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Revitalizing Endangered Languages

Edited by Justyna Olko & Julia Sallabank

Revitalizing Endangered Languages "This guidebook provides ideas and strategies, as well as some background, to help with the effective revitalization of endangered languages. It covers a broad scope of themes including effective planning, benefits, wellbeing, economic aspects, attitudes and ideologies."

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Review of  Urban Sociolinguistics

Reviewer: Teresa Wai See Ong
Book Title: Urban Sociolinguistics
Book Author: Dick Smakman Patrick Heinrich
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 31.453

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In 1972, Einar Haugen proposed an approach to studying languages in multilingual societies, which he named ‘language ecology’. His approach gave birth to the idea of studying language ecologies in cities, where scholars were invited by Dick Smakman and Patrick Heinrich, editors of “Urban Sociolinguistics”, to discuss language issues related to urban ecologies. Apart from an introduction chapter and a discussion chapter on urbanisation, the chapters in this volume are divided into two parts: the global south (megacities) and the global north (world cities). The former section, which takes a tour from Cairo to Kohima, has five chapters, while the latter section contains seven chapters, which travel from London to Moscow. The focus of these chapters is to document what people in the urban ecologies do with languages in their everyday life and the effects of this language use.

In the introductory chapter, co-editors Dick Smakman and Patrick Heinrich review the development of sociolinguistic research related to language in the city. Scholars began by studying regional dialects, mainly in the US, Britain, and Western Europe where nation-building ideology was incorporated, and then broadened in scope to include non-Western cities where international migration often takes place. As diversity increases in the ‘new’ cities, the language issues studied give rise to new theoretical approaches and methods in capturing interesting facts regarding “inter- and intra-speaker language variation” (Smakman & Heinrich, 2018, p. 4). Following the introductory chapter, Florian Coulmas discusses issues related to urbanisation. Large cities began to develop in Europe before World War I where migration occurred from countryside to cities. After the 1950s, urbanisation accelerated in the developing world—more cities began popping up in Asia and Africa. In the 21st century, cities such as London, Paris, Madrid, and Amsterdam are not like what they used to be—instead, they have become very diverse due to people from different backgrounds, languages, and communicative practices interacting together and bringing social changes that were motivated by technology. Coulmas concludes that today’s sociolinguistics will continue to be judged about inequality due to new hierarchies of languages and influences of migration and technology.

In the first chapter of Part 1, Reem Bassiouney and Mark Muehlhaeusler locate their study in Cairo. They begin with a brief history of the development of Cairo, which now hosts landmarks that contain foreign names. In terms of economic development, Cairo headquarters many large and international companies with many malls, which are similar to those in the US, displaying global brands both in the original Latin alphabets and ‘Arabized’ form. The focus of this chapter is on linguistic diversity and linguistic ‘centralisation’ in the sociolinguistic ecology of Cairo. Decades ago, Egyptian Arabic was brought into Cairo due to migration from rural areas. However, Standard Cairene Arabic is used by government officials and professionals despite not being the official language of Egypt. Due to economic pressure, Arabic speakers tend to use Standard Cairene Arabic because it is associated with the identity of being an Egyptian. This situation demonstrates the association of Standard Cairene Arabic with political conflicts in Cairo.

In the second chapter, Roland Terborg and Virna Velázquez look at language diversity in Mexico City. Mexico has a population of 112 million inhabitants and a total of 290 living languages. As the capital of Mexico, Mexico City hosts 8.7 million inhabitants. Migration from the countryside to Mexico City is popular due to lack of job opportunities in local communities. Terborg and Velázquez give a brief sociolinguistic history of Mexico City to illustrate its linguistic, cultural, and social complexity. They then describe the linguistic situation in a street corner located at Avenida Universidad where there are many small businesses, such as a butcher shop, a restaurant, stores for snacks and beer, a French college, and a fruit and vegetables van, but very little linguistic diversity was observed. They conclude that although Mexico City is considered a megacity, its multicultural and multilingual characteristic is weakening due to the growing use of the Spanish language in the public domain while minority languages are only heard in the private domain.

