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Review of  Language, Culture and Identity

Reviewer: Larry L. LaFond
Book Title: Language, Culture and Identity
Book Author: Philip Riley
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 20.1319

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AUTHOR: Riley, Philip
TITLE: Language, Culture and Identity
SUBTITLE: An Ethnolinguistic Perspective
SERIES TITLE: Advances in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2007

Larry LaFond, Department of English Language and Literature, Southern Illinois
University Edwardsville

This book by Philip Riley is a contribution to the Continuum series, ''Advances
in Sociolinguistics,'' a series featuring works concerned with the role of
language in society, particularly those drawn upon domains of study and
theoretical frameworks outside traditional boundaries of sociolinguistics.
Riley's work fits well in this series, because he provides a necessarily broad
account of identity and how it relates to language and communicative behavior.
Riley brings a sprawling array of concepts from anthropology, communication,
language variation, social psychology, education, philosophy, history and other
fields to bear on the issue of how social identities are negotiated and shaped.
Mindful that such an attempt may be viewed as hubris by specialists of those
varied fields, Riley pleads the indulgence of the reader as he engages questions
of identity. His modesty is likely unnecessary - interdisciplinary efforts of
this sort are indispensable in studies of identity - and Riley is both careful
in his treatment of differing intellectual traditions and circumspect in his
application of those traditions.

The book is divided into six chapters, the first of which is an introduction to
the sociology of knowledge and ethnolinguistics, and the final of which is a
short (two page) conclusion. The main content portion of the book is 244 pages
long, with another twenty pages for references and an index.

Riley's first chapter presents the main focus of the text as ''the forms of
telling and the kinds of us and we they construct.'' Riley leads the reader
through theoretical and historical background related to the sociology of
knowledge, starting with the German hermeneutic and phenomenological tradition
and the effect it had on historians, philosophers, and sociologists. He then,
beginning with Karl Mannheim, Alfred Schütz and Norbert Elias, and extending to
Goffman, Foucault, and Althusser, discusses the emergence of the recognition of
the social construction of knowledge and meaning, and various attempts to
describe and analyze the social knowledge system. Riley views ethnolinguistics
as a different approach (at least in terminology and methodology) to these
issues, but one that also explores the relationship between societies, cultures,
and communicative practices. He invites the reader to consider the influences of
Johann Gottfried von Herder on nineteenth-century German thought, particularly
his views that thought and language are inseparable, and that language is
simultaneously the tool, content and form of thought. Riley acknowledges a
variety of additional influences from the current literature on identity,
particularly Joseph (2004), Potter (2003), Castells (1997), Kaufmann (2004), and
Vinsonneau (2002). While these scholars disagree on many points, Riley stresses
that two general points of consensus have formed: that the source of personal
identity is social and that an individual's consciousness of identity is a piece
of their Weltansicht, their knowledge and view of social reality.

Chapter Two is a broad look at the social knowledge system. It begins with ten
pages of ''notes'' on the concept of culture, moves into a brief outline of the
structures and functions of the social knowledge system, and then discusses the
social learning process. This discussion focuses on intersubjectivity,
highlighting (with Trevarthen, 1988) that if the primary mechanism of the social
learning process is language, the way this knowledge is distributed and acquired
is through interactions in which interlocutors establish shared meanings. Riley
uses a pair of adult-child conversations to illustrate how social identity is
negotiated, categorized, acquired, held and practiced. He then embarks on a
discussion of culture as knowledge, weaving together comments about cultural
markers, quasi-philosophical maxims, and broad categories of cultural knowledge.
The chapter concludes by relating these ideas to various kinds of competencies
that have been proposed in the last 50 years - linguistic, communicative,
sociocultural, plurilingual - and leading readers to consider the complications
posed for the study of identity formation by the shifting labels for the
coexistence of two or more varieties: code switching, bilingualism (individual,
societal), plurilingualism, diglossia, polyglossia, heteroglossia, etc.

The most extensive chapter in this book is Chapter Three, labeled simply
''Identity.'' Riley guides readers into several of the pieces of the puzzle of
identity, a concept that has occupied philosophers, anthropologists,
theologians, social scientists, politicians and others for millennia. Riley
concentrates less on identity as an enduring quality that entities possess and
more on the social processes through which identity is attributed, negotiated,
and established. For Riley 'knowledge and language' and 'role and identity' are
viewed as mutually defining. With the support of many real-life examples, Riley
argues that communicative practices express speaker identities, and that 'role'
and 'act' are key to the negotiation and creation of identities. Riley concludes
the chapter with a discussion of membershipping practices (he asserts that
social identity is constituted through a dynamic association of knowledge and
language based memberships), phatic communication and greetings (he affirms that
such language maintains social structures and prepares interlocutors to attend
to each other), and rearing and educational practices (he upholds that
children's identities are shaped through discourse as both in classroom and home
children are told who they are and to what groups they belong).

In Chapter Four, Riley moves his discussion of identity towards those moments
when individuals cross borders such that they are considered, by others and
often also by themselves, as 'the foreigner' or 'the stranger.' While there is
already a rich literature from sociology that relates to this notion of the
stranger - some of which Riley mentions - he claims that linguists have mostly,
and oddly, been slow to engage these issues in a scholarly fashion, and have
continued to talk about strangers (e.g. in discussions of 'foreign' or
'nonnative' language learning) with few attempts at problematizing the concept.
In this section, Riley explores how interlocutors become designated as
foreigners and how that designation influences interactions between speakers. A
number of topics related to the stranger as a social type are also engaged,
among which are anomie, recognition, citizenship, ethnicity, pragmatic failure
and compensation strategies.

