LINGUIST List 31.1310

Thu Apr 09 2020

Review: Sociolinguistics: Cornips, de Rooij (2018)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <>

Date: 11-Sep-2019
From: Irene D'Agostino <>
Subject: The Sociolinguistics of Place and Belonging
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Leonie Cornips
EDITOR: Vincent A. de Rooij
TITLE: The Sociolinguistics of Place and Belonging
SUBTITLE: Perspectives from the margins
SERIES TITLE: IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society 45
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2018

REVIEWER: Irene D'Agostino, Università degli Studi di Firenze


The volume collects papers from two workshops organized at Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS) in 2011 and 2013, and from a colloquium (2014). It deals with a very current and interesting topic for sociolinguistics research and provides large conceptual thinking.

Papers are partitioned into three major parts: Part I, Interpersonal relations, place, and belonging; Part II, Parodic performances from the margins; Part III, Agency in linguistic place-making.

Each part is introduced by a commentary.

The introduction by the editors Cornips and de Rooij (Chapter I) offers a theoretical synopsis about topics on which the entire work is based.


The central question of the book is “how people position themselves toward others and how do they include or exclude those others using linguistic and cultural resources?” (p.3).

While trying to investigate an individual’s reaction to the centralization process and sociocultural dynamics that lead to the emergence of (sociocultural) peripheries, researchers basically respond to the set of classical sociolinguistic issues i.e. which is the origin and the development of linguistic forms as social representations? Which are the linguistic forms of social ties? (see Tani, p.16). Each contribution deals with the possibility to show and define a linguistic group or community based on the “socio-symbolic function of representation that commute a mental construction […] in a practical social reality endowed with its own existence” (Tani, p.15).

Moving from different case studies and fieldwork, every chapter presents a series of major theoretical themes: the link between space, mobility, and language; a critical reworking of the concept of identity and Agency; the center-periphery dynamics; the concept of standard variety; and the development of language-culture community.

All of these themes converge emphasizing the interdisciplinary nature of the approach that involves sociolinguistics, sociocultural anthropology and linguistic anthropology. In fact, the aim announced in the introduction is to develop “sociolinguistics studies of centralization-peripheralization that take their subject matter to be the total linguistic fact” (p.1). The very theoretical basis is the reappraisal of the notion of place/space that comes to be a foundational, unifying element of the disciplines that deal with language from a socio-etho-antropological perspective. The concept of lived place socially constructed allows us to deeply rethink two such classical categories of sociolinguistic studies as place and belonging.

As far as the topic of place is concerned, we are no longer confronted with a type of physical space (urban or rural) delimited by borders (political or physical) that could be represented on a map, but with a larger and more complex category. From a classical linguistic perspective, a point on a map correspond to a language variety.

The epistemological development of the discipline has led to a deep revision of these notions. Gradually, one has come to a “despacelized” concept of territories (see Nicolai, 2003) i.e. spaces and territories are considered beyond their physical (or administrative) definition and they become spaces and territories “lived” by those who cross them. Moreover, the idea of “local” becomes unstable and the association between language and territory, due to the introduction of the speakers within the equation a language = a territory, is problematized.

Linguistic use is what powerfully undermines every linguistic ideology established within the ontology of language variety and linguistic spaces. Traditionally, sociolinguistics builds its theoretical system on the idea that “speakers and languages are fixed to places” (p. 242); at present, instead, it considers a different idea about the relationship between speaker, space and community and assumes that space is constructed by speakers and their language activities.

The emergence of this new idea is clearly due to the mobility that characterizes contemporaneity and to the ascertainment that individuals moving in the space maintain a strong need to recreate, wherever they are, a sense of belonging. In the perspective of place-making theory, sense of belonging refers to the practice of creating an identitary bond with a place, a group, a community that can be distant in time and space. Linguistics phenomena are what give shape and indicate place and boundaries. Place and boundaries became linguistically, socially and culturally constructed objects. Therefore, establishing a specific socio-demographic contour has become a priority with regard to the comprehension of linguistic contact and the presence or creation of specific linguistic variety.

As a result, linguistic varieties are no longer interpreted as ideological objects, but as empirical objects that take place in historic-material contexts and through discursive practice. Some of the foundational concepts of linguistic geography are not set aside, but fitted out with new meanings: frontiers, borders and space lose their materiality to become evidence and obligations relating to the perception of phenomena and they are objectified from social actors representations. They don’t exist per se but they are determined by a peculiar history.

Editors of this book also highlight the necessity to problematize concept of belonging (p. 6-7) that replaces the ambiguous one of identity (p.7) and evokes dynamism and multidimensionality of a process through which speakers perform to construct their image corresponding to the trajectories and movements accomplished during their existences through physical space and social group.

