots and Ulster-Scots)as well as the question of English pidgins and creoles, discussing if theyshould or should not be included in discussion of World Englishes.Consequences for teaching and research of this more dynamic view of what alanguage is are also taken into account.

Chapter 4 focuses on linguistic variation, with specific reference to twoglobal languages, English and French. As for English, the authors analyseAfrican-American English, Caribbean ‘nation language’ (i.e. West IndianCreole) and Singlish (Singapore English), concluding with some notes on theglobal spread of English. Then they take into account the global spread ofFrench, describing two French youth languages, Nouchi in Cote d’Ivoire andVerlan in France, the first being an example of a post-colonial new languageand identity, the latter being an example of linguistic diversity from withinFrance itself.

Chapter 5 provides a general introduction to endangered languages in theglobalized world. The authors argue that language revitalization, in order tobe most successful, has to be “simultaneously promoted by a grassrootsmovement and by the state, as well as being supported by internationalminority rights organizations” (p. 53), and they point out the costs involvedin each situation. Some case studies (Maori in New Zealand, Sámi and Kven inNorway, Hebrew in Israel, Breton in France, Corsican and Luxembourgish) aregiven in order to exemplify some different implications and outcomes fordifferent situations.

Part III (Chapter 6-8) goes into the distinction between societal andindividual multilingualism. Chapter 6 deals with the first, exploring thesituations of some countries (Ukraine, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong andChina, South Africa, and Nigeria) that officially recognize themselves asmultilingual states (even if, as the authors point out, the distinctionbetween officially monolingual and multilingual states “is not a fixed binaryopposition but a dynamic and shifting continuum”, p. 69), focusingparticularly on how “global socio-political developments can affect themultilingual policy arrangements in a state” (p. 78).

Chapter 7 deals with the micro level of people’s multilingualism, makingreference to Gee’s (2001) four ways to view identity (Nature (N)-identities,Institution (I)-identities, Discourse (D)-identities and Affinity(A)-identities). The concept of identity is explored in detail, firstly takinginto account the concepts of ethnic and national identity, and then exploringvarious aspects of the relation between code-switching and identity. Inparticular, the authors point out how the opposition between the ‘we-code’ and‘they-code’ distinction needs to be re-conceptualized “as a linguisticcontinuum along which speakers move in highly fluid ways as they constructfluid identities for themselves” (p. 87).

In Chapter 8, the authors describe the interplay between individual andsocietal multilingualism with reference to the Canadian policy of bilingualismand multiculturalism.

Part IV (Chapter 9-11) investigates the issues concerning multilingualeducation. Chapter 9 introduces the distinction between flexible and fixedmultilingualism. The authors mention the problem of language repression,arguing that multilingualism is not in itself the solution, but it depends onhow the multilingual language policy is applied: “whether it is applied in ahighly fixed and rigid way, without taking into account people’s homelinguistic resources, or in a more flexible way, building upon all thelinguistic resources that people bring along with them” (p. 108). After acomparison between US and EU language-in-education policy, the authors presenttwo case studies, Luxembourg on the one hand and Catalonia and the BasqueCountry on the other, showing how, while Luxembourg and Catalonia are movingtowards a fixed multilingualism, Basque country seem to be taking the oppositeway. In conclusion, the authors point out the need for innovative ideas “morein line with the fluid multilingual realities of today’s world” (p. 117).

Chapter 10 introduces the concept of literacy bridges in opposition to mothertongue education, the latter often being advocated “as the ideal system ofeducation for all children”, p. 123), but whose programmes frequently ignorethe dimension of intra-language variation. The concept of literacy bridges waspresented in Weber (2009) in relation to the language situation in trilingual(Luxembourgish, French and German) Luxembourg, “where large numbers ofromanophone children are forced to go through a German-language literacyprogramme (…)” (p. 130). According to the authors, the literacy bridges optionis a “flexible alternative (…) which would have a much better chance of movingpolicy towards social justice and educational equity” (p. 130) and which wouldlook at the ‘common linguistic denominator’ of the students (in the Luxembourgcase, it should be a French-language literacy option). The three steps neededby the school system in order to take into account this multilingual realitytherefore are to study the student’s actual linguistic repertoires, to findout the common linguistic denominator and to establish adequate literacybridges “by offering a reasonable range of language options” (p. 130).

Chapter 11 examines the situation and teaching of heritage languages,analysing the situation of Navajo in the United States and of some minoritylanguages taught in the UK. The aim is to demonstrate how even heritagelanguage education can be as rigid as mother tongue education. In conclusion,the authors emphasize the need for both policy-makers and teachers “to breakthrough the standard language ideology and to valorize all the differentlinguistic and cultural resources of all the children” (p. 143).

Part V deals with critical analysis of discourses. Chapter 12 examines thetopic of integration “in our late modern age of increased mobility, Europeanconsolidation and accelerated globalization at the beginning of thetwenty-first century” (p. 151) in the sense of integration of peoplecategorized as ‘migrants’ or ‘foreigners’, focusing in particular on thecontribution of institutional discourses on language and migration to theoften precarious situation of speakers of immigrant heritage languages. Theauthors take into account the cases of Germany and Liechtenstein, aiming toshowing how the discourse of integration “presupposes an asymmetricalworld-view in which only the ‘migrants’ or ‘foreigners’ are perceived as aproblem” (p. 152). Such a world view is constructed around metaphors, such asthe centre-periphery metaphor, “based on ‘us vs. them’ discourse” (p. 152),the game metaphor (about winning or losing in the game of integration) and themathematical graph metaphor (which leaves unspecified the number of pointsneeded to win the game, therefore effectively rendering successful completionof the game impossible). The authors then propose a more positive approach tothe quantification of integration, i.e. a statistical correlations view ofintegration, in which integration is conceptualized “as a state that is eitherachieved or not by a particular society” (p. 156); such an approach specifiesas endpoint of the integration process a society that “offers equal rights andopportunities to all the different social groups living and working there” (p.162). In the second part of the chapter, the authors show how the tradition oflanguage testing for citizenship can have disturbing links with racistpolicies.

