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Review of  Identities in and across Cultures


Reviewer: Stephanie Cooper
Book Title: Identities in and across Cultures
Book Author: Paola Evangelisti Allori
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Sociolinguistics
Text/Corpus Linguistics
Issue Number: 26.4597

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Review:
Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

“Identities in and across Cultures”, edited by P.E. Allori, begins with an introduction, which defines the terms “identity” and “culture” as they are used in the context of the book, and explains how these terms are socially generated and reciprocally related. Before summarizing each of the chapters, the editor describes the importance of language and discourse to identity and culture. The contribution of discourse in revealing both individual and collective identities is the main interest of this collection, as well as how discourse can be exploited, in institutional or political examples, to portray an intended identity. As the title of the book suggests, the ways in which identities are revealed through discourse vary across different cultures, as well as within a single culture.

This collection consists of fourteen papers, most of which are based on papers originally presented at the international conference “Issues of Identity in and across Cultures in the Professional World”, financed by the Italian Ministry for University. The papers are grouped into three subheadings: Framing Identities through the Media, Academic and Professional Identities, and Identities in cross-cultural encounters. Each paper offers a unique perspective on how identities are constructed, internalized, and demonstrated through a variety of contexts across a wide range of disciplines. Together, these papers form a diverse collection, demonstrating different ways in which identities can be studied and researched, and how this type of research can be seen as significant to a broad audience of scholars and students.

The first chapter, written by Maria Cristina Paganoni and titled “Political Identity on the Net: David Cameron’s Blog”, provides an example of political branding communicated through text and media online. Using a multimodal analysis, Paganoni describes how the different mediums of image, video, and text, and the use of colors, lexical items, and formatting contribute to the formation of a political identity. Paganoni concludes that the online culture and identity that is created by a politician’s individual website is essential to their success and survival as a politician.

The second chapter, titled “Framing Identity through the Virtual Channels of EU Institutional Communication” focusses on how the European Union attempted to create a common EU identity by creating an image, via its new website, that would be relatable to a wide variety of its citizens. Looking at the relationship between society and discourse, the authors Giuditta Caliendo and Antonio Piga use critical discourse analysis to describe the relational, ideational, and identity functions of the EU discourse presented on the EU website. Caliendo and Piga argue through textual and visual examples that the website creates an identity for its citizens as consumers, who benefit from the services or products that they receive from the EU.

The final chapter that focuses on how identities are framed in the media is written by Kellett Bidoli. Her chapter, titled “Identity Issues in Audiovisual Translation across the Deaf/Hearing Cultural Divide”, demonstrates the difficulty in translating hearing identity and culture of North America to Italian deaf identity and culture. Part of this difficulty comes with the problems of a double translation, first from spoken dialogue to written subtitling, and then secondly from an English-speaking Deaf Community to an Italian-speaking Deaf Community. Using both a micro and macro analysis, Bidoli shows the lack of awareness in translating, as translations often reflect the culture of the collective Deaf, instead of the native culture that the viewers would be more able to identify with.

The second section of the book has six papers that relate to the topic of academic or professional identities, beginning with Michele Sala’s chapter titled “Cross-disciplinary Identity-forming Strategies in Research Articles”. As the title suggests, this chapter looks at how academic identities are created across disciplines in academic research articles. Focusing on the disciplines of Applied Linguistics, Economics, Legal Studies, and Medicine, Sala used 400 published research articles written in English to analyze patterns found in the knowledge-orientation, reader-orientation, and writer-orientation resources. Sala concludes by discussing the discourse features of the academic writing from different disciplines, suggesting why and how these disciplines have their own style and academic identity.

Using transcripts of university business lecture courses, Belinda Crawford Camiciottoli, in her chapter “The Multiple Identities of the Business Academic”, analyzes different identities (academic, disciplinary, professional, cultural, and individual) that are used by the lecturers. Focusing on the discursive constructions of these identities, the five identities are represented in the analysis by linking them to a specific series of features which correspond to each dimension. For example, individual identity is analyzed by looking at the idiomatic expressions used by the lecturer. Camiciottoli argues that the representation of multiple facets of identity by the business academics in the classroom can be seen as beneficial to the students, because it provides a realistic role model of the multi-disciplinary level of expertise that will be expected of them in the workforce.

