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Review of  Negotiating Linguistic Identity

Reviewer: Elizabeth Olushola Adeolu
Book Title: Negotiating Linguistic Identity
Book Author: Virve-Anneli Vihman Kristiina Praakli
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 25.4208

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


'Negotiating Linguistic Identity: Language and Belonging in Europe' is a collection of papers mostly presented at a conference on language and identity held at the University of Tartu in Estonia in 2011 in collaboration with the Coimbra Group, which is made up of established, European research-focused universities. The importance of the Coimbra Group with respect to the issue of negotiating linguistic identity is revealed in a discussion about their seemingly contradictory aims of shaping and promoting national identity while at the same time promulgating international networking and relevance.

The volume is divided into three sections namely 'Multilingualism', 'Self-Representation and Belonging', and 'Language and Policy'. The first and second sections consist of four articles each, while the last is made up of three articles.

Preceding the sections is an introduction by Virve-Anneli Vihman and Juegen Barkhoff titled 'Introduction: The Shaping of Linguistic Identity in Europe'. Here, Vihman and Barkhoff state the aims of the Coimbra Group and note the salient role of member universities as advocates of these aims. They also give a brief history of language and identity, as well as that of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in Europe, highlighting such issues as the dichotomy between language policies promoting multilingualism, which evoke images of equal language representation, and the reality of hegemony of majority languages.

The first section, 'Multilingualism', opens with an article by Johanna Laakso titled 'Who Needs Karelian, Kven or Austrian Hungarian - and Why?' Here, Laakso looks at the issue of multilingualism from the point of view of researches carried out by the European language Diversity for All (ELDIA) research project. She outlines the challenges faced by the project, including negativity attached to such terms as minority languages, variability in fluency and use of target varieties, international mobility, and issues of language planning and teaching. She advises that the best way to research multilingualism would be to combine the views of language as a resource, which speaks to the instrumental function of language, and language as a burden, which is mostly associated with heritage languages, or so called minority varieties.

The second article, 'Estonian-Russian Code-Copying in Russian-Language Blogs: Language Change and a New Kind of Linguistic Awareness' is written by Anna Verschik. In this article, Verschik examined how Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), such as emails, blogs, and text messages that take place using two or more electronic devices, could benefit the field of contact linguistics and multilingualism. She analysed the data from five Russian Language blogs written by ethnic Russians living in Estonia within the code-copying framework developed by Johanson (1993, 2002) and found that not only were each of them consciously choosing to use Estonian expressions in their blogs, a phenomenon that could be explained as contact-induced, but also code-copying across the board followed the same pattern. As a result, she also highlights the importance of focus on individuals in multilingualism studies.

The third article in this section, written by Martin Ehala and titled 'Russian-Speakers in the Baltic Countries', follows the history of the relationship between language and identity of the ethnic Russian-speakers living in the Baltic countries - Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania - from the Soviet times till the present day. Ehala concludes by saying that the more the use of the state language (the majority language used in the country of residence), the more dynamic and flexible identity is.

The final article in the section is 'Interaction among European Languages and German Vocabulary', written by Bettina Bock and Rosemarie Lühr. Using German as a case study, the chapter focuses on loan processes in European languages and what this means for the idea of a common European identity. Bock and Lühr consider the use of Germanisms, loan words that have been borrowed from the German language and used in a similar sense by at least three European languages, and Europeanisms, which represent the converse (Bergmann 1995), positing that this sharing of words can be exploited in forming a common European identity.

'Self-Representation and Belonging', the second section in this volume, starts with an article by John E. Joseph. The article, 'Indexing and Interpreting Language, Identities and Face', centers on the complicated nature of indexing identities and face - a role which language plays. By means of a sample conversation analysis, Joseph underlines this difficulty of distinguishing in linguistic analysis between face (the contact-based image an individual projects) and identity (a more enduring sense of belonging that may encompass what an individual or group projects and the interpretation this is given by others). He posits that both identity and face are symbiotic concepts which can also be seen as different outlooks on the same reality.

The second article, 'Languages and Identities in Catalonia' by Emili Boix-Fuster, tackles the connection between language and identity in Catalonia since the recovery of democracy in 1975. He maintains that the Catalan language and identity still enjoy prestige and the language is used in major domains in Catalonia, in spite of the changing linguistic landscape with the major influx of immigrants whose first language is usually Spanish, the growing bilingualism with Spanish, and the elitism of the political leaders. Boix-Fuster cautions though that the use of Spanish should be managed so that Catalan does not get assimilated.

The third article, 'Gaelic and Sorbian as Multiple Boundary Markers: Implications of Minority Language Activism in Scotland and Lusatia' by Konstanze McLeod, addresses the issue of the Gaelic language and Gaelic-related identities in Scotland; and the Sorbian language and Sorbian-related identities in Eastern Germany. Both languages (and identities) erstwhile restricted to the heartland regions where they originate and are predominantly spoken are now of more interest to and spoken, albeit with varying degrees of proficiency, by 'outsiders'. This spike in interest in the Gaelic and Sorbian languages and identities is thought to have been prompted by the respective parent countries’ explicit promotional schemes. McLeod concludes that this diversity in speakers and people identifying with the language and culture is overridden by the more pressing matter of activism for these languages in the present age.

