LINGUIST List 32.1668

Wed May 12 2021

Review: General Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Vigouroux, Mufwene (2020)

Editor for this issue: Jeremy Coburn <jecoburnlinguistlist.org>



Date: 10-Nov-2020
From: Farah Ali <farah636gmail.com>
Subject: Bridging Linguistics and Economics
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Book announced at https://linguistlist.org/issues/31/31-2061.html

EDITOR: Cécile B. Vigouroux
EDITOR: Salikoko S. Mufwene
TITLE: Bridging Linguistics and Economics
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2020

REVIEWER: Farah Ali, DePauw University

SUMMARY

This edited volume examines language use from the joint perspective of both linguistics and economics - two disciplines that are not often thought of as complementary by either economists or linguists. However, the authors of this volume aim to illustrate the mutually beneficial relationship between these fields, and that - as a social phenomenon - language use is an area of study that can benefit from interdisciplinary investigation among the social sciences. Following from this goal, this volume consists of nine chapters that have been contributed by authors working in the fields of economics, linguistics, political science, and sociology. These chapters address a wide breadth of topics relating to the productive interaction between linguistics and economics, including language as human capital, linguistic diversity, digital communication, language policy and planning, determinants of bilingualism, language and economic development, and language rights.

Chapter 1, “Do linguists need economists and economists linguistics?” (Cecile Vigouroux and Salikoko Mufwene), poses one of the central questions that each chapter in this volume aims to address: is it useful to bridge the fields of economics and linguistics? In addition to providing an overview of each chapter’s contents, the authors delineate some of the existing interaction between linguistics and economics, as well as introduce some of the key concepts and ideas that have overlapping relevance in the two fields, some of which include language as human capital, the intersection of language, migration, and the economy. Chapter 2, “Economists do need linguists” (Victor Ginsburgh and Shlomo Weber), continues this survey of interdisciplinary research, and addresses the topic of cultural diversity and how languages are often used as an indicator of cultural differences and thus as a means of identifying individuals. They also point to how ethnic and linguistic categorizations have economic consequences that can lead to disenfranchisement. They rightfully point out that it is crucial to search for a compromise between efficiency and the disenfranchisement sentiments that may challenge multilingual countries or unions. Finally, the authors use the European Union as a case study to delineate methods of measuring disenfranchisement with a diversity index.

Chapter 3, “The invisibility of linguistic diversity online: reflections on the political economy of digital communication” (Anna Deumert), looks at digital media in the Global South and focuses on the visibility and invisibility of linguistic diversity in online spaces. Here, Deumert distinguishes between the Global North and South as highly industrialized and affluent nations versus economically marginalized and post-colonial nations, respectively. Through an examination of unequal distribution and consumption of digital media technologies, Deumert demonstrates that these inequities make certain languages visible and others invisible online, which in turn reinforce the social inequities that have a long history in the Global South. Chapter 4, “Evaluating Language Policy and Planning: An Introduction to the Economic Approach,” (Michele Gazzola, François Grin, and François Vaillancourt) shifts the discussion to language policy and planning; namely, how economists have contributed to the construction and evaluation of policies. In this chapter, the authors aim to introduce different methodological tools for analyzing critical aspects of language policy, looking first at language skills and its connection to earnings and use in the workplace, as well as how economists use this as an indicator of individuals’ participation in an economic system. The authors also examine the evaluation of language policy measures. From a methodological perspective, they focus on how to identify the target group of a policy, as well as how to measure costs and benefits of policy measures.

Chapter 5, “The Economics of Language Diversity and Language Resilience in the Balkans” (Adam D. Clark-Joseph and Brian D. Joseph), examines multilingualism in the Balkans as the site of a linguistic marketplace, where various economic factors may influence language use, particularly that of Greek. Relying on an economic lens of utility maximization to examine what incentivizes specific language choice, the authors demonstrate how Greek - while a minority language in Albania - maintains a “solid economic niche” in Southern Albania through its use in tourism as well as being a vehicular language for business interests in Greece. Chapter 6, “Determinants of Bilingualism among Children” (Barry R. Chiswick and Marina Gindelsky), examine bilingualism among children born in the U.S., focusing on the possible determinants that favor bilingualism early in life. Using data from the American Community Survey - a data set that consists of survey responses comprising all fifty states and the District of Columbia - the authors use a regression analysis to examine several different variables that may positively impact childhood bilingualism. Here, they indicate that the most significant factors as determinants of child bilingualism appear to be: parental proficiency in English, parental foreign birthplace, residence in a linguistic enclave, shared parental ancestry, and race/ethnicity.

