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Review of  Language and Identities

Reviewer: James Costa
Book Title: Language and Identities
Book Author: Carmen Llamas Dominic Watt
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3263

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EDITORS: Llamas, Carmen and Watt, Dominic
TITLE: Language and Identities
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2010

James Costa, Laboratoire ICAR, Institut Français de l'Éducation, Ecole Normale
Supérieure de Lyon, France


''Language and Identities'' is a handbook on the subject of language and
identities, which may be social, national, or related to gender. It consists of
twenty-two relatively short articles of about ten pages each, making it easy to
get straight to any particular point or topic.

After a general introduction, the book is organised according to four sections:
i. theoretical issues on language and identity; ii. identity as experienced
through language by individuals as opposed to groups; iii. groups and
communities, i.e. mostly language and social or gender identity; iv. regions and
nations, concentrating on the place of language in the creation and the
fostering of territorial identity.

In their introduction, Llamas and Watt make it clear that the aim of the volume
is to ''investigate the connections and correlations between different levels of
our linguistic behaviour and diverse facets of our identities'' (p. 1), at both
the individual and collective levels, and then proceed to describe the rationale
of the next four sections.

The section entitled ''Theoretical Issues'' provides the reader with what the
editors call ''an essential toolkit'' (p. 3) for the analysis of the relation
between language and identity from a sociolinguistic / anthropological
linguistic point of view. It is comprised of three chapters by prominent
academics. The first article, by John E. Joseph, deals with ''Identity''. It
intends to discuss and problematise the notion, as it appears in sociological
and sociolinguistic literature, and give an overview of the various points of
view from which it can be approached, mostly from a historical point of view.
Joseph then describes five reasons why languages have become associated with the
formation of national identities (e.g. common occupancy of a single territory
leading to developing similar ways of speaking, ideology of national unity,
language as a medium for the texts through which a nation is established, etc.).
He finally touches upon the notion of ''indexical order'' (i.e. the capacity for
linguistic and other signs to ''point towards associations that do not have to be
in the same existential realm'', pp. 16-17), used increasingly in recent works on
language and identity.

In the following chapter, ''Locating Identity in Language'', Mary Bucholtz and
Kira Hall propose a theoretical approach to identity and language, and offer
five principles for the study of identity: a. emergence (i.e. identity as an
emergent product rather than being based on pre-existing interactions); b.
positionality (i.e. situatedness, macro and micro); c. indexicality (''the
creation of semiotic links between linguistic forms and social meanings'', p.
21); d. relationality (i.e. identities and intersubjectively constructed); e.
partialness (i.e. contextually situated and thus not reflecting a whole
individual). They argue ''for a view of identity that is intersubjectively rather
than individually produced and interactionally emergent rather than assigned in
an a priori fashion'' (p. 19), and suggest in their conclusion that ''the age of
identity is upon us''.

In the next chapter, ''Locating Language in Identity'', Barbara Johnstone
discusses further concepts which might be useful for the scholar of language and
identity: indexicality (see above), reflexivity (''language is always about
itself, no matter what else it is about'', p. 32), metapragmatics (i.e. the study
of the connections between linguistic form and indexical meaning) and
enregisterment (i.e. the stabilising of indexical links). The chapter draws on
approaches by authors in sociolingusitics and linguistic anthropology, such as
Elinor Ochs, Michael Silverstein, and Asif Agha. The intention of the chapter is
for the reader to be able to use all four concepts effectively in their work.

The second part of the book focuses on individuals, and contains five chapters
(4-9). Chapter 4, by Jane Stuart-Smith and Claire Timmins, focuses on the
central role of individuals in language variation and change, and approaches the
subject matter from a variationist point of view.

Chapter 5, by David Bowie, looks at the question of language, ageing and
identity, and discusses the idea that identities and speech are fixed beyond the
age of adolescence. In the end, it argues in favour of an opposing view, showing
how variation occurs throughout the life of an individual.

Chapter 6 deals with the (medical) issue of Foreign Accent Syndrome, and the
identity-related consequences for those patients who suddenly, as a result of
brain damage, start speaking with what is perceived as a foreign accent.

Chapter 7, by Dominic Watt, is concerned with the question of the individual
voice, in the physical sense of the term, and personal identity, and the
forensic use of such identification. It concludes that, particularly for reasons
connected with individual freedom and human rights, ''it is prudent, given our
current state of knowledge to approach the idea of a one-to-one mapping between
individual people and voices with some scepticism'' (p. 85). In fact, according
to Watt, there is no such thing as a ''human voiceprint''.

Chapter 8, by Anders Eriksson, considers, again from a forensic perspective, how
individuals can put on new identities by disguising their voices and adopting
new speech styles.