Next Livia Oushiro and Maria del Carmen Parafita Cuto investigate rural speech variants in São Paulo. São Paulo has 11 million inhabitants and is considered the largest city in Brazil and in the southern hemisphere. In the early years of the empire, dialeto caipira (translated as redneck dialect) was commonly spoken. However, after independence, this Portuguese dialect was considered as an ‘ugly and flawed’ language in São Paulo. From the 1870s onwards, rapid migration took place as São Paulo became an important commercial hub. Paulistas (natives of the state of São Paulo) began to speak Brazilian Portuguese. In this chapter, the authors analyse two linguistic features, nonstandard subject-verb agreement and code /r/ retroflexion, using native Paulistanos’ speech. They found that both features are still present in the speech of certain groups of working-class youth, predominantly those living near the surrounding countryside and the Northeast. They conclude that these features are part of the community’s 19th century linguistic repertoire.

From backwater to global city, Dubai is often described as the “world’s fastest city” (Krane, 2009, p. np). Locating this chapter in Dubai, Ingrid Piller examines the forms of urban linguistic practices that enable and disable racial anxieties and ethnolinguistic hierarchies. She provides an overview of the development of Dubai as a non-liberal modern city-state and a free-market economy. In terms of its population, it has the highest percentage of migrants, which is approximately 85% of the total population. The migrants come from various countries, from India to Europe and China. However, the migrants’ visas are strictly temporary and for employment purposes only. Despite Arabic being the official language of United Arab Emirates, and consequently the official language of Dubai, only a small minority of Dubai residents are proficient in Arabic. In its linguistic landscape, Piller found that transliterated English words in Arabic script and Arabic words in Latin script are common . English is increasingly becoming popular among the UAE’s younger generation and acts as the lingua franca for the migrants. Piller sums up the reality of multilingualism in Dubai as complicated yet unique.

The last chapter in Part 1, authored by Shobha Satyanath, attempts to understand the ongoing linguistic changes in Kohima. Kohima is a hill-town located in the multilingual and multicultural Kohima district of Nagaland in India. Its existence was a result of the British establishing their administration centre in Kohima and turning Nagaland into part of the Assam province. Hence, Assamese acts as the language of administration and education in Kohima. Nevertheless, as inter-ethnic marriages become popular, Nagamese is used as the common language to tie all ethnolinguistic groups together. Data was collected through interviews with 55 speakers aged 5 to 64 years in the northern part of Kohima, and qualitative analysis of variation and change across groups and individuals was conducted. Satyanath found changes in first person pronouns and possessive morpheme in both Assamese and Nagamese, which she concludes are consequences of urbanisation and mobility.

In Part 2 of this volume, the first chapter by Susan Fox and Devyani Sharma compares the sociolinguistic dynamics of two Asian-dominant micro-ecologies in the metropolis of London. The first is Tower Hamlets, which hosts two dominant ethnic groups—Bangladeshi/British Bangladeshi (32%) and White British (31%). As the Bangladeshi population is concentrated in the west side of Tower Hamlets, there is evidence of young Bangladeshi leading language change and Multicultural London English (MLE) emerging in this area. The second ecology is Ealing, where the population is multiethnic. As this neighbourhood hosts ethnic groups coming from the lower middle-class, MLE is not their dominant variety. Instead, many choose to speak British Asian English. Using two individuals’ lived experiences for analysis, Fox and Sharma found that although they demonstrate individual diversity, their language practices do not challenge large-scale sociolinguistic models. They conclude that despite dialect change being a concern in London, continual focus on the local groups’ dialect use would present a deep understanding of London’s process variation.

