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Review of  Languages in Migratory Settings

Reviewer: Josh Prada
Book Title: Languages in Migratory Settings
Book Author: Alison Phipps Rebecca Kay
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 27.2604

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Globalization is, perhaps, one the most defining phenomena of our times, and migration its most powerful draft horse. An increase in transnational mobility has redefined the nature of Western society as superdiverse and linguistically heterogeneous, unfolding the already multidimensional nature of social structures. Embracing this reality, “Languages in Migratory Settings – Place, politics, and aesthetics”, is a collection of articles surveying different aspects of intercultural communication, as it applies to a variety of contexts, all related to migration and transnational movements. Having first appeared as a special issue in the journal ‘Language and Intercultural Communication’ (Taylor & Fancis) in 2014, ‘Languages in Migratory Settings’, brings together contributors from an array of perspectives, ranging from applied linguistics to cultural studies. Editors Alison Phipps and Rebecca Key, drawing on their own experience as co-conveners of Glasgow Refugee, Asylum and Migration Network, present a series of place-specific projects, showing an array of methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of international communication. Each of the 9 articles, presented as separate chapter-like entries, contributes a valuable, different perspective to this fine read.

The introduction, authored by the editors themselves, contextualizes the entire volume, its rationale, and its goals. In so doing, it presents elements that, in one way or another, cut across the rest of the chapters binding them thematically, and creating a notional antecedent for the reader; these elements are aesthetic resonance (i.e., the recursivity of elements and patterns in constructing beauty) , the North and South dichotomy (i.e., traditional views of the powerful, balanced and successful North, against a struggling, less developed South), the use of the prefix ‘inter-’ (i.e., signaling a halfway, soft-assembled position) , Glasgow’s ‘Red Road’ (which housed asylum seekers during the second half of the last century, until being demolished in 2015), and aesthetic unsettling (i.e., the disruption of principles underlying ideologies connected to beauty).

The second article by Mariangela Palladino, entitled ‘Divorce and dialogue: intertextuality in Amara Lakhous’ ‘Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi’, focuses on literary texts. It aims at beginning an intercultural dialogue ‘among preexistent and emerging cultures’ in relations between Italy and its ‘others’--those born elsewhere. In the process, this work delves into the use of irony and multivocal narrative in Amara Louhous’ novel to operationalize intercultural negotiation. Moreover, the author performs an analysis of the cultural, linguistic, historical, and social movements as they relate to the emergence of familiarity and estrangement. Palladino concludes that post-colonial Italian literature represents an important tool of mediation and dialogue, using ‘Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi’ as an example to illustrate innovative verbal strategies.

The third article included in this volume, co-authored by Evelyn Arizpe, Caroline Bagelman, Alison M. Devlin, Maureen Farrell and Julie E. McAdam stems from a pedagogical incline. From this standpoint, the authors argue for an image-based approach to the so-called ‘diverse classrooms’. Their paper ‘Visualizing intercultural literacy: engaging critically with diversity and migration in the classroom through an image-based approach’ investigates the possibilities of including this type of approach as part of a critical pedagogy. At the core of this approach lies the notion of ‘generative theme’, that is, a political or cultural topic of concern to participants used to funnel critical engagement in conversation. By this means, the authors highlight the value of placing ‘new arrivals’ at the center of the classroom, therefore, directing the focus of the classroom to their experiences, and so allowing for a variety of ‘points of entry’.

The fourth article, ‘The social and symbolic aspects of languages in the narratives of young (prospective) migrants’, by Giovanna Fassetta evolves around the social and symbolic dimensions of language in Ghanaian youths immigrating to Italy. With this in mind, the author explores the hierarchies of power ascribed to each language, expectations for language learning, and the use of new languages by the younger generations as a means to challenge the adults. The population under study speaks, to varying degrees, English, Italian, and the Ghanaian vernacular spoken at home. This study explores the changes in importance of each of these languages, from before the family immigrates to Italy, to after their arrival in Europe, as well as the challenges the youths anticipate before immigrating.

Article five is entitled ‘Learning across borders – Chinese migrant literature and intercultural Chinese language education’, and written by Yongyang Wang. This paper focuses on migrant literature and how it can be redirected toward an interculturally-oriented pedagogical end; the author expands on existing stereotypes, and core values that are significant in intercultural communication. In doing so, Wang links these to the study of Chinese literature and intercultural communication of Chinese at university level. To conclude, the author argues for the potential, strengths and possibilities of using migrant literature in intercultural learning.

