LINGUIST List 28.2314

Wed May 24 2017

Review: Applied Ling; Socioling: Saarikivi, Toivanen (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 05-Jan-2017
From: Sarah Shulist <>
Subject: Linguistic Genocide or Superdiversity?
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Reetta Toivanen
EDITOR: Janne Saarikivi
TITLE: Linguistic Genocide or Superdiversity?
SUBTITLE: New and Old Language Diversities
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Sarah Shulist,

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The edited volume “Linguistic Genocide or Superdiversity? New and Old Language Diversities”, by Reetta Toivanen and Janne Saarikivi, engages provocatively with two important, and seemingly contradictory, lines of thought within sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology regarding global linguistic diversity. On the one hand, we hear widespread discussions of the threat faced by minority languages and the likelihood that huge proportions of these languages will disappear entirely, thereby greatly reducing the range of linguistic diversity present in the world (c.f. Hale et al. 1992; Nettle and Romaine 2000; Evans 2010). On the other hand, we are also confronted with the impact of global flows of people and communication networks that create conditions for new interactions of languages, as well as new levels of variation and diversity, especially in urban spaces, that have been grouped under the heading of “superdiversity” (Blommaert et al. 2015). The editors and contributors to this book take these two phenomena and examine how both of these processes can, paradoxically, be true at same time. The book not only addresses what types of social, political and ideological forces can support or hinder the expression of linguistic diversity, but also wrestles with the question of what linguistic diversity is, and how its current manifestations build upon or diverge from older and more familiar versions. In doing so, the authors discuss practices of languaging, plurilingualism, heteroglossia, and enregisterment, models for understanding code-switching and mixing, and how linguistic variation is mediated through ideologies and policies regarding not only language, but also national and minority identities. All of the chapters discuss languages in different European contexts, with the majority focusing on Western Russia and Finland.

In their introduction to the volume, Toivanen and Saarikivi emphasize that contact among languages is, of course, far from a new phenomenon, but that both the sources of variation and their implications for creative identity formation are different than they have been in the past. Unifying themes that shape the various linguistic and sociopolitical practices described throughout the book include media (both traditional and ‘new’), the development and expansion of standard and literary varieties, and the significance of school-based education. These schooling systems, in particular, are situated within shifting political frameworks of recognition and reinforcement not only for languages, but also for the identities that accompany them; the implications of incorporating a wider range of languages into these structures of education, literacy, and human rights become matters of concern in nuanced ways throughout the papers.

The book is divided into three thematic sections, each of which contains four articles: (1) Language Communities or Networks of Communication? Old and New Linguistic Diversity, (2) Standardising Languages and Ethnicities: Mission Impossible? and (3) Language Revitalisation: Protection Standards or Tolerance for Variation. Because of the quantity and range of material covered in these chapters, the following summary of each section is able to provide only a very brief overview of specific authors’ contributions.

Part 1 focuses on describing the type of diversity that is emerging within endangered minority languages as they are currently being used, emphasizing the patterns of borrowing, code-switching, and/or mixing that occur, especially in relation to discourses about the value of linguistic ‘purism’. In the first chapter, “Fragmentation of the Karelian Language and Its Community”, Niko Partanen and Janne Saarikivi observe extensive variation within the endangered Karelian language, as speakers draw on types of ‘languaging’ and plurilingualism, in contrast to assumptions that endangerment creates greater rigidity in a language. They situate this discussion of variation in the context of the “fragmentation” of the community of speakers, observing not only who knows the Karelian language, but also how and with whom they believe themselves to be able to use the language. The new diversities they describe are considered likely to disappear quickly, and the social dynamics of this shift constitute an important theme for understanding variation in the context of language endangerment. Chapter 2, “What’s Up Helskini?” (Heini Lehtonen), focuses on the linguistic practices of Somali-speaking youth in two junior high schools. Lehtonen observes that in this diasporic context, the linguistic resources available to these youth include an unusually broad range of regional varieties and scholarly standards which the speakers use in the construction of social and linguistic boundaries. Her examination raises the question of what is “new” in this new diversity; she concludes that while the specific repertoires used and identities expressed by these young speakers may be different, the practices of languaging and enregisterment they use to do so are essentially the same as they have always been. What is different in the analysis of superdiversity, then, relates more to the frame of analysis than it does to the situation itself. Boglárka Janurik’s Chapter 3, “Varieties of Erzya-Russian code-switching in Radio Vaygel Broadcasts”, offers a technical linguistic description of code-switching and the grammatical structure of variety. Janurik identifies a continuum of variation, with monolingual Erzya and Russian on either end, and a fully mixed variety in the middle, and analyzes the range of variation within this continuum that is used by bilingual speakers on a regional radio station. In contrast to written (completely monolingual) media, the radio station is more versatile and demonstrates more (but not all) of the actual range of linguistic diversity present in the community of Erzya speakers. She argues, in contrast to models that assume a 3-generation shift from immigrant to dominant majority language, that “the outcome of long-established contact situations is not straightforward” (105). Like Partanen and Saarikivi, however, she concludes that while code-switching styles may create more versatility within the language, this new kind of variation may be part of the process that threatens the old kind. In Chapter 4, “Udmurt on Social Network Sites: A Comparison with the Welsh Case”, Christian Pischlöger presents a hopeful picture for how the Udmurt language may, like Welsh, become a case study of successful language revitalization. The use of colloquial forms of Udmurt, including extensive mixing, as well as the creation of new genres, on SNS contrasts with the standard literary variety that is described as “pure”, but that is, in fact, primarily associated with use by “foreigners” rather than authentic speakers. Pischlöger highlights how both the form and content of Udmurt on SNS are moving toward a level of “normalization” and demonstrating, like Welsh, adaptability for use in new media contexts, and therefore, an increased level of linguistic vitality.

