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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  Introducing Multilingualism

Reviewer: Ilaria Fiorentini
Book Title: Introducing Multilingualism
Book Author: Jean-Jacques Weber Kristine Horner
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
General Linguistics
Issue Number: 24.271

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Jean-Jacques Weber and Kristine Horner’s “Introducing multilingualism: A social approach” is a textbook expressly conceived for undergraduate and postgraduate students as an introduction to the wide topic of multilingualism. The book is divided in four parts, for a total of 15 chapters; at the end of each chapter (sometimes within), the authors give the readers suggestions for discussion, activities and projects, as well as references and suggestions for further readings. The first and the last chapter also have a “Test yourself quiz” (with suggested answers at the end of the book).

The first part of the book (Chapters 1-2) introduces issues about multilingualism as well as the theoretical and methodological framework within which the book is situated. Chapter 1 problematizes the concept of language and presents multilingualism in terms of linguistic resources and repertoires. The authors prefer to use the term ‘multilingualism’ instead of ‘bi-‘ or ‘trilingualism’, in order to avoid the problematic issue of how languages can actually be identified and counted. The chapter includes a note on terminology, a brief description of the issues concerning globalization (that is, according to the authors, “the main reason why sociolinguistics needs to change and adapt its core concepts”, p. 6) and a summary of how the book is structured.

Chapter 2 discusses the construction of meaning of a text in different contexts by different hearers or readers, introducing the distinction between dominant vs. critical readings (with a suggested activity on the importance of being critical, p. 13); these premises lead the authors to claim that, in studying sites of multilingualism, “it is optimal to combine the analysis of discourse with ethnographic investigation” (p. 14), pointing to an ethnographically based discourse analysis, with the aim to make “as explicit as possible the discourse models (beliefs and assumptions) that inform a particular text” (p. 21) . Finally, they give a brief description of the language ideologies discussed in the book (such as hierarchy of languages, standard language ideology, one nation-one language ideology, etc.).

Part II (Chapters 3-5) deals with the difficulty in the definition of what a language is. Chapter 3 investigates people’s beliefs about language; with a suggested activity about what English and Standard English actually are (p. 27), the authors aim to show the “fuzzy boundaries of named languages” (p. 29); in order to further illustrate the concept, they describe a case in which it is difficult to distinguish dialects and languages (Scots and Ulster-Scots) as well as the question of English pidgins and creoles, discussing if they should or should not be included in discussion of World Englishes. Consequences for teaching and research of this more dynamic view of what a language is are also taken into account.

Chapter 4 focuses on linguistic variation, with specific reference to two global languages, English and French. As for English, the authors analyse African-American English, Caribbean ‘nation language’ (i.e. West Indian Creole) and Singlish (Singapore English), concluding with some notes on the global spread of English. Then they take into account the global spread of French, describing two French youth languages, Nouchi in Cote d’Ivoire and Verlan in France, the first being an example of a post-colonial new language and identity, the latter being an example of linguistic diversity from within France itself.

Chapter 5 provides a general introduction to endangered languages in the globalized world. The authors argue that language revitalization, in order to be most successful, has to be “simultaneously promoted by a grassroots movement and by the state, as well as being supported by international minority rights organizations” (p. 53), and they point out the costs involved in each situation. Some case studies (Maori in New Zealand, Sámi and Kven in Norway, Hebrew in Israel, Breton in France, Corsican and Luxembourgish) are given in order to exemplify some different implications and outcomes for different situations.

Part III (Chapter 6-8) goes into the distinction between societal and individual multilingualism. Chapter 6 deals with the first, exploring the situations of some countries (Ukraine, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, South Africa, and Nigeria) that officially recognize themselves as multilingual states (even if, as the authors point out, the distinction between officially monolingual and multilingual states “is not a fixed binary opposition but a dynamic and shifting continuum”, p. 69), focusing particularly on how “global socio-political developments can affect the multilingual policy arrangements in a state” (p. 78).

Chapter 7 deals with the micro level of people’s multilingualism, making reference to Gee’s (2001) four ways to view identity (Nature (N)-identities, Institution (I)-identities, Discourse (D)-identities and Affinity (A)-identities). The concept of identity is explored in detail, firstly taking into account the concepts of ethnic and national identity, and then exploring various aspects of the relation between code-switching and identity. In particular, the authors point out how the opposition between the ‘we-code’ and ‘they-code’ distinction needs to be re-conceptualized “as a linguistic continuum along which speakers move in highly fluid ways as they construct fluid identities for themselves” (p. 87).

