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Review of  Linguanomics


Reviewer: Sofia Rüdiger
Book Title: Linguanomics
Book Author: Gabrielle Susanne Hogan-Brun
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 29.924

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Review:
REVIEWS EDITOR: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

“Linguanomics” by Gabrielle Hogan-Brun is a monograph on the economic aspects of multilingualism. As such it is not only connected to the field of multilingualism but also language policies. The book is relatively short (168 pages) and consists of a preface, five chapters, an afterword, a glossary, the references and an index section.

Linguanomics starts out with a preface titled “Setting the Scene”: Considering cases such as the London Metropolitan Police seeking to employ multilingual recruits and the US military offering additional pay to multilingual officers, Hogan-Brun emphasizes the market potential of knowing more than one language but also refers to the difficulties corporations face when making language choices. This short introduction urges the reader “to make up their own minds about the interconnections of multilingualism and economics today” (xiii) with the ultimate goal of the book being to provide the reader with the information necessary to be able to do so.

The first chapter “Trading across cultures: Then and now” outlines the necessity of multilingualism for economic purposes by tracing the historical development of trade. From the ancient Egyptians to present day trade organizations such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area (AFTA), successful communication rested and continues to rest on bilingual (or multilingual) individuals. Hogan-Brun concentrates in this chapter first on the Middle East and famous trade routes (e.g. the Silk Route) before moving on to explicate the connection between trade and power and the influences of mobility (i.e. travel). The second part of the chapter is devoted to (European) colonialism and the influences this had on trade and language use. Throughout the chapter, the notion of lingua francas is explored in detail.

Chapter Two, “Economic aspects of languages today”, shifts the focus to the present-day situation and considers the economic factors in official choices of language policies. Canada is a recurring subject to illustrate the monetary aspects of official language policy (e.g. how much did the Francization policy in Quebec cost the society and what were the economic gains attained through this). Hogan-Brun also introduces several perspectives to evaluate the economic realities of multilingualism within societies (e.g. Grin and Vaillancourt 1997). Apart from national contexts, language policies of international organizations (e.g. The United Nations) are also examined and evaluated.

The third chapter titled “Managing multilingualism” starts with a number of drastic examples where communication problems in aviation and shipping led to fatal accidents. This illustrates the costs and risks of miscommunication in multilingual settings. Hogan-Brun succinctly summarizes the challenges and opportunities of mono- and multilingualism in societal and business settings before tackling the topic of language policies adopted in schools and universities. Lastly, she discusses the relationship between language repertoires and questions of workforce supply and demand.

Chapter Four shifts to a more individual level by asking “Is learning another language worth it?” The important factor which comes into play here is market incentives. Hogan-Brun explains how market forces lead to some languages being in higher demand than others, which, for example, makes them more valuable in gaining employment for the individual. Despite the economic and personal gains from learning another language, language beliefs sometimes block people from doing so. Hogan-Brun labels these as myths and provides counter-arguments for each of them. The myths relate to personal dispositions towards language learning (“I am no good at learning other languages”, p. 92), age-related doubts (“I am too old to learn another language”, p. 92), fears of language attrition (“I don’t want to lose my own language”, p. 93) and lack of necessity to learn a new language (“I can get instant translations anywhere when I need it”, p. 94; “Why bother, since everyone speaks English anyway”, p. 95). Hogan-Brun dispenses with these myths one-by-one and follows up with a list of other payoffs connected to language learning (e.g. cognitive improvements). Furthermore, language learning types and language proficiency levels are explicated before detailing the influence of knowing another language on employment prospects.

Chapter 5, “Languages in the marketplace”, spotlights language management within the workplace before moving on to discuss the areas of language interpretation services, the language teaching industry and heritage (language) tourism. The chapter concludes with a look at programming languages and recent technological advances which influence the market potentials of languages. The monograph ends with a short afterword in which Hogan-Brun summarizes the main points of the book.