The sixth article included in this volume, ‘Constructing the ‘rural other’ in post-soviet Bishkek: ‘host’ and ‘migrant’ perspectives’, by Moya Flynn and Natalya Kosmarskaya explores ethnolinguistic attitudes in post-Soviet Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan). After the arrival in Bishkek of a Kyrgyz migrant population, the authors report on the perceptions of and reactions to this new community, as expressed by long-term residents in their narratives. The data show an anti-migration discourse, with the Kyrgyz community identified as culturally, linguistically, and behaviorally different, and not part of the host community’s conceptualization of their past, their present, or future. Complementing the host community’s viewpoint, the article also investigates how the migrants perceive themselves in the new urban context, revealing the emergence of new social and linguistic positioning, as they work their way into this new setting.

The seventh article of this collection, entitled ‘The migrant patient, the doctor and the (im)possibility of intercultural communication: silences, silencing and non-dialogue in an ethnographic context’, is co-authored by Elsa Lechner and Olga Solovova. In it, the authors delve into the (im)possibilities of intercultural communication in institutional medical encounters. The study draws from an ethnographic case study among migrant patients in Portugal and is squarely centered on how interactions come about between patients and a clinician. In light of the data, the authors argue that silence must be construed as a form of communication highlighting the condition of the patient; in like manner they maintain that the institutional framework of the clinical setting, discursive roles of the participants, and other social elements at play are also paramount in understanding silence in patients.

The eighth and last entry is ‘Interpretation, translation and intercultural communication in refugee status determination procedures in the UK and France’, co-authored by Robert Gibb and Anthony Good. This article studies the coaction between language and intercultural communication as articulated in the procedures for refugee status denomination in both the UK and France. The data were compiled by combining participant observation, semi-structured interviews and documentary analysis in both countries, from 2007 to 2009. The authors investigate the role of the interpreter as intercultural communication facilitator, between asylum applicants and the administrative and legal actors in charge of assessing their cases. The article presents the main contexts within which the interpreters operate, and contrasts interpreting services, codes of conduct and institutional expectations. Furthermore, it investigates some difficulties in the practice of interpretation in this particular context, as they emerge in refugee status determination procedures in the UK and France.


The main focus of migration research has been on the sociopolitical mechanisms that articulate realities such as asylum and exile, as well as the geographical and geopolitical directions of these movements (Warnes & Williams, 2006). This work, however, provides the reader with an innovative perspective, squarely centered on the creative practices of speakers who find themselves in migration contexts. Framed within migration as a dynamic phenomenon, the articles contained in this collection describe the interplay between languages and their speakers, as articulated through translation, interpretation, literature, education and intercultural negotiations.

Following recent arguments for the integration of aesthetic and affective factors into intercultural communications research (Kramsch, 2006, 2009), the editors successfully highlight the transdisciplinary nature of intercultural communications as a field of inquiry by illustrating it through a compilation of seemingly diverging works. Because of this, this volume will appeal to those graduate students and researchers willing to gain a wide perspective of the multidisciplinary field of intercultural communications, its interests, and applicabilities.

Given its solid focus on migrancy, besides its clearly intercultural communications incline, this book would make a great resource for seminars in socio-politics or socio-linguistics for graduate students, or researchers wanting to expand or redirect their focus. Similarly, instructors within the fields of sociolinguistics and applied linguistics will find this a valuable asset to redirect linguistic topics to the realities of transnational mobility, diaspora, and language policy. Conveniently, each ‘chapter’ serves as a self-contained read, with a clear focus, and a sound methodology. In fact, the array of methodologies employed in this volume provides a rich resource for ideas - within and beyond - ethnolinguistic research, from cross-textual analysis to discourse analysis, and critical pedagogies. In this aspect, this volume is eclectic and diverse in the most informative way. However, the potential reader should bear in mind that the focus of this collection of articles is rather narrow; as such, it might not serve the purpose of some instructors looking for an introductory course-book, or an intercultural communications textbook. Similarly, those specifically interested in contexts other than Europe will not find this volume particularly useful.

All in all, I would certainly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the role(s) of language in situations of migrancy and transnationalism under circumstances of asylum and exile, as well as to those looking for an easy, yet rigorous and informative read binding the topics of language and migration.


Kramsch, C. (2006). From communicative competence to symbolic competence. Modern Language Journal, 9, 249- 252.

Kramsch, C. (2009). The multilingual subject. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Warnes, A. M., & Williams, A. (2006). Older migrants in Europe: a new focus for migration studies. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 32(8), 1257-1281.
Josh De La Rosa-Prada is a researcher at the Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition Lab and an instructor at Texas Tech University, where he is pursuing a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics. He holds degrees from the University of Granada (Spain), and Birkbeck, University of London (UK). His interests fall within the broad field of bilingualism, including heritage language education, language maintenance and socio-affective factors in situations of ethnolinguistic minority.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781138911970
Pages: 144
Prices: U.K. £ 85.00