The next chapter, titled “Identity Conflicts in Book Reviews: A Cross-cultural Analysis”, looks at the pragmatic-rhetorical issue of positive and negative appraisals in book reviews. Using appraisal theory, Larissa D’Angelo investigates how language is used in the appraisals of books published in English and in Italian in Applied Linguistic journals. D’Angelo’s findings indicate that the reviewer, and their pragmatic-rhetorical choices, are impacted by their cultural identity. She also discusses the finding that the cultural identity of the author, and their experience and authority in the academic community has an impact on their critical speech acts. The chapter concludes by verifying that the interactions between culture, language, and writer’s authoritativeness are important sources of discourse variation.

David Simone Giannoni’s chapter “The Significance of ‘Significant’: Value Marking Across Disciplinary Cultures” discusses findings of an ongoing study of value-marking lexis in academic writing. Combining corpus linguistics and discourse-analytical tools, Giannoni analyzes research articles from a variety of disciplines, including: biology, physics, engineering, medicine, history, anthropology, sociology, economics, mathematics, and computer science. The discussion section of this chapter focusses on the occurrences of relevance-marking lexis found in the corpus, and how these findings change according to which discipline is being analyzed. The chapter concludes by drawing attention to difference in value markers across the disciplines as influenced not only by the discipline itself, but also by the individual identity of the authors writing the research articles.

“’Giving Graduates an Earful’: Identity and Interaction in Commencement Speeches” is the title of the next chapter, written by Martin Solly. Using commencement speeches as a clearly defined genre with its own generic conventions, Solly analyzes the setting, purpose, content, genre features, and moves (i.e. introduction to theme or taking leave of audience), of commencement speeches available online. Commencement speeches are multi-faceted, multidisciplinary, and hybrid on multiple levels, as they are both spoken and written, formal and informal, and informative and personal. This genre, and the analysis of identity features found within commencement speeches, demonstrates how they are important in the identity building processes for the speakers, but also for the universities, especially as they become more widely available on the institutions’ websites.

The last chapter in the section on academic and professional identities is Sara Laviosa’s chapter titled “Drifts in the Priming of Anglicism in Business Communication”. This chapter looks at how borrowing and translation has an effect on cultural identities in professional discourse. By identifying Anglicisms that occur in a translational Italian subcorpus, Laviosa shows how the word “business” is lexically primed in five different ways. By looking at lexical priming of Anglicisms in specific domains, Laviosa shows how these patterns of language use help to create a distinctive hybrid cultural identity.

The last five chapters are part of the third section of the book, which focusses on identities in cross-cultural encounters. This final section begins with a paper by Franca Poppi, titled “English as a Lingua Franca: Negotiating Identity in Cross-cultural Encounters between Native and Non-native speakers”. This chapter discusses the international use of English by non-native speakers, and how these non-native speakers try to negotiate their identities by establishing themselves as language users instead of just language learners in cross-cultural encounters. Using transcriptions from interviews and panel discussions from BBC World and CNN International, the author shows how non-native speakers negotiate their identities using a series of pragmatic devices, as well as resorting to ‘linguistic peculiarities’ or deviant forms. This chapter concludes with the argument that non-native English speakers should be considered speakers, and not just learners, of a variety of English that is very common to international encounters, namely English as a lingua franca.

Dwang Huang’s chapter titled “Constructing Writer Identity across Community Boundaries. The Socialization of a Local-educated Chinese Researcher” focusses on a young Chinese scientist’s identity construction in different socio-cultural contexts. Using ethnographic and genre analysis approaches, Huang analyses how this individual has created a dynamic professional identity in his scientific writing, which is evident in the international context, the local context, and the local/international context. Using this Chinese academic as a case study, this essay shows the importance of creating a dynamic writer identity, which is accessible across different cultural contexts, in order to be accessible to the Anglophone community.

The next chapter, written by Jane Lung, focusses on the acquisition and internalization of a professional identity by students in different disciplines. Titled “The Process of Internalising Professional Identity through Specific Disciplinary Knowledge”, this paper analyzes the construction of identity amongst university level business students. Looking specifically at student perceptions and definitions of the different disciplines, Lung concludes the chapter by commenting on the internalization of professional identity that occurs through specific knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. Professional identity is a development process that students experience as part of their higher education, and is specific to the disciplinary area of study.

