LINGUIST List 25.4317

Thu Oct 30 2014

Review: Sociolinguistics: Moyer, Roberts, Duchêne (eds.) (2013)

Editor for this issue: Sara Couture <>

Date: 07-Apr-2014
From: In Chull Jang <>
Subject: Language, Migration and Social Inequalities
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Alexandre Duchêne
EDITOR: Melissa Moyer
EDITOR: Celia J. Roberts
TITLE: Language, Migration and Social Inequalities
SUBTITLE: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work
SERIES TITLE: Language, Mobility and Institutions
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: In Chull Jang, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


This book is a collection of papers that critically approaches language issues in globalizing and neoliberalizing societies. Chapter 1, the introduction, outlines the significance of this book and the common theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the contributed papers. The empirical studies that follow are grouped around three themes: sites of control, sites of selection, and sites of resistance. A short postscript concludes the book.

In Chapter 1, “Introduction: Recasting Institutions and Work in Multilingual and Transnational Spaces,” editors Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, and Celia Roberts open the volume by asking how language ideologies and practices can be rearticulated in the context of the sociocultural and political-economic transformations that have occurred worldwide in the wake of the new economy, neoliberalization, and migration. The editors specifically draw attention to the sites in which labor is practically and discursively configured by the increased number of jobs in service industries, new discourses of skills and selves, and migrant labor force. The changes that have occurred are not limited to the macro- or institutional levels, and exert a profound impact on everyday life. Because language plays an essential role in the production and distribution of material resources, the editors suggest that examining the ways in which language is practically and discursively used in various institutional sites can facilitate an understanding of the reproduction of social inequality in the neoliberal social order. The three parts of the book are structured around three groups of sites, in which language plays different roles and linguistic activities hold different consequences. “Sites of Control” is concerned with the governmental, bureaucratic and linguistic control of job seekers as they navigate potential workplaces. As the studies in this part show, the navigation of potential workplaces is dominated by a discourse that distinguishes between “bad” and “good” workers, and the onus of proving that one is a “good” worker falls onto individual job seekers. “Sites of Selection” focuses on the gatekeeping role that language plays when social actors seek to access linguistic capital, or transfer their own linguistic capital into other contexts. Selection processes involving language do not only involve powerful institutions. Under neoliberalism, such selection processes are likely to be subtle and suggest that individuals can make their own choices within the selection process--in other words, there is a suggestion that the selection process is a “self-selection” process. Because self-selection is mediated by discursively constructed social meanings and images, the studies in this part draw on the concept of indexicality, a semiotic process by which a referential meaning points to a social meaning. Lastly, changes in the practices and ideologies of language inevitably reposition social actors in new material and symbolic conditions, and such actors must subsequently negotiate new, emergent identities and resources. The third part, “Sites of Resistance,” examines the negotiation and regimentation of practices and agency. Although actions of resistance can be ambiguous and are often articulated in a way that domination is strengthened rather than hindered, the fact that such actions take place in and through language is highlighted.

Part 1: Sites of Control

In Chapter 2, “Trade Unions and NGOs Under Neoliberalism: Between Regimenting Migrants and Subverting the State,” Eva Codó examines two civil organizations in Catalonia, to which the government has outsourced the provision of advice to migrant workers. According to Codó, in helping workers to prepare documents for visa or immigration applications, the language and practices of advisors at the two sites remained permeated by bureaucratic control; applicants and service centers were evaluated as “good” when they effectively completed paperwork in line with governmental guidelines. However, this newly conceptualized role conflicts with their original duty to improve workers’ rights and welfare, leading to tension which manifests when they deal with undocumented workers who have employed “loopholes” in claiming their status.

