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Review of  Bilingualism and Identity

Reviewer: Whitney Chappell
Book Title: Bilingualism and Identity
Book Author: Mercedes Niño-Murcia Jason Rothman
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 21.2542

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EDITORS: Mercedes Niño-Murcia; Jason Rothman
TITLE: Bilingualism and Identity
SUBTITLE: Spanish at the crossroads with other languages
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Bilingualism 37
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2009

Whitney Chappell, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, The Ohio State University


This edited volume investigates the sociolinguistic aspects of Spanish
bilingualism in three discrete areas of the world: Spain, Latin America and the
United States.

Chapter 1 introduces the theoretical framework underpinning the book's 12
studies of Spanish in contact with other languages and presents its overarching
theme: the creation of linguistic identity in multilingual communities. As
Niño-Murcia and Rothman explain, the construction of identity is a constant
renegotiation, and language use provides a means of understanding how an
individual views herself in a multidimensional, multilingual space (LePage and
Tabouret-Keller, 1985) and how she constructs social positions among others
(Bucholtz and Hall 2005). Arguing that identity construction through language
use is more readily apparent in language contact environments, the researchers'
foci range from Spanish in contact with Basque, Gallego and Catalán in Spain to
indigenous language contact with Spanish in Latin America and finally, to
Spanish as a contact language with English in the United States. The authors
attempt to decompose larger labels such as ''Maya'' or ''Gallego'' that effectively
lose sight of the individuals' identities into smaller categories targeting the
individual and the individual's networks (see De Sousa Santos 1998, Cameron
2001). The linguistic analysis of bilinguals who participate in at least two
communities of practice (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 1999) offers a fascinating
glimpse of how these individuals perceive themselves within a larger, social space.

Chapters 2-4 focus on languages in contact with Spanish in Spain, discussing
Basque, Galician and Catalan. Chapter 2, ''Bilingualism, identity, and
citizenship in the Basque Country'' by Maria-Jose Azurmendi, Nekane Larrañaga and
Jokin Apalategi, focuses on the revival of the Basque language in three
territories: Iparralde in France, Navarre in Spain and the Basque Autonomous
Community. A combination of language loyalist movements and institutional
innovations have created a situation of increased Basquization in the Basque
Autonomous Community, largely due to positive attitudes towards Basque and the
school systems, both private and public, that promote bilingualism, using either
Basque as the primary tool of edification with Spanish as a subject or using a
bilingual approach. The Basque situation in Navarre shows a slight increase in
Basque speakers, but Basque competence and use continues to decline in
Iparralde. Identity and heritage seem to play a critical role in Basquization's
success, with the highest percentage of citizens in the Basque Autonomous
Community self-identifying as either Basque or Basque-Spanish, and the lowest
percentages self-identifying as Basque or Basque-French in Iparralde. The
authors argue that Basque presents a fascinating, dynamic case of the evolving
relationship between language and identity at both a societal and individual level.

Chapter 3, ''Conflicting values at a conflicting age'' by Verónica
Loureiro-Rodríguez, investigates the language situation in Galicia, where the
previously stigmatized autochthonous Galician language gained co-official status
with Spanish in the Spanish Constitution of 1978. Loureiro-Rodríguez's findings
among Galician adolescents are somewhat paradoxical: while adolescents have the
most positive attitudes towards Galician, they actually use it less frequently
than older generations. It appears that Galician is rapidly becoming diglossic:
''standard'' Galician is taught in schools, but adolescents find the dialect
unnatural and elitist. They believe the Galician spoken in las aldeas, or
'villages,' is the real Galician, the Galician preserved over the centuries and
spoken by their parents and grandparents. Because of the restricted environments
in which the dialects of Galician are deemed acceptable by adolescents, Galician
language use is decreasing among younger generations, and Loureiro-Rodríguez
argues that the region's language planning is desperately in need of change to
prevent future deterioration of Galician.

