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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

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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, Society and Power

Reviewer: Elizabeth Maria Kissling
Book Title: Language, Society and Power
Book Author: Annabelle Mooney Betsy E. Evans
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 26.3573

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Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


This is a textbook originally developed for an introductory linguistics course taught at Roehampton Institute, London, now with additional topics and features in its fourth edition. The textbook assumes no prior knowledge of linguistics and so is suited for any university student audience interested in language and society. The text has an international focus but concentrates on the English language.

Chapter 1 defines language as a rule-governed system (with variation) for making meaning and argues that language should be studied because developing a critical awareness of language is important for understanding the world around us. The chapter then explains the difference between prescriptive and descriptive views of language, a taxonomy of the multiple functions of language (Jakobson, 2000), and the power of language. This section introduces the concept of ideology and Althusser’s notion of interpellation, or how people are positioned by ideology (1971). One main thrust of this and the following chapter is that ideology is simply a set of beliefs, and while everyone has ideology, most fail to recognize their own.

Chapter 2 focuses on language thought and representation, beginning with Saussure’s model of the sign and the difference between langue and parole (1966). Cognition and language are discussed in terms of various strong and weak versions of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis that language shapes thought. Color is offered as an example of how language categories can result in speakers of a language developing certain habits of thinking. Metaphor in language and thought is discussed, for example the metaphor that argument is war. Transitivity analysis is introduced as a tool for analyzing different linguistic choices (Simpson, 1993). Finally, the chapter discusses political correctness as an often ridiculed but important step in necessary language reform.

Chapter 3 discusses language and politics, politics being broadly defined as much more than legislative bodies and politicians. The chapter presents Aristotle’s persuasive strategies of appealing to either logos, pathos, or ethos (1991) and introduces other linguistic tools: contrasts, parallelism, pronouns, presuppositions, metaphors, and intertextuality. The discussion references several contemporary examples, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring, and the metaphor of the economy as a sick body during the worldwide financial crisis. The section on metaphors also analyzes the metaphor of the university as a business and students as customers, revealing that some presuppositions and entailments don’t work, such as the relationship between student and university as a typical commercial transaction. The chapter closes with a section titled “silly citizenship,” which analyzes the humor and critique of politics in media such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Chapter 4 continues this analysis of language in the media with a focus on teaching students “how to read a text [which is] a skill that is a form of symbolic capital” (p. 63). To understand the factors that determine what and how the media reports, the authors present Chomsky and Herman’s notion of manufacturing consent and the five filters (1988), Bell’s 12 news values or principles of newsworthiness (1991), and Boyce’s analysis of how expertness is construed in the media, for example “experts” pontificating in anti-vaccine campaigns (2006). The chapter contrasts features of print and online media, including citizen journalism venues like Twitter.

Chapter 5 introduces linguistic landscapes and the notion that language is everywhere, including physical signs around us. The chapter contrasts top-down (typically sanctioned, official and prominent) signs with bottom-up signs, noting the potential of bottom-up signs like graffiti to transgress power structures. One example treated at length to demonstrate the relationship between signs and ideology is the National Courtesy Campaign, which the Singaporean government embarked upon to encourage particular behaviors deemed more courteous in public. A final section about online landscapes discusses language use in YouTube, Twitter, and memes.

Each of the next four chapters discusses a topic relating language to social stratifications—gender, ethnicity, age, and class—along with several of the most well-known research studies in that area. The chapter on language and gender (Chapter 6), after first explaining the difference between biological sex and socially constructed gender, discusses numerous examples of sexism in language, including “generic” masculine pronouns, conventional word order (e.g. “boys and girls”), lexical asymmetries (e.g. “bachelor” and “spinster”), and titles of address that mark marital status only for women. The chapter then analyzes (perceived) differences in language use between women and men, presenting research on the use of tag questions as a feature of “women’s language” (Lakoff, 1975), how women and men engage in gossip, and how women talk no more than men, contrary to popular opinion. A section on performing identity demonstrates how some male groups use the word “dude” to express closeness while maintaining the distance necessary to “satisfy heterosexism” (Kiesling, 2004) and shows that ideologies can be highly localized in small communities of practice.