In Chapter 3, Kori Allan’s paper, “Skilling the Self: The Communicability of Immigrants as Flexible Labor,” addresses the issue of immigrant professionals in Canada. Although the Canadian government provides job-related language courses for immigrant professionals to ameliorate their un(der)employment in the job market, Allan’s fieldwork reveals that actual classroom practices often emphasize soft skills that are ambiguous in definition and flexible in practice. Among such soft skills, communication skills are most emphasized in the classroom, because they mediate the demonstration of other ideal job applicant attributes, such as competency, confidence, and ability to engage in teamwork. However, students in the program indicated that they should continue merely learning “skills” and accruing educational capital -- a process Allan refers to as “de-skilling” -- because the barrier to their being employed was their lack of Canadian work experience, not their lack of language proficiency or technical expertise.

Part 2: Sites of Selection

In Chapter 4, Celia Roberts’ paper, entitled “The Gatekeeping of Babel: Job Interviews and the Linguistic Penalty,” demonstrates how the genre characteristics of job interviews that have emerged in late modern and late capitalist society have contributed to the exclusion of speakers from minority backgrounds -- foreign-born applicants in particular. The rise of diversity management and equal opportunity discourses has facilitated a situation in which access to employment is determined by the extent to which applicants respond to interviewer questions. According to Roberts’ interview data, successful interviewees must self-reflexively and coherently articulate their past work experiences, even if the work for which they are interviewing is manual and repetitive. Moreover, the personal narratives of applicants must be reconstituted within the discursive frame of the interviewer or the institution. Foreign-born workers that are unfamiliar with the hybrid nature of the new interview genre may be less likely to be employed; this is what Roberts terms the “linguistic penalty.”

In Chapter 5, Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi’s paper, “Language Work Aboard the Low-cost Airline,” investigates another nexus of work and language -- one which lies between the desire for a certain job and linguistic and cultural authenticity. In Japan, being employed as a flight attendant is highly desirable among women, and flight attendants are represented in the media as professional and cosmopolitan. Following the deregulation of the commercial aviation industry in the eighties and nineties, the number of low-cost airlines has increased, resulting in the creation of new jobs and new, targeted client services and airlines. In this study, Japanese flight attendants working for a low-cost Australian carrier were hired not only because they had a professional command of English, which they had acquired through living overseas, but also because their industry’s reliance on emotional labor had valorized a stereotype of Japanese flight attendants as polite and caring; the employment of Japanese flight attendants was thus considered to offer good marketing value. However, this commodification of Japaneseness and non-native English competence is double-sided, and often impedes their ability to pursue other opportunities at work (e.g. the opportunity to be placed on various routes with Australians).

In Chapter 6, “(De)capitalising Students Through Linguistic Practices: A Comparative Analysis of New Educational Programs in a Global Era,” Luisa Martín Rojo compares two different bilingual program classrooms in Madrid, Spain: an English immersion program for elite students and a language bridge program for migrant students. Analyzing classroom interactions, this study shows how students’ code-switching and teachers’ subsequent responses can enable students to mobilize and value certain linguistic resources. Switching into Spanish did not affect the engagement of elite students in classroom activities, whereas migrant students’ use of their home language in the classroom was interrupted and discouraged by the teacher even if it was intended to assist their learning of Spanish as a second language.

In Chapter 7, Vally Lytra’s paper, “From kebapçi to Professional: The Commodification of Language and Social Mobility in Turkish Complementary Schools in the UK,” argues that learning a community or heritage language in a multilingual context can help students access other kinds of capital (e.g., entry to higher education). Complementary heritage language schools were formerly viewed as “safe spaces” from mainstream society that protected ethnolinguistic identity and culture. This old discourse has been replaced with a new discourse, in which complementary heritage schools are viewed as sites for providing additional, and valuable, linguistic capital. Furthermore, the study indicates that this discourse shift has been facilitated by well-educated Turkish elites and that standard Turkish has become the norm as other varieties of Turkish have been erased.