Emili Boix-Fuster and Cristina Sanz's ''Language and identity in Catalonia''
(Chapter 4) focuses on the discrepancy between L2 Catalan speakers that self
identify as 'Catalan' and L1 Catalan speakers who perceive these L2 speakers as
'non-Catalan,' suggesting a divided perspective on Catalan identity. The authors
discuss the changing concept of 'Catalan' by analyzing José Montilla's political
rhetoric dividing Catalans into Catalans by birth and by Catalans by choice, a
choir director's use of Catalan, Spanish, English and Italian in animating its
members, and an experiment designed to elicit linguistic differences among
Catalan L1-Spanish L2 speakers, Spanish L1-Catalan L2 speakers and native
bilinguals. Boix-Fuster and Sanz conclude that Spanish, the national majority
language, is having a great effect on Catalan in both lexical items and
pronunciation, and the identity of 'Catalan' typically based on language alone
is in need of reexamination and revision as more nonnative speakers acquire the

Chapter 5, ''Literacy and the expression of social identity in a dominant
language: A description of 'mi familia' by Quechua-Spanish bilingual children''
by Liliana Sánchez, moves the focus of study to Latin America, investigating the
notion of family in the writing of monolingual Spanish speaking children and
bilingual L1 Quechua-L2 Spanish speaking children. Although no significant
differences in text structure emerged, there were notable semantic differences,
demonstrating cultural differences between these two groups. The author argues
that different profiles emerge in the two groups' writing: monolingual
Spanish-speakers tend to focus on interpersonal relationships as well as
personal qualities and psychological attributes of their family members, while
bilingual speakers discuss their quotidian activities, responsibilities and the
families' animals. Depending on the expectations of teachers and the school
systems, the assumption that monolingual speakers have a more advanced writing
profile may surface, whereas cultural differences could actually be leading to
different interpretations of the same assignment.

Chapter 6, ''Maya ethnolinguistic identity: Violence and cultural rights in
bilingual Kaqchikel communities'' by Brigittine M. French, draws attention to two
competing forces in Guatemala: nationalistic suppression of indigenous language,
and therefore of indigenous identity, and a recent pro-Maya push to preserve and
protect both indigenous languages and cultures. The same indigenous people
forced to live through La Violencia, a state-sponsored mission to eradicate the
indigenous influences impeding the idealized Guatemalan cultural homogeny, are
now witnessing an opposing movement: the Ley de Idiomas Nacionales, passed in
2003, guarantees indigenous people the right to their language and cultural
identity. An assessment of a bilingual Kaqchikel-Spanish speaker's language use
demonstrates a conflicted sense of identity: Fidencio Kan is bound to his
heritage and his national language on the one hand, but has been made to feel
ashamed of his roots by the government on the other, choosing to speak Spanish
to advance in society.

In '''Enra kopiai, non kopiai.': Gender, ethnicity and language use in a Shipibo
community in Lima'' (Chapter 7), Virginia Zavala and Nino Bariola equate female
Shipibo speakers' bold use of vernacular language in Canta Gallo, Lima with
their increased power and agency within their community. According to Zavala and
Bariola, the role of women in Shipibo communities in the Amazon is not as valued
as the role of men, as men are considered the ''workers,'' leaving the house to
fish and hunt, while women stay home with the children and tend to the
household. Upon moving to Lima, however, it is the women who become the
''workers'' and maintain a sense of Shipibo identity, making traditional Shipibo
handicrafts and leaving the home to sell them. With this new economic and
societal value, Shipibo women have become increasingly powerful in Canta Gallo
and express this power linguistically, using Shipibo more than men and clearly
voicing their opinions in community meetings. An analysis of individual speakers
at these community gatherings illustrates the assertiveness in women's
utterances compared to the softened, often hedged statements of the men, a
definite contrast to the relationship between the sexes in the Amazon.

In Chapter 8, ''Kreyol incursions into Dominican Spanish: The perception of
Haitianized speech among Dominicans,'' Barbara E. Bullock and Almeida Jacqueline
Toribio investigate the traits of the highly stigmatized fronterizo speech in
the Dominican Republic, also called Cibaeño, which is spoken in the northwest
along the border with Haiti. The researchers conducted a language attitude test
to determine whether there are specific linguistic features triggering the
negative assessment of Cibaeño speech or if these negative perceptions are
actually based on cultural and racial stereotypes. A general consensus among
those judging the speakers linked less prestigious speech with darker skin
color, aligning 'Haitian' with fronterizo traits. The authors find that the
stigmatized 'Haitian' features, such as liquid neutralization, posttonic
syllable reduction and prosodically marked intonational contours, are actually
properties of all races from rural, less educated speech and not simply Haitian
or ''Haitianized'' speakers.

