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Review of  Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities

Reviewer: Orna Ferenz
Book Title: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities
Book Author: Yasuko Kanno
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 15.2045

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Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2004 15:52:48 +0200
From: Orna Ferenz
Subject: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities: Japanese Returnees

AUTHOR: Kanno, Yasuko
TITLE: Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities
SUBTITLE: Japanese Returnees Betwixt Two Worlds
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2003

Orna Ferenz, Bar Ilan University, Israel

Negotiating Bilingual and Bicultural Identities examines the
development of bilingual and bicultural identities of four teenage
second language learners as they mature into adulthood. It is a
longitudinal study, tracing the participants' sense of identity from
their initial marginalization as minority language speakers in North
America to their return to Japan and their inclusion in the dominant
language as bilingual speakers. Furthermore, the book documents the
students' perspectives on their educational experiences, both in North
America and Japan, and its impact on their developing sense of
identity. Finally, the impact of the sociocultural environment on the
bilingual youths' identities is considered within two cultures: as
ethnic / language minority students in North America and as members of
the dominant group in Japan. These changes in social status are said to
affect the participants' identities and relationship with their two
languages and cultures.

The book is divided into three sections. Chapter One develops the
motivational, theoretical and methodological framework. The author
presents her own narrative describing her transition from an English as
a Second Language (ESL) student to a bilingual and bicultural adult.
The identity transition she underwent is her personal motivation for
the study, which is based on her PhD dissertation. Kanno continues with
a review of studies on bilingual and bicultural identities in the field
of second language acquisition and bilingualism. One of her points is
that the cited identity studies focus on the process of learning
English while her study focuses on the evolution ESL learners undergo
in becoming bilingual and bicultural young adults. Framing the issue of
identity in two perspectives, narrative inquiry and communities of
practice, Kanno traces the role of the learners' social environment in
their developing identities. I found it interesting that despite a
clear focus on sociocultural and identity-related issues, the author
does not cite social psychological theories of language in order to
show how language is used in the learners' social environments to
emphasize particular identities. The second section, Chapters Two ~V
Five, presents the stories of the four students. It is through these
stories that we learn of their motivation, integration into society,
attitudes toward their languages and cultures, and their efforts in
developing an identity and in becoming a member of society. The third
section, Chapters Six-Eight, presents an analysis of the four
narratives, identifying the common themes and relating them to the
broader issues of bilingual and bicultural identities.

In presenting the main themes related to the development of the
participants' identities, Chapter Six organizes them in relation to the
learners' three phases of movement: sojourn to North America, return to
Japan, and later reconciliation. It appears that the language learners'
social environment had the greatest impact in each phase. As teenagers
in Canada, they were enrolled in their schools' ESL programs. The ESL
programs divided the student body, creating a physical and
psychological distance between the ESL and native-speaking students. In
essence, the academic social environment, the schools and their ESL
programs, marginalized the language learners, limiting their
interaction with native speakers. In addition to public school
attendance, the language learners also attended 'hoshuko', Japanese
supplementary school, where once a week they were immersed in Japanese
language and culture thereby strengthening their Japanese identity.
Their home provided an additional social environment where Japanese
language and culture was valued. Thus, it appears that the four
language learners were immersed in two different types of social
environments in North America, their schools' ESL programs which
reinforced their minority status, and the 'hoshuko' and their homes
which reinforced their Japanese identity. With their return to Japan,
the language learners' underwent readjustment strategies. Despite their
immersion in Japanese language and culture while abroad, upon return to
Japan they felt as strangers entering a homogeneous society. On the one
hand, they were self-conscious of the difference between themselves and
their Japanese peers. On the other, they were aware of a change in
their linguistic status. In Canada, they were ESL students or non-
native speakers while in Japan they became bilingual speakers. In the
third phase, reconciliation, the language learners' came to terms with
their hybrid identities. About one and a half years after returning to
Japan, the participants began to expand their social networks thereby
encountering more people with heterogeneous values. This change in
social networks made the participants feel more comfortable with their
own past experience and more accepting of their own bilingual /
bicultural identities. Chapter Seven considers the theoretical
implications of the study, namely the influence of the sociocultural
context on identity development. In terms of the learners' level of
participation in society, in Canada they were peripheral members while
in Japan they were legitimate members enjoying high prestige for their
knowledge of English. The high prestige associated with English
knowledge in Japan, in contrast to the low prestige of Japanese
knowledge in Canada, is attributed to the learners' positive
development of bilingual / bicultural identity.

