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Review of  Language in Late Capitalism

Reviewer: Philip T. Duncan
Book Title: Language in Late Capitalism
Book Author: Alexandre Duchêne Monica Heller
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 23.4973

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EDITORS: Duchêne, Alexandre and Heller, Monica
TITLE: Language in Late Capitalism
SUBTITLE: Pride and Profit
SERIES TITLE: Routledge Critical Series in Multilingualism
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2011

Philip T. Duncan, Department of Linguistics, University of Kansas


The first in a new series on multilingualism, “Language in Late Capitalism: Pride and Profit” argues that the last three decades have witnessed the emergence of new discourses relating to language and identity. Rather than displacing nationalistic-type discourses, the contributors to this volume demonstrate that discourses within this recent period, identified as late capitalism, are increasingly characterized by two interwoven tropes, “pride” and “profit.” Their interaction creates a nexus of nationalism, globalization, and neoliberalism. The authors of “Language in Late Capitalism” demonstrate that these old and new discourses are not only “intertwined in complex ways” (Heller & Duchêne, this volume: 3), they are co-constitutive and “inextricably linked” (Heller & Bell, this volume: 167). This book provides a broad array of new approaches to language, identity, and power that suggest expanding traditional sociolinguistic methods in unique ways to account for novel discourses marked by economic terms and ideologies.

Chapter 1, written by editors Monica Heller and Alexandre Duchêne, serves as an introduction both to the volume’s overarching and “co-constitutive” themes of “pride” and “profit” as well as a general theoretical guide to each of the individual papers included. “Pride” is here understood in nationalistic terms, as a “product of the modern nation-state”(Heller & Duchêne, this volume: 4) that functions as a means of self-legitimization, structuring, contestation, (re)imagination, and maintenance. “Profit” is viewed in economic terms, and often relates to how linguistic adeptness can be exploited in the globalized/globalizing market. Heller and Duchêne consider “pride” and “profit” to be “keywords” in the sense of McElhinny (2007), that is, as socially consequential and contested loci. These operate as central tropes in this volume because the authors propose that a current shift, which first began in the 1990s, is taking place in discourses on language and culture. Heller and Duchêne maintain that this shift represents a break from former hegemony and is uniquely distinguished by the discursive construction of language in economic terms, such as “added value.” Consequently, the centrality of language, and, in particular, linguistic variability and multilingualism, is a core feature of late capitalism. Moreover, Heller and Duchêne argue that the economic shift vis à vis language are characterized by five “interconnected processes”: “the saturation of markets,” “expansion,” “distinction” or “added value,” “tertiarization,” and “flexibilization.” This chapter also introduces the concept of “linguistic taylorism,” which is salient throughout the book. Drawing from Frederick W. Taylor’s (1911) concept of scientific management, linguistic taylorism involves commodifying and managing language for market efficiency.

In Chapter 2, Susan Gal analyzes European Union policies and individual reactions to such (as described in ethnographic reports) to show how “pride” and “profit” play a critical role in forming an ideology of differentiation in a suprastate institutional setting. In this chapter, Gal draws conceptually from her previous work on linguistic differentiation (Gal & Irvine, 1995; Irvine & Gal, 2001). Rather than situating “pride” and “profit” as entirely innovative tropes in the landscape of late capitalism, she traces their history and continued discursive salience from eighteenth century European nation-state discourses, through processes of monolingual standardization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to more recent counter-hegemonic projects aiming at promoting multilingualism. Attending to historical change in the end foregrounds continuity, which Gal demonstrates by showing how “fractal recursion” -- the projecting of oppositions like “pride”/“profit” -- resurfaces in iterations. Accordingly, as Gal notes, “the ‘pride’/‘profit’ axis is very broadly distributed” (Gal, this volume: 35), which she evidences by drawing from texts in various spaces, times, and social strata. Attending to history also enables Gal to maintain that there is no direct link between “processes of late capitalism” and “linguistic practices and policies” (22). Instead, she argues that language ideologies in the form of tropes and frames “mediate between political economy and linguistic practices” (22). Her chapter portrays language diversity in tension in two ways. For example, the linguistic forms used to construct “pride” and “profit” are creatively and oppositionally valued along what Gal terms an “axis of differentiation” (24) that “creates contrasting values and posits linguistic forms that index them” (40). The contrastive nature of linguistic terms on opposite poles of the axis pertains to a unique semiotic organization, which means that “language ideologies have a logic of their own that requires analytical attention” (40).