Chapter 9, '''I was raised talking like my mom': The influence of mothers in the
development of MexiRicans' phonological and lexical features,'' marks a shift
from Latin American Spanish to Spanish in the United States. In this chapter,
Kim Potowski discusses dialect transmission from parents to children, examining
Chicago Latinos who have one Mexican parent and one Puerto Rican parent. To
better understand their linguistic history, Potowski explains the children's
self-reported language use with their parents and attitudes towards their
parents' cultures before conducting vocabulary identification and opposite word
tasks with her participants. Attempting to assess both the lexically and
phonologically affected features of the Latinos' speech, the author, along with
several Hispanic Linguistics specialists and native Spanish speakers, rank the
participants on the Mexicanness or Puerto Ricanness of their dialects. According
to the author, the dialects of 20 out of the 27 participants aligned with the
mother's speech, which she uses to support the notion of a ''mother dialect'' in
addition to a ''mother tongue.''

In Chapter 10, ''Choosing Spanish,'' Elaine Shenk analyzes a Dual Language
Immersion Program in West Liberty, Iowa, tracking the use of Spanish and English
in different participant structures. Shenk finds varying levels of Spanish use
in the different structures (listed here from lowest to highest): unstructured
student interaction, student-directed classroom interaction, student-fronted
classroom interaction and teacher-fronted classroom time, and the author argues
that the larger societal pressure to speak English in situations not guided by a
DLP teacher is dominant among the students. However, five students did exhibit a
higher level of Spanish use than others, and sociolinguistic interviews with
their families revealed ideological similarities: they valued and took pride in
their cultural heritage, viewed their bilingual children as brokers between two
different linguistic and cultural communities, and some saw an economic
advantage to bilingualism as well. Shenk concludes that collaboration between
teachers and parents to instill cultural appreciation in young Latinos would
result in a greater use of the minority language.

In Bonnie Urcioli's ''Whose Spanish?'' (Chapter 11) the author examines the
complexity of college Latinos' linguistic identity in the United States. Urcioli
argues that institutions place very different cultures and dialects under the
catchall term of Latino, and in spite of very different identities, Latinos are
supposedly all united by the same language under this ideology. However, this
language-based social solidarity is much more complicated for second-generation
Latinos who primarily speak English as well as Spanish-speakers whose home
dialects do not match the standard Spanish taught in universities. In addition
to these linguistic complexities in Spanish, many Latinos are viewed as inferior
or inadequate English speakers, obscuring the constructing a single, pan-Latino
linguistic identity even further.

Chapter 12, ''Constructing linguistic identity in Southern California'' by Isabel
Bustamante-López, analyzes the written linguistic narratives of 38 Latino
participants in Southern California, detailing their histories with English,
Spanish and the communities and registers they associate with both languages.
She finds a general shift towards English as the more dominant language in
second and third generation Latinos, but they continue to view Spanish as an
integral part of their identity. Bustamante-López argues that for the
participants, identity is a dynamic and fluid process, continually renegotiated
in various social encounters using their English, Spanish and code-switching to
express themselves.