The third part of this volume problematises identity in terms of groups and
communities. Chapter 9, by Nikolas Coupland, adopts a theoretical perspective in
order to discuss the notions of ''authentic speakers'' and ''speech communities'' in
variationist sociolinguistics, arguing that when dealing with such speech
communities, much emphasis is put on ''speech'', and (too) little on ''community''.
He argues in favour of a conception of ''community-as-value'', based on a
subjective understanding of human groupings. After a thorough theoretical
discussion, Coupland illustrates his own approach to the notion of community,
drawing on an example taken from a BBC Wales radio talk show.

Chapter 10, by Norma Mendoza-Denton and Dana Osborne, ''reviews the literature on
bilingualism and identity'' (p. 114). The authors are concerned with several
themes and concentrate especially on the literature on code-switching and
identity. They reach the conclusion that ''[t]he next task of research is to
trace more thoroughly the connections between political economies, their
indexical relationships with social types and personae, and the specific
linguistic deployments of these personae in voicings'' (p. 122).

Chapter 11, by Emma Moore, deals with the ''Community of Practice approach'' in
sociolinguistics, and more specifically, in the role of apparently peripheral
speakers, emphasising what she sees as their centrality to sociolinguistic

The next three Chapters, 12, 13 and 14, examine the question of language and
ethnic identity in England and the United States. Chapter 12, by Ben Rampton,
brings the question of social class into the picture, and crosses it with issues
of ethnicity. He shows how stylisation of speech enables young speakers of
diverse ethnic backgrounds in England to cross into issues of social class,
understood as ''a sensed social difference that people and groups produce in
interaction'' (p. 135).

Chapter 13, by Sue Fox, explores the way in which Bangladeshi adolescents in
Tower Hamlets, London, ''construe themselves in terms of ethnicity and religion''
(p. 144). She concentrates on social networks and vowel use, and shows that
Bangladeshis have not adopted traditional London varieties of speech (Cockney),
arguing that in doing this they might be both ''prioritising their Muslim
identity [but also] emphasising their alienation from a Cockney identity'' (p. 156).

Chapter 14, by Erik R. Thomas and Alicia Backford Wassink, focuses on internal
linguistic (regional) variation within African-American English (AAE) in the
United-States, and the implications of such variation in the formation of
identities. They challenge the common assumption that AAE is monolithic, and
instead urge researchers to consider it as existing in a wide range of social
and regional backgrounds, and most importantly, in ''spaces of contested
identities'' (p. 165).

The next two chapters concentrate on issues of language and gendered identities.
In Chapter 15, Lal Zimman and Kira Hall discuss the way in which not only
gender, but also sex, are ideological constructs, as well as the notion of a
''third sex'' (''groups whose gender identities and enactments fall outside of
socio-cultural norms for women and men'', p. 166) which they examine critically.
Zimman and Hall draw on an analysis of discourse of transsexual men on internet
forums, as well as on fieldwork in India among hijras (traditionally defined as
physiological males who display feminine gender identities), in order to
''demonstrate the importance of the body in shaping the relationship between
language and identity among gender-variant groups'' (p. 166).

In Chapter 16, Louise Mullany investigates gender identities in the professional
workplace, and explores how sociolinguistics can play a part in ''attempting to
bring about gender equality'' (p. 180), drawing on two ethnographic fieldwork
studies carried out in England.

The fourth and last part of ''Language and Identities'' turns to the role of
language in the creation of regional and national identities, using mostly
examples from Britain, but also some from Africa. Chapter 17, entitled
''Supralocal Regional Dialect Levelling'', by David Britain, analyses how sound
changes reflect how people in Britain tend to reflect new social patterns of
mobility and social network formations on a larger scale than before. In his
chapter, Britain also questions the reasons for ''supralocalisation'' (i.e.
regional dialect levelling), drawing on the example of London and its wider
metropolitan area.

Chapter 18, by Judy Dyer, looks at some linguistic features typical of Scottish
English brought by Scottish immigrants into the Midland town of Corby in
England. She explains how those forms tend not to recede, but rather advance,
while losing their associations with Scottish English, at least locally.

A similar point of view to that seen in Chapter 17 is adopted by Joan Beal in
Chapter 19, where she analyses how the Local Government Act of 1972 in Britain
reshaped local (county-based) authorities into wider regional areas. She also
examines how, while some associations are keen to maintain and further older
links of indexicality between some local features and particular counties, the
younger generations tend to link linguistic variables with urban areas and the
new larger local authorities.

In Chapter 20, Carmen Llamas takes a close look at the Scottish-English border,
and at how language has shaped local, national, and regional allegiances. This
example enables Llamas to draw further conclusions on the theme of language and
borders. In the paragraph preceding the conclusion, she states that ''each border
locality has its own relationship to the border'' (p. 236) and uses language in
its own way.