Chapter 3, by Alfonso del Percio and Alexandre Duchêne, is based on the analysis of a single setting in a single text: the St. Jakob-Park football (i.e., soccer for U.S. readers) stadium as portrayed in the 2010 promotional DVD for Football Club Basel in Switzerland. From their analysis, Del Percio and Duchêne propose that language in this context plays a critical role in “struggles” (Del Percio & Duchêne, this volume: 44) for identity and authenticity, as well as nurturing “pride” and generating “profit.” As they indicate, the site that Del Percio and Duchêne choose for their analysis is of particular interest in examining the role of language in late capitalism because the increased commercialization of football from the club’s recent success has stimulated new discourses and practices on identity and legitimacy (i.e. ,“pride”) and generated new economic interests (i.e., “profit”). Here, the local and non-/trans-local exist together in tension in unique ways.

Chapter 4 is based on Jacqueline Urla’s analysis of her ethnographic research on the Basque language revival movement in Spain, which investigates a somewhat unpredicted outcome of globalization; instead of experiencing a universal trend toward linguistic homogeneity, some minority language communities are experiencing increased legitimacy. However, it is not this fact alone but the processes that informed such a shift that makes the phenomenon of interest for the present volume. Urla looks at discourses on language advocacy to show that the shift in favor of minority languages has a distinctly capitalistic flair. That is, Basque language advocates began to appropriate neoliberal political ideologies and consider “[t]he logics of markets and entrepreneurialism” to be “fully transferrable frameworks” (Urla, this volume: 75) for actualizing language revival. Urla terms the activists’ work “Total Quality language revival” (77) because she traces how revivalists integrated “labor management techniques” (74) from Total Quality Management (i.e., a “managerial strategy” [74] that emerged in the 1980s) into their language planning. Her analysis also shows that the directionality of market-based approaches to Basque language revival was bottom-up; grassroots/populist movements first adopted neoliberal strategies, which eventually came to be utilized in official government policy.

In Chapter 5, Joan Pujolar and Kathryn Jones look at how Catalonian uses of language, literature, and landscape work in concert to create national identity through heritage practices, in particular, tourism. Pujolar and Jones highlight the “ambivalent and contradictory ways” (Pujolar, this volume: 94) in which the tropes of “pride” and “profit” are constructed in this context: Catalan tourist sites function both as a means of commodifying local identity for global consumption while simultaneously “resist[ing] the patterns of linguistic practice” that globalization brings about (93-94). Similar to the chapter by Susan Gal, Pujolar and Jones explore the historical context of Catalan heritage social practices, which reveals that the transformation of land into landscape for purposes of commodification and identity construction have a rich history deeply interwoven with economic development. Though Pujolar and Jones note that Catalan tourist sites share properties with other sites around the world, such as being “space[s] where images of the territory are produced, distributed, and consumed,” still, they identify an intimate relationship that holds between Catalan literary sites and Catalan “cultural nationalism” (112). Since the Catalan sites are embedded in and represent “traditional forms of belonging” (112), they face the challenge of being relegated to the margin due to the demands of a globalized marketplace characterized by multilingualism.

In Chapter 6, Adrian Blackledge and Angela Creese explore the construction, maintenance, and transformation of nationalistic “Bengaliness” within four postmigration diasporic contexts in English complementary schools. Blackledge and Creese orient toward “pride” and “profit” in relation to (and as means of achieving) distinction. That is, they argue that “pride” in the language of the “homeland,” which is ascribed with degrees of value as a set of linguistic resources, can engender distinction by forming a hierarchy of resources based on legitimacy. This, in turn, relates to notions of access, as migrants who are able to tap into the capital of higher value linguistic resources (as forms of national pride) “gain a ‘profit of distinction’ over others” (Blackledge & Creese, this volume: 117). Blackledge and Creese contend, however, that individual migrants and communities of migrants are not solely responsible for legitimizing some linguistic resources while delegitimizing others. Indeed, the state can also contribute to the attribution of value, legitimacy, and, therefore, distinction.

Michelle Daveluy’s contribution in Chapter 7 stems from her researching language use in a military context, specifically, two Canadian Navy bases. Daveluy demonstrates that two constraints shape dynamic language use on Navy ships, both in times of war and peace. On the one hand, the Canadian Forces are legally compelled to implement Canada’s official policy on bilingualism. On the other hand, military personnel are constrained by the need to maximize efficiency, which results in communication that is “focused, and more globally oriented” (Daveluy, this volume: 143). This latter point is additionally influenced by contextual (here, in the sense of socio-political and historical) factors. In the post-Cold War era, the military acquired a business management approach to basic administration that emphasized profitability. The two tropes of “pride” and “profit” -- importantly appearing together in the military context, and not just “pride” alone, as Daveluy notes might be expected -- relate to these constraining factors in the following ways. When “the logic of ethnonationalism,” that is, national pride including both Francophone and Anglophone identities, is prominent, bilingualism reigns and is viewed as a valuable asset (156). Alternatively, when situations require that “the logic of military security and the logic of rational management” prevail, so does monolingualism (156). Still, it should be noted that the roles of “pride” and “profit” are not exclusionary. As Daveluy points out, “pride in national order sustains profitable management of language use in the context of military operations” (143).