Part 2, entitled “Standardizing Languages and Ethnicities: Mission Impossible?”, deals primarily with connections between language ideologies, formal policies for language and identity management, and patterns of multilingual language use. Hanna Lantto opens this section with “A Tale of a City and Its Two Languages”, tracing the use of Basque and Spanish in the city of Bilbao through shifting political regimes. While extensive examples of mixing and “heteroglossic languaging” are available throughout the history of the city, their forms and meanings have changed significantly. Of particular interest is the contemporary difference between “New Basques” and “Old Basques” in the city, as the two groups are believed to be “fundamentally different types of speakers who have different mental schemas” (153). Members of an older generation, recognized as native Basque speakers, are able to use mixed codes in ways that younger speakers do not, lest they be interpreted as ‘lazy’ or improper speakers. Bilingual practices are therefore not available to all speakers equally, as social pressures and ideological categorizations create the conditions in which variation is deployed, and through which “purism” is emphasized. Chapter 6, by Oksana Myschlovska, “Nationalising Fluid and Ambiguous Identities” evaluates the definition and instrumentalization of ethnicity and language in the policy structure of Russia and Ukraine. In addition to the Soviet legacy, the contemporary Crimean conflict informs the views within both states of who belongs to the categories of “Russian” and “Ukrainian” people or speakers. Myschlovska uses survey and census data to illustrate how these categories are shifting, thoroughly ambiguous, and include multiple types of “mutual permeation” and mixing (182); she argues that the recent conflict has made patterns of Ukrainian ethnolinguistic identification much more territorial and political, such that they are now more likely to include Russian speakers living in the Ukraine. The high political stakes for categorizing language and ethnic identities in this context inform the terms through which we must understand ideologies of difference and diversity. Chapters 7 and 8 both deal with Sámi identities in Finland. Erika Katjaana Sarivaara’s “Emergent Sámi Identities” considers the ways in which both the Sámi parliament and individuals have complex interpretations of what it means to be Sámi in light of a legacy of assimilation. She situates her discussion in relation to processes of revitalization, and in counterpoint to discourses about Indigenous authenticity and essentialism. Political inclusion, she argues, can be vital for strengthening both formal and ideological connections to revitalization, and recognizing the dynamic and multidimensional nature of Sámi society and identities is an important part of moving out of an assimilationist history. Reetta Toivanen’s “Localizing the Global in the Superdiverse Municipalities of the Arctic”, similarly, examines the governance of language and cultural pluralism in a Sámi context, raising questions about power and control over the specific terms of cultural and linguistic preservation. She highlights how language is often deployed as a clear-cut natural category that presumes the pre-existence of boundaries between peoples, and how this naturalization functions as a means of essentializing Sámi identities. The question of “who is allowed to enter the public sphere as Sámi” (242) is shaped by global politics and Indigenous rights discourses that do not tolerate ambiguity and heterogeneity. Identification with Sámi identity, then, is not something that is fully free of state paternalism, and these externalized category creations inform the ways in which activists can work to revitalize their languages.