Liisa Timonen and Marjo Piironen are the co-authors of the next chapter, titled “Supporting the Development of Professional Identity through Intercultural Communication and Language Courses”. This paper discusses the concept of professional identity, and how, through experiential learning methods, development of a learner’s professional identity can be supported. Focusing on practical methods of providing support to foreign language learners and their development of social and professional identities, this paper highlights the important aspects of learning that need to take place in a foreign language classroom, apart from exclusively learning a language. Intercultural communicative competence is a valuable asset for students in an increasingly globalized society, and this can be supported in the language classroom by promoting and facilitating the construction and development of learner’s social and professional identities.

The last chapter of the book is titled “Identity and Culture in Teaching English as an International Language: a Possible Model for a ‘Third Place’”, written by Paola Vettorel. Also looking at the foreign language classroom, this paper treats the development of learners’ spaces of identity and personal meaning. Students’ intercultural experiences are extremely valuable for a student who is learning a foreign language, and potentially learning about a foreign culture. This paper argues for the importance of a ‘third place’, referring to the cultures and experiences offered by settings where English is considered the lingua franca. This allows for the language learning classroom to explore cultural identities that may be more relatable and more practical for language learners.

EVALUATION

Although the papers presented in this edited collection cover a variety of topics, most of the papers are dealing with professional or academic identities. In the first section of the book, there are three exceptions to this focus: Giuditta and Antionio’s paper on framing identity through European Union virtual communication, Bidoli’s paper on the Deaf/Hearing cultural divide, and Poppi’s paper on cross-cultural encounters between native and non-native speakers. Although the second section of this book, titled “Academic and Professional Identities”, includes six papers, the remaining five (excluding the three just mentioned) also fit into the category of academic or professional identity. One shortcoming of this focus on academic and professional identities is that academic and professional institutions have cultures and identities of their own. Including research on a wider range of members of society would provide a more comprehensive collection of identities in a larger variety of cultures, and across more diverse sections of cultures, and would be more representative of the title of the book.

The title of the book “Identities in and across Cultures” does not express the academic and professional focus of the chapters. However, it does highlight the importance of looking at how identities are culturally constructed. The title also leaves out the focus on discourse, which is described in the introduction and is important to each of the chapters. The title may therefore be somewhat misleading to people who could be interested in the topics covered in the chapters. However, the introduction does a good job of describing the connection between the concepts of discourse, identity, and culture, while also informing potential readers of the wide variety of topics to be covered in the book. The introduction also provides valuable references to authors who have done research and written publications on different topics surrounding culture and identity. This introductory section succeeds at providing readers with the essential background information, while also informing them of what they can expect to find in the individual chapters.

One shortcoming is the limitation of cultures being represented in this collection. With the focus on North American and Western European research, there are many cultures left out of the discussion. However, the two final papers in the book, in particular, make a case for being international, in the sense that they are dealing with learners of a foreign language, an experience that can be shared on a global scale.

One major strength of this book is its accessibility. The presentation of the concept of identity and culture, and the dynamic between these two concepts is described in a straightforward and relatable way in the introduction of this book. The summaries also provide a good overview of what can be found in the book. Each chapter provides a comprehensive introduction to the study and a brief overview of the methodology, as well as an overview of the major findings. The implications of the research, and further research ideas, are also summarized at the end of each chapter, which makes this collection particularly useful for graduate students who are interested in linguistic studies on identity and culture.

Together, the chapters provide a variety of studies that could potentially be appealing to a large audience of readers. Each chapter is unique, not only in its content, but also in its style. The chapters demonstrate different approaches, using different methods and research questions, and also explore different types of identities, for example individual or collective identities. Each chapter can be read as a stand-alone study, but the book also functions very well as a collection, in terms of providing the readers with an introduction to different research projects surrounding the topic of culture and identity. Overall, this book achieves its goals of representing the relationship between identity and discourse across cultures, and within cultures. The papers work together to provide appealing introductions to the field of study and particular area of research that they represent.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Master's Degree in Intercultural German Studies from the University of Waterloo/University of Mannheim. Research interests include sociolinguistics, discourse analysis, conversation analysis, language and identity.

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ISBN-13: 9783034314589
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