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Review of  Current Multilingualism

Reviewer: Anna Ewa Majek
Book Title: Current Multilingualism
Book Author: David M. Singleton Joshua A Fishman Larissa Aronin Muiris Ó Laoire
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.805

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The book under review consists of 15 papers covering trends and issues of concern with respect to current multilingualism. The volume is divided into three parts: ‘Language teaching and language learning’, ‘Social aspects of current multilingualism’ and ‘Language policy’.

The introduction by Larissa Aronin, Joshua Fishman, David Singleton, and Muiris Ó Laoire ,‘Current multilingualism: A new linguistic dispensation’ explains the organization and the purpose of the book.

Part one consists of four chapters, reporting on language education, including multilingual acquisition in its theoretical aspects.

The first paper is Vivian Cook’s ‘Global English: Central or Atypical Form of SLA?’ which discusses the relevance of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) to second language acquisition (SLA) research. The comparison of ELF and SLA is discussed in terms of the existence of a second language, the target user and the relationship to teaching. It concludes that ELF is not a typical form of second language acquisition.

The next paper ‘Faraway, so close: Trilingualism in the Basque Autonomous Community and Malta from a socio-educational perspective’ by Sandro Caruana and David Lasagabaster, presents the linguistic situation for both languages before describing and comparing the Basque and the Maltese educational systems. The next section focuses on language competence and attitudes among future teachers in Malta and the BAC. The authors conclude by noting many similarities between the two communities; for example, in attitudes towards multilingualism.

John Harris and Jim Cummins write on ‘Issues in all-Irish education: Strengthening the case for comparative immersion’, which investigates Irish immersion programs in the Irish educational system. This is compared to immersion programs in Canada and the use of English in Irish education. The paper finishes by highlighting differences between Canadian and Irish immersion and further reflections on Irish immersion. The conclusion of the paper consists of a set of questions which further research in this area might address.

The fourth chapter, ‘Informal bilingual acquisition: Dynamic spaces for language education’ by Ofelia García, introduces the concept of transglossia and proposes taking into consideration a comprehensive policy in language education. The aim of the paper is achieved by presenting a review of literature on education and informal bilingual acquisition, as well as discussion of diglossia and transglossia. The paper finishes by highlighting the importance of informal bilingual acquisition and transglossia.

Part two of the book, ‘Social aspects of current multilingualism’, discusses multilingualism in relation to the fields of sociolinguistics and sociology of language.

The first chapter, ‘Minority language use in Ireland: The time dimension’, by David Singleton, Larissa Aronin and Lorna Carson focuses on the language practices of minority language users in Ireland. The paper consists of two parts. The first part provides an overview of the theoretical treatment of time as a parameter in the sociology of language and multilingualism studies. The second part of the chapter offers a close look at a pilot study based on responses of recent immigrants to Ireland, the methodology of this investigation, and conclusions that are derived from this analysis.

The next paper is by Guus Extra, titled ‘Mapping increasing linguistic diversity in multicultural Europe and abroad’. The author uses demolinguistics, also known as language demography, and a geolinguistics approach to mapping diversity in non-European English-dominant countries and to mapping diversity in European Union countries.

The third chapter in this part is ‘Multilingual attitudes and attitudes to multilingualism in Croatia’ by Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović. The author looks into the attitudes of Croatian learners and users towards foreign languages and foreign language learning. She also discuses the importance of these matters in their social lives, for example tolerance of otherness or the role of L1 in their identity. The second aim of the study is to compare multilinguals’ to bilinguals’ attitudes. The paper starts with a presentation of the linguistic situation in Croatia, which is followed by a description of a case study and its results. The case study was carried out on Croatian learners who were users of two or more languages. The conclusions of the paper reveal that Croatian learners and users of foreign languages have a positive attitude to foreign language learning. Multilinguals and bilinguals displayed a range of differences which according to the author suggest that they should be treated as two separate types of language users.

Norbert Dittmar and Paul Steckbauer are the authors of ‘Emerging and conflicting forces of polyphony in the Berlin speech community after the fall of the wall: On the social identity of adolescents’. The authors provide sociocultural insight into the mode of multicultural communication in Berlin after 1990. The purpose of the paper is achieved by taking a closer look at the speech of Turkish migrants and the discourse of Turkish and German adolescents.

