By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Review of Discursive Constructions of Immigrant Identity
SUMMARY This book presents the findings of a longitudinal study into changes in immigrant identity over time. Du Bois uses critical discourse analysis paired with macro- and micro-linguistic approaches to understand the complex socio-cultural reality of American immigrants in Germany.
Each chapter goes into detail regarding different aspects of language and cultural identity. Following is a summary of the main points in each of the ten chapters.
In Chapter 1, Du Bois first explains the many factors at play in the construction of an immigrant's identity. These factors include language changes, social contextual factors and collective identity. Second, three main types of research approaches are discussed: social scientific, social constructionist, and critical discourse analyses. Following that, the three are combined to form a macro- and micro-linguistic approach which takes into account social variationist approaches and code-switching used in this research.
Du Bois then outlines a research question, how Americans in Germany use language to construct their identity and what other influences bear on that identity. Du Bois breaks this down into six smaller research questions dealing with linguistics means, construction of bicultural identity, national identity, socio-political contexts, code-switching and other variables related to national-cultural identification.
At the end of the chapter Du Bois outlines the structure of the book's chapters.
Chapter 2 critically discusses the concept of national identity. This chapter also highlights monolingual and bilingual social constructionist approaches in regards to cultural identity. Sociolinguistic approaches are also discussed for their part in identity construction and language use. Specifically, identity is thought of as a process rather than a closed entity. It emerges through discourse and changes in interaction depending on the macro-demographic level present at the current situation. Identity can also be seen through narratives or story telling practices that demonstrate the way in which the speaker wishes to be perceived. Du Bois also touches on the concept of indexicality, which functions on many levels using pronouns. For example, the pronoun “I” can be associated with a broad category such as nationality or a more local category. It can also be seen through code-switching choices that provides different interpretations of meaning. Changes in pragmatic competence and code-switching also show the progression of identity of immigrants as they become more proficient in their second language.
Chapter 3 goes into attitudes toward Americans in Germany and Europe. These attitudes take into account the effects of 9/11 and other aspects relevant to American identity. Du Bois also looks at the effects of America on Germans from the situation after World War II. Some of the residual effects include English being used as a lingua franca in Germany, the inflow of American products and culture and the development of a love-and-hate relationship with America. These influences help to construct the native German identities and in turn the American immigrant identity in Germany.
In Chapter 4, the thirty participants in the study are introduced, along with the method of data collection through interviews. The research design plan, field methods and role of the researcher are clearly presented. Du Bois also outlines statistical analysis methods, triangulation and transcription symbols.
Chapter 5 first takes a detailed look at one participant. Through in-depth analysis, Du Bois is able to pick out relevant topics, biographical transition points and linguistic features that help to construct this particular immigrant's identity. Through the use of small narratives that represent turning points in an immigrant’s life, key linguistic features and structures specific to the narrative care are extracted. Some main analysis points are gambits, the use of the pronoun ''we'', how narrated time and narrating time relate to each other, gender, and the narrative structure of 9/11 events. Du Bois then introduces a type of acculturation model that gives structure to the linguistic data from the interviews.
Chapter 6 examines the idea of cultural trauma and identity confusion. Specifically, interviewees’ stories about 9/11 and German reactions are analyzed. Du Bois uses this analysis to create a model of dual cultural trauma to better understand the situation of Americans in Germany. Some sub-topics of note are the situation in which American national identity causes internal identity problems when confronted with negative media about Guantanamo Bay, criticism from native Germans towards Americans regarding the politics of Guantanamo Bay and experiencing 9/11 as an American living abroad. These internal identity problems take the form of embarrassment, regret and conflict of one’s own identity as well as a need to hide one’s identity. For example, a female participant reported that she had feelings of shame and embarrassment when the Guantanamo Bay photographs made international news. She expressed regret that, as an American, she now represents something very negative. Another American found himself feeling distant and estranged from the events of 9/11. A feeling of emotional connection was only found after reading from American newspapers.