EVALUATION

Due to its highly accessible style “Linguanomics” by Gabrielle Hogan-Brun should appeal to a heterogeneous audience: lay people, policy makers, students and academics are sure to find food for thought within the pages of the monograph. The author succinctly points out the various perspectives one can take on the economics of multilingualism and her descriptions are rich in illustrative examples taken from a diverse range of online and offline sources. The scope of the book is ambitious and as such it provides a much needed introduction to the economic issues of multilingualism.

As a publication not primarily research-focussed, the monograph does not introduce original research by the author but synthesizes insights from linguistics and economics in order to survey the relationship between language(s) and economic aspects (particularly in view of developments such as transnationalism and globalization). Many of the concepts and arguments introduced in the course of the book should therefore not come as a surprise to most linguists, especially those with a previous interest in multilingualism and/or language policy. The strength of Hogan-Brun’s writing clearly lies in the succinct and non-technical writing style and the explicit combination of linguistic and economic aspects in her argumentation.

The overview character of the book as well as the selection of sources (biased towards the virtual spectrum) makes the book less suitable as a stand-alone text for linguistic courses. It will, however, be an excellent resource for additional reading (e.g. in courses on multilingualism, language policies, language planning, etc.), providing great starting points for classroom discussion and activities (though the monograph is not written as a textbook and does not include discussion questions or activities). Due to its shortness and the above mentioned accessible writing style, the monograph will surely be appreciated by students and lecturers alike and could also be used in non-linguistic courses (e.g. in business studies) with only a minimum or even no introduction to linguistic concepts as such. The few concepts or terms which could be problematic for non-linguists, such as ‘pidgin’, ‘creole’ or ‘literacy’ are explained in the included glossary which also contains some definitions of economic concepts for those readers less familiar with basic business-related terminology (e.g. ‘return on investment’, ‘supply and demand’ or ‘human capital’).

A drawback of the monograph is its referencing format. All references are given as endnotes which makes following up on particular references rather tedious. Furthermore, the heavy reliance on internet sources (which is also one of the strong points of the monograph as they provide rich illustrative examples) means that many of the sources are harder to trace (a link which promises to lead to a list of the referenced online sources on the publisher’s website is unfortunately already out of date). Additionally, no dates of access are provided for the websites used.

The reference selection also seems to be skewed towards the online side and from a linguistic point of view more references to established linguistic work would have been very welcome. Some adequate additions to the book, for example, would have been Jenkins (2014) on the role of English as a lingua franca in the international university, literature on English (or other languages) used as a lingua franca in general, studies from the field of cross- and intercultural communication, previous writing on the connection between language and economics (e.g. Bruthiaux 2003, 2008), etc. It is also somewhat surprising to find no reference to the classical notion of the linguistic marketplace (see Sankoff and Laberge 1978). This is of course partly necessitated by the overview character of the book which packs an applaudable amount of information into very limited space.

Even though the targeted audience appears to be of a rather general and lay nature, more references to documented and peer-reviewed scientific research would have strengthened the argumentation provided in the book considerably. In the above mentioned dispensation of language learning myths in Chapter 4, for example, Hogan-Brun’s (generally well-founded) rebuttal of age-related doubts or fears of native language attrition remains completely unsupported by scientific evidence, leaving the established fields of first (L1) and second language (L2) acquisition studies as well as psycholinguistic insights into L1 and L2 acquisition and use unmentioned.

Altogether, “Linguanomics” is a valuable addition to the literature on multilingualism, illuminating an aspect of the field which needs to be addressed further in linguistic research. The non-technical writing style as well as the selection of content and references which contribute to the overview character of the work make the monograph particularly well suited for lay audiences who want to come to terms with the role of multilingualism in times of global mobilities. For the academic audience, both in the field of linguistics and economics, the monograph will contribute both interesting case studies and thought-provoking impulses.

REFERENCES

Bruthiaux, Paul. 2008. “Language Education, Economic Development and Participation in the Greater Mekong Subregion.” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 11(2): 134-148.
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Sofia Rüdiger is a research assistant at the English Linguistics department of the University of Bayreuth in Germany where she recently completed a PhD thesis on the use of morpho-syntactic patterns by Korean speakers of English. She holds an M.A. in Intercultural Anglophone Studies and her main research interests are World Englishes, ELF, corpus linguistics and computer-mediated communication.

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