Furthermore, “belonging” can gather the relational and multidimensional nature of the identification process and allows us to see that this process “is intersubjectively rather than individually produced and interactionally emergent rather than assigned in a priori fashion” (see Bulchotz-Hall 2005). But mostly, the concept of belonging in the context of the theory of place-making leads to relating individuals’ processes of identification with the group and the place and to showing how they take shape through linguistic and discursive interactions where they position themselves and others.

The other big aim of the volume deals with the study of (linguistic) peripheries, as it claims in the introduction: “Rural as well as urbanized peripheries that are supposed to be less ethnically mixed have, until now received relatively little attention” (p.2). People living in peripheries didn’t stay immune from globalization processes, and indeed they currently represent interesting examples of dis-identification or identification processes and new hybridations.


Chapters in the first part of the book, introduced by Jürgen Jaspers (“The boundaries of belonging. A commentary”), analyze how speakers, through their daily linguistic and narrative work, constitute and keep alive a strong sense of belonging in face of events that preclude or compromise it.

Jaspers’ introduction is an interesting comment concerning formation and emergence of groups and local linguistic varieties: it reflects on the concept of standard and on the formation of national language. Within this theoretical framework, he accomplishes a detailed excursus involving the Herderian concept of link between language and collectivity to show the trajectory followed by sociolinguistics in order to reach a revaluation of marginalized and peripherical groups, and a reconsideration of disciplinary terminology that has hidden the reification of a “different set of linguistic resources” (p.19) in linguistic and systematic varieties. For this reason, rather than using separate language names, it is preferable to use the notion of contact zone that can make clear the speakers’ movement between places, institutions and groups.

Chapter III by Bambi B. Schieffelin uses linguistic data from an ethnographic fieldwork “focused on the rapid social and linguistic changes taking place in Bosavi, which included the radical disrupting of local senses of place and places-making” (p.37). Referring to Vygotsky, Schieffelin illustrates how community’s children organize their everyday experience through the mediation of linguistic activity that becomes a way to know the community world and the specific culture to which they belong, highlighting the role of language in creating a sense of place: through the affection to place, children come to realize their identity.

Chapter IV by Auer and Cornips focus on Cité Duits, a linguistic variety used by locally born children of immigrant coal miners in Tuinwijk, a neighborhood in the village of Eisden in Belgian Limburg. Cité Duits is a language variety combining elements from German, Belgian Dutch and Maasland dialect and represents an example of symbolic language originating from an expressive and identitary need. The research accurately analyses the development of a language related to a particular place and to the expressive needs of a specific group, represented by the coal miners’ community. A large part of the chapter is dedicated to a strictly linguistic analysis of the variety: it demonstrates, highlighting the bond between transnational space, that we are dealing with a mixture that settled into a genuine linguistic variety; at the same time, it emphasizes the peripheral status of the place and group that produced several place making activities.

Chapter V presents research conduct by Anna Banaś in a group of Japanese immigrant women in Amstelveen. The author analyzes the use of three salient linguistic variables selected by Japanese women to show how members of a group use (even unconsciously) specific linguistic structures to establish boundaries between themselves and others and to build cohesion within the group. This process leads to the creation of an identity, that on the one hand determines a sense of belonging and on the other generates a differentiation movement vis-à-vis others.

In the second part, starting from a “center-periphery analytic frame” (p.115) one analyzes how minoritized speakers using parody, humour and ritualized linguistic acts, subvert peripheralization to which they are subject. The introductory chapter, written by Kathryn A. Woolard, illustrates the concept of center-periphery used in sociolinguistic analysis since the 1960s. This model subverted the classical conception that argues a linear development of a nation from the center to the peripheries, and from the inside out. On the contrary, center-periphery theorists claimed that we are dealing with a spatial metaphor rather than essences: what we call periphery is not such because of any characteristics of its own, but rather because of its relationship with the center and center could not exist without periphery. In a process of co-construction center and periphery structure each other and, consequently, equations like: center=urban=modern and periphery=rural area=traditional cease to be valid.

This framework is functional in understanding how power relations act within centralization and nationalization processes, leading us to reflect on the creation of national languages and on the rapport they conduct with minority or local languages.

We constantly get involved in discussions on the pervasively Global English that can be considered a new center in relation to countless peripheries scattered throughout the world; on the other hand the role of center-periphery dynamic is highly topical when we reflect on such concepts as identity and belonging and on the revitalization of particularistic and vernacular linguistic usages and eventually on the acknowledgement of minority languages of newly arrived immigrants (Tani, p.89).