Du Bois takes a look at bicultural identity in Chapter 7. The author takes and in-depth look at how participants show feelings of homesickness and connection to their lives in the United States by referencing home in broad terms such as “United States” and more specific terms such as “Dallas, Texas” and specific names of food. Another example is one participant use “come here” to mean Germany and “go back” to mean “U.S.” which, according to Du Bois, signifies her global cosmopolitan identity. Using many references to places in Germany is another characteristic of immigrant identity. Du Bois found that immigrants mentioned very specific and local places frequently throughout conversations. This shows the participants create their identity through spatial connections as well. Du Bois also looks at the many ways that ''we'' expresses connection to America and to Germany depending on the context and the duration of time spent in Germany. The use of “we” can be connected to objects, the speaker, or specific relations between objects and contexts. For example, “we” can mean Germans, Americans, or Americans living in Germany.
Chapter 8 focuses on bilingual language use, namely, the social function of code-switching. Du Bois' findings suggest that the length of time an immigrant spends in Germany has a direct effect on the amount of code-switching used. Specifically, an immigrant will start out code-switching with single words only and then move on to more extensive use. Code-switching can also show a distancing between the participant and their home country as well as a means to be at an equal intellectual level with native Germans.
Chapter 9, unlike the preceding eight, uses quantitative analysis of demographic factors and linguistic output following a typical variationist approach. It focuses on issues of bilingual lexicon and language attrition in the context of demographic identity related factors. Du Bois finds that gender has no impact on code-switching and other language related factors. Education however did prove relevant in terms of lexical attrition, as participants with low level of education showed significantly more lexical loss than those with higher education. The effects of social contact with other Americans also had a significant effect on code-switching and lexical attrition.
Chapter 10 concludes the study with a summary of results, comments on methodology and ideas for further research.
EVALUATION Du Bois obviously took considerable time and effort to create a study that is highly data driven and unbiased in terms of analysis as practically possible. The beginning chapters clearly outline a coherent theoretical framework bringing together the range of approaches used. By combining social scientific, social constructionist and critical discourse analysis, Du Bois builds on the work of Edmondson and House (2006) in approaching research from many angles at a time. However, it can be asked how picking and choosing from three different approaches results in a fourth approach rather than a mixed approach. Regardless of the approaches used, it is apparent that successful macro- and micro-linguistic analysis was achieved.
This book is a substantial addition to sociolinguistics. The analysis itself is highly detailed yet easily understood due to a to-the-point writing style and use of charts and graphs as appropriate. Chapters are highly organized and sub-headed appropriately. The discussion sections at the end of some of the chapters are more along the lines of a summary than synthesis of the concepts and data represented within the chapter.
The strong focus on code-switching's role in immigrant identity throughout most of the analysis is revealing in many ways. The use of Myers-Scotton's (2006) notion of code-switching being more than just symbols in a speech community instead of just an interpretation of choice allowed Du Bois to approach the data from multiple angles. This leads to the discovery of intimate and interesting conditions of code-switching and its role in the identity of immigrants. In this respect, the immigrant is thought of as being more aware of their own identity through their language choices. Code-switching is not simply a result of vocabulary use, but a reflection of the immigrants’ introduction into a new society and an attempt to strategically integrate into that society.
The only weak argument I find in Du Bois analysis is his questioning of Hill’s 1989 research showing that Americans are typically individualistic, as evidenced by use of the pronoun ''I''. He argues that results from the present study show the participants using ''we'' in a way contradicting Hill’s research. Hill reports on Americans in America, not living abroad, a much different context, and it is not clear that these are comparable situations.
Edmondson, Willis and Julian House. (2006). Einführung in die Sprachlehrforschung. Tübingen: Francke.
Hills, Jane (1989). The cultural context of narrative involvement. In R. Graczk and C. Wiltshire (Eds.), Papers from the twenty fifth annual regional meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society: Chicago Linguistic Society 138-156.
Myers-Scotton, Carol (2006). Multiple Voices. An introduction to bilingualism. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Christie DeBlasio is a lecturer in the English Language Department at
Assumption University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is enrolled in the Masters
of English Language Teaching program in the Graduate School of English at
Assumption University. Her thesis investigates the unique culture-based
characteristics of lexical bundles in Thai Business English Lingua Franca
(BELF) using a corpus of business stories from Bangkok English newspapers.
Her other research interests include intercultural communication and