Chapter 21 is particularly notable, as it is the only one in the book to draw
solely on a non-UK or US context. Tope Omoniyi analyses the diverse layers of
identification available to individuals in Nigeria, and starts with the idea
that ''we need to sharpen how we conceptualise identity in Africa'' (p. 238) as a
complex construction taking into account several layers such as the national,
the ethnic, etc.

The final chapter, Chapter 22, by Robert McColl Millar, examines the complex
case of Scotland in terms of language and identity. Millar looks into why Scots
did not, and maybe cannot, serve as a national language in Scotland for a number
of historical reasons, which resulted in Scottish nationalism not being based
principally on language issues. He analyses these phenomena in terms of
dislocation: ''The Scottish state is dislocated from Scots speakers; the Scots
language movement is dislocated from Scots speakers; Scots speakers may
themselves be dislocated from Scots'' (p. 256).


When I first opened the book, I must confess I was a little sceptical about what
appeared to be one more addition to the literature on language and identity,
which the editors themselves call an ''ever-expanding field'' (p. 5). The wealth
of articles on these subjects aside, there is a very large number of books
referring to this field that seems to have blossomed considerably, particularly
over the past fifteen years. Since Gumperz's (1982) book on language and social
identity, many others have indeed appeared, with some of them having found their
way among the classics of sociolinguistics, such as Joseph's (2004) ''Language
and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious''. One may also mention Edward's (2009;
2010) additions to the literature, not to mention several studies on regional
aspects of the connections between language and identity (see for instance
Fishman 1999; Greenberg 2004; Simpson 2007; Douglas 2009, etc.).

Yet, all these books tend to concentrate on but one aspect of ''language and
identity'' at a time, usually national identity in a particular context. What the
volume edited by Llamas and Watt seeks to do has a much wider scope, since it
addresses all aspects of identity, not just national identity. While the latter
type is touched upon in several chapters, others deal with gender identity,
social class, ethnicity, age, forensic linguistics, or language disabilities,
such as Foreign Accent Syndrome. In this respect, this collection is unique, for
it enables any student of linguistics, applied linguistics, sociolinguistics or
linguistic anthropology to come to grips with a large collection of short and
accessible articles written by leading academics in their fields.

The volume succeeds in not being simply a collection of case studies, in that
each chapter is an open gate to a wider field of study and research. The first
section on ''Theoretical Issues'' is also a particularly welcome addition to this
volume, with some excellent articles by leading scholars in contemporary
sociolinguistics. This section fully succeeds in providing the reader with an
adequate toolkit for the analysis of identity through and association with language.

Finally, this volume is also unique in its bringing together studies on
variationist and interactionist sociolinguistics in almost equal numbers, thus
helping to demonstrate that both angles are not as far apart as can sometimes be

Of course, some criticisms could be made. For example, I feel that each section
lacks a more general introduction. One point which should also be emphasised is
the very British-American orientation of the book, as it contains only
contributions from researchers based in the US or the UK. Although it does touch
upon a couple of other contexts, such as India or Nigeria, the bulk of material
comes from England, Scotland, Wales or the US. This could be seen as a serious
downside to this book, yet the tools it provides are sufficiently general to
enable researchers in any other contexts to find it helpful.

Some aspects are also left aside, such as the ways in which more and more local
government authorities are using language to promote a sense of identity among
inhabitants of a given region. A more general historical perspective would also
have been a welcome addition, in order to show how precisely this ''age of
identity'' came to be and what role language has played in its construction. More
attention could have been paid to the ways current processes of globalisation
may or may not be affecting how language is used to shape identities.

However, these criticisms do not in any way affect the overall quality of this
excellent volume, which will be an extremely useful resource to students and
confirmed academics alike.


Douglas, Fiona M. 2009. Scottish Newspapers, Language and Identity. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press.

Edwards, John 2009. Language and Identity: an Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Edwards, John 2010. Minority Languages and Group Identity Cases and Categories.
Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Fishman, Joshua A. 1999. Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity. New York:
Oxford University Press.

Greenberg, Robert D. 2004. Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian
and its Disintegration. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Gumperz, John J. (ed.). 1982. Language and Social Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Joseph, John E. 2004. Language and Identity: National, Ethnic, Religious.
Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Simpson, Andrew (ed.). 2007. Language and National Identity in Asia. Oxford &
New York: Oxford University Press.

James Costa is currently working as a research assistant at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon, France. In his PhD thesis on language revitalisation in Provence and Scotland from a critical sociolinguistic point of view, he proposes a general framework for analysing language revitalisation movements, and seeks to propose a socially oriented and critical definition of language revitalisation. He is currently working on a project on language socialisation among bilingual Occitan/French-speaking children together with Patricia Lambert, at the ICAR laboratory in Lyon.

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