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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."


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Review of  Language in Education


Reviewer: Martin R. Gitterman
Book Title: Language in Education
Book Author: Rita Elaine Silver Soe Marlar Lwin
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.3799

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Review's editor: Anthony Aristar


SUMMARY

This volume of nine chapters provides an introductory overview of the importance of language, examined from various perspectives, to educators. The chapters, with the exception of the first, contain a section (“Relevance to Educational Settings”) aimed at concretizing this basic theme of the book. The book also contains a useful glossary.

Chapter 1 (“What is the Role of Language in Education?”) by So Marlar Lwin and Rita Elaine Silver presents basic introductory material on language and, more specifically, on language and education, and in so doing lays the groundwork for the topics to be covered in the remaining chapters of the book. It is noted that knowledge of a language extends well beyond simply knowing vocabulary and rules of grammar, leading to mention of language use in particular social settings. A sense of the nature of language is provided by explaining some of the characteristics of language proposed by Hockett (1960), emphasizing how human language is unique and readily delineated from systems of communication in non-­human species. Productivity, to provide one such example, is a reference to the unbound creativity unique to human language. That is, no human language is limited to a finite number of potential utterances. It is argued that teachers should be knowledgeable about language, including an awareness of its cultural dimension as well as language varieties. In reference to the target audience of the book, Lwin and Silver state, “In particular, it is intended for prospective teachers (undergraduate or graduate) who are not specialists in linguistics or language learning, but who are interested in knowing more about how language is used, taught and learned in educational settings.” (p. 13). This introductory chapter also includes a very brief summary of each of the chapters in the book.

Chapter 2 (“What is the Structure of Language?”) by Lubna Alsagoff and Ho Chee Lick presents a general introduction to some of the critical sub­-fields that constitute the discipline of linguistics. The authors note that teachers should have a conscious awareness of the fundamental concepts of linguistics. The topics addressed include phonetics (the sounds of language). The classification of consonants is discussed in terms of place of articulation, manner of articulation, and voicing. Vowels are discussed with reference to the position of the tongue and lips as well as vowel length. The discussion of the structure of words (morphology) addresses affixation (both inflectional and derivational processes) and compounding. Treatment of word order (syntax) provides a very basic introduction to sentence formation and includes a discussion of constituents and phrase-­structure trees. The section on meaning in language (semantics) touches on synonyms, ambiguity (both lexical and structural) as well as coherence in a stream of discourse (with a particular focus on connectives, e.g., “in addition”, “however”, “therefore”).

In chapter 3 (“How Do We Use Language to Make Meaning?”) Soe Marlar Lwin and Peter Teo elaborate on the concept of text, delineating cohesion from coherence in an attempt to clarify the requisite attributes of text. In drawing attention to types of text, distinctions are drawn between written and spoken texts. Recognizing advances in technology, the role of new-­media texts and their “hybrid nature” (see p. 52) are noted. In their discussion of the multi­-faceted dimension of language use, the authors provide a broad framework including reference to frequently cited works (e.g., Grice, 1975; Searle 1992) and highlight the cross­cultural domain of language use. To stress that language is a very potent tool, it is asserted, “Power as it is transmitted and reinforced through language is...a much more pervasive phenomenon in society than what most people think” (p. 63). The cross-­cultural dimension of conveying meaning is argued to be of particular importance to educators.

Chapter 4 (“Why Is There Variation within a Language?”) by Anthea Fraser Gupta expands on the notion of standard varieties/dialects, providing examples to help differentiate Standard English from other varieties of English. Importantly, the chapter makes clear that dialects differ from each other, but that these differences do not represent deficiencies in any dialect. The concepts of regional and social dialects are explained. The explanation of the former includes an illustration (with a map as a visual aid) of lexical differences based on region; the latter is explained with reference to Labov’s (1966) seminal work on dialect variation in New York City.

Chapter 5 (“How Do Children Learn Language?”) by Theres Grüter provides an overview of first language acquisition supplemented by comments on second language acquisition highlighting the relationship between these two processes. The treatment of child language acquisition emphasizes the role of experience in determining vocabulary development. Both biological and environmental factors are noted to be instrumental in language development. Regarding the biological predisposition for language acquisition Grüter asserts, “The precise nature and evolution of this predisposition is a matter of intense debate among linguists and psychologists” (p. 90). The chapter includes explanations of some of the commonly referred to stages/characteristics of first language acquisition (e.g., babbling, the one­-word stage, the two­-word stage). The discussion of second language acquisition includes mention of a number of issues that have been the focus of major research in the field (e.g., the critical period).

In Chapter 6 (“How Do Speaking and Writing Support Each Other?”) Christine C. M. Goh and Paul Grahame Doyle present an overview contrasting the characteristics of speaking and writing. Speaking, for example, generally entails less planning and is shaped by the ongoing flow of communication. The writing process, it is pointed out, generally lacks such spontaneity and permits a number of revisions. Written communication is likely to be more polished, with speech containing, for example, utterances that are not well­-formed. The characteristics of speech and writing are also context-­dependent so differences are not always as evident. The development of speaking and writing - and their relationship - in children is addressed by providing examples, with accompanying analyses. The type of speech directed to young children at home is reported to be related to the development of literacy in the school setting. Suggestions for teachers are discussed.