Chapter 7, “Economy and Language in Africa” (Paulin G. Djité), looks at the role of language in a development program for Africa, problematizing one of its central goals of “integrating Africa” - a continent of 2139 langauges (p. 183). Djité demonstrates how - despite substantial economic growth in recent years - the continent continues to remain economically fragile, attributing this to the absence of effective language policy and planning. Specifically, he argues that discussions about economic growth typically focus on European languages, all while leaving out discussions about African languages - ones which are used by local consumers and producers and therefore also play an important role in economic development. As such, Djité proposes that multilingualism - particularly that which includes African languages - is a necessary tool for long-term development in Africa. Chapter 8, “The Unequal Exchange of Texts in the World Language System (Abram de Swaan) looks at language as an economic good and how it plays a role in linguistic vitality. De Swaan distinguishes between more widely spoken “central languages” and less commonly spoken “peripheral languages,” and argues that the latter often risk depreciation because the former serve as lingua francas which enable communication across ethnic boundaries and are thus viewed as more valuable commodities. However, de Swaan points out that beyond this instrumental aspect, languages also have an expressive aspect as identity markers and bearers of cultural capital. This aspect, however, can be depreciated when instrumental motivations to use specific languages takes priority. Here, de Swaan uses the “unequal exchange of texts” as an example to illustrate this point, where texts are written and published in some languages - typically the central languages (and predominantly English) and can contribute to the abandonment of peripheral, domestic languages.

This volume concludes with Chapter 9, “Language Economics and Language Rights (John Edwards), which problematizes the notion of language rights and argues for a more informed approach to this concept. In this chapter, Edwards distinguishes the idea of “claims” from “rights,” arguing that many linguists obfuscate the two by framing discussions about linguistic advocacy through the latter rather than the former. Additionally, Edwards makes the case for grounding discussions about language rights in an ecology-of-language approach, drawing on the issue of linguistic diversity - a recurring theme in this volume - and points out the economic costs of language maintenance, which in turn raises the question as to whether minority languages are always sustainable.

EVALUATION

This edited volume presents a unique collection that opens up a dialogue between economics and linguistics as two very interrelated disciplines. While the application of economic principles to linguistic research is not a new phenomenon, language economics as its own interdisciplinary field of study is a burgeoning area that is likely to continue to grow in its popularity, particularly in view of the increasing need for scholars in all fields to approach research from a social justice lens in order to uncover sources of inequity that manifest across the human experience. As such, this volume will be of interest to scholars of both linguistics and economics who seek to delve further into their complementary fields of research.

In addition to its unique premise, this volume has a number of strengths that make it a valuable contribution to both linguistics and economics. First, it is fitting that a volume on this topic should consist of chapters that are contributed by scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Creating bridges is a bidirectional process, and so a dialogue about the interaction between linguistics and economics should comprise voices that - at the minimum - represent both backgrounds. More than that, each author makes a case for the importance of examining the connection between economic structures and language use in a variety of contexts, presenting the reader with a collection of truly interdisciplinary studies.

In order to understand the mutually beneficial relationship between linguistics and economics to the fullest extent - particularly for scholars who may be unfamiliar with this interrelation - it is especially useful to have various topics of analysis that can highlight how language use can impact economies and how different economic factors influence language use. This volume accomplishes this, covering a wide range of topics, including digital communication, linguistic vitality, bi- and multilingualism, language policy and planning, language and economic development. Furthermore, the case studies in this volume are situated in a variety of settings - such as the Balkans, the E.U., Africa - and also focus on the linguistic practices of both children and adults, as well as migrant and native populations, thus providing the reader with numerous examples that demonstrate the relevance of language economics as a tool for understanding how language relates to production and consumption, as well as its applications, particularly in the area of language policy and planning.

Bearing in mind, however, that the central aim of this volume is to bridge two disciplines, one point of critique is that each chapter could provide clearer conceptualizations of key ideas, many of which may be widely understood by scholars in one field, but not necessarily another. This would make the text more accessible to scholars who are less familiar with language economics. Additionally, as an editorial comment, the chapters in this volume could generally benefit from more transparent exposition, particularly in terms of presenting more explicit objectives. Often, authors’ specific goals were not always made plain in each chapter, and - given that edited volumes such as this one typically cover such diverse themes - the readability of texts can diminish without clear guidance from the authors.

Considering the original objectives set out by the editors, this volume is distinctive - both in its own right and among scholarly work in linguistics and economics. The editors and authors collectively provide a thought-provoking dialogue about the interconnectedness of two disciplines in unexpected and engaging ways. To answer the title question of Chapter 1, “Do linguists need economics and economists linguists?” as initially posed by the editors, the reader would conclude affirmatively, and that these two socially situated disciplines have a very clear interdependence that merit further exploration.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Farah Ali is Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at DePauw University. Her research interests include language and gender, multilingualism, language attitudes, and L2/heritage learner identity. Her most recent projects investigate language and identity among immigrant populations in Spain and in the U.S., as well as language ideologies and policies in Catalonia, Spain. Some of her recent work is currently in press or published in International Journal of Language & Law, Spanish in Context, and Cuadernos de Lingüística Hispánica.



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