Monica Heller and Lindsay Bell also analyze Canadian discourses in Chapter 8. They follow the lineage of “pride” and “profit” as they originate from an iconic symbol of Canadian national identity, an early twentieth century novel that created a foundation for ideologies of nation, nature, and place. These ideologies also informed and inform “the ethnolinguistic categorization that organizes [Canadian] society” (Heller & Bell, this volume: 163). Heller and Bell maintain that the novel’s influence still persists, but that the relationship between past and present does not here entail immutability with regard to how the two tropes function across time. Earlier discourses reproduced “an image of fixed, rooted and homogeneous communities” (162). However, the (re)production of these discourses depended on a “gendered and classed process of erasure of the labor mobility required for community reproduction” (162), which engendered lasting contradictions (for example, regarding Francophone identity and how it is marketed) that are now being resisted. Heller and Bell demonstrate, from working with Francophone workers and residents of two urban centers in the Northwest Territories, that present discourses are turning the old “fragile fiction of fixed community” (163) on its head in ways that are unevenly distributed. The contestation of previous discourses produces sites “where pride-profit related tensions emerge” (178). For Heller and Bell, the tensions and contradictions they observed signal two possible outcomes: the repackaging of older versions of “gender, class, and Frenchness”; or, more optimistically, “the capacity to undermine future reproductions of the mobility/fixity contradiction and its concomitant tensions” (179).

In Chapter 9, Beatriz P. Lorente analyzes Philippine newspapers and government documents to understand the function of language use as the Philippines become a “labor brokerage state,” (Lorente, this volume: 184) that is, one that deploys its citizens globally, thus generating profitable return for the nation-state. Her chapter highlights glocalization in the sense that both global and local forces cooperate to shape language use. Lorente details how, in response to globalization, the Philippine government engages in discursive strategies of legitimization to commodify labor for use in the global market. As we also see in the following chapter, Lorente shows that one way in which linguistic taylorism operates is through standardization, wherein linguistic resources of laborers are exploited (for example, by the nation-state) so that the “competitive advantage” is maintained and does not diminish.

Josiane Boutet, in Chapter 10, describes the function of language (use) within the relationship between “pride” and “profit” in terms of a shift taking place in the period of late capitalism that “has made it possible to rationalize the process of articulation” (Boutet, this volume: 223). This shift moves from “languages and language activity” being “sources of pride” to “sources of profit” (208). Boutet makes this shift visible by orienting toward “three broad historical configurations [/‘assemblages’] of the language part of work”: (1) the incompatibility of language(s) and work; (2) the industrialization of language at work, which developed in the late 19th century; and (3) the current configuration characterized by “extreme merchandizing” of language faculties (208-209). Among the principal social actors that emerge through the “managerial” shift that Boutet examines are those that she calls “language workers” (208). These are human laborers whose linguistic abilities come to the fore and are exploited in a globalized market that expects integration of language activity into work to enable heightened economic benefit. For example, Boutet discusses an increase in “teleworking” as part of the globalization enterprise, which has significant social, economic, and linguistic dimensions (216). Bi- and pluri-lingualism, as well as “extreme standardization of vocal productions” encouraged by management through training, play a central role in achieving profitability in telework’s global expansion (217).

The closing chapter, by Bonnie McElhinny, provides not only a critique of the use of the keyword “community of practice” (CofP) in business domains, but also a self-reflexive critique of its use in the social sciences, particularly in sociolinguistics. Within post-structuralist approaches, McElhinny comes from the framework of material feminism to highlight fluctuations of identity and how they are rooted in “historical shifts in the production of life under late capitalism” (McElhinny, this volume: 230, from Hennessey & Ingraham, 1997: 9). She proposes that “elaborating the value of CofP becomes the elaboration of certain ideologies” in the corporate world as well as in academia (232). For the former, this can mean establishing a competitive advantage and increasing marketability through functions like “socializing novices” and enabling “innovation” (237). For the latter, CofP may have a function of understanding the construction of language and social relations and differences from a practice-based perspective. McElhinny sees CofP operating differently in business circles in comparison to academic ones, but, importantly, she does not see them as entirely distinct. She rejects the claim that corporations hijacked CofP from social scientists, although she does not explicitly suggest the opposite is more tenable. Instead, McElhinny orients herself toward bidirectional influences between the academic and corporate spheres, which entails that these domains and arenas of practice are not “mutually uninfluential” (243). Ultimately, she proposes a reevaluation of CofP as an analytic concept, noting that the perpetuation of this phrase in academic realms can actually reify capitalistic ideologies (that researchers may seek to transform) and be complicit in reproducing power inequalities.