In the three chapters of the second part, plays, parody and humour are analyzed as strategies used to resist and contest processes of peripheralization. Even if some linguistic practices seem to go beyond everyday usage, they actually are techniques and instruments used by speakers to reaffirm or defy a belonging taken for granted, to give new face to the community limits or to an idiom. As Woolard highlights, observing experiences included in this part of the volume, humoristic and parodistic techniques can also become instruments utilized by local/peripheral actors/groups to renegotiate their own and their group’s position as opposed to centers fitted with symbolic power.

Chapter VII by Lotte Thissen analyzes place-making and belonging processes accomplished through linguistic practices during the carnival celebration in Maasniel, Limburg, that is the conflict between Limburg and Holland generated during the event that combine the nationwide celebration of Sinterklaas with the carnival celebration. The village was annexed to the city of Roermond in 1959, promoting a sense of strong Limburgian identity in comparison with the rest of Netherlands. Thissen argues that the encounter is reflected in using Bakhtinian carnivalesques manners to centralize the carnival celebration and dialect use, while peripheralizing Sinterklaas celebration and the use of Dutch.

In Chapter VIII, Irene Stengs analyzes performances played by Andre Rieu the World’s King of the Walz. The subject is “the reflexive use of local language as performance” (p.149) and language-cultural practices during Andre Rieu ’s Vrijthof concerts’, that have a stake in performing periphery and in engendering a reversal of center-periphery relation. Stengs explores the way in which Rieu, a native inhabitant of Maastricht, performs the periphery and highlights the incorporation of English during the performances as a fundamental linguistic resource to indicate himself like a global-cum-local performer and to negate the Hollanders-centered perspective.

Chapter IX by Tanja Petrović examines texts of the facebook page Koe ima po grad (What’s up in town), about Lescovac, a city in Southeastern Serbia. Vernaculars of this region are perceived as peripheral and not appropriate to public use. Petrović’s analysis shows us how using the dialect of Leskovac and combining it with specific discursive genres “provide a way to re-localize the dialect” (p.195) and generatehim a place-making dynamic “in which the image of the city of Leskovac is created outside the fixed frame set by dominant language ideologies” (ivi).

The third part, introduced by the comment of Barbara Johnstone, focuses on Agency in linguistics place-making. Actually, reflection on agency constitutes a topic that comes up also in the remainder of the book and in all the research experiences in it. If one of the principal aims of the volume is contributing to the comprehension of processes of socio-symbolic construction of group and places, then one cannot forget that, interpreted in this light, every linguistic act is a type of social action that reproduces or modifies social structure (see Ahearn 2001). As pointed out by Johnstone, Agency “is a big part of the story about why linguistic variation persist” (p. 210): in understanding and explaining linguistic changes especially when one considers that the question of Agency “may be posed in ways other than in terms of the autonomous subject or authorial subject […][We] may have to think of the ways in which agency is constituted by the norms, practices, institutions, and discourses through which it is made available” (Ahern, 2001:115). Dynamics dealing with Agency are not determined by a subject acting free from a socio-cultural community, but by an individual that accomplishes practices that, deriving from structural principles (i.e. habitus), permit facing and generating new situations with, in turn, unexpected outcomes (see Ahearn 2001). However, the speaker’s agency both arises in unselfconsciously maintaining some linguistic features indicating where he comes from and in using some of those features in claiming places and identities linked to those places (p. 208). Johnstone points out that the three papers have the merit of showing that variation and speakers’ linguistic activities can be put in place with a certain degree of reflexivity i.e. agentivity, and thus becoming an act of identity through which people proceed to preserve, modify, and build their existential spaces.

Chapter XI is research conduct by Malene Monka backspace, who worked on differences in linguistic changes which occur in the communities of Vinderup in Western Jutland and Tingley in Southern Jutland. She studied the convergence toward Standard Danish in the two communities that share similar characteristics, i.e. distance to urban center, number of inhabitants. The research started in 1978; in 2006 and 2010 informants were interviewed again, showing different outcomes in linguistic change. Monka claims the process of place-making illuminates the results of the research: thus, different evolution in the use of vernacular in the two municipalities can be explained only if one considers that a place is not merely a container for facts but an ongoing place-making process in which dialect plays a prominent role (p.228).

In Chapter XII, Pia Quist examines “the ways in which the marginalization of the minority speaker in segregated urban spaces enters into everyday linguistic practices” (p.240), discussing some of the fundamentals of sociolinguistics theory like space, contact and linguistics policies. The focus is the analysis of practices of place naming through which young people ideologically manage spaces and transforming neighborhood into “their place”, through an analysis of alternative place naming in graffiti, street signs in some Copenhagen neighborhoods and in a hip-hop danish song. Alternative place naming is a resource for “claiming ownership to a place” (p.249) and an instrument to contest “established discourses about their local places” (ivi).

