LINGUIST List 28.986

Thu Feb 23 2017

Review: Anthro Ling; Socioling: King, Carson (2016)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <>

Date: 18-Jul-2016
From: Joshua DeClerck <>
Subject: The Multilingual City
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Lid King
EDITOR: Lorna Carson
TITLE: The Multilingual City
SUBTITLE: Vitality, Conflict and Change
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Joshua M DeClerck, State University of New York at Albany

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The focus of “The Multilingual City: Vitality, Conflict and Change,” edited by Lid King and Lorna Carson, is on international cities where multilingual situations develop, as well as the outcomes/effects produced by these situations. The authors focus on the LUCIDE (Language in Urban Communities: Integration and Diversity for Europe) cities of Europe, Canada and Australia. These cities include; Athens, Dublin, Hamburg, Limassol, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Montreal, Osijek, Oslo, Ottawa, Rome, Sofia, Strasbourg, Toronto, Utrecht, Vancouver and Varna (King and Carson ix). The authors analyze how these situations of contact between languages affect the society, the culture and the people in these areas.

INTRODUCTION: Introduction: ‘Multilingualism is Lived Here’ by Lorna Carson and Lid King

In this section the authors describe the city, as well as why and how the city lends itself to multilingual situations, especially in modern societies. The city is described as a form of societal structuring from ancient times that, conceptually, has not changed over time. The authors, in this book, are doing a sociology of language study on the multilingual situations in different cities across Europe, where they closely analyze the effects of language contact and language policy on multilingual peoples, as well as the effects of the language contact on the culture and societal make-up of urban areas. The five areas of focus used to study this are: the public sphere, education, economic life, the private lives of citizens and urban spaces (also referred to as the ‘cityscape’). There were two phases of data collection, in each of which data was collecteddifferently. In the first phase, secondary data was collected through the use of surveys, while in the second phase data was collected through semi-directed interviews. These interviews covered perceptions that the participant has about languages in their cities (the visibility of multilingualism in their cities, challenges in creating and managing multilingualism in a city and difficulties faced by individual city dwellers). Finally, the authors discuss multilingualism with respect to individuals, activists, civic institutions and governments (local and national) and how they interact/promote the development and implementation of multilingualism in the city. The authors make a distinction between multilingual and plurilingual, following the distinction made by the Council of Europe, where “multilingual” applies to societies (aka groups) whereas “plurilingualism” applies only to individuals who speak more than one language.

CHAPTER 1: The Vitality of Urban Multilingualism by Itesh Sachdev and Sarah Cartwright

According to the authors of this section, Itesh Sachdev and Sarah Cartwright, there is a historic preference for monolingualism and since the 18th century there has been the strong attitude of “one language: one nation” that has continued into the present (21st century) (King and Carson 18). This chapter reviews how each city has attained its multilingual/plurilingual situation. The authors divide it up based on the following four broad categories, established by the final LUCIDE conference: 1 - Multilingual Historicities (Rome, Utretch and Varna), 2 – Cities Built on Immigration (Madrid, Hamburg, London, Melbourne, Toronto and Vancouver), 3 - Cities New to Multilingualism (Athens, Sofia, Oslo and Dublin), Border and
4 - Bilingual Cities (Limassol, Osijek, Strasbourg, Ottawa and Montreal). To end the section, the authors talk about the vitality of multilingualism in the LUCIDE cities with respect to demographic, status, and institutional support/control factors.