The second chapter presents a case study of language diversity in Tokyo by Patrick Heinrich and Rika Yamashita. The authors explain the geographical location of Tokyo and that Tokyo grew bigger due to large waves of internal migration in the past. Tokyo was known as a monolingual country but as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are approaching, translation technology has been used to manage the large number of non-Japanese speaking visitors. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, Yamanote speech was modernised to form Standard Japanese, which serves all Japanese nationals including those in Taiwan, Korea, and the South Pacific. However, the standard language was interrupted by the process of language destandardisation. Tokyoites also playfully decorated their speech in a way that that led to the development of a new variety, the ‘metropolitan dialect’. In recent years, minority groups (the Ainu and Ryukyuans), old migrants from China, Hong Kong, and Korea, and new migrants from Brazil, Peru, and other Asian countries have added language diversity in Tokyo.

Employing Otsuji and Pennycook’s (2010) metrolingualism concept, Christine Deprez describes Paris as a multilingual city where many languages meet together. She provides a short description of the history of Paris starting from the 13th century. The French Academy was established in 1635 to standardise French, where its basis originated from the Parisian dialect. Deprez continues to talk about the French Revolution of 1789 and popular French films emerging in the 1930s. She sums up that “history is crucial for understanding the evolution of multilingualism in Paris” (Deprez, 2018, p. 151). Today’s Paris has about 2.3 million inhabitants and its greater region has more than 12 million inhabitants. Tourists, students, and refugees are considered as new categories that contributed to the demographic composition of Paris. Using parts of a longitudinal ethnographic study, Deprez gives examples of languages spoken in different suburbs of Paris. She concludes her study by suggesting the concept of metrolingualism to include the concept of space.

The next chapter by Leonie Cornips, Vincent de Rooij, and Dick Smakman examines identity construction of adolescents’ interactions from three cities in the Randstad area in the Netherlands. The authors begin the chapter by introducing the physical, infrastructure, and population characteristics of the Randstad area. Due to geographical features, the Randstad area was urbanised in the 20th century with the establishment of major motorways, two airports, several universities, a parliament building, and major international centres of peace and justice. The Dutch language was dominant among the 110 languages spoken in the area. With various types of immigration taking place recently, the role of the Dutch language has changed—the Dutch government heavily promotes the Dutch culture, custom, and language as key for integration. Using three case studies in Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Amsterdam, the authors demonstrate that through complex networks of interactions, linguistic hybridity for adolescent speakers continuously is being defined due to Randstad being a dynamic, multiple, and hybridised space.

In the subsequent chapter, Reynaldo F. Macías, Arturo Díaz, and Ameer Drane present their sociolinguistic study of the ecology of Los Angeles. Located in the state of California, Los Angeles is ranked as the eighth largest economy in the world. Its location is diversely rich; it is surrounded by ocean, beaches, and mountains. The population of Los Angeles was initially made up of the indigenous people, followed by the Spanish, Mexicans, Anglo Americans, and finally migration from the rest of the world. Approximately 34 languages spoken in Los Angeles are indigenous languages, 62 are of Indo-European origin, 57 from Asia and the Pacific Islands, and 14 from Africa. As a language diversified city, it has 15-ethnic linguistic neighbourhoods—Cambodia Town, Chinatown, Little Armenia, Historic Filipinotown, to name a few. When Los Angeles’ ecology was closely examined, the authors found that English, which has an official status, is the dominant single language mostly spoken. This is followed by Spanish, Armenian, and recently new Euro-Asian immigrant languages. The authors sum up that despite the fact that the ecology of Los Angeles is changing, the continuing presence and activities of the indigenous community should not be forgotten.

