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Review of  Globalization and Language in Contact

Reviewer: Gemma Punti
Book Title: Globalization and Language in Contact
Book Author: James Collins Stef Slembrouck Mike Baynham
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.449

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EDITORS: James Collins, Mike Baynham, Stef Slembrouck
TITLE: Globalization and Language in Contact
SUBTITLE: Scale, Migration, and Communicative Practices
SERIES TITLE: Advances in Sociolinguistics
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group
YEAR: 2009

Gemma Punti, Second Languages and Cultures Education Program, University of


James Collins, Stef Slembrouck, and Mike Baynham's new edited book on
globalization and language contact aims to review and re-theorize notions of
context, space, and time. All of the contributors take a spatial perspective on
the study of language contact as it relates to globalization. They problematize
the notion of space as a bounded unit. In this contemporary globalized world
space becomes a porous and pervasive concept that escapes delimitations. They
emphasize the importance of scale, a concept that refers to wider world
connections to the here-and-now sense making. Scale questions common binaries
such as macro and micro, and global and local by adding multiple layers to the
picture. These layers are value-laden since scale ''suggests that processes of
distribution and flow are accompanied by processes of hierarchical ordering, in
which different phenomena are not juxtaposed, but layered'' (Blommaert, 2007, p.1).

All of the contributions take an ethnographic approach, and all devote
significant attention to theorizing space, scale, and communicative practices.
In doing so, they raise different issues, including the tension between
theorizing and fieldwork; the search for methods that connect communicative
practices to a larger social structure, and the need to reflect on the politics
of migration, movement, and time. These commonalities make the chapters fit well
together and fall in line with the overarching theme of scale, migration and
communicative practices.


The book is divided in three sections: 'Scale and Multilingualism',
'Spatialization, Migration and Identity', and 'Studying Processes and Practices
across Time and Space'. All the chapters deal with migration, multilingualism,
space, time, and identity while analyzing different migrant groups, languages,
and communities of practices with varied data and tools: narratives, pictures,
signs, life trajectories, literacy practices, etc.

The chapters in part one, 'Scale and Multilingualism', focus their analysis of
language contact on bounded spaces where multilingual and/or virtual
interactions take place (from an internet café of Cape Town, to a Catalan
classroom, a Mexican home in New York, a hospital in Brussels, and the streets
of Beijing). Therefore, this work focuses on pre-chosen spaces where
multilingual contacts occur and immigrants and locals are understood in
relationship to the space(s) studied. This framework does not observe the life
trajectories or flow of immigrants in the analysis of communicative practices,
but it focuses on the micro-reality of here-and-now discourses in relation to
macro-political and historical circumstances that allow us to understand
migration and language use in those settings.

This first part consists of four chapters, each in a different national context:
Brussels and New York (Collins and Slembrouck), Beijing (Blommaert and Dong),
Cape Town (Vigouroux) and Catalonia (Pujolar). The four chapters analyze
multilingualism and migration using different methods to interpret space and
scale in their particular language contacts. In their theorizing of context in
relation to their fieldwork all the authors draw, explicitly or implicitly, on
Wallerstein's (2000) world-system theory and Blommaert's (2007) scalar theory to
explain people's positioning, and the use of languages and accents as indexical
of social and power structures. These chapters reflect on the impact of language
policy in spaces where communicative practices develop, since micro-interactions
take place within the borders of nation states. However, the porousness of space
is evident when communication develops virtually or by phone as in the case of a
migrant family in New York calling Mexico (Collins and Slembrouck), or in the
Cape Town's internet café (Vigouroux).

Joan Pujolar, in 'Immigration in Catalonia: marking territory through language',
and James Collins and Stef Slembrouck in their chapter entitled 'Goffman and
globalization: frame, footing and scale in migration-connected multilingualism'
deal with official bilingualism and the scalar dimensions of both official
languages and non-official languages that migrants speak. Cécile Vigouroux's
study in Cape Town is embedded in a national context of 11 official languages.
However, in the internet café where the study takes place, the linguistic scalar
dimensions are understood largely by the lingua franca of globalization
(English) and the languages of the migrant owners and migrant clients of the
internet café (French, Lingala, Kikongo, Somali, etc.). Finally, Jan Blommaert
and Jie Dong reflect on the power of monoglot policies and ideologies of a
Chinese society that is clearly polyglot. The status of Putongha (standard
Mandarin of Beijing) and dialects affect communicative practices of migrants in
Beijing. In this first part of the volume, most authors study language contact
through interviews and discourse analysis, but Vigoroux 's study at a
multifunctional internet café, and Collins and Slembrouck’s study at a Brussels
hospital, use signage as a linguistic landscape to understand scalar dimensions
of language contact.

Part 2, 'Spatialization, Migration, and Identity', focuses not on pre-chosen
spaces where communication occurs but on the ways in which these spaces are
symbolically relevant in the voices of the migrants. In this section, the
migrants' agency, their movements, and their life trajectories are highlighted
to understand the role of space in their lives and their construction of space.
Space has symbolic meaning based on migrants or interviewees' discourses,
therefore, places become landmarks (see De Fina and Meinhof) or symbolic places
in the life of migrants.