CHAPTER 2: The Sights and Sounds of the Multilingual City by Lorna Carson

In this section, Lorna Carson talks about physical evidence of multilingualism/plurilingualism. She splits it into two main categories, indexical or incidental, indexical being meaningful multilingual signage or written multilingualism where incidental is less salient to the interlocutor. Examples of indexical multilingualism would be signage that is in a museum or common place in multiple languages (51). An example given by Carson of incidental multilingualism would be a vending machine in Bulgaria that still has the instructions in English, where people don’t pay any attention to the English because it doesn’t serve a meaningful purpose. Carson addresses the issue of multilingualism and how the visual aspect does not lend itself to the multilingual individuals in their cities that don’t speak the ‘main’ language of the city. “For instance, one respondent describes how, ‘In a mainline London station, a notice read: If you need an interpreter, go to platform 8’(London City Report, 2014: 64)”(57). Carson analyzes the multilingual situations in Hamburg, Strasbourg and Dublin with respect to visual multilingualism, which demonstrates differences in their contexts (where there are temporary and permanent circumstances that brought the inhabitants of each city together). Addressed further are three categories of visible features of multilingualism: English language usage, Monolingual signs and Languages on the edges. All three of these types of multilingualism are present in the three cities analyzed by Carson. The section also reviews aural forms of multilingualism with respect to Television and radio broadcasting, as well as Multiethnolects, where physical communication between individuals is analyzed as well as a more passive communication (broadcasted). Carson concludes the section with the fact that “even small and symbolic instances contribute to enhanced language vitality and send out positive signals to local residents that their languages are worthy to be used, to be maintained, and to be learned”(83).

CHAPTER 3: Urban Multilingualism: Bond or Barrier? by Maria Stoicheva

In Maria Stoicheva’s chapter, linguistic identity and perceptions are discussed by citizens in multilingual cities. The respondents are participants in the LUCIDE City Reports and they discuss what it means to be a multilingual city. Some of the participants describe their cities as such while others compare their city to more stereotypical multilingual cities such as New York. The author discusses how to decide whether or not a language is prevalent in determining the multilingual status of a city and explains that there are multiple factors in this decision. The major factors, according to the author and some of the respondents, are the population of the speakers of the language, whether or not the language is used in daily life (private and/or public sectors), how citizens of the city perceive the language and its speakers, transmission of the language, and whether or not there are efforts to maintain the language (such as bilingual education, cultural/education festivities or use of the language in governmental documents). Stoicheva ends the chapter by stating that all these factors make it difficult for local officials and agencies to make decisions regarding language policy and cultural awareness.

CHAPTER 4: Language Policies and the Politics of Urban Multilingualism by Peter Skrandies

Peter Skrandies discusses language policy and politics of urban multilingualism in the city as a whole, as opposed to Stoicheva’s chapter on individuals. This chapter analyzes the perspectives of individuals towards the policies that their cities implement for immigrants that speak languages other than the majority language. Through this analysis, the author demonstrates that the minority languages are respected by the people of the cities and that the people feel there should be more support by the government of these populations. Finally, Skrandies asserts that the national and local governments don’t share the same opinions when it comes to minority languages and that there needs to be more correlation between the two and more support for these populations.

CHAPTER 5: Languages at School: A Challenge for Multilingual Cities by David Little

This chapter, by David Little, discusses minority languages in the context of schooling with respect to the LUCIDE cities. In this chapter, the author talks about successful schooling and how there are bilingual programs that have been moderately successful. The bilingual programs that Little discusses are the programs where the languages are used to teach different subject areas (for instance using French in a math class but Spanish in a science class – in a bilingual program in Madrid). Little also discusses the drawbacks of these types of programs, however, in that students may only acquire a limited knowledge of a language used for a single subject and fail to acquire knowledge of the language in more social contexts. Little suggests that the most successful way to implement these programs is to have some heritage speakers/native speakers in classes with new learners so that both groups of speakers benefit from social interactions and learn how to use the language outside an academic context.

CHAPTER 6: Multilingual Cities and the Future: Vitality or Decline? by Lid King

Lid King analyzes the future of multilingual cities and whether or not they are on the rise or decline. In this chapter, King ascertains that the multilingual cities are indeed on the rise with some cities projected to have increased their populations by millions by the year 2050. King further states that the nature of the city is constantly changing, as mentioned in previous chapters, and that this nature allows the city to become either more accepting of their linguistic richness or more intolerant. According to King, the attitude that cities currently have towards multilingualism is a lot more tolerant than that of past generations. King continues by stating that although this is true, it is still possible for intolerance to spread and become dominant. King finally states that as humans, we need to take it upon ourselves to make sure that we are tolerant and to make sure our cities become environments that nurture, not harm, their citizens and their ways of life.