Part 3: Sites of Resistance

In Chapter 8, the paper entitled “’Integration hatten wir letztes Jahr’: Official Discourses of Integration and Their Uptake by Migrants in Germany” starts with the assumption that integration is a discourse that has been variously interpreted and applied. The most distinctive feature of this paper is that the authors, Werner Holly and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof, conducted fieldwork in two provincial towns rather than in cities. The two towns demographically differed in the number of migrants and ethnic composition and were compared to examine how official integration policies were locally adapted and negotiated. In particular, the study found that residents in the town with a smaller number of migrants were more aware of the presence of those migrants, and the town provided lesser levels of institutional support. Holly and Meinhof present eight strategies that migrants in the two towns utilized to appropriate and resist established integration discourses: avoidance, rejection, regrammaticalization, resignification, modification, adaptation, transference, and self-empowerment. Migrants often avoid problematizing integration issues or even are unwilling to admit their isolation in the mainstream communities. However, a semantic shift is also observed in their own appropriation of the German language usage and official integration discourses. This shift reveals that the majority should be invited to the minority and that the official notion of integration should be distinguished from their authentic notion. Migrants also modify or adapt an integration issue (e.g., racial discrimination or school performance) for their intents. They separate their lives from these issues or project arguments against their ethnic group onto the fraction of the uneducated members. Similar to the adaption strategy, they stratify ethnic groups and transfer a discursive element from one group to another. Lastly, migrants dissociate themselves from an aggressive situation and downplay a realistic threat by mobilizing cultural and linguistic means.

In Chapter 9, “Language as a Resource: Migrant Agency, Positioning, and Resistance in a Health Care Clinic,” Melissa G. Moyer draws attention to another institutional site: medical interactions between doctors and migrant patients. Such interactions are not exclusively dyadic and occasionally involve a third person who meditates the interaction because of the patient’s lack of competence with the language used at the clinic. In her analysis of the medical encounters of four migrants with varying Spanish and Catalan competency in Barcelona, Moyer shows that physicians who treat patients lacking competence in the official languages are focused on obtaining medical information from such patients, not on building a rapport with them. Furthermore, third-party communication mediators often play a gatekeeper role by only partially translating patients’ concerns or by aligning themselves with the interactional rules of the physician’s side. Although Moyer indicates that the use of computerized documents and records may allow migrant patients to more actively communicate in this context, this benefit may also offer a disadvantage: based on medical history records, doctors may negatively categorize patients, for example, as “problematic.”

In Chapter 10, as implied by the title of her paper (“Informal Economy and Language Practice in the Context of Migrations”), Cécile B. Vigouroux discusses the practices and ideologies involved in languages in the informal economy, an economic sector that has been neglected in sociolinguistic studies, based on her life-long study of French-speaking African migrants in South Africa. She demonstrates why Congolese migrants in Cape Town, South Africa, communicate in Lingala, a Congolese language, rather than other socially dominant languages (for example, English or French) in order to access the informal economic sector. Competence in Lingala can be used as an advantage in accessing the local informal market, because it enables trust between settled migrant stakeholders and their new migrant employees. Migrants who had acquired Lingala at home and had newly arrived in South Africa could choose to find jobs in the informal economy, while the previous generation of Congolese migrants had had no choice but to enter the informal market even if they were well-educated and had been members of the middle class in their country of origin.

In Chapter 11, locutorios -- “migrant-tailored call shops” in Catalonia -- are presented as another case of the formation of a niche language market in a migratory context. In “Fighting Exclusion from the Margins: Locutorios as Sites of Social Agency and Resistance for Migrants,” Maria Sabaté i Dalmau suggests that spaces such as locutorios can serve as sites enabling socially disfranchised migrant workers to gather and mobilize their own social and cultural capital. Locutorios have emerged as a response to the Spanish government’s telecommunication policy, which requires that mobile phone users provide identification on the pretext of preventing terrorist threats. Along with this institutionalization of the mobile phone market, the government has tried to institute the homogenous use of Spanish and English as the languages used in relation to domestic and international telecommunications in Spain, respectively. Under such regulations, locutorios provide (undocumented) migrant workers with a variety of services, such as internet access, prepaid phone calls, and even SIM cards in their home languages. Visiting this shop and using these telecommunications technologies, migrants can build social networks and obtain material or symbolic resources for survival. However, Sabaté i Dalmau also points out that engagement in the informal market further marginalizes migrants in society, because the informal market is fundamentally affected by an orientation toward profit-seeking, as well as governmental crackdowns.

