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Review of  Multilingualism and Mobility in Europe

Reviewer: Machteld Claire Meulleman
Book Title: Multilingualism and Mobility in Europe
Book Author: Kristine Horner Ingrid de Saint-Georges Jean-Jacques Weber
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 27.229

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


“Multilingualism and Mobility in Europe: Policies and Practices”, edited by Kristine Horner, Ingrid de Saint-Georges and Jean-Jacques Weber, is a collection of thirteen papers written by different authors. Most of the contributions were presented at a workshop on “Multilingualism and Mobility in Europe” that took place at the University of Luxembourg in July 2013. The book’s main aim is to explore how individuals experience and produce multilingual language policies and practices in a variety of different European contexts which are currently undergoing social, political and economic transformations. The volume includes an introduction, the first part consisting of six papers devoted to educational settings, the second part counting seven contributions devoted to additional (i.e. non-educational) settings, notes on contributors and an index.

The introductory chapter, authored by Kristine Horder, sets out the book’s twofold sociolinguistic objective: (1) contribute to the understanding of the interface between language policies and practices in educational and additional settings and (2) explore the way social, political and economic processes are impacting the lives of real people with respect to their cognitive, social and spatial mobility through the valorization and stigmatization of their multilingual repertoires (Introduction: Multilingualism and mobility in European context, by Kristine Horner. pp. 9-14). Before giving a brief description of each of the individual papers in this book, the author points out that all of them discuss original qualitative data and take into account the particularities of the socio-historical contexts of the different European states and territories under scope, ranging from cities or regions in Germany, France (including its overseas territory, La Réunion) and Luxembourg to Moldova and Hungary. In addition, all contributions situate their findings in relation to paradigms in cognate disciplines among which are educational studies, psychology, sociology and cultural geography. In her conclusion, the first editor notes the growing importance of such interdisciplinary studies in order to obtain a more holistic understanding of the ways people are experiencing diverse forms of multilingualism and mobility.

Part I

Part I is entitled “Multilingualism and Mobility in Educational Sites”. It consists of six chapters covering language policies in practices in pre-school, primary and secondary education settings.

In the opening chapter of Part One, Carol Pfaff discusses some key findings from her multiple studies on the geographical, social and cognitive mobility of children of Turkish descent in Berlin conducted over a period of 35 years. (Chapter 1: Multilingualism and mobility: Reflections on sociolinguistic studies of Turkish/German children and adolescents in Berlin 1978-2013, pp. 17-42.). With respect to their geographical mobility, most of these children live in ethnic enclaves of Turks in Berlin, go to school with a high proportion of pupils with migration background and seldom move within the city, three factors which tend to result in the maintenance of their Turkish L1, on the one hand, and poor language proficiency in their German L2, on the other. However, due to changing educational policies, the increasingly strong proficiency in German and the development in English are positively affecting the social mobility of these children even though there is not yet full parity of representation compared with children without Turkish migration background. Finally, the study of these children’s cognitive mobility, which is their ability to shift appropriately within their linguistic repertoires, is still in progress as the author’s preliminary results still have to be compared with similar studies in other Northwestern European countries.

The second chapter, written in French, explores the evolution of gesturing in bilingual children in connection with the language practices in their families (Chapter 2: Le rôle de la gestualité dans l’acquisition du langage des enfants d’origine turque scolarisés en maternelle, en France, by Büsra Hamurcu, pp. 43-61). Breaking away from a monolingual norm in research on gesturing, the author proposes a longitudinal case study of two French-Turkish bilingual children in a French “maternelle” in Alsace. Showing how gesturing is linked both to the children’s multilingual repertoires and their feeling of either comfort or insecurity at school, the author argues that teachers in monolingual pre-schools should be made more aware of the specific situation of bilingual language acquisition and support a harmonious bilingual acquisition, allowing the children to express themselves in their two languages by including nursery rhymes or other activities in their mother tongue.

In the wake of the introduction of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages in European language education, the third chapter, written in French, aims to analyze how two of its key notions, namely “plurilingual repertoire” and “plurilingual competence”, are introduced in the official curricula for the teaching of standard Chinese as a foreign language in France (Chapter 3: L’enseignement du chinois standard en France: Politiques linguistiques et les enjeux éducatifs, by Yan-Zhen Chen, pp. 63-82.). After a brief introduction about the kind of Chinese taught in France, the author offers a detailed description of the different contexts of the current teaching of Chinese in France, pointing out its presence from primary school to university level as either first, second or third foreign language. Through a quantitative and qualitative discourse analysis of the official programs and teaching guidelines for different levels, the author reveals the absence of the notions of “plurilingual repertoire” and “plurilingual competence” (except in secondary (“lycée”) programs which are not language specific) thus reflecting an additive vision of language teaching, despite official discourses explicitly promoting plurilingualism in a European context. Showing that the vision on Chinese teaching is still binary (L1-L2) and does not take into account other languages, the author claims that there currently is no real willingness to change the approach of foreign language teaching in France and calls for more “bridging” between the different languages of the repertoire of the pupils, 50 percent of whom have already learned other languages before learning Chinese.