Chapter Five, entitled ''Reconfiguring Identities,'' further develops Riley's view
that identities are created and reconfigured through a dialogue between the
projected self, the perceived self, and the social identity projected upon us
from others. These are presented, both here and earlier in Chapter Three, via a
proposed architecture of identity involving numerical identity ('self') and
social identity ('person'), and a communicative identity ('ethos'). Riley finds
close connections between the Aristotelian rhetorical category of 'ethos' and
the 'communicative virtues' of Marui et al. (1996), socially valued
characteristics of discourse, and illustrates these connections through portions
of recorded intercultural service encounters. He completes the chapter with two
topics from the micro and macro levels of sociolinguistics, standardization and
scaffolding. Riley argues that standardization plays a hegemonic role in
connection with identity formation and that observations of scaffolding provide
us a view of the process through which learners actively construct their own
identities and play a role in the identity construction of others.

This book is an accessible introduction to the sociology of knowledge and a host
of ideas associated with the social construction and negotiation of identities,
focusing on the unique role that language plays in shaping identities. Riley's
concern about how identity formation takes place across cultural and linguistic
boundaries is certainly an important contribution to previous discussions. Riley
brings together passages from over a dozen articles that he published from 1987
to 2006, and supplements them with a commanding overview of language and
identity based on insights gained from his earlier work. In a sense, this book
becomes something of a Riley reader that weaves together decades of ideas from
this researcher into a (mostly) seamless whole.

A key theme that is developed throughout the book is that identity is made up of
''the stories we tell ourselves.'' To that end, Riley sprinkles a great many
personal examples and anecdotes throughout the book. Far from being
self-indulgent, this feature is a strength of the book. Riley does not adopt a
pseudo-objective, third-person narrative style that would militate against his
very claims about identity and ethos. Riley's position is best presented through
his linguistic examples, less well in those parts of the book that consist
primarily of historical narratives about philosophies of identity and the
development of sociolinguistic concepts. In particular, his second chapter seems
to meander through an array of associated topics, without an obvious sense of
connectedness. It might have helped if this and other chapters had included some
sort of summary to see the connections the authors had in mind, although the
inclusion of so many diverse ideas in each chapter might have made that challenging.

It is reasonable to argue, as the title of the book suggests, that language,
culture and identity are woven together in an intricate and inseparable knot,
and Riley's treatment of these three concepts does reflect this entanglement.
For example, while Riley's treatment of identity in the third chapter begins
with a recounting of the history of the concept, he goes on to draw explicit
connections between language and identity, arguing that we cannot discuss
identity without discussing communicative practices.

There are a few places in the book where claims are a bit overstated. Riley's
discussion of identity and the stranger is very useful, but we must disagree
with his assertion that linguists have displayed a general lack of interest in
the foreigner as a category and have not considered how identity is a
complicated, negotiated position where symbolic capital and communities of
practice collide. While that charge may have been true as recently as a decade
ago, these issues have since received substantial attention, particularly among
those who are specifically exploring the links between identity and second
language learning. Reference to, for example, Pavlenko et al. (2001) or Norton
(2000) may have improved the discussion here. So also, Riley's declaration that
there is universal agreement that ''you learn a language to express yourself'' (p.
219), does not adequately capture the diverse motivations for language learning,
although his question concerning what the 'self' is that is expressed in such
instances is a perceptive one.

One frustrating feature of the book is the occasional use of non-English
examples that are neither glossed nor translated. Some of these examples are
lengthy (seven or eight lines of text), and the lack of translation may hinder
reader's comprehension. On the other hand, one nice feature is the excellent
guidance that Riley provides, usually in his footnotes, to overviews, surveys,
and introductions to various fields.

While some researchers who are already deeply immersed in identity studies may
find large portions of this material to be a reverberation of previously sounded
themes, Riley provides his own distinctive and useful contributions to the
discussion of language, culture and identity. In general, this book is very
well-suited for those who are newly entering this field and others who would
like a basic understanding of the social knowledge system and the role language
plays in the construction and negotiation of identity. Instructors in this field
will find it useful for its many examples and may find it a fine introduction
for their students.

Castells, M. 1997. _The Power of Identity_. Vol. II of _The Information Age:
Economy, Society, and Culture_. Oxford: Blackwell.

Joseph, J. E. 2004. _Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious_.
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kaufmann, J-C. 2004. _L'Invention de soi. Une théorie de l'identité_. Paris:
Armand Colin.

Marui, I., Nishijima, Y., Noro, K., Reinelt, R. and Yamashita, H. 1996. Concepts
of communicative virtues (CCV) in Japanese and German. In M. Hellinger and U.
Ammon (eds.) _Contrastive Sociolinguistics_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.

Norton, B. 2000. _Identity and Language Learning_. London: Longman.

Pavlenko, A., Blackledge, A. Piller, I., Teutsch-Dwyer, M. (eds.) 2001.
_Multilingualism, Second Language Learning, and Gender_. New York: Mouton de

Potter, R. 2003. _Flesh in the Age of Reason: How the Enlightenment Transformed
the Way we See Our Bodies and Souls_. London: Penguin.

Trevarthen, C. 1988. Universal co-operative motives. How children begin to know
the culture and language of their parents. In G. Jahoda, and I. M. Lewis (eds.)
1988. _Acquiring Culture: Cross-cultural Studies in Language Development_.
London: Croom Helm, pp. 37-90.

Vinsonneau, G. 2002. _L'Identité culturelle_. Paris: Armand Colin.

Larry LaFond is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English at
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. His current research is focused on
aspects of identity in second language learning and on how language awareness,
particularly awareness of aspects of linguistic theory, are involved in the
development of the pedagogical practices of second language teachers.

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