The book concludes with a number of educational suggestions. First,
there is a need to address ESL students' needs for participation in the
native-speaking social environment. Where a student's native language
(L1) is a minority language, successful L1 maintenance is possible
through separate ethnic schools. Third, not all second language
learners maintain immigrant status, as a result bilingual /
multicultural education should consider reintegration issues of
returnee students. In terms of identity, students' identities emerge
out of social interaction therefore educators should avoid labeling
students. Finally, teachers should listen to students' stories in order
to aid their adjustment process.

Kanno presents an innovative study focusing on important issues of
bilingual / bicultural identity, process of identity development, and
immersion in L1 and L2 of non-immigrant populations. Reading the four
learners' stories of their experiences both in North America and Japan
raises our awareness of the problems non-native language learners,
especially teenagers, encounter in their social environment. Since
social environment impacts identity development, both for non-native
and native speakers, I would have valued a more detailed analysis of
the learners' social networks in Canada and Japan. For example, in
Chapter Three, Kenji describes how on his first day in a Canadian
school, and without knowing English, two of his classmates helped him
find his way home. Kenji then goes on to say, ''Those two became my
first friends'' (p. 49). It is through practices of interactions with
people that our identity develops. However, no further information is
provided on whether the two friends are native or non-native English
speakers, what type of relationship was formed and what impact this
relationship, among others, had upon Kenji in terms of his language
learning, developing identity, and participation in his social

While the communities of practice perspective highlights the learning
process people undergo in order to become members of a community, Kanno
attempts to show that the learners' communities of practice, i.e., the
schools in Canada, may not have sufficiently initiated the teenagers
into its own particular practices. My difficulty in relying solely on
the concept of communities of practice as a framework for exploring the
processes by which people become members of a community and acquiring
the community's sociolinguistic features (Holmes & Meyerhoff, 1999) is
that it considers the broader social environment. For example, one
would use the concept of communities of practice to refer to a school,
an ESL program, or even a classroom environment, yet most people
interact not with social environments but with other people in social
settings. The relationships formed with people are more clearly defined
as social networks. Social networks have a direct impact upon its
members' developing identity as outlined in social identity theory
(Hogg& Terry, 2000). A clearer understanding of the social
environments' role in bilingual identity development would have been
possible if the social environments had been analyzed for social
networks as well.

Another difficulty I encountered, basic to the book, is with Kanno's
definition of identity. Although she states that her use of the term
'identity' refers to ''our sense of who we are and our relationship to
the world'' (p. 3), the question arises whether identity refers to the
social nature of self as constituted by society, and or is identity
treated as self as independent of and prior to society. The difference
in the two definitions affects analysis of the social environment's
role in identity development. If identity refers to self as constituted
by society, then social context makes different identities meaningful.
In such a situation, one would expect that each of the learners'
different social environments would make salient a different social
identity. Yet, this does not become apparent in all the narratives. If
identity refers to the self as independent of and prior to society,
then this implies a person's level of commitment to a certain identity
and thus to particular social behaviors. This coincides with Kanno's
conclusion that the bilingual youths' identity development followed a
trajectory of initial identification with one culture to gradual
acceptance of both cultures. In other words, they were committed to a
particular identity, as in the case of Rui who had ''a strong attachment
to his Japanese identity'' (p. 85). It appears that this second
definition of identity, self as independent of and prior to society, is
the one most often used in the book. If this is the case, then what
role does the social environment play in the learners' identity

In conclusion, Kanno's book provides an interesting perspective on the
sociocultural and identity problems encountered by second language
learners and on the process of bilingual / bicultural identity
development. Second language educators and graduate students should
find it worthwhile reading.

Hogg, M. A., & Terry, D. J. (2000). Social identity and self-
categorization processes in organizational contexts. The Academy of
Management Review 25, 121-141.

Holmes, J., and Meyerhoff, M. (1999). The community of practice:
Theories and methodologies in language and gender. Language in Society
28, 173-183.
Orna Ferenz, a full time EFL lecturer at Bar Ilan University, completed her PhD studies at Bar Ilan University. Her doctoral dissertation, Planning Processes and Language Choice In Research-based EFL Academic Writing, investigates the psycholinguistic and sociolinguistic components of planning and language use among advanced English as a Foreign Language (EFL) academic student writers. The study is focused on the interface between language use, cognitive processes, and social networks during the EFL academic planning process.

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