Chapter 7 (“How Is Language Used for Learning?”) by Rita Elaine Silver, Raslinda A. R. and Galyna Kogut stresses the importance of language use in the classroom in all subject areas. In effect, all classes are, in some measure, language classes and require instructors to have a degree of sophistication about language and its use. In mathematics classes, for example, it must be determined whether difficulties a student is having result from insufficient skills in mathematics or from an inability to understand the wording of particular problems. Writing is encouraged as a component in all classes, including mathematics. It is asserted, “As students are pushed to put their thinking into words, they also clarify their ideas” (p. 127). Also included in the chapter are excerpts of classroom communication with an analysis of statements made by the teachers and mention of the ways such communication could be improved/varied. An excerpt is also provided of students speaking to each other during a class activity assigned by the teacher. The excerpt serves a pivotal role in the discussion of the importance of incorporating appropriate student speaking activities in the classroom.

Chapter 8 (“How Do People Use Different Languages Differently?”) by Manka M. Varghese and Rukmini Becerra Lubies treats bilingualism from various perspectives, emphasizing that bilingualism is a complex phenomenon. It is reported that knowing more than one language is advantageous, and noted this fact is now widely recognized. Determining who is, in fact, bilingual is not a simple matter. To provide a picture of the complex domain of bilingualism the author draw on concepts and issues that have been discussed in the literature (e.g., simultaneous versus sequential bilingualism, the critical period, code switching, translanguaging ). The school is viewed as an environment where bilingualism should be supported. The status of bilingualism in different societies is addressed.

The book concludes with Chapter 9 (“How Does Policy Influence Language in Education?”) by Francis M. Hult. The term “policy” is argued to be broad-­based. More specifically, Hult states, “In fact, a range of individuals are involved in making, interpreting, and implementing educational language policy other than legislators and education ministers: teachers, administrators, parents, textbook publishers, curriculum developers and the list goes on” (p. 159). Planning and policy are illustrated with pertinent examples. Table 9.1 (p. 116) facilitates comprehension of the scope and nature of planning and policy. It is argued that teachers have a critical role to play in educational policy and a list of what teachers should be aware of regarding policy is presented.

EVALUATION

This collection of readings is an important addition to the literature addressing the link between language and education, an area of study, all would agree, is in need of ongoing research and attention. The book contains numerous commendable features, among which is the inclusion of a wide range of essential topics, all covered in a substantive manner, yet one that is easily accessible to the non-­specialist. Educators who reflect on the issues addressed in this collection will have a much greater understanding of language and, of particular significance, how language-­related matters are an integral part of the educational process. To the extent that these issues motivate continued thought, discussion, and, it is hoped, action, the result can only be improved instruction. In short, the editors of this volume have achieved their goal.

The volume includes some of the core content of basic linguistics (e.g., phonetics, syntax, morphology), noting its importance to educators (see, in particular, chapter 2). The inclusion of content of a more theoretical nature in addition to material of a more applied nature (the primary focus of the book) provides a broader framework for the reader. Each chapter in the book addresses a topic of importance and, while the content across chapters varies significantly, the chapters all contribute logically to a unified theme. Given the diversity of students and language varieties represented in schools, addressing the topic of language differences is critical. The book makes clear, as is uniformly recognized by researchers, that dialect differences are not deficiencies. Standard dialects, although taught in schools, are not linguistically superior to other dialects (see chapter 4). Similarly, cross­-cultural understanding is fostered in the discussion of speech acts (see chapter 3). Regarding students whose first language is different from the language used in school (and consistent with the viewpoint held by applied linguists), instructors are appropriately advised that maintenance of first languages is advantageous and that bilingualism is a desirable goal (see chapter 8). While specific issues of major importance could be indicated for each of the chapters in the book, the items listed above are representative and highlight the usefulness of this collection to educators. The overall appeal of this book is also enhanced by the many thought-­provoking questions (“Discussion and Reflection Questions”) and suggested additional references, including online sources (“Recommended Reading and Viewing”) found at chapter endings.

Some issues treated in the volume could have been expanded upon a bit more, thus adding to an already clear and informative presentation. The examples below are not intended to imply weaknesses of the book, but rather are offered as constructive suggestions. In the discussion of types of errors made by second language learners, it is indicated that some errors are based on transfer (imposing some aspect of a given first language on a second language); in other cases, the performance of second language learners is consistent across speakers of various first languages (see p. 101). It would have been useful here to point out and illustrate the long historical effort aimed at understanding error-­types. Reference to some frequently cited works of related interest (e.g., Dulay and Burt, 1974, one of the numerous morpheme studies) would have been instructive. On a related note, additional elaboration would have been useful in comparing speech and writing. In speech, it is stated, “Not all sentences are well formed and there are redundancies, repetitions and hesitations” (p. 107). This would have been an ideal point to incorporate the competence versus performance distinction (a bedrock contrast of linguistic theory) in the explanation.

A couple editing issues (related to typographical errors) can be raised. Both “...a context in which students from different home languages study English language...” (p. 126) and “Nowadays, this phenomenon is studied from different disciplines: sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic, sociology and psychology, among others” (p. 154) need some revision.

In sum, this is an excellent collection of readings. It is hoped that it reaches a wide audience.

REFERENCES

Dulay, H. and M. Burt. 1974. Natural sequences in child second language acquisition. Language Learning 24. 37­53.

Grice, P. 1975. Logic and conversation. in P. Cole and J. Morgan (eds.), Syntax and Semantics, vol. 3: Speech Acts, 41­58. New York: Academic Press.

Hockett, C. 1960. The origin of speech. Scientific American 203 (3). 88­96.

Labov, W. 1966. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington, DC: The Center for Applied Linguistics.

Searle, J. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Martin R. Gitterman is Professor Emeritus, Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences, Lehman College and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York. His areas of specialization include applied linguistics, second language acquisition, bilingualism and aphasiology. He served as Executive Officer of the Ph.D Program in Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences at The Graduate Center for six years (2003-2009). His specific interests include language pedagogy and aphasiology.

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