The book concludes with a short postscript by Mike Baynham. Above all, he emphasizes the role of “socially committed researchers” in the present, marked as it is by the (re)production of social stratification through language. As all of the papers reveal, differences clearly exist between those who have mobility and those who do not. Critiquing the abstractions of mobility and transnationalism, and examining who benefits and who is excluded from institutions and resources, is warranted. Furthermore, Baynham argues that such research needs to be shared not only among sociolinguists, but also with activists, policy-makers, and practitioners.


The significance of this volume inheres in its interpretation of critical sociolinguistics as a major theoretical framework. From this viewpoint, language is viewed not as a fixed or abstract entity, but as a social and symbolic resource that establishes boundaries between social groups, enables the inclusion or exclusion of certain groups in social processes, and articulates social stratification (Heller, 2011). The use of a certain language is a social practice that is embedded in a complex of ideological components (Heller, 2007). This theoretical framework is central to the discipline of sociolinguistics; language is now subject, more than ever, to the social and economic logic of the present, defined by trends such as commodification, distinction, and flexibilization (Duchêne and Heller, 2012; Heller, 2010). In this sense, all of the papers in this volume clearly disclose the social processes of linguistic practices and ideologies.

Though all of the papers in the volume attend to the social, cultural and economic changes in their respective contexts, they do not fall prey to determinism. This is because these studies incorporate an ethnographic orientation in their methodological frameworks. Rather than analyzing macro-level discourses of domination, the authors observed the lives of social actors -- for the most part, members of socially marginalized groups -- and listened to their voices and narratives. Consequently, the papers in this volume often come to the conclusion that there are tensions and contradictions both in institutional policies and their informants’ reactions to such policies. As the papers in the last part show, although these tensions can be a form of resistance, prospects for resistance are not necessarily optimistic. Rather, the authors admit that there is always a possibility that the agency of social actors is incorporated into the dominant discourse. This is in contrast to other critical volumes that have tended to simply highlight the emancipatory and enlightened aspects of linguistic practices for social change.

Although most of these studies investigated subjects who were, in some sense, vulnerable in their societies or communities, there has been scant discussion as to how critical sociolinguistic research describing such marginalized groups contributes to their lives, or how such research can be interpreted and used by various stakeholders. It might be academically interesting that a number of social actors have created alternative ways to draw on their own linguistic and cultural resources and to use “loopholes” in institutional regulations. However, as Baynham implies in the postscript, it is necessary to reflect upon whom such findings benefit, what consequences such findings have, and to what end. Such an awareness may be a starting point for research “with” participants, as Cameron, Frazer, Harvey, Rampton, and Richardson (1992) have suggested in the context of a critical approach to language research.

Furthermore, most of the studies included in this volume are part of larger research projects. For this reason, detailed study backgrounds and full-fledged analyses and interpretations of data were not included in several studies. Given that these papers have been published as chapters in a larger volume in which space is limited, these omissions are acceptable. Readers of this book may seek to refer to the complete analyses of each research project if available in publication in longer form, to gain further insight into and inspiration from the linguistic practices under neoliberalism.


Cameron, D., Frazer, E., Harvey, P., Rampton, B. and Richardson, K. (1992). Researching language: Issues of power and method. New York: Routledge.

Duchêne, A., &amp; Heller, M. (2012). Language in late capitalism: Pride and profit. New York: Routledge.

Heller, M. (2007). Bilingualism: A social approach. Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan.

Heller, M. (2010). The commodification of language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 39(1), 101–114.

Heller, M. (2011). Paths to post-nationalism: A critical ethnography of language and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


In Chull JANG is currently a PhD candidate in the Language and Literacies Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). His thesis research concerns South Korean English study-abroad, taking critical sociolinguistic ethnography as a theoretical and methodological framework. His research interests include critical sociolinguistics, language learner subjectivity, and the issue of English in late capitalism.

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