The last article in this section, 'The Role of Language in Estonian Identity' by Aune Valk, gives a theoretical review using data from mostly quantitative studies to examine the relationship between language and identity among ethnic Russians living in Estonia, Estonians living in Estonia, and Estonians living abroad (the last group are further subdivided into Old DiEst, those who escaped Estonia in and around 1944 following the German occupation and their descendants; and New DiEst, those who have left Estonia since 1991). From the review of the related studies, Valk finds that while proficiency in Estonian was the major indicator of Estonian identity for the Estonians abroad, probably because of the desire to hold on to their heritage language and identity; unlike their counterparts in diaspora, Estonians living in Estonia (and ethnic Russians living in Estonia who speak the language and identify with the Estonian community) did not see language proficiency as a major marker of Estonian identity, but cited the desire to integrate into the Estonian community.

The third section, Language and Policy, opens with Patrick Sériot's 'Language and Nation: Two Models'. In this article, Sériot delves into a historical definition of the relationship between language and nation by two defining approaches. The first approach, the German romantic approach, is defined as 'naturalistic' (p. 259) and holds the view that a nation is defined by the language it speaks, and thus language is static and absolute. The second approach, the French Jacobin, which Sériot describes as 'contractualist' (p. 259), favours the view that language does not define a nation, and language is dynamic. Sériot sides with the latter approach with a discussion of the issues that the approaches generate in dealing with the non-isomorphic concepts of nation and language.

The second article by Tomasz Kamusella, titled 'Scripts and Politics in Modern Central Europe', explores the issue of multiscripturalism in Central Europe. Multiscripturalism itself refers to “the use of two or more scripts when writing in a polity or territory” p. 273. Kamusella charts the history of scripting in Europe to the present day when the majority of Europe is monoscriptural and multiscripturalism is the preserve of Central Europe where Latin, Cyrillic and Greek are used. He ends by stressing the importance of multiscripturalism in providing access to more information and being a tool that can be employed in politics in Europe, for better or worse.

The last article in this section is by John Walsh. The article, 'Pushing an Open Door? Aspects of Language Policy at an Irish University', dwells on the Irish language policy at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Galway, within the framework of the Official Language Act (OLA). Walsh examines the implementation of the NUI's language policy which supports the OLA's obligations, one of which Walsh focused his research on. This obligation was the bilingual presentation of signage and stationery in a particular manner. He looked at the implementation of this obligation at the NUI and also students' attitudes to that and other aspects of NUI language policy. His findings point to the importance of universities’ support of the OLA through their language policy, especially as the results he found were favourable in every regard.


This volume is useful for anyone interested in historical linguistics, multilingualism, language and identity, and language policy and planning. In spite of the fact that the volume is Europe-focused, the issues it tackles are generalisable.

The volume is also valuable in the sense of incorporating diverse approaches to the examination of the issues discussed. Not only were there empirical and theoretical approaches, but it was also refreshing to see multilingualism and identity discussed from the non-traditional point of view of Computer Mediated Communication, as in Verschik's 'Estonian-Russian Code-Copying in Russian Language Blogs: Language Change and a New Kind of Linguistic Awareness'.

As a whole, the articles were cohesive, as they all touched on the central theme of negotiating linguistic identity in Europe. But, the sections 'Multilingualism' and 'Self-Representation and Belonging' had less coherence than the section on 'Language and Policy'. The majority of articles in the former sections could easily fit either section; this defeats the purpose of the division into sections in the first place. Indeed, it seemed that the first two sections were named after the major issue in the first articles of each of the sections.

Another issue that was disappointing but understandable (given publishing deadlines and the undesirability of rushing research analysis) was the issue of incomplete research results presented in two of the articles – Laakso's 'Who Needs Karelian, Kven or Austrian Hungarian – and Why?' (p. 52); and Ehala's 'Russian-Speakers in the Baltic Countries' (p. 94). It would have been interesting and probably more meaningful to have the full results in the volume, but such an omission is not unusual.

Potential for future research was indicated by some of the articles in the volume. One of such articles is Verschik's 'Estonian-Russian Code-Copying in Russian Language Blogs: Language Change and a New Kind of Linguistic Awareness' which indicates the need for more research into CMC. Likewise, Kamusella's theoretical take on the issue of multiscripturalism and its effect on politics in 'Scripts and Politics in Modern Central Europe' seems to be a good foundation for further empirical studies.

Overall, the volume is a good reference book that makes for an interesting and multi-dimensional study on familiar linguistic topics.


Bergman, Rolf. 1995. 'Europsmus' and 'Internationalismus'. Zur Lexikologischen Terminologie ['Europeanism' and 'internationalism'. On Lexicological Terminology]. Sprachwissenschaft 20. 239-277.

Johanson, Lars. 1993. Code-Copying in Immigrant Turkish. In Guus Extra and Ludo Verhoeven (eds). Immigrant Languages in Europe. 197 -- 221. Clevedon/Philadelphia/Adelaide: Multilingual Matters.

Johanson, Lars. 2002. Structural Factors in Turkic Language Contacts. London: Curzon.
Elizabeth Olushola Adeolu is a Ph.D. candidate of Linguistics and English Language at the University of Edinburgh, U.K. Her research interests include such sociolinguistic and socio-phonetic areas as Dialect features, World Englishes, Identity, Language Endangerment, language Attitudes and Perceptions, Pidgins and Creoles. Her current research work is on attitudes and perceptions of exonormative varieties by ESL speakers.

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