In Chapter 8, the authors describe the interplay between individual and societal multilingualism with reference to the Canadian policy of bilingualism and multiculturalism.

Part IV (Chapter 9-11) investigates the issues concerning multilingual education. Chapter 9 introduces the distinction between flexible and fixed multilingualism. The authors mention the problem of language repression, arguing that multilingualism is not in itself the solution, but it depends on how the multilingual language policy is applied: “whether it is applied in a highly fixed and rigid way, without taking into account people’s home linguistic resources, or in a more flexible way, building upon all the linguistic resources that people bring along with them” (p. 108). After a comparison between US and EU language-in-education policy, the authors present two case studies, Luxembourg on the one hand and Catalonia and the Basque Country on the other, showing how, while Luxembourg and Catalonia are moving towards a fixed multilingualism, Basque country seem to be taking the opposite way. In conclusion, the authors point out the need for innovative ideas “more in line with the fluid multilingual realities of today’s world” (p. 117).

Chapter 10 introduces the concept of literacy bridges in opposition to mother tongue education, the latter often being advocated “as the ideal system of education for all children”, p. 123), but whose programmes frequently ignore the dimension of intra-language variation. The concept of literacy bridges was presented in Weber (2009) in relation to the language situation in trilingual (Luxembourgish, French and German) Luxembourg, “where large numbers of romanophone children are forced to go through a German-language literacy programme (…)” (p. 130). According to the authors, the literacy bridges option is a “flexible alternative (…) which would have a much better chance of moving policy towards social justice and educational equity” (p. 130) and which would look at the ‘common linguistic denominator’ of the students (in the Luxembourg case, it should be a French-language literacy option). The three steps needed by the school system in order to take into account this multilingual reality therefore are to study the student’s actual linguistic repertoires, to find out the common linguistic denominator and to establish adequate literacy bridges “by offering a reasonable range of language options” (p. 130).

Chapter 11 examines the situation and teaching of heritage languages, analysing the situation of Navajo in the United States and of some minority languages taught in the UK. The aim is to demonstrate how even heritage language education can be as rigid as mother tongue education. In conclusion, the authors emphasize the need for both policy-makers and teachers “to break through the standard language ideology and to valorize all the different linguistic and cultural resources of all the children” (p. 143).

Part V deals with critical analysis of discourses. Chapter 12 examines the topic of integration “in our late modern age of increased mobility, European consolidation and accelerated globalization at the beginning of the twenty-first century” (p. 151) in the sense of integration of people categorized as ‘migrants’ or ‘foreigners’, focusing in particular on the contribution of institutional discourses on language and migration to the often precarious situation of speakers of immigrant heritage languages. The authors take into account the cases of Germany and Liechtenstein, aiming to showing how the discourse of integration “presupposes an asymmetrical world-view in which only the ‘migrants’ or ‘foreigners’ are perceived as a problem” (p. 152). Such a world view is constructed around metaphors, such as the centre-periphery metaphor, “based on ‘us vs. them’ discourse” (p. 152), the game metaphor (about winning or losing in the game of integration) and the mathematical graph metaphor (which leaves unspecified the number of points needed to win the game, therefore effectively rendering successful completion of the game impossible). The authors then propose a more positive approach to the quantification of integration, i.e. a statistical correlations view of integration, in which integration is conceptualized “as a state that is either achieved or not by a particular society” (p. 156); such an approach specifies as endpoint of the integration process a society that “offers equal rights and opportunities to all the different social groups living and working there” (p. 162). In the second part of the chapter, the authors show how the tradition of language testing for citizenship can have disturbing links with racist policies.

Chapter 13 deals with the negative representations of multilingualism in the media, which contribute to marginalize and discriminate ethnic others through negative ideological constructions. The examples taken into account are the Luxembourg case, where foreign students were blamed for the bad results at PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment); the UK case, reporting a newspaper article in which the Tory Councillor presents a narrow definition of ‘Britishness’, that views the presence of Asian languages in the public space as eroding Britishness; and the “English Only” movement case in the US, which “is lobbying for a constitutional amendment which would designate English as the sole official language” (p. 172). In conclusion, a brief historical perspective on the one nation-one language ideology is given in order to show how the claims presented in the examples are indefensible.