The chapter on language and ethnicity (Chapter 7) first explains that ethnicity is a sociocultural construction. Then it problematizes the idea that a nation should strive to be ethnically or linguistically homogeneous, describes how racism is manifested in language and how racist terms can be reclaimed, defines ethnolects, explores covert versus overt prestige of speech forms (Labov, 1972), explains how language is used to perform identity and notions of authenticity, describes the real linguistic and even legal consequences of ethnolects, and explores language and code crossing or switching between codes purposefully. These topics are illustrated with a variety of examples, including the “Wogspeak” of descendants of immigrants in Australia (Kiesling, 2005), African American English (e.g. Cutler, 1999), Lumbee English in the American south (Schilling-Estes, 2004), the language of Latina gangs in California (Mendoza-Denton, 2011), Caribbean English (Nero, 2006), and Australian Aboriginal English (Eades, 2003).

The chapter on language and age (Chapter 8) first contrasts chronological age with the culturally constructed notion of life stage, the latter being more relevant for understanding the language behaviors of particular age groups. Since little interest has been paid to middle age because it is viewed as the unmarked stage, or the norm, the two life stages that are the focus of the chapter are adolescence and later life. Adolescents are in a liminal state (Eckert, 2003), marginalized and derided for their language features, such as use of the discourse marker “like” (Tagliamonte, 2005) and their use of computer-mediated communication (CMC) (Thurlow, 2003). Older adults are likewise frequently depicted in a negative way, and ageism is manifested in language in forms such as elderspeak, a patronizing speech style directed towards older adults (Kemper, 1994).

The chapter on language and class (Chapter 9) first contrasts the concepts of social class, personal wealth, and social capital. Then class is explored in relation to notable features of several varieties of English, including Norwich speakers’ pronunciation of the progressive morpheme –ing (Trudgill, 1972), Pittsburghese lexical items such as “yinz,” and non-rhoticity in New York City (Labov, 1972). Social networks are discussed alongside communities of practice and symbolic capital, or intangible attributes that can change one’s position in a group. The example provided is Eckert’s (1989, 2009) Belten high study that found two communities of practice: the jocks and the burnouts. Class is then redefined as not solely determined by income or occupation but rather a combination of economic capital, social capital, and cultural capital (Savage et al., 2013).

The last content chapter is on Global Englishes. The chapter explains Kachru’s model of World Englishes as three concentric circles—inner, outer, and expanding—, each circle defined by the first and second language of most residents and the official status of English (1985). The main thrust of the chapter is to critique the predominant ideology that English from the inner circle (UK, USA, and Australia) is the only authentic English, providing the only viable standard or norm for a lingua franca. This lingua franca model when used to teach English results in linguistic insecurity and injustice. In contrast, the World Englishes model focuses on effective communication rather than command of an inner circle variety. The chapter then analyzes several features of Singaporean English, Indian English, and Hawai’i Creole English. Finally the chapter discusses local and global linguistic marketplaces such as international call centers, as well as the positive and negative effects of the position of English as a global language (linguistic imperialism).

Chapter 11 provides a brief introduction to doing linguistic research and a number of ideas for research projects.


This textbook will certainly help students reach the stated goal of the text, which is to build critical language awareness. Given the wide range of topics covered, the text is quite concise (232 pages), and the prose is generally accessible even to students with no prior knowledge of linguistics. Each chapter topic makes a unique contribution to building critical language awareness, and many of the subtopics within the chapters are likely to appeal to college-age students and perhaps make them question their own language use, for example semantic derogation of the word “slut,” the strategic and functional but highly criticized use of “like,” the many discursive functions of the word “dude” and its performative function in expressing gender and sexual orientation, and the appealing but inaccurate metaphor of the university as a business. Other subtopics are likely to be novel and thought provoking for students, for example “nukespeak,” or defense professionals’ ways of talking about nuclear holocaust with abstractions and euphemisms that distance them from its abhorrent reality (Cohn, 1987). The authors have taken care to provide several highly current examples, for instance an analysis of Edward Snowden being characterized as either a “whistle blower” or a “traitor,” language use in the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the recent preposition-like use of the conjunction “because” in the US, as in “The picnic was cancelled because rain” (p. 6). Most of the subtopics and almost all of the media sources referenced pertain to the US and the UK, so the text is likely to appeal most to students from those areas.