Here, De Fina reports on undocumented migrants in the United States; Baynham
writes about Moroccan immigrants in the United Kingdom; Meinhof focuses on
transnational Malagasy musicians; Galasinska and Kozlowska treat Polish migrants
in the United Kingdom; and Valentine, Sporton and Nielson reflect on Somali
students in the United Kingdom. Four of the five chapters focus on narrative
analysis of migrants' stories (the exception being Valentine, Sporton and
Nielsen). These narratives analyze individuals' lives, their experiences, and a
gradual story of their development of space. Baynham and De Fina describe how
stories of migration allow a deep analysis of time and space in migrants’ life
since experiences around dislocation and relocation are essential aspects of
migrants’ life rather than mere background. As Baynham claims, time and space
are more explicit in narrative than in ordinary conversations since the story
telling brings then-and-there to the here-and-now. The last chapter by
Valentine, Sporton and Nielsen then shifts to questionnaires and interview data
from Somali students to discover how language and identity are connected in new
communities of practice.

The life trajectories of the migrants in this section shed light on the
importance of political, linguistic, cultural and religious domains in
understanding the construction of space in their lives. The undocumented status
of immigrants in De Fina's study foregrounds the public space of first
employments as representative of experiences about ''being lost or being cheated''
(p.116). These accounts discover how spaces are emotionally charged, thus they
represent social meanings and ideologies. Galasinska and Kozlowska’s study
brings into light how the meaning of space is affected by political and
historical changes. The post-1989 Communist era led Polish migrants of that time
to understand migration and space as fixed, closed and unidirectional, a vision
that is quite the opposite for Polish migrants who have migrated after the
inclusion of Poland in the European Union. The former group emigrated from
Poland with a feeling of leaving for good, and leaving one space for another
one. The later group emigrated with a feeling of expanding space (understanding
the possibility of mobility between United Kingdom and Poland) rather than
replacing it.

While political forces also affect migrants' language use and positionality in
Baynham's, as well as Valentine, Sporton and Nielson's studies, they
particularly focus on how language, religion and identity are connected in new
community of practices and how these linguistic and religious identities connect
or disconnect people. As Valentine, Sporton and Nielson point out, ''for many of
the children interviewed you are what you speak and what you speak is where you
are'' (p.203). Somali children have a fluid understanding of their identities
based on their school, neighborhood, and home spaces. However, for both Somali
youth and Moroccan participants of Baynham's study, the sense of belonging is
developed in a space in which language ideologies, social and parental pressures
affect language and religious choices.

The third part of the volume, 'Studying Processes and Practices across Time and
Space', combines the bounded spaces of part one and the life trajectories of
part two in the study of language contact and globalization. By blending the
analytical approaches of the previous chapters, both pervasive bounded spaces
and life trajectories are brought into the analysis of language contact and
space. Each chapter, however, analyzes spaces and life trajectories differently.
Gabriele Budach looks at multi-sited spaces in French markets and the life
trajectories of Québécois sellers; Clara Keating examines the life trajectories
of two Portuguese women in London, and their literacy practices in a Portuguese
association and a driving school; and Catherine Kell centers her research on
meaning-making trajectories of Xhosa families in a shanty town in Cape Town. The
meaning-making trajectories give recognition that events are linked to other
events, participants to other participants and thus a trajectory is the
reconstruction of the movement of meaning making across time and space. For
instance, Kell follows the moving of Noma (a Xhosa speaker in Cape Town) in time
and space in her goal to build and rebuild a brick house. Kell goes beyond the
single instance event; she follows the sequences of events in different contexts
(and scales) to understand how time, participants, and spaces expand the web of
meanings through the project of building a brick house.

This section also reveals scaling processes of center-periphery structures. The
effect of economic globalization in language contact is presented as contrary to
the center-periphery power structure. In the Budach study, as in Blommaert and
Dong's study of Chinese dialects, peripheral accents have economic value since
they seem to bring exoticism into cultural homogeneity. While France has
historically devalued accents other than the Parisian, in Budach's study, the
French Canadian dialect becomes a commodity and a sign of 'real' Canadianness in
the selling of Canadian goods. Therefore, sellers' performance of a Québécois
accent and identity seeks to satisfy economic pressures that may or may not
correspond to the real identities of the vendors.


As a whole, the volume brings together multidimensional stories of migration and
language contact to reflect on the notion of context. Globalization is targeted
as a maker of context 'porousness' by obscuring the limits of territory and
language. In contrast to other recent work, globalization connects top-down
(global) and bottom-up (local) processes that are not bipolar but multi-scalar
in nature. While the authors draw on different approaches to develop an
understanding of language contact in this era of globalization, how to disclose
multi-scalar dimensions in face-to-face interactions is at times problematic.
For instance, while Meinhof understands that globalization suggests looking at
flows and trajectories rather than space, Blommaert sees trajectories and flows
as concepts lacking of value-laden meaning. Further, looking at theoretical
scalar dimensions of language contact requires targeting in the fieldwork WHAT
and HOW multiple hierarchical structures affect language use. Taking such a
practical approach is complex when historical, spatial, political, social,
ideological, economic, individual and other characteristics need to be
recognized, layered, and interpreted in each face-to-face encounter by the
researcher. This may explain why the dense theory of space, time, and scale
found in the present volume seems to affect the balance between theory and
fieldwork, and favors the former.

In the field of sociolinguistics, study of both language policy and language
ideology have brought value-laden structures into the study of micro processes
of language contact. In this volume, these vertical structures are embraced by a
scalar analysis. How this spatial and scalar approach advances the understanding
of individuals' uses of languages and face-to-face interactions is a question
that will continue to resonate.


Blommaert, J. (2007). 'Sociolinguistic scales'. Intercultural Pragmatics, 4, 1-19.

Wallerstein, I. (2000). The Essential Wallerstein. New York: The New Press.

Gemma Punti is a PhD student in Second Languages and Cultures Education at the University of Minnesota. Her interests in language policy, language contact and immigration have driven her current research on undocumented youth, academic language and education.

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