The following chapter by Emi Otsuji and Alastair Pennycook discusses languages and things in Sydney through everyday interactions. In Sydney, 36.2% of its inhabitants had parents born in Australia and 52.1% had parents born overseas. Only 60% of the population speak English at home; the remaining speak a variety of Asian and European languages. The authors begin their discussion with a backdrop scene of Chinese immigrants working as market gardeners. An elderly Chinese couple from Guangdong are among those immigrants who arrived in the 1990s. Despite speaking colloquial, rural Cantonese with minimal English, they established their own way of communication, which operates through codes. They grow Chinese and foreign vegetables for their living. Networks, connections, and intersections occur when the vegetables travel across the city to a Lebanese-run fruit and vegetable shop and a Chinese restaurant. The authors conclude that a different perspective in approaching the city is demonstrated through their study of interactions between people, objects, and places.

The location of the final chapter in this volume is Moscow, where Kapitolina Fedorova and Vlada Baranova look at sociolinguistic life through analysis of a range of data. The authors describe the development of Moscow, which began in the 13th century but was cut short in the 18th century when St Petersburg was founded. Moscow was pushed aside as being an old-fashioned city. However, in the 1990s, the situation of Moscow gradually changed as it saw rapid development in new sectors such as finance and real estate. Shopping malls with vibrant advertisements and luxury apartment buildings also emerged. Nevertheless, tighter regulations were implemented in the 2010s, which saw authorities claiming public spaces and demolishing private stalls. Work migration in Moscow was divided into two waves; the first immigrants were former Soviet citizens and migrants from larger cities, while the second were mainly those living in rural districts. Consequently, the new migrants had a lower education level, less proficiency in Russian, and less experience living in the city. Russia’s ‘official minority’ languages and English are now seen in the linguistic landscape of Moscow, as a result of the new migrant population. Fedorova and Baranova (2018, p. 234) sum up multilingualism in Moscow as a “phenomenon of ethnic regions in the periphery”.


In this globalised era, international migration is a common phenomenon in many cities around the world. Consequently, these cities become diversified in terms of population and languages. Nevertheless, the influences of technology and social media in these cities are causing minority languages to disappear and a global identity to be formed. In other words, globalisation is in fact ‘shrinking’ the world.

In this volume, the editors compiled a set of research studies from different cities around the globe in which each study attempts to examine language diversity and multilingualism. The scholars have been successful in their attempts; many have demonstrated the interactions between language, people, and the city. They have also discussed how language ideology plays an important role in the development of a city, which often resulted in one language being more commonly in use while other languages influence linguistic changes in that dominant language. The scholars have used different approaches to capture the fluidity of language lives, ranging from participant observation to ethnography and interviews. Some conducted qualitative analysis while others did quantitative analysis.

Overall, this volume is beneficial to both theoretical and applied linguists due to the versatility of the approaches used when studying languages in urban ecologies. A theoretical linguist can investigate variation of certain syntax and morphology, while applied linguists can examine language policy and language practices. This volume ends with a proposal for those interested in studying language lives in the city.


Deprez, C. (2018). The city as a result of experience: Paris and its nearby suburbs. In D. Smakman & P. Heinrich (Eds.), Urban sociolinguistics: The city as a linguistic process and experience (pp. 148-161). Oxon: Routledge.

Fedorova, K., & Baranova, V. (2018). Moscow: Diversity in disguise. In D. Smakman & P. Heinrich (Eds.), Urban sociolinguistics: The city as a linguistic process and experience (pp. 220-236). Oxon: Routledge.

Krane, J. (2009). Dubai. The story of the world’s fastest city. London: Atlantic Books.

Smakman, D., & Heinrich, P. (2018). Introduction: Why cities matter for a globalising sociolinguistics? In D. Smakman & P. Heinrich (Eds.), Urban sociolinguistics: The city as a linguistic process and experience (pp. 1-11). Oxon: Routledge.
Teresa Ong Wai See is a linguist interested in exploring the flow of concepts and ideas between language and culture. She loves engaging with diverse communities to better understand how different traditions are practised in everyday life. Her doctoral thesis examines language maintenance pertaining to Chinese community languages in Malaysia. In doing so, she develops an ecological framework to attain a holistic understanding of the sociocultural role of linguistics.

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781138200371
Pages: 260
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