Each chapter contains four to ten “activities” that are embedded within the text, which are designed to be homework activities or in-class discussion prompts. Some of the activities are perhaps too simplistic to result in meaningful discussion (e.g. “How do you keep up to date with fast news stories and events?,” p. 74), while others are probably too complex for students without prior knowledge in linguistics (e.g. “Compare the headlines […] using the transitivity model and the syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes,” p. 38), and some are likely to be logistically problematic (e.g. “Gather some dating ads. Look for patterns in how they are structured,” p. 169). However, many of the activities are creative, well structured, and likely to engage students in critical analysis of language. For instance, in the chapter on language and age, one activity directs students to do an internet search for “why are teenagers so …,” note the phrases that are populated automatically in the search engine, and analyze those phrases in terms of perceptions about teenagers. This activity helps readers understand how teenagers are delegitimized and derided (Eckert, 2004). In general, the activities help students better comprehend the text and apply the key concepts to new cases in meaningful ways.

The textbook has several other features that make it an excellent resource for students new to linguistics. These are a companion site with additional readings, a long list of project ideas that vary in scope and level of detail, guidance for doing linguistic research, and a helpful glossary of terms that is mostly complete, although with a few obvious omissions (e.g. linguistic landscape, ethnolect, and geosemiotics).

The text makes a few missteps, however. Especially in the first chapters, it introduces a great deal of linguistic terminology and jargon unnecessarily, which could make the text less appealing to linguistic neophytes. For instance, Chapter 1 devotes a section to interpellation (Althusser, 1971), how people are positioned and addressed by ideologies, but the term ‘interpellation’ never appears again in the rest of the book. Likewise, Jakobson’s (2000) six functions of language—emotive, referential, poetic, phatic, metalingual, and conative—do not reappear after Chapter 1.

Though most of the information is highly current and tailored to its audience, some sections will probably seem too obvious, uninteresting, or dated to today’s college students. Some obvious cases of this mismatch are the sections explaining the differences between print and online media related to physical constraints of layout in print newspapers (p. 81) and how YouTube videos are uploaded and browsed (p. 102-4). While the authors are to be commended for the breadth of topics covered in such a little space, the subsections within each chapter at times read as disconnected. For instance, the discussion in Chapter 3 moves abruptly from extended metaphors in language to “silly citizenship.” Better transitions and more explicit connections between all the concepts and prior research summarized in each subsection would be a welcome addition to future editions. This is especially true in two chapters that are new to the present edition and seem less polished than the others: Linguistic Landscapes and Global Englishes. The first includes sections that are likely to engage students, such as analyses of transgressive graffiti, the replicability and fecundity of memes (Knobel and Lankshear, 2007), and memes’ role in a “semiotic democracy;” but the rest of the chapter appears less insightful and too simplistic in comparison with these last sections. The second chapter (Global Englishes) could better incorporate the analysis of the Colloquial Singaporean English discourse markers “ah” and “lah” into the rest of the text and present the terms ‘pidgin’ and ‘creole’ more clearly. The book also would have benefited from a concluding chapter to help students summarize and synthesize the myriad of interrelated topics presented in previous chapters.

A few important topics are given short shrift, including language and sexual orientation, which is mentioned only in relation to fraternity members’ use of “dude” (Kiesling, 2004) and one lesbian community of practice (Jones, 2011), but could have been expanded to treat performance of gay identities (e.g. Campbell-Kibler et al., 2002). The discussion of linguistic relativism and determinism would be more complete—and better suited to a critical text about language and power in society—if it mentioned how these schools of thought have tended to exaggerate cross-linguistic differences and result in the exotification of speakers of non-Western languages, thus perpetuating inequality (McWhorter, 2014).

In sum, this textbook distills an extensive body of literature on language, society, and power into a few key topical areas that are accessible to college students without prior knowledge of linguistics. Though a few aspects could be more polished, the text certainly meets its goal of helping students build critical awareness of language.


Althusser, L. (1971). Ideology and ideological state apparatuses (Notes towards an investigation), in B. Brewser (Trans.), Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (pp. 127-186). London: Monthly Review Press.

Aristotle. (1991). The Art of Rhetoric. H. C. Lawson-Tancred (Trans.). London: Penguin.

Bell, A. (1991). The Language of the News Media. Oxford: Blackwell.

Boyce, T. (2006). Journalism and expertise. Journalism Studies, 7(6), 889-906.

