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Review of  Crossing

Reviewer: Maria Yakushkina
Book Title: Crossing
Book Author: Ben Rampton
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 29.3265

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“Crossing: Language and Ethnicity among Adolescents” by Ben Rampton can be called a central work in the area of sociolinguistics as it touches upon such highly discussed topics as language crossing, code-switching, code-mixing, second language acquisition, and language policy and interconnects them with broader societal phenomena such as rituals, social movements, cultural politics, and interethnic relations, among many. Despite the fact that it was originally published in 1995, the issues discussed in the work do reflect the sociolinguistic situation of present day society, and the approach proposed by the author represents a relevant direction to follow.


The study presented in the book is focused on the idea of language crossing among adolescents of Panjabi, African-Caribbean and Anglo descent. Language crossing is defined by the author as “the use of language varieties associated with social or ethnic groups that the speaker doesn’t normally ‘belong’ to” (Rampton, 2018, p.28); and the importance of this phenomenon in challenging, re-evaluating and re-establishing the notion of ‘ethnic identity’. The principal research questions outlined by the author include: “how do outgroup uses of Panjabi, Indian English and Creole relate to the shifting and contested relationship between race and class in late industrial Britain? How far and in what ways can language crossing practices be construed as a form of everyday cultural politics? What implications do they have for educational discussions that are often oblivious to the cultural activities of the youth that they target?” (p.28). The ethnographic study conducted in 1984 and 1987 in the south Midlands of England with adolescents of Panjabi, African-Caribbean and Anglo origin employs content and interactional analysis of the recorded conversations with respect to crossing into Creole, Panjabi and stylized Asian English and focuses on the investigation of interactions with adults and peers and performance art. The discussion of the linguistic patterns performed by adolescents is gradually transferred into broader societal dimensions and used to challenge and re-evaluate the areas of language policies, language acquisition and ‘ethnic absolutism’, the idea that represents the leitmotif of the volume.


The study overall follows the structure of a scientific piece with clearly distinguishable components of theoretical background, methodology, results and conclusions. Prior to narration the author provides transcription symbols and conventions, including prosody, IPA transcriptions and conversational features, which assists significantly in understanding of conversational data extensively demonstrated throughout the volume. The introductory part that broadly situates the study in the field of sociolinguistics as well as provides details about the setting, participants and methodology of the study is followed by the principal part - the results obtained in the course of the experiment. This central segment of the book is organized into three broad sections: adolescent interaction with adults, informal peer-peer interaction, and interaction focused around performing art, where each linguistic variety (Creole, Panjabi, and stylized Asian English) is addressed in separate chapters. Such organization provides a well-rounded logical presentation of empirical data (comparison within each context followed by a comparison across contexts) which is accompanied and justified by a well-grounded choice of theoretical basis. The conclusions section transfers the reader to a different level of discussion where empirical data obtained in the study is connected and positioned in the broader societal context. This section opens with such issues as code-switching – code-crossing comparison as well as overall value of code-crossing in sociolinguistics, which later develops into the discussion of the broad area of educational discourses and philosophical concepts of consciousness and ideology. In the conclusions chapter the author challenges the established notions of ‘code-switching’ and ‘native speaker’, outlines the problems in the area of second language education and offers his well-justified approach to the stated issues, constructed around the notion of code crossing. . Such organization of the study, as well as the use of prefaces and appendices, facilitates better comprehension of the work, as well as enables replication of the study in the future.

“Crossing” represents an exemplary sociolinguistic work and should be carefully considered by the scholars working in the field for the following reasons. First of all, the study itself and the approach with the central role attributed to the idea of code-crossing is well-justified and theoretically grounded. The major framework, or rather – a set of theoretical ‘pillars’ (e.g. Bakhtin, Gumperz, Hewitt, Hall, Labov), is provided to define and contextualize the work. The logic of the study and the choices of central notions are well-justified by the previous studies conducted in the area. It should be emphasized that the number of works cited and summarized by the author does not only provide evidence of the validity of his work but also represent an extensive and prolific database that should be consulted by the scholars working in this area. Moreover, the author provides clear and thorough explanation of the concepts central to his work, which facilitates better understanding of his perspective. However, in a number of cases the definition of the terms becomes over-detailed, which in fact leads the reader away from the principal line of narration.

Secondly, the empirical data collected for the study and results discussed in the volume are presented in a clear and structured manner, and, what is more important, with a wide variety of graphic representation of the data (e.g. charts, graphs, comparison tables). The material is restated multiple times and with the use of various means in order to achieve complete understanding of the conversations and conclusions made on the basis of the data. While graphic demonstrations of the data do facilitate the narration, in a number of cases the discussion of the data is presented in an overly technical manner which impedes the reader from fully concentrating on the subject.

Another significant merit of this work is the ability of the author to connect linguistic data to the global processes taking place in present day society. The phenomena of code-switching, the issue of ethnic absolutism, the ‘stability’ vs fluidity or situational/discourse nature of identity, the area of language education in general and bilingual education in particular are thoroughly discussed and challenged in this work. The author addresses these issues as thoroughly as his key concept of code-crossing skillfully interconnects them and provides a new perspective on the stated global problems. The author transforms the linguistic study into an interdisciplinary work which expands the audience of the volume from sociolinguistics to sociology, anthropology and cultural studies.

Finally, special attention should be given to the preface of this edition of “Crossing”. Despite the fact that the study was conducted in 1984 and 1987 and the majority of references date back to the same period, the author accounts for this issue in the preface. More specifically, the author focuses on the current state of affairs in the area of sociolinguistics in general, and language crossing in particular. He also provides summaries of subsequent projects and discusses how the understanding of crossing, stylization and interethnic relations has been affected by his later work as well as the development of the sociolinguistic field in general. Such addition to the volume not only provides updates for the reader but also underlines the relevance and importance of the topic addressed in 1990s for the current sociolinguistic field.

“Crossing: Language and Ethnicity among Adolescents” by Ben Rampton represents a staple work in sociolinguistics where the author, with a high level of knowledge and efficiency, presents his approach to interethnic communication and emphasizes the value of such phenomenon as language crossing. For example, in discussing adolescent communication the author draws attention to the salience and complex nature of interethnic communication in a multicultural environment. While addressing global matters, “Crossing” cannot be characterized as an introductory sociolinguistic text. The material presupposes a solid background knowledge in the area of sociolinguistics as well as fields of sociology, anthropology and cultural studies. While certain sections represent a thoroughly explained overview of sociolinguistic matters and related areas of identity and language education, other sections might pose more problems for an inexperienced reader due to their technical nature. However, the reader who is familiar with the basic concepts of the theory and possesses background knowledge in sociolinguistics will find the book very concise, factual and informative as well as enriched with very specific aspects of interest to those deeply involved in the field. Therefore, being on the one hand concentrated on a specific topic of language crossing among adolescents but on the other - skillfully interconnected with the broad societal phenomena of ethnic identity, language policies and ideologies that are relevant and highly debatable in the sociolinguistic scholar community nowadays and reflect the current sociolinguistic situation in the world, this particular work by Rampton can serve as in-depth material for those who are willing to undertake a more advanced level of sociolinguistic research.
Maria Yakushkina is currently a PhD candidate in Spanish Applied Linguistics at Purdue University. Her research interests include sociolinguistics,heritage language, language and identity, language and gender. Her main focus of investigation is interconnection of language, transnationalism and the new second generation.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781138636583
Pages: 400
Prices: U.K. £ 34.99