Chapter 13 deals with the negative representations of multilingualism in themedia, which contribute to marginalize and discriminate ethnic others throughnegative ideological constructions. The examples taken into account are theLuxembourg case, where foreign students were blamed for the bad results atPISA (Programme for International Student Assessment); the UK case, reportinga newspaper article in which the Tory Councillor presents a narrow definitionof ‘Britishness’, that views the presence of Asian languages in the publicspace as eroding Britishness; and the “English Only” movement case in the US,which “is lobbying for a constitutional amendment which would designateEnglish as the sole official language” (p. 172). In conclusion, a briefhistorical perspective on the one nation-one language ideology is given inorder to show how the claims presented in the examples are indefensible.

Chapter 14 analyses linguistic landscape, studying “multimodal texts whichcombine verbal and visual elements” (p. 179), such as advertisements or publicsigns. The authors point out the limitations of some linguistic landscapeanalysis, arguing that, since many of them are quantitative rather thaninterpretive, limiting themselves to counting the languages used onmultilingual signs, and since “the whole notion of identifying and countingthe ‘languages’ of multilingual signs is highly problematic” (p. 179), suchstudies should be integrated by more ethnographic approaches. In conclusion,the authors describe as highly promising the approach of Scollon and Scollon(2003), so-called ‘discourses in places’, that “links up with culturalgeography, urban planning and other interconnected fields” (p. 188), therebyproviding a theoretical framework for the analysis of both verbal and visualtexts.

Part VI (Chapter 15), the conclusion, summarizes the issues dealt with in thebook and presents new research directions in the study of multilingualism,such as multilingualism and sign language, multilingualism and gender, etc.The authors list three themes – understanding the ubiquity of multilingualism,acknowledging the linguistic diversity in the world and building upon thewhole of students’ linguistic repertoires – which “point to the ultimate aimthat we all should strive for” (p. 200), i.e. to work towards thenormalization of multilingualism, both at school and in society, moving beyond“programmes of linguistic normalization focused upon one single minoritylanguage” (p. 201); the authors conclude that, if their book has made a littlecontribution to this aim, then “it will not have been written in vain” (p.201).


“Introducing multilingualism: A social approach” is a clear, user-friendly andhighly practical introduction to the complex and multifaceted topic ofmultilingualism. The authors chose to investigate social issues in the studyof multilingualism rather than the cognitive ones, aiming to provide an“introduction to the key social issues in the study of multilingualism” (p. 4)and to reverse “the traditional paradigm by normalizing multilingualism” (p.5), in the attempt to show how multilingualism, rather than monolingualism, isactually the normal state of affairs.

The book is very well-structured, since, as should be clear by the summary,each chapter analyzes in depth an issue concerning multilingualism, oftenquestioning prejudices or assumptions about it and introducing their own, newapproaches (as the concept of literacy bridges in Chapter 10). Every conceptis enriched by examples and case studies, and in the end of the chaptersstudents are invited to deepen their reflections about these issues withspecific activities and projects. Sometimes, as for the concept of fuzzyboundaries of language in Chapter 3, the activity itself is exploited in orderto better explain the concept, stimulating reasoning about the topic.

Each topic is approached by a specific point of view: for instance, theendangered and minority languages issue is seen from the point of view ofrevitalization (Chapter 5), and different situations from different states ofthe world are taken into account in order to illustrate the various aspectsand implications of it. The fact that the authors do not only focus onEuropean situations (although of course there are many examples of Europeanmultilingual countries, in particular Luxembourg) but take into accountsituations worldwide, from Singapore to Nigeria (see for instance Chapter 5and 6), is another valuable quality of this book.

Part IV, entirely dedicated to multilingual education, is particularlyinteresting and exhaustive, especially in chapter 10, where the authorspropose and explain, as we have seen, the concept of literacy bridges, aflexible alternative to mother tongue education, based on the “transnationalstudents’ full linguistic repertoires” (p. 130), as a solution for thosemultilingual contexts where there is a need for children to build up complexrepertoires. It should be clear, and it is also clearly stated in theconclusion of the book, that the authors aim not only at giving as complete aspossible an overview of multilingualism, but also at increasing in studentsthe awareness about some delicate aspects, such as the need for more flexibleeducational systems and for the normalization of multilingualism.

In conclusion, the book is a very useful introductory textbook that could beexploited both by students, teachers and everyone who is new to and interestedin the topic in order to stimulate reflection and discussion, also thanks tointeresting and always pertinent activities, themes for discussion andprojects proposed at the end of each chapter.


Gee, James Paul. 2001. Identity as an analytic lens for research in education.Review of research in Education, 25. 99-125.

Scollon, Ron and Scollon, Suzie Wong. 2003. Discourse in Place: Language inthe Material World. London: Routledge.

Weber, Jean-Jacques. 2009. Multilingualism, Education and Change.Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.


After earning an M.A. in Linguistics at the University of Turin with a thesison the Italian suffix -ATA, Ilaria Fiorentini is now a PhD student at theUniversity of Pavia and the Free University of Bozen (Italy). Her doctoralresearch deals with the language contact situation in the Ladin valleys ofTrentino-Südtirol, with particular attention to code-mixing phenomena amongLadin, Italian and German. Her primary research interests includesociolinguistics and pragmatics.

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