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Review of  Multilingual Identities: New Global Perspectives

Reviewer: Zuzana S Elliott
Book Title: Multilingual Identities: New Global Perspectives
Book Author: Inke C. Du Bois Nicole Baumgarten
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 25.2362

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Inke Du Bois and Nicole Baumgarten’s volume brings new approaches in understanding and analysing multilingual migrants’ backgrounds and identities. This collection of essays investigates migrants’ “linguistic-ethnic-national” (p. 8) identities performed in different cultural societies. The studies shed new light on multilingualism around the globe, focusing primarily on identity construction in urban settings of less-documented languages in Europe, the United States, and the Middle East.

The chapters are organised thematically, where the first three chapters deal with multilingual identity of children and adolescents and the last four are concerned with multilingual identity construction of adults. Each chapter includes a brief literature review and references, which inspire opportunities for further research. In the introduction, the editors combine the materials from subsequent chapters and apply them to global perspectives.

The first chapter in this volume (‘Communicative practices among migrant youth in Germany: “Insulting address forms” as a multi-functional activity’, by Susanne Günthner) explores functions of insulting address forms among 2nd and 3rd generation male youths of German and Turkish origin residing in Germany. The data were collected in youth centres via informal interactions between 17- to 23-year-old men of migrant backgrounds in four different regions in Germany. The author analyses adolescents’ everyday interactions and identities in mixed-speech communities to uncover the meaning of insulting terms and their usage. Following the previous studies by Eckert & McConnel-Ginet (1998) and Bucholtz (2007), Günthner found that insulting forms are predominantly used “as resources for asserting particular positions within the group and for establishing hierarchy and status” (p. 26). In addition, Günther found that there are other purposes behind insult use, from creating group identity to forming (or breaking) social ideologies. The study suggests that the use of insults is therefore not limited to any specific purpose, and that their use varies according to the social functions associated with each one.

In the second chapter, ‘Made in Berlin: Bilingualism and identity among immigrant and German-background children,’ Janet M. Fuller analyses the concepts of ideologies and identities of pre-teen bilingual children in Berlin. The chapter investigates how children perceive what it means to ‘be German’ when positioned between two or more languages with various social backgrounds. This study was based on ethnographic research conducted in Berlin’s two English-German bilingual schools, the Charles Dickens School and the John F. Kennedy School. More than 100 hours of audio recordings of classroom activities were collected, along with participants’ observations and questionnaires, which examined “children’s backgrounds, language use, attitudes, self-identification, and views on what it means to be German” (p. 37). The first part of the methodology featured a survey exploring children’s attitudes towards their own bilingualism and choice in language use. The author argues that while policy changes define German-ness in terms of language and culture instead of descent, there is some ambiguity about how the changes are reflected in the bilingual classroom setting. The data for the second part of the methodology were obtained through multilingual classroom interactions, and revealed that code-switching was still prevalent among immigrant students who identified themselves as German. The results of this study showed that “‘being German’ is accessible to anyone who is culturally part of Germany” (p. 48), demonstrating that language use was not the sole factor involved in cultural identification. Particularly interesting is the discussion of multilingual language ideologies and self-representations through the eyes of children. As Fuller rightly points out, the data collected were not objective, as they reflected mere behaviours and feelings, of which children might not be well aware.

A. Lane Igoudin’s short chapter, ‘Asian American girls who speak African American English: A subcultural language identity’, investigates language use and attitudes among three first-generation Asian-American teenage girls (two Filipino-American and one Cambodian-American) who use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in their everyday speech. Based on three recorded group interviews, the researcher observed that the girls appeared to adopt “a wide variety of phonological, morphosyntactic and lexical features of AAVE” (p. 54). Interestingly, as Igoudin points, the results did not correlate with a previous study by Wardhaugh (2002), who claimed that “the less standard the variety of English spoken [is], the more successfully formal education appears to be resisted” (p. 55). The academic performances of the girls were above average, but they frequently switched between AAVE and Standard American English (SAE) (and their home languages Khmer and Tagalog) based on different situations. The girls’ code choices appeared to be very unconventional because the AAVE dialect “more than any other dialect of American English, has been stigmatized as a socially unacceptable code -- something, we learned, the girls were well aware of” (p. 60). The chapter includes useful examples of phonological and morphosyntactic AAVE features of the subjects’ speech, thus providing a clear understanding of the identity construction and sensitivity of the subjects.