Based on a case study in a bilingual class in an “école maternelle” in Alsace, France, the fourth chapter offers a critical approach to the one teacher/one language policy implemented in the bilingual education model in French-German programs in Alsace (Chapter 4: Early bilingual education in Alsace: The one language/one teacher policy in question, by Christine Hélot and Valérie Fialais, pp. 83-102.). Arguing that both this strict language policy, inherited from Ronjat’s one language/one person family policy, and the choice for German rather than Alsatian (a recognized national minority language in France) reflect an additive immersion model, aiming merely at improving proficiency in German L2, this particular bilingual program tends to ignore the rich multilingual repertoires of both children and teachers and instead of supporting multilingual education it actually reinforces monoglossic representations of bilingualism. Therefore, against parents’ discourses bringing to the fore their fear of language-mixing and code-switching, the authors argue for a more integrative approach to bilingual pedagogy allowing for cross-linguistic transfer and metacognitive strategies in order to develop a harmonious bilingual bicultural identity in young pre-school learners.

Chapter 5, authored by Tímea Kádas Pickel, addresses the complex links between multilingual literacy acquisition and identity construction (Chapter 5: “Je suis qui je suis / Meet the other side of me”. Identité et littératie multilingue/multimodale: Analyse d’un projet photographique réalisé par des élèves nouvellement arrivés en France, pp. 103-122.). In particular, the article analyses a multimodal multi-literacy pedagogical project called “Meet the other side of me” that is intended for young newly arrived immigrant pupils in a French secondary school in Mulhouse and based on the empowerment methodologies of both the production of « identity texts » (Cummins & Early 2011) and photographic self-portraits (Wang & Burris 1997). Through the analysis of the bilingual text production of 7 pupils and of their discourse about their experience, the author provides a convincing example of how encouraging the pupils to draw on their full multilingual repertoires and personal experiences enables them to engage in their language learning process and in a positive reconstruction of their multilingual self.

Like the previous chapter, Chapter 6 is concerned with the under-exploitation and valorization of pupils’ linguistic repertoires in French language education policy (Chapter 6: Les collaborations enseignants/assistantes de maternelles en pré-élémentaire à la Réunion: Un partenariat linguistique à construire, by Pascale Prax-Dubois, pp.123-146.). In this particular case, the question is addressed in nursery school education in La Réunion, a postcolonial context where the lack of ethno-linguistic and social mixity goes hand in hand with insufficient French language proficiency and low school success rates. Through a qualitative discourse analysis of both class interactions and semi-structured interviews of all educational actors (1 bilingual French-Creole and 2 monolingual French teachers and 5 bilingual French-Creole communal employees who are in charge of the children’s hygiene), the study shows how both children and teachers experience linguistic and professional insecurity in the classroom and how punctual interventions in Creole by the local communal employees foster the children’s language development and positive self-identity and improve the overall well-being of the children, teachers and employees. The author emphasizes the need for a more generalized and official cooperation between teachers and employees and calls for the implementation of joint training on multilingual education (as it exists already in the metropolitan Alsace region) for all educational actors in this overseas territory.

Part II

Part II, entitled “Multilingualism and Mobility in additional sites”, consists of seven chapters, each dealing with multilingual policies and practices outside the domain of education. The first two chapters address language policies in state institutions, the next two family language policy and the last three the interface between language and space.

The first chapter in this part is devoted to linguistics dynamics in the Military Academy of Moldova (Chapter 7: Majorized linguistic repertoires in a nationalizing state, by Anna Weirich, pp. 149-170.). Shifting the perspective on sociolinguistic relations from the study of “minority languages” to that of “majorized linguistic repertoires”, the author explores how the process of “majorization” manifests itself in the social evaluation of individual linguistic repertoires and institutionalized language policies in this Moldavan state institution. In the context of this multiethnic state which is going through a nationalizing process, a “normal linguistic repertoire” consists of practical knowledge of both Romanian/Moldovan and Russian, while competences in elaborated registers of standard Romanian and English as a foreign language are associated with internationalism, career and modernism. As only the teaching of English is institutionalized in the Academy while no classes are offered in Russian and Romanian, the Moldovan Military Academy - officially promoting multilingualism - marginalizes speakers with diverging linguistic repertoires. Drawing upon a discourse-analytic study of narrative interviews of students and staff, the author provides new insights on how representations of “normal linguistic repertoires” unveil “majorization” processes of the privileged and on the way “majorized linguistic repertoires” are transformed by geopolitical evolutions.