The next paper, by Moha Ennaji, is ‘Multilingualism in Morocco and the linguistic features of the Casablanca variety’. The author analyses multilingualism in Morocco with special reference to phonology and morphology in the Casablanca variety. The examination of Casablanca speech is based on recordings and interviews with different respondents.

The last chapter in this section is written by Camilla Bardel, Ylva Falk and Christina Lindqvist, ‘Multilingualism in Sweden’. The paper provides a picture of the multilingual situation in Sweden and presents an outline of studies carried out at research centers in Stockholm, Göteborg and Lund. One of the studies, for example, investigated the vocabulary of six immigrants (five Greeks and one Pole) who moved to Sweden for work and had little or no contact with Swedes. The study showed that their Swedish did not show any development during a six month period and that the subjects first acquired and used words that are frequent in the target language, for example aha (‘aha’), skura (‘to clean’).

The third section of the book consists of five chapters dedicated to language policy.

The first chapter in this part of the book is by Joshua A. Fishman, ‘Language planning for a decimated and often forgotten non-territorial tongue’. The paper is an appeal to support, revitalize and promote Yiddish. It discusses the implementation and coordination of language planning decisions relating to Yiddish as well as an overview of other languages that are also in dire circumstances. Fishman describes three voluntary agencies, ‘Yugntruf’ (a coordinating body for Yiddish-centered activities for ‘young folks of all ages’), the ‘Bikher-Tsentrale’ (a center for the collection, digitalization and sale of Yiddish books, whose purpose also substantially enters into the status planning sphere) and, ‘Yiddish at College and University’, which aims at implementing Yiddish in the educational system. Fishman ends the paper by exploring his hopes for promoting Yiddish.

Tjeerd de Graaf continues the topic of endangered languages in his paper ‘Endangered languages and endangered archives in the Russian Federation’. de Graaf provides an exhaustive description of the projects involved in the Endangered Archives in the Russian Federation and describes data from fieldwork, for example the historical sound recordings of Khanty by Wolfgang Steinitz. The samples of data are taken from some parts of Northern Russia, Siberia, the Russian Far East and the border areas of Russia and Japan.

The third chapter is ‘Linguistic quandary in multilingual Malaysia: Socio-political issues, language policy, educational changes’ by Renate Kärchner-Ober. The paper addresses issues in the relationship between multilingualism, national language policy and educational reform processes in Malaysia. The author considers the sociological and socioeconomic facts that affect the use and learning of language in Malaysia.

The next paper, by Vasiliki Georgiou, is on ‘Managing language diversity in the Irish health services’. It explores the way in which the Irish Health organization deals with the communication challenges caused by the increasing multilingual and multicultural population in Ireland. Georgiou looks at communication problems between patients and medical personnel, and how these challenges are responded to. The paper also describes the diversity of the linguistic groups involved, and compares their language issues with the ones of Irish speakers in the Irish health services.

The last chapter, ‘Slipping between policy and management: (De)centralised responses to linguistic diversity in Ethiopia and South Africa’ by Kathleen Heugh, provides a comprehensive picture of multilingualism and language policies, particularly in education in South Africa and Ethiopia. The chapter concludes with observations about the language policies and choices in managing language in both countries.


The book is addressed to a variety of readers including linguists, language teachers, sociologists, political scientists, and anthropologists, as well as to anyone interested in education and language acquisition.

A great attribute of the book is that the contributors deal with multilingual settings in cities (Berlin, Dublin, Casablanca), countries (Canada, Croatia, Ireland, Germany, Morocco, Malta, Spain, Sweden), continents (Europe, America, Africa), smaller communities of language users (e.g. Gaeltacht Irish speakers, Rinkeby in Stockholm), as well as the very large community of users and learners of English.

Another positive aspect is the wide range of topics. Some papers provide examples of specific studies, e.g. the discussion of speech in Berlin. Others offer a broad presentation of the linguistic situation in a particular nation, as for example the paper devoted to multilingualism in Morocco, where the Casablanca variety is clearly presented and supported by numerous examples from phonology and morphology.

In general, the book is a very helpful and interesting source of information on the trends that underlie and foster multilingualism. It presents a wide range of different areas of expertise in an explicit and well organized manner.
Anna Ewa Majek is a PhD research student at Trinity College Dublin. Her primary research interests include corpus linguistics, language variation and change and sociolinguistics.