Katharina Meng and Ekaterina Protassova’s chapter, ‘Deutsche or rusaki? Transformation of the cultural self-conceptions after (r)emigration’, seeks to answer questions regarding ‘cultural self-conceptions’ of immigrants in Germany. This interesting study provides insight into Russia-Germans, or ethnic Germans who emigrated from the Soviet Union to Germany. Using analyses from interviews, newspapers and internet forums, the authors compared the complex societies’ attitudes towards Germans and Russians. They identified two terms which represent the migrants’ multilingual identities: Deutscher (German) and rusaki. Both terms mark integration in Germany to varying degrees. While Deutscher marks immigrants’ German-ness through accepting their German ancestries or names, or even decisions to be registered as Germans in their Soviet passports (p. 70), rusaki defines “[a] group of Russians and underlines its specific ethnicity, the Russianness, above all in its rural appearance” (p. 73).

In her chapter, ‘Loving Bollywood and being Dutch: Language choice and identity issues among Surinamese-Hindustani women in Amsterdam’, Dipika Mukherjee shares her findings of women with regard to their language maintenance and loss, as well as the obstacles they face concerning their own identity. The author observed twenty-two Surinamese-Hindustani women enrolled in a Bollywood dance class in Amsterdam for the duration of 16 months. These women used four languages in their daily lives; however, in the class, they spoke exclusively Dutch. Mukherjee observed that women who migrated into the country young had much stronger ties to the Netherlands than to India, although they identified themselves as ‘Hindustani’ over the other categories of ‘Dutch’ or ‘Indian’. The author found that these women did not share any desire to consider India as their home country; however, the notion of “Hindustaniness” was perceived to be very high, as related to preserving the language for their children and community. Also, Suriname is “conceived as ‘home,’ [though] they realise that there is no going back” (p. 95). The author concludes that despite the cultural and language barriers, Bollywood presents itself as “an accessible means for language retention of a familiar tongue” (p. 96), thus preserving the strong sense of fellowship among the Surinamese-Hindustani community.

Heike Baldauf-Quilliatre’s study, ‘The role of public opinion in argumentation: Immigrants in the French radio broadcast Là-bas si j’y suis’, seeks to answer how multiple identities shape the cultural notions of speakers with migrant backgrounds in France. Public opinions are often viewed in light of politics and culture; therefore, as the author points, analysing them through the eyes of migrants often creates debatable and controversial opinions on the acceptance and tolerance of speakers’ communities. In her study, Baldauf-Quilliatre aimed to identify immigrants’ opinions on immigration laws and their situation in poor suburbs in relation to the arguments presented by Nicolas Sarkozy. Her analysis was based on a one-hour French radio broadcast with a “regular” audience, where she paid particular attention to radio listeners and their complex contributions left on answering machines. Although the study didn’t allow for broad generalizations, in her fifteen contributions, the results seem to differentiate “between European and South-American migrants on the one side, and African/North-African migrants on the other” (p. 108). While the first group showed integration and positive attitudes towards the host country and people, the second group seemed to resist and instead, showed rather negative attitudes and ‘resignation’ toward problems faced in their communities. Each group used unique tactics to add weight to their opinions on the radio show, demonstrating multiple paths to immigrants’ public integration.

Inke Du Bois’ study, ‘And then I had to hold my first Referat on Beethoven as a politischer Mensch: Multilingual identities and L1 language loss of US Americans in Germany’, identifies sociodemographic factors affecting lexical levels in immigrants’ speech. This study presents quantitative and qualitative analyses of a corpus of multilingual interviews of thirty American immigrants who left America for Germany between 1964 and 2001. Investigation of code-switching and language attrition were analysed statistically. The results were correlated with extralinguistic variables such as length of residency in Germany, educational level, and social networks via a demographic questionnaire. The results indicated that German-American code-switching appeared more often when Americans were exposed to the society of other Americans. Thus, Americans who used their first language (L1) tended to experience fewer problems in retrieving English lexical items. Interestingly, Du Bois’ study showed that education, length of residence and L1 social networks were the main factors influencing the varying degrees of “L1 attrition and the intercultural identities of speakers” (p. 134).