The last chapter (XIII), a study by Kathryn A. Remlinger, combines an ethnographic and socio-historic study with a micro-linguistic and semiotic analysis to examine the role of tourism in discursive representations of identity in the remote region of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), focusing on a specific variety of American English whose specific and recognized features have been commodified to sell the idea and the sense of a place. Remlinger wants to demonstrate that the dialect and its structures were submitted to a process of enregisterment (see Agha 2007) that indicates some cultural values associated with the dialect and with a regional persona make possible a commercialization of structures submitted to an enregisterment process used to sell some touristic products. Commodified products also communicate identity and cultural values and help to understand Yooper identity: dialect defines social identity and social identity defines dialect.


The volume has many merits, first of all, the ability to put in dialogue theoretical topics and fieldwork in a profitable and consistent manner; secondly the new formulations of notion of belonging and identity. Even with respect to the recent critical reworking of identity/belonging (see e.g Bulchotz and Hall 2005), the volume adds a revision of the notion in relation to physical space and geography, which constitutes an essential step toward the epistemology of the entire discipline that has “always been concerned with place” (Johnstone, 2003: 203).

In addition, the practical-theoretical approach to the pair belonging/place is fundamentally coherent with the emergent nature of the concept of identity/belonging and with the reality of the contemporary world characterized by increasingly frequent displacements and the existence of a virtual but pervasive space such as the internet. As the editors write: “Place that one experiences can be places that one is in direct physical contact with but they can also be places known from memory or even places that are the product of individual or collaborative imagination” (p.8). In fact, the idea of identity locally constructed, i.e. in discourses and interactions (see Bulchotz and Hall 2005), enlarges the very idea of space and maybe could reverse the roles in the equation space=language.

The text is remarkable and relevant for the disciplines to which it is addressed because it succeeds in dealing from a contemporary and ethnographic perspective with several of the topics that define sociolinguistic and dialectological studies.

The volume has also the merit of transforming the notion of place-making in a veritable theory that is capable of containing the large majority of the key concepts of sociolinguistics, and thanks to the various field work, demonstrates the possible applications.

Analyzing parodistic and humoristic use of minority and peripheral language to subvert its own position vis-à-vis the standard or the language of the center, gains interest also with regard to linguistic post-colonial studies. The specific linguistic practices, in addition to being an effect of the contact between minority or ethnical languages and standard or official language, are also the outcome of the endeavor to renegotiate a position of “marginalization/peripheralization-centralization” (p.8). Another important merit of the book consists in the exploration of the linguistic process of identification and disidentification (p.2) showing how social, cultural and political dynamics are the primary generators of new linguistic varieties.

Finally, the editors announce “the volume wants to bring the study of peripheries to the center of sociolinguistic research” (p.2), challenging at once two of the fundamental principles of sociolinguistic research, namely the concept of standard and the concept of linguistic boundaries. The move to focus on speaker as a concrete person gives to both the concepts of standard and linguistic boundaries a new capacity that can be further explored.

The volume is an excellent example of work that successfully connects theoretical knowledge and the practice of the disciplinary area to which it is addressed.


Johnstone, Barbara. 2003 “Language and place”, in The Cambridge handbook of sociolinguistics, ed by Mesthrie, R. Nell, pp.203-217, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge

Nicolaï, Robert. 2003 “Frontières”, in Sociolinguistique du contact. Dictionnaire des termes et concepts, ed. by Simonin, J. & S. Wharton pp. 199-217, Lyon :Ens Editions

Tani, Ilaria. 2015, Lingua e legame sociale. La nozione di comunità linguistica e le sue trasformazioni, Quodlibet, Macerata

Bulchotz, Mary & Hall, Kyra. “Identity and interaction: a sociocultural approach”, Discourse Studies 7(4-5), October 2005

Agha, Asif. 2007, Language and Social Relations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Lalu, Premesh. 2000, “The grammar of domination and the subjection of agency: colonial texts and modes of evidence, in Historical Theory 39(4) pp.45-68

Ahern, Laura M. 2001, “Language and Agency”, in Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, pp. 109-137


Irene D'Agostino PhD, is a linguist from Florence. She studied in Florence and Paris. She mainly deals with sociolinguistic, dialectology and theory of language. Her research interests concern the study of speakers identity and linguistic variation.
At present she is teacher in high school.

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