Chapter 14 analyses linguistic landscape, studying “multimodal texts which combine verbal and visual elements” (p. 179), such as advertisements or public signs. The authors point out the limitations of some linguistic landscape analysis, arguing that, since many of them are quantitative rather than interpretive, limiting themselves to counting the languages used on multilingual signs, and since “the whole notion of identifying and counting the ‘languages’ of multilingual signs is highly problematic” (p. 179), such studies should be integrated by more ethnographic approaches. In conclusion, the authors describe as highly promising the approach of Scollon and Scollon (2003), so-called ‘discourses in places’, that “links up with cultural geography, urban planning and other interconnected fields” (p. 188), thereby providing a theoretical framework for the analysis of both verbal and visual texts.

Part VI (Chapter 15), the conclusion, summarizes the issues dealt with in the book and presents new research directions in the study of multilingualism, such as multilingualism and sign language, multilingualism and gender, etc. The authors list three themes – understanding the ubiquity of multilingualism, acknowledging the linguistic diversity in the world and building upon the whole of students’ linguistic repertoires – which “point to the ultimate aim that we all should strive for” (p. 200), i.e. to work towards the normalization of multilingualism, both at school and in society, moving beyond “programmes of linguistic normalization focused upon one single minority language” (p. 201); the authors conclude that, if their book has made a little contribution to this aim, then “it will not have been written in vain” (p. 201).


“Introducing multilingualism: A social approach” is a clear, user-friendly and highly practical introduction to the complex and multifaceted topic of multilingualism. The authors chose to investigate social issues in the study of multilingualism rather than the cognitive ones, aiming to provide an “introduction to the key social issues in the study of multilingualism” (p. 4) and to reverse “the traditional paradigm by normalizing multilingualism” (p. 5), in the attempt to show how multilingualism, rather than monolingualism, is actually the normal state of affairs.

The book is very well-structured, since, as should be clear by the summary, each chapter analyzes in depth an issue concerning multilingualism, often questioning prejudices or assumptions about it and introducing their own, new approaches (as the concept of literacy bridges in Chapter 10). Every concept is enriched by examples and case studies, and in the end of the chapters students are invited to deepen their reflections about these issues with specific activities and projects. Sometimes, as for the concept of fuzzy boundaries of language in Chapter 3, the activity itself is exploited in order to better explain the concept, stimulating reasoning about the topic.

Each topic is approached by a specific point of view: for instance, the endangered and minority languages issue is seen from the point of view of revitalization (Chapter 5), and different situations from different states of the world are taken into account in order to illustrate the various aspects and implications of it. The fact that the authors do not only focus on European situations (although of course there are many examples of European multilingual countries, in particular Luxembourg) but take into account situations worldwide, from Singapore to Nigeria (see for instance Chapter 5 and 6), is another valuable quality of this book.

Part IV, entirely dedicated to multilingual education, is particularly interesting and exhaustive, especially in chapter 10, where the authors propose and explain, as we have seen, the concept of literacy bridges, a flexible alternative to mother tongue education, based on the “transnational students’ full linguistic repertoires” (p. 130), as a solution for those multilingual contexts where there is a need for children to build up complex repertoires. It should be clear, and it is also clearly stated in the conclusion of the book, that the authors aim not only at giving as complete as possible an overview of multilingualism, but also at increasing in students the awareness about some delicate aspects, such as the need for more flexible educational systems and for the normalization of multilingualism.

In conclusion, the book is a very useful introductory textbook that could be exploited both by students, teachers and everyone who is new to and interested in the topic in order to stimulate reflection and discussion, also thanks to interesting and always pertinent activities, themes for discussion and projects proposed at the end of each chapter.


Gee, James Paul. 2001. Identity as an analytic lens for research in education. Review of research in Education, 25. 99-125.

Scollon, Ron and Scollon, Suzie Wong. 2003. Discourse in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge.

Weber, Jean-Jacques. 2009. Multilingualism, Education and Change. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang.
After earning an M.A. in Linguistics at the University of Turin with a thesis on the Italian suffix -ATA, Ilaria Fiorentini is now a PhD student at the University of Pavia and the Free University of Bozen (Italy). Her doctoral research deals with the language contact situation in the Ladin valleys of Trentino-Südtirol, with particular attention to code-mixing phenomena among Ladin, Italian and German. Her primary research interests include sociolinguistics and pragmatics.

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