Chapter 13, ''Indicators of bilingualism and identity: Samples from the
Spanish-speaking World'' written by the editors Mercedes Niño-Murcia and Jason
Rothman, presents the results of an ongoing, longitudinal study of the
multilingual upbringing of three young boys in California who speak Italian,
Spanish and English. Their Italian father and Colombian mother have created a
home environment that encourages the use of their own native languages; the
father speaks with the children exclusively in Italian, the mother, although
more liberal in her language shifts, speaks with the children mostly in Spanish,
and the children have acquired English from school and their community. The
children are proficient in all three languages, using them to create different
identities for various pragmatic and sociolinguistic reasons. Among the brothers
and with their father's family, they tend to use Italian, but they choose to
speak in English when other English speakers are present. With their mother, the
mother's family and in front of other Spanish speakers, Spanish is generally
chosen, showing the boys' sensitivity to what they see as the most appropriate
language in a given context. Finally, different topics elicit different language
choices: Italian is generally spoken when playing sports, which they often play
with their father, Spanish, which is associated with their mother, is often used
in nurturing interactions and to give commands, and English is chosen to discuss
culturally-relevant phenomena, such as Transformers. This ''linguistic project,''
as described by the family, has instilled an appreciation of multilingualism and
multiculturalism in the boys, who adeptly demonstrate their ability to navigate
among their possible language choices and renegotiate their linguistic
identities for different interlocutors and situations.

Finally, an afterword written by Margarita Hidalgo reviews the concept of
identity construction under different theoretical frameworks and offers a broad
perspective of Spanish and bilingualism in different areas of the world.


Bilingualism and Identity provides a fascinating panorama of Spanish in contact
with other languages in three discrete situations: as the co-official but
nationally dominant language in Spain, the majority, prestige language in Latin
America and a less prestigious, minority language in the United States.
Elaborating upon the various ways in which bilingual speakers create and
continually renegotiate their identities, this collection draws attention to the
multifarious and complex identities of individuals who navigate among multiple
linguistic worlds. In short, Bilingualism and Identity is an indispensable text
for any scholar interested in the bridge between Spanish bilingualism and identity.

Limited by the foci of research to date, bilingualism in Spain is more
thoroughly documented than the many bilingual settings in Latin America: Spain's
Basque, Galician and Catalan are all discussed, while only Quechua, Kaqchikel,
Shipibo and Haitianized Dominican Spanish are addressed in Latin America.
Numerous other contact situations between Spanish and Latin American indigenous
languages offer similar opportunities to investigate identity construction
within heterogenous communities, and it is my hope that future volumes will
investigate the individual’s navigation through these complex linguistic and
social worlds as well.

My only small criticism of the book has to do with one departure from what I saw
as the primary goal of analyzing identity construction. While most chapters
focused primarily on the individual's negotiation of linguistic identity in a
multilingual community, chapter 2 stood out as a large-scale study of broad,
regional surveys and language data without any real regard for individuals'
agency in the process of identity construction (see LePage and Tabouret Keller
1985, Cameron 2001). This approach is not necessarily the wrong way to handle
identity studies, as extensive data analysis often provides a clear description
of a community at large, as demonstrated by numerous first wave studies (as
described by Eckert 2005, see Labov 1966, Trudgill 1974, Macaulay 1977 and
Cedergren 1973). However, the chapter did noticeably deviate from the rest of
the book in its aim.

In spite of that small lapse in unified purpose, these articles are both
edifying and absorbing, offering relevant, contemporary perspectives on the
bilingual Spanish speakers' continually evolving linguistic identity.


Bucholtz, M. & Hall, K. 2005. Identity and interaction: A sociocultural
linguistic approach. In Discourse Studies 7(4-5): 585-614.

Cameron, D. 2001. Working with spoken discourse. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.

Cedergren, H. 1973. The interplay of social and linguistic factors in Panama.
PhD dissertation. Ithaca: Cornell University.

De Sousa Santos, B. 1998. De la mano de Alicia: Lo social y lo politico en la
Postmodernidad. Bogotá: Ediciones Uniandes.

Eckert, P. and McConnell-Ginet, S. 1999. New generalizations and explanations in
language and gender research. Language in Society 28:185-201.

Eckert, P. Under review. Three waves of variation studies. Retrieved from

Labov, W. 1966. The social stratification of English in New Yok City.
Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Le Page, R.B., & Tabouret-Keller, A. 1985. Acts of identity: Creole-based
approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge: CUP.

Macaulay, R.K.S., & Trevelyan, G.D. 1977. Language, social class, and education:
A Glasgow study. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Trudgill. P. 1974. The social differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Whitney Chappell is a PhD student in Hispanic Linguistics at the Ohio State University specializing in the intonation-pragmatics interface and varied topics in Spanish sociolinguistics.