The last chapter, ‘Indigenous and immigrant identities in multilingual Israel: Insights from focus groups and discourse analysis’, by Dafna Yitzhaki, Carmit Altman, Zhanna Feldman-Burstein, Leor Cohen and Joel Walters, offers a variety of insights into indigenous and immigrant minority languages. The chapter consists of a “linguistic taster” in which the authors examine four studies that focus on identity constructions among immigrants of different ethnic backgrounds in Israel. The first study analyses a language policy interaction between indigenous and immigrant language groups of Israeli and Arabic. The study found that arguments supporting indigenous minority language instruction rely on two recurring elements: that ‘indigenousness’ is either irrelevant or hierarchical in deciding language instruction (p. 143). The contradictory nature of these elements makes for highly complex and volatile debates. The second study focuses on identity formation in four Russian immigrant adult parents and their six adolescent children, all of whom are second language (L2) speakers with high proficiency in Hebrew. The authors offer two excerpts from interviews of two of the adolescents with different backgrounds. The first adolescent, Faina, demonstrated a strong attachment to her host country, including near-total integration into Israeli and secular Jewish culture. Though she preserved her Russian roots for ‘practical’ reasons and did not hide her Russian background, she distanced herself from similar immigrants who self-identified as Russian. The second adolescent, Rina, showed more attachment towards her Russian identity, but demonstrated a keen awareness of the complexity of her immigrant identity. Both of these girls held their opinions without antagonising differing opinions. The third study presents the complexity of Ethiopian-Israeli identity display, as characterised through self-perception and ethnicity. Four Ethiopian-Israeli college students were recorded, showing how their soldier identity conflicts with but also ascends beyond other social norms. In this way, these students use their soldier identity to break through or remove limitations imposed by other social identities (e.g., gender, nationality, religion) and to become more socially mobile as a result. The fourth study focuses on analysing relationships between code-switching and identity among twelve English-Hebrew participants who immigrated to Israel in adulthood from the United States. The research questions focused on motivations behind code-switching between L1 and L2 narratives, and identifying discourse markers that reflect a variety of aspects of motivation for code-switching across different identities.


Researchers interested in discourse analysis and L2 acquisition will certainly find this small collection of essays to be an interesting and inspiring resource. This volume investigates new approaches towards global multilingual migrant identities while addressing various topics in the fields of language loss, discourse analysis, and code-switching.

Overall, the book provides invaluable reading for anyone interested in the growing development of global multilingualism, where the primary focus applies to immigrants’ national and ethnic backgrounds and cultural identities. As a student who does extensive research on multilingualism and immigrants’ identities, I find this book to be a great contribution to my research. When compared with similar sources, this volume presents the most recent studies in a well-structured and cohesive manner, taking into account different communicative and social interactions of global personae.

Despite the small number of chapters, this book identifies different concepts of children’s and adults’ multilingual identity constructions while focusing primarily on lesser-researched languages, such as Israeli, French, or Dutch. The volume is also highly inclusive, as it considers lesser-known national and ethnic identities such as Surinamese-Hindustani, German-Croatians, and German-Americans, among others.

As a researcher focusing on immigrants and their identities, I found Fuller’s ‘Made in Berlin’ and Igoudin’s ‘Asian American girls who speak African American English’ particularly poignant; both chapters examine first-generation immigrant children who identify themselves as part of their local community as a result of strong ideologies and perceptions towards their peers and cultures. In contrast, Yitzhaki et al.’s ‘Indigenous and immigrant identities in multilingual Israel’ reviewed four separate studies. Although I found the section ‘Identity construction in the discourse of Russian-Israeli immigrant adolescents’ intriguing, I would have appreciated more information, in general, in each of the sections. This chapter felt constrained, primarily due to its covering four separate studies in the space of one chapter.

In sum, Du Bois and Baumgarten provide a measured and effective analysis of increasing global multilingualism, and their book acts as an excellent source of cutting-edge social research to stimulate discussion in classrooms and research centres alike.


Eckert, P. & McConnell-Ginet, S. (1998). Communities of practice. Where language, gender, and power all live. In J. Coates (Ed.) “Language and gender: A Reader” (484-494). Mass.: Blackwell.

Bucholtz, M. (2007). Word up. Social meanings of slang in California youth culture. In L. Monaghan and J. E. Goodman (Eds.) “A Cultural approach to interpersonal communication. Essential readings” (244-267). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Wardhaugh, R. (2002). “An introduction to sociolinguistics.” Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Zuzana Elliott is a doctoral student of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh. Her previous research experience examined literacy in children across five European languages. She is interested in multilingualism, language identity, and acquisition of linguistic variation in migrant second language learners. Her current research is investigating sociolinguistic aspects of long-term Slovak and Czech immigrants who reside in Scotland.

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ISBN-13: 9783631629352
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