Viewed collectively, the authors effectively demonstrate the immensely complex nature of how “pride” and “profit” function, and also reveal how richly and powerfully pervasive these tropes are. Indeed, “pride” and “profit” are depicted as saturating multiple layers of social organization and linguistic practice. Each of the chapters in “Language in Late Capitalism” exhibits a strong tendency toward inter- and transdisciplinary research, as well as a broad array of methodologies from a post-structuralist perspective (e.g., ethnography, participant observation, qualitative interviews, discourse analysis, and feminist sociolinguistics).

In each of the contributions to this volume, the authors succeed in contextualizing their analyses, especially with regard to history. Tending to diachronic change and trends has several important upshots. For example, addressing historical issues as they relate to specific issues in particular locations buttresses the overall argumentation as well as provides the reader with a better grasp of how the relationships between language, language use, identity, and economy play out in diverse ways across time and space. Because discourses and discourse topics fluctuate, the historical aspects of each chapter illuminate how and when relevant ideologies emerged, ultimately engendering transformations regarding language and language use. In other words, the authors make discursive transitions -- and the complex interactions underlying these transitions -- visible. Although the case studies included are somewhat limited in scope (a point which the editors explicitly note), the detailed case-specific histories exemplify the need for delineating distinctive factors that affect the ways in which “pride” and “profit” play out in specific language communities.

Additionally, developing a historical narrative serves to counter two potential criticisms. On the one hand, when considering the volume as a whole, “pride” and “profit” seem so powerful, so influential, and so encompassing that, at times, they appear to be empty categories. That is, they almost appear to be doing too much work such that anything remotely having to do with national identity becomes “pride” while, similarly, anything remotely having to do with economy and market is labeled “profit.” However, the authors mitigate this problem by providing rich attention to historical narrative. Moreover, this ultimately contributes to a strength of the overall argument by presenting strong, detailed evidence suggesting that language in late capitalism is indeed multifarious and complex, and this means that the way language plays out in relation to “pride” and “profit” are vast. Secondly, without rich, diachronic corpus data to support Duchêne and Heller’s principal claim that there is a major discursive shift that emerged in the 1990s, this claim initially comes across as an assumptive assertion. Again, though, the individual histories in each chapter supply a strong rationale for accepting the claim, as they demonstrate how context-dependent social, cultural, economic, and linguistic elements contributed to create distinctive configurations in the period they call “late capitalism.”

This volume is most suited for upper-level graduate students and researchers with backgrounds in sociolinguistics and a good grasp of economics, processes of globalization, and Bourdieusian Social Theory. Because of its prominent interdisciplinary and methodological diversity, scholars outside of sociolinguistics (and even the social sciences) may find it of benefit, as well. Perhaps one of the strongest attributes of the volume as a whole is its ability to maintain a unifying theme without adopting an overly-dogmatic stance in terms of pushing a unified theory. As a result, the authors offer their own analyses as models for continued investigation and critique, thus opening possibilities for continued fruitful research.


Gal, Susan & Irvine, Judith T. 1995. The boundaries of languages and disciplines: How ideologies construct difference. Social Research, 62(4), 966-1001.

Hennessey, Rosemary & Ingraham, Chrys. 1997. Introduction: Reclaiming anticapitalist feminism. In H. Rosemary & C. Ingraham, (eds.), Material Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s Lives. New York: Routledge, 1- 14.

Irvine, Judith T. & Gal, Susan. 2001. Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In P. Kroskrity (ed.), Regimes of Language. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press, 35-84.

McElhinny, Bonnie. 2007. Language, gender and economies in global transitions: Provacative and provoking questions about how gender is articulated. In B. McElhinny (ed.), Words, Worlds, Material Girls: Language and Gender in a Global Economy. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1-38.

Taylor, Frederick W. 1913. Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Harper & Brothers. (Original work published 1911)
Philip T. Duncan holds an M.A. in Indigenous Studies and is a graduate student in Linguistics at the University of Kansas. His research interests include language and ideology, discourse and memory, and the linguistic representation of Indigenous peoples, especially in non-Indigenous contexts. He is currently investigating how representation and remembering function in Christian Zionist discourses from a critical discourse analytic perspective.

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