Section 3 turns directly to focus on “Language Revitalization: Protection Standards or Tolerance for Variation”. The chapters grouped here share a focus on how policies and ideologies relating to standardization, variation, and diversity can inform strategies and prospects for endangered minority languages. In Chapter 9, Konstantin Zamyatin evaluates “Russia’s Minority Education and the European Language Charter”, considering specifically how well Russian educational institutions meet the standards of the charter – to what level, in other words, does Russia support the use of different languages in schools? Zamyatin highlights distinctions between symbolic and instrumental policy, noting that despite limited implementation of charter standards, symbolic recognition has allowed minority linguistic communities to use its principles to press for the adoption of stronger operational rules. Chapter 10, by Johanna Laakso, moves to consider the idea of “Metadiversity, or the Uniqueness of the Lambs”. Laakso evaluates how discourses and political practices relation to endangerment and revitalization proscribe a specific type of relationship to diversity and multilingualism – specifically, one that protects multiple sets of monolingual spaces for authentic speakers of individual languages. In discussing and advocating for linguistic diversity, then, it is not at all clear that all participants are arguing for the same thing. Laakso focuses particularly on the idea of “languageness”, or the degree to which some speakers believe that their way of speaking constitutes an actual, bounded language, and argues that in cases where this belief is weak or absent, legal status and other institutional protections of ways of speaking become more difficult to support. She concludes that in order to more fully support linguistic diversity, ideological clarification about “metadiversity” – the diversity of what constitutes diversity – is needed. In Chapter 11, “Division of Responsibility in Karelian and Veps Language Revitalisation Discourse”, Ulriikka Puura and Outi Tánczos analyze two different Russian minority language communities’ beliefs about the relative roles of the state and speakers in causing and reversing language shift. The authors conclude that discourses naturalize the idea that the state is not likely to provide this type of support, despite the fact that both inside and outside action is required in order to implement revitalization initiatives. The final chapter, by Svetlana Edyagarova, “Standard Language Ideology and Minority Languages: The Case of the Permian Languages”, considers the type of “standard language culture” that influences this set of languages. Authoritarian Soviet definitions of language norms continue to inform the language standards that have been developed and used for Permian languages today, and linguistic purity remains prominent in the discourses of language professionals. Edyagarova observes that these ideologies of the standard have been adopted from the dominant language culture into a context where the linguistic needs are quite different, and that these internalized beliefs may ultimately contribute to the extinction of minority languages. She advocates for a transformation and adoption of new linguistic ideologies, emphasizing the value of varieties, mixed languages, and limiting the relevance of standardization to the fixing of grammatical norms.


This volume constitutes an important intervention into linguistic and linguistic anthropological discussions about the nature of and prospects for linguistic diversity in a context of globalization. The editors of the book have worked to draw together the two primary – and seemingly opposite – approaches to understanding the contemporary global sociolinguistic landscape, and convincingly articulate the case for unifying the two ideas. While they do not ultimately provide a clear answer for the rhetorical opposition they propose in their title, it is perhaps noteworthy that the term “linguistic genocide” appears only very rarely throughout the chapters included. Endangerment and threat are considered extensively, but without, generally speaking, a particularly strong focus on assigning blame for this process (the exception, of course, is the chapter by Puura and Tánczos). “Superdiversity”, on the other hand, is a concept that is thoroughly unpacked, reconsidered, and evaluated for its usefulness in explaining the social and linguistic circumstances being examined. In applying these questions specifically to contexts of language endangerment and linguistic minorities, a nuanced picture emerges of how speakers in these types of circumstances relate to and use diverse linguistic resources in relation to local, national, and global forces that shape their meanings. Each of the chapters contributes in particular ways to longstanding discussions about linguistic purism in minority language communities (c.f. Dorian 1994; Hinton and Ahlers 1999; Henze and Davis 1999), as well as the relevance and challenges of creating and implementing written standard forms for these cases (Rice and Saxon 2002; Seifart 2006; Romaine 2002). The authors do an excellent job of contextualizing the especially powerful role of schools, and the profound social change that these institutions create, for reshaping the value systems associated with different types of language use. The relationships among education and standardization, the linguistic skills demanded in modern workplaces, and the reduction in acceptable ranges of linguistic diversity, underlie many of the more specific points raised by each of the chapters. In examining the ways in which various actors navigate the use of different semiotic resources in their everyday lives in light of this underlying framework, the book looks at both macro and micro level social processes that are undoubtedly working in concert to redraw the global sociolinguistic picture.

As an anthropologist focusing on the social dynamics and consequences of language revitalization, I found the chapters by Sarivaara, Laakso, and Edygarova to be especially useful contributions to discussions of how these processes and practices can be improved with better understanding of language ideologies and of the sociopolitical frames in which these language planning activities are taking place. The themes and ideas that unify the chapters included in this book are quite broad and of substantial overall interest within the sociolinguistics of diversity. In some cases, however, I found the implications of particular chapters for the larger goals of the text to be difficult to identify. For example, Myshlovska’s discussion of Ukrainian and Russian nationality policies, while fascinating and of significant interest to the contemporary politics of identity, does not clearly fit as a case study of language shift, or even, despite brief references to mixed linguistic varieties, as a consideration of the linguistic dimensions of that conflict. By contrast, while obviously relevant to discussions of language loss and its possible solutions, Puura and Tánczos’ critical discourse analysis of responsibility for Karelian and Veps language revitalization moves away from the volume’s strong theoretical focus on the nature of social and linguistic variation within these communities.