Chapter 8 explores the recent language testing policy in trilingual Luxembourg, where since 2009 applicants for Luxembourgish citizenship need to pass a language test in one of the three officially recognized languages as well as in oral Luxembourgish (Chapter 8: “Come back next year to be a Luxembourger”: Perspectives on language testing and citizenship legislation “from below”, by Joanna Kremer, pp. 171-187.). Based on the idea that language policies are discursively justified and constructed, the aim of this study is to analyze a variety of “voices from below” (cf. Shohamy 2009). A close discourse analysis on data obtained during semi-structured interviews with 27 recent applicants for Luxembourgish citizenship reveals that the applicants have varying perceptions of the policy of testing of Luxembourgish which do not necessarily correlate with their succeeding or failing in the test process and that the participants who justify the testing of Luxembourgish do this in the discursive framework of “normalization” and “standardization”, while the discourse used by those participants who contest or question the policy brings up the topics of exclusion, unfairness and social selection. As such, this chapter shows how the discourse used by the applicants reveals the different ways in which the testing of Luxembourgish is experienced individually and how it is tied up with broader issues such as power, belonging/exclusion and citizenship.

Chapter 9 is an exploratory study examining parents’ representations within bi- and multi-lingual families in Luxembourg. (Chapter 9: Parents’ representations of the family language policy within bilingual families in Luxembourg: Choices, motivations, strategies and children’s language development, by Annie Flore Made Mbe, pp. 189-203). Through ethnographic interviews with the parents of five mixed marriages with highly diverse linguistic profiles, it explores first the dynamics of the parent’s language practices prior to and after the birth of children and second the motivations and communication strategies the parents put forward for developing their children’s bi- and multilingual competences. With respect to the first question, it turns out that mixed couples are strongly emotionally attached to the language of their first meeting and therefore continue using it even after learning the partner’s language or after the birth of children. As for the communication strategies with their children, most parents try to implement the One-Parent-One-Language approach (Barron-Hauwaert 2004), even if it does not tend to be strictly applied over time, especially once children develop their own social networks through schooling or at the birth of siblings. The main motivations for the intergenerational transmission of their language(s) are creating and maintaining family cohesion, facilitating school access and increasing their children’s future employment opportunities. Although the study is based on a rather small and diverse sample, it reveals convincingly that family language policies are not fixed entities but changing and dynamic processes.

Another article exploring family language policy is authored by Angélique Bouchés-Rémond-Rémont (Chapter 10: Family language policy and the English language in francophone families in France: A focus on parents’ reasons as decision-takers, pp. 205-220.) Based on data obtained through informal and semi-structured interviews conducted via Skype, the author analyses why and how francophone parents living in France choose to include the use of English in the family, leading to an additive type of bilingualism, both languages having a high status in this country known for its monolingual ideology. It is shown that the reasons underlying these parenting practices result mainly from the parents’ own positive and negative experiences with language learning and from their beliefs about extensive learning of foreign languages at school. This being seen as an unsuccessful method, most parents feel the need for a reinforcement strategy, recruiting an au-pair or opting for schooling in an international or immersion school in order to ensure more exposure to English. However, parents do not only have utilitarian but also integrative motivations, as they have a specific interest in English.

Chapter 11 offers a geosemiotic analysis of the multilingual practice of designing shelf labels in an ethnic convenience store (Chapter 11: « Ohne Glutamat/Without MSG »: Shelf label design in a Thai supermarket, by Stefan Karl Serwe and Ingrid de Saint-Georges, pp. 221-246). In particular, it analyses the use of German and Thai on handwritten shelf labels in a small immigrant-owned convenience store in a small town in the Saar region in Germany. The examination of the bi- and mono-lingual shelf labels sheds light on the strategic use of the various semiotic resources by the shopkeeper for catering to her culturally diverse clientele (cf. Pütz 2003). This constant transcultural navigation is especially visible in the bilingual labels which are used to mediate between culinary cultures, to show expert knowledge (on health, religion and food regulations among others) and to provide product names in Thai for clients who lack German literacy skills. Monolingual labels either open up access to unknown products for German clients or restrict access to Thai clients only. Shelf labelling thus appears to be a much more complex and multifaceted activity than usually acknowledged.