Campbell-Kibler, K., Podesva, R., Roberts, S., and Wong, A. (2002). Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Chomsky, N. and Herman, E. S. (1988). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.

Cohn, C. (1987). Slick’ems, glick’ems, Christmas trees, and cookie cutters: Nuclear Language and how we learned to pat the bomb. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 43(5), 17-24.

Cutler, C. A. (1999). Yorkville crossing: White teens, hip-hop and African American English. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(1), 60-80.

Eades, D. (2003). The politics of misunderstanding in the legal system. In J. House, G. Kasper and S. Ross (Eds.), Misunderstanding in Social Life: Discourse Approaches to Problematic Talk (pp. 199-226). London: Longman.

Eckert, P. (1989). Jocks and Burnouts: Social categories and identity in the high school. London: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Eckert, P. (2003). Language and adolescent peer groups. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 22(1), 112-118.

Eckert, P. (2004). Adolescent language. In E. Finegan and J. R. Rickford (Eds.), Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-First Century (pp. 360-375). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Eckert, P. (2009). Ethnography and the study of variation. In N. Coupland and A. Jaworski (Eds.), The New Sociolinguistics Reader (pp. 136-151). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Jakobson, R. (2000). [1960] Linguistics and poetics. In L. Burke, T. Crowley and A. Girvin (Eds.), The Routledge Language and Cultural Theory Reader (pp. 334-349). London: Routledge.

Jones, L. (2011). “The only dykey one”: Constructions of (in)authenticity in a lesbian community of practice. Journal of Homosexuality, 58, 719-741.

Jost, J. T., Frederico, C. M., and Napier, J. L. (2009). Political ideology: Its structure, functions, and elective affinities. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 307-337.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). Standards, codification, and sociolinguistic realism: The English language in the outer circle. In R. Quirk and H. G. Widdowson (Eds.), English in the World (pp. 11-30). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kemper, S. (1994). Elderspeak: Speech accommodations to older adults. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition: A Journal on Normal and Dysfunctional Development, 1(1), 17-28.

Kiesling, S. (2004). Dude. American Speech, 79(3), 281-305.

Kiesling, S. (2005). Variation, stance, and style: Word-final –er, high rising tone and ethnicity in Australian English. English World Wide, 26(1), 1-42.

Knobel, M. and Lankshear, C. (2007). Online memes, affinities, and cultural production. In M. Knobel and C. Lankshear (Eds.), A New Literacies Sampler (pp. 199-227). New York: Peter Lang.

Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and Woman’s Place. New York: Harper and Row.

McWhorter, J. H. (2014). The language hoax: Why the world looks the same in any language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mendoza-Denton, N. (2011). The semiotic hitchhiker’s guide to creaky voice: Circulation and gendered hardcore in a Chicana/o gang persona. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 21(2), 261-280.

Nero, S. (2006). Language, identity, and education of Caribbean English speakers. World Englishes, 25(3/4), 501-511.

Saussure, F. (1966). A Course in General Linguistics. (W. Baskin, Trans.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Savage, M., Devine, F., Cunningham, N., Taylor, M., Li, Y., Hjellbrekke, J., Le Roux, B., Friedman, S., and Miles, A. (2013). A new model of class? Findings from the BBC’s Great British Class Survey Experiment. Sociology, 47(2), 219-250.

Schilling-Estes, N. (2004). Constructing ethnicity in interaction. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 8(2), 163-195.

Simpson, P. (1993). Language, Ideology, and Point of View. London: Routledge.

Tagliamonte, S. (2005). So who? Like how? Just what?: Discourse markers in the conversations of young Canadians. Journal of Pragmatics, 37(11), 1896-1915.

Thurlow, C., with Brown, A. (2003). Generation txt? The sociolinguistics of young people’s text-messaging. Discourse analysis online (1).

Trudgill, P. (1972). Sex, covert prestige and linguistic change in the urban British English of Norwich. Language in Society, 1(2), 179-195.
Elizabeth M. Kissling is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Applied Linguistics at the University of Richmond. She holds a MA in Hispanic Literature and a PhD in Linguistics with a specialization in Second Language Acquisition. Her current lines of research include phonetics and pronunciation instruction, foreign accent, and interaction in study abroad.

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ISBN-13: 9780415739993
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Pages: 262
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