This work’s strength comes from the data that is analyzed, which is diverse and allows for a strong comparative analysis. The data comes from multiple cities in different countries and different continents, incorporating different languages and different contact situations. Each city that was analyzed has its own unique contact situation, its own policies for handling the minority languages and its own national policies and mindsets. All of these factors also influence the public opinion on minority languages in the cities. The authors approach these linguistic areas of interest from different perspectives, primarily from the anthropological and psychological side of linguistics. The analysis is mostly a qualitative analysis with some statistics given on demographics and language policies. Self reporting in this book is good for the qualitative approach in order to get perspectives and opinions from the speakers. This book takes into account different aspects of daily life in which plurilingualism is prominent. These range from public opinion, to educational policies, to public policies, to signage, to economics and lastly to public media (such as radio, television, music, etc.). The anthropological approach to these linguistic situations allows for a more detailed analysis and suggestions on ways that public policy can help nurture and spread the knowledge of these minority groups (their languages and their cultures) in their respective communities.

The analysis could be developed more, through a more quantitative approach, and by adopting a more sociolinguistic perspective in discussing the data. Accounting for language contact quantitatively would allow us to see what people actually do while in public. It is always difficult to rely on self reporting as people, for the most part, are unaware of what they do linguistically. In this work, the authors are not so much concerned with the self reporting of the participant’s own linguistic analysis as they are with their self reporting on their perspectives on linguistic policies and minority languages in their cities. Future work can look at the individual more closely, such as in public situations, to see what their linguistic usage entails in order to see if the participants use the minority language(s) and which context(s) allow for participants to freely use these languages. Future work in this area could also look into how national policies can adapt to better accommodate the multilingual city. Finally, future work could look more into language contact between European languages (such as English and French) with aboriginal languages (in Australia) and Native American languages (in Canada). There was little discussion on this very interesting topic and it would be interesting to see more data on these situations (such as public opinions and how these languages [specifically the aboriginal] are dealt with in education).

This book meets its goals of providing a qualitative analysis from an anthropological linguistics perspective. The authors provide a comparison across three different continents, multiple countries and hundreds of different languages. Each chapter accounts for different aspects (mostly social) of the plurilingualism in the LUCIDE cities. Through the social aspects that are highlighted, the authors discuss solutions to current problems and praise the successful efforts that are already in place. Each chapter also provides insight as to how the world (meaning individuals in the multilingual city, as well as groups and local and national governments) can improve the situation of plurilingualism and promote the growth of these minority languages. The last chapter focuses primarily on the future of these multilingual situations and cities, and the author of this chapter, Lid King, believes these situations will only grow in number as more and more people migrate globally and as cities become more populated.

Students from anthropology, linguistics (specifically anthropological linguistics, sociolinguistics and maybe contact linguistics) and public policy classes would benefit from this book. This is a good source of qualitative studies and provides a good example on how to go about qualitative research in linguistics. Also, this work is good for students that are interested in plurilingualism in European cities and settings with contact between Indo-european languages and languages from Africa, Asia and other Indo-european languages. There is little discussion on contact between European languages and the aboriginal languages of Australia or the Native American languages of Canada. However, students looking for a more quantitative analysis will find that this work does not provide relevant numeric data on contact between languages in these cities (either interpersonal or intrapersonal), just demographic data.

This book is one of the first that looks at the LUCIDE city reports and connects it with work done by others. This work connects different aspects of linguistic study in a cohesive way, as each chapter explores different topics brought up during the LUCIDE city reports, such as public opinion on plurilingualism and public policy on minority languages in education. Finally, all the chapters cohere well.


Joshua DeClerck is currently a Spanish Linguistics PhD student at SUNY Albany. He currently teaches introductory level Spanish classes and holds a BA in Spanish Linguistics, French Studies and Italian Studies from SUNY Albany, as well as a MA in Spanish Linguistics from SUNY Albany. His research interests include Contact Linguistics, Romance Linguistics, SLA and Phonology. More specifically, Romance SLA and contact between Romance languages.

Page Updated: 23-Feb-2017