In the penultimate chapter, Jenny Carl looks into the way people socially construct and conceptualize space (Low 2009) in the Hungarian city of Sopron/Ödenburg (Chapter 12: Multilingualism and space: Memories of place in language biographies of ethnic Germans in Sopron, pp. 247-263.). This city on the Austro-Hungarian border represents a particular linguistic space as it underwent two radical linguistic changes within the second half of the 20th century: if public life in Sopron used to be conducted mostly in German until 1946, the city became predominantly Hungarian-speaking with a small German minority until the collapse of Communism in 1989, when the presence of German increased again due to economic opportunities offered by cross-border trade and tourism. Drawing upon narrative interviews with ethnic Germans living in Sopron, the author studies German-speakers’ memories of place and “mental maps” as well as the way they emotionally receive the increasing presence of German in the city’s linguistic landscape. It is argued that due to social and economic situation Sopron’s configuration of space is changing from a nationally defined officially monolingual space to a fragmented multilingual one to which people adapt reorganizing their social space making use of their German skills and creating new symbolic meanings for memories and experiences.

The closing chapter of the book focuses on the increasingly heteroglossic ethnolinguistic environment of inner city districts of Berlin in order to understand the way individual migrants experience their transnational life worlds (Chapter 13: Language (hi)stories: Researching migration and multilingualism in Berlin, by Patrick Stevenson, pp. 265-280). Through the language biographies of two inhabitants of a single apartment block who are both Polish first generation migrants, Patrick Stevenson analyzes the way both persons use their experiences with language as a structural device in creating “a life” (Linde 1993). Although both inhabitants have the same age, ethnicity and linguistic repertoire, they present very different migration trajectories emerging in particular accounts of their linguistic experiences between Polish and German, a fact illustrating the great sociolinguistic complexity of an increasingly multilingual urban environment. This detailed biographical approach allows the author to demonstrate “how reflections on language use can reveal differentiated historicized layers of experience with language that would otherwise remain submerged within the synchronic wrapping of the multilingual migrant” (p.277).


This book brings together a variety of papers from diverse linguistic methodologies on various aspects of language policy in different parts of Europe. Contrary to many other books in the field of multilingual language policy, it has a rather broad perspective, as in addition to educational settings, also institutional, business and family settings are considered. As the introduction promises, it is undoubtedly a solid step forward in the understanding of the “varying and sometimes conflicting perceptions of multilingualism that impact on the lives of real people” (cf. Bauman 1998). Another major plus of this book is that it offers only original case studies discussing rich qualitative data.

If the volume is generally well-structured and well-written, it is not without its weaknesses. First it should be noted that six out of thirteen contributions deal with educational settings, of which five are devoted to French school contexts. As it is precisely the variety of settings which makes this book a valuable contribution, a more balanced attribution of importance between “educational” and “additional” settings would have been appreciated. Another minor drawback is that the title is somewhat misleading as almost all contributions deal with rather stable contexts of “mobility” in that they study children growing up in bi- or multi-lingual families or schools, adults living from childhood in multiethnic countries or border regions and economic migrants who more or less permanently settled in their host country. However, no attention is paid to individuals dealing with multilingualism in contexts of temporary mobility such as tourism, seasonal labor or expats which are increasingly frequent in Europe due to the right of free movement of persons in the EU.

These observations, however, do not detract from the overall quality of the volume. The book remains of great interest to students and scholars both in sociolinguistics and related fields who have an interest in the interface between language policy and multilingual practices at any level of society or in the interface between cognitive, social and spatial mobility.


Barron-Hauwaert, Suzanne. 2004. Language Strategies for Families: The One-Parent-One-Language Approach. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Bauman, Zygmunt. 1998. Globalization: The Human Consequences. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Cummins, Jim/Early, Margaret. 2011. Identity Texts: The Collaborative Creation of Power in Multilingual Schools. Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books.

Linde, Charlotte. 1993. Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence. New York, Oxford: OUP.

Low, Setha. 2009. Towards an anthropological theory of space and place. Semiotica 175(1). 21-37.

Shohamy, Elana. 2009. Language policy as experiences. Language Problems and Language Planning 33(2). 185-189.

Wang, Caroline/Burris, Mary Ann. 1997. Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behaviour 24(3). 369-387.
Dr. Machteld Meulleman holds a PhD in Comparative Linguistics from Ghent University (Belgium) and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne (France). She also taught an advanced master seminar on multilingual communication at the Free University of Brussels (Belgium). Her research interests include multilingual communication and education practices, especially with regard to intercomprehension.

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ISBN-13: 9783631648926
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