A point of weakness in the book as a whole is encapsulated in a short comment in Toivanen’s chapter. She says “[i]nterestingly, anthropologists have not engaged much with questions aiming towards identifying the reasons that lead to language shift and language loss among the people studied”. In fact, I believe an abundance of literature addressing this topic has been emerging from anthropologists over the last several years, and engagement with this body of work would enrich the analysis presented. Examples in monograph form include Perley (2011), Meek (2011), (Debenport 2015), as well as the edited volume by Granadillo and Orcutt-Gachiri (2011), and several journal articles or book chapters (Hill 2006; Franchetto 2006; Dobrin and Schwartz 2016), to highlight only a few. As noted above, all of the authors consider the concept and nature of diversity (super or otherwise) in complex and significant ways, and I believe an equally significant and important conversation could emerge about experiences and understandings of “endangerment” or “minorities” with greater attention to this line of scholarship. Further questions I would like to explore include the nature and practice of “ideological clarification” and the implications of calls to implement changes to language ideologies – for example, in Edyagarova’s concluding call to change the ideological framework within which standard Permian languages function. As Kroskrity (2009) observes, ideological clarification is a slippery term, and if it is to be a useful one for the purposes of language revitalization, it requires a solid theoretical grounding.

The book is well-suited to an audience of both sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological scholars, and makes relevant connections across the fields that should contribute new insights to studies of language policy and planning, multilingualism, and language revitalization. On the whole, the chapters are written in an accessible manner and the material in the book would be useful in graduate level seminars in sociolinguistics or the anthropology of language.


Blommaert, Jan, Karel Arnaut, Ben Rampton, and Massimiliano Spotti, eds. 2015. Language and Superdiversity. Routledge.

Debenport, Erin. 2015. Fixing the Books: Secrecy, Literacy, and Perfectibility in Indigenous New Mexico. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School for Advanced Research.

Dobrin, Lise M., and Saul Schwartz. 2016. “Collaboration or Participant Observation? Rethinking Models of ‘Linguistic Social Work,’” June.

Dorian, Nancy C. 1994. “Purism vs. Compromise in Language Revitalization and Language Revival.” Language in Society 23 (4): 479–94.

Evans, Nicholas. 2010. Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Franchetto, Bruna. 2006. “Ethnography in Language Documentation.” In Essentials of Language Documentation, edited by Jost Gippert, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel, 183–212. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Granadillo, Tania, and Heidi A. Orcutt-Gachiri, eds. 2011. Ethnographic Contributions to the Study of Endangered Languages. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Hale, Ken, Michael Krauss, Lucille J. Watahomigie, Akira Y. Yamamoto, Colette Craig, LaVerne Masayesva Jeanne, and Nora C. England. 1992. “Endangered Languages.” Language 68 (1): 1–42.

Henze, Rosemary, and Kathryn A. Davis. 1999. “Introduction: Authenticity and Identity: Lessons from Indigenous Language Education.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 30 (1): 3–21.

Hill, Jane H. 2006. “The Ethnography of Language and Language Documentation.” In Essentials of Language Documentation, edited by Jost Gippert, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel, 113–28. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hinton, Leanne, and Jocelyn Ahlers. 1999. “The Issue of ‘Authenticity’ in California Language Restoration.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 30 (1): 56–67.

Kroskrity, Paul V. 2009. “Language Renewal as Sites of Language Ideological Struggle: The Need for ‘Ideological Clarification.’” In Indigenous Language Revitalization: Encouragement, Guidance, and Lessons Learned, edited by Jon Reyhner and Louise Lockard. Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University Press.

Meek, Barbra A. 2011. We Are Our Language: An Ethnography of Language Revitalization in a Northern Athabaskan Community. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Nettle, Daniel, and Suzanne Romaine. 2000. Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Perley, Bernard C. 2011. Defying Maliseet Language Death: Emergent Vitalities of Language, Culture, and Identity in Eastern Canada. Lincoln, Nebraska: Univeristy of Nebraska Press.

Rice, Keren, and Leslie Saxon. 2002. “Issues of Standardization and Community in Aboriginal Language Lexicography.” In Making Dictionaries: Preserving Indigenous Languages of the Americas, edited by William Frawley, Kenneth C. Hill, and Pamela Munro, 125–54. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

Romaine, Suzanne. 2002. “The Impact of Language Policy on Endangered Languages.” International Journal on Multicultural Societies 4 (2).

Seifart, Frank. 2006. “Orthography Development.” In Essentials of Language Documentation, edited by Jost Gippert, Nikolaus P. Himmelmann, and Ulrike Mosel, 275–300. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Sarah Shulist is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her research focuses on the sociopolitical dynamics of language loss and revitalization, especially for Indigenous people in urban context and multilingual settings. She has worked on these issues in both Brazil and Canada. Additional areas of interest include language policy, linguistic landscape, language ideology, and collaborative work in linguistics/anthropology.

Page Updated: 24-May-2017