26.1967, Review: Anthropological Ling; Socioling: Goebel (2014)

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Subject: 26.1967, Review: Anthropological Ling; Socioling: Goebel (2014)

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Date: Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:55:07
From: William Cotter [williamcotter at email.arizona.edu]
Subject: Language, Migration, and Identity

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-3160.html

AUTHOR: Zane  Goebel
TITLE: Language, Migration, and Identity
SUBTITLE: Neighborhood Talk in Indonesia
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: William M Cotter, University of Arizona

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Zane Goebel’s “Language, Migration, and Identity: Neighborhood talk in
Indonesia” aims to fill gaps in the scholarship on the diversity of
inter-ethnic talk in Indonesia. Despite receiving extensive attention from the
scholarly community, much of the earlier research on Indonesia has utilized
archival, interview, or survey methodologies, as opposed to participant
observation and the study of conversational interaction. Goebel had conducted
over two years of ethnographic fieldwork in two discrete communities within
Semarang, a city on the north coast of Indonesia. This extensive fieldwork has
served to rectify this, providing a thorough examination of the intricacies of
language use in a predominantly transient setting. 

In the introductory chapter, Goebel frames the discussion that is at the core
of his book by closely identifying the gaps in prior research on language use
in Indonesia. Goebel’s work looks at situated talk within two wards
(subsections of larger neighborhoods) in Semarang in an effort to examine how
talk plays a role in mediating social relations or influences the construction
or maintenance of identity. The introduction also details the theoretical
foundation of the book, discussing Agha’s (2007) work, while also grounding
the research in Wenger’s (1998) concept of community of practice and Wortham’s
(2006) research on the emergence of social identity. 

In Chapter 2, Goebel begins with an in-depth discussion of enregisterment and
semiotic registers, drawing extensively again from Agha (2007) for his
theoretical grounding. This follows with a short discussion on enregisterment
in the Indonesian context, as well as the place of government policy, the
schooling and educational system, and local and regional languages within this
process. Chapter 2 also examines a number of clips from popular Indonesian
television shows, which Goebel believes could play a role in the
enregisterment process. He details the differing linguistic choices that are
made in the programming of these popular serials, which the author argues
reflects the meta-pragmatic discourse of the Indonesian state in relation to
dominant and minority languages of the country. 

Chapter 3 presents primarily non-linguistic signs, which Goebel argues help to
constitute the semiotic registers that are discussed throughout the book. He
also works to show how these signs, along with local practices, become
enregistered in these communities. Particular attention is paid to how
specific spaces, people, or activities can become part of a semiotic register
in Wards 5 and 8. Through the various forms of participation in ward life,
community members work to construct and mold conceptions of identity while
positioning themselves and others within (or outside of) many different
“categories of personhood” which are detailed throughout the remainder of the

Through this discussion Goebel draws on multiple frames of expectation
(Goffman 1974) within these wards, which he notes work to establish some kind
of normative behavior or expectations relating to appropriateness in the
community. Chapter 3 also proposes that ward members’ own trajectories of
socialization (Wortham 2005) affect their linguistic choice as it relates to
usage of Indonesian or languages other than Indonesian, namely Krama and Ngoko
Javanese. This chapter also provides the reader with detailed descriptions of
both Ward 5 and Ward 8, serving as a firm ethnographic and descriptive
grounding for the setting of the research. 

Chapter 4 begins by detailing some of the theoretical foundations of the study
of code-switching (Gumperz 1982a, Myers-Scotton 1993). Goebel notes some
potential areas where the Myers-Scotton model of code switching has been
problematized in earlier ethnographic work. Instead of a model of
identity-based code-switching Goebel adopts a more temporal approach for this
book, which he grounds in the work of Rampton (1995a, 1995b, 1998) and Wortham

>From this point Goebel continues the chapter by classifying different lexical
signs and the varied speech levels present in Javanese, which is crucial to
the remainder of the text. In this chapter Goebel also admits that the
methodology he has proposed in this book does not constitute a
“one-size-fits-all” framework. As he describes it, his methods have holes and
they do “leak” but that this methodology provides a useful way in which to
approach these types of highly transient communities. Despite apparent leaks
in the methodology, this chapter is especially well constructed and gives the
reader a clear overview of the kind of participant observation that Goebel has
done, while also showing the reader exactly where his data came from and how
he went about collecting it. 

One problem area does emerge in this chapter, however, with respect to how
Goebel relates a collection of speech patterns to specific speech categories
detailed by Gafaranga and Torra (2002): sign alternation as the medium, medium
repair, and code-switching. These concepts all have a firm theoretical
grounding, but a more holistic description of these categories and why they
are relevant would have been helpful. Clearer coverage of these issues in
Chapter 4 would help the reader later in the book, as these terms and themes
are called upon regularly throughout the remainder of the text.

Chapter 5 examines the linguistic practices of the female members of Ward 8.
This analysis is carried out, both in this chapter and in subsequent ones,
through an analysis of speech as it unfolds during monthly ward meetings
between residents. This chapter sets up the discussion on the various frames
of expectation that exist in the ward, which work to mold or shape the actions
and expectations of residents. These frames of expectation are argued to help
establish what kinds of practices are considered normative in the community as
well as processes of social identification and positioning that are taking
place simultaneously. 

By drawing on the work of Ochs and Capps (2001), Goebel argues that through
co-constructed talk, social identities are formed and changed in these wards.
These practices are instrumental in the indexing of categories of personhood,
alongside other signs in the locally emerging semiotic registers that he
proposes. Goebel attempts to show how the co-construction of self and the
“other” through language choice can be used to position community members
within these specific categories, or within related semiotic registers more
generally. This chapter also works to question the linkages between prevailing
language ideologies and specific ethnic identities. Goebel problematizes this
through showing in his data how processes of adequation or crossing happen
across meeting attendees regardless of their ethnic background. 

Chapter 6 analyzes the processes involved in becoming a “good ward member”.
Goebel does this through an examination of the forms of learning that appear
to be taking place among newcomers to the community, which can in turn help
them to integrate and assimilate to the normative expectations of the ward. He
shows how community members can learn, through the course of being a ward
member, the appropriate use of specific linguistic forms and signs. Goebel
also uses this chapter to begin to show how degrees of daily contact and
interaction among ward members can reflect their patterns of linguistic use.
Specifically how levels and hours of work or time spent outside of the ward
can play a role in shaping the linguistic choices made in interactional

One useful method of representation that Goebel makes use of in this respect
is detailed half-matrices which show the forms that make up the habitual
linguistic exchanges of specific ward members. This gives the reader an
opportunity to see what the predominant language forms are in communication
between specific pairs of people discussed in the book. Through this
representation Goebel does more work towards showing how normative practices
are developed across speech acts as well as the continual reification of
expectations about what is normal in ward life. 
In Chapter 7, Goebel introduces the issue of Indo-Chinese ethnicity in the
context of the two wards, however the issue is treated more extensively in the
following chapter. This chapter weaves together the complex network of
different factors that all contribute to the creation and maintenance of
semiotic registers and processes of enregisterment in these communities. In
particular the importance of financial issues is introduced as a factor, which
he argues is tied to how ward members are identified and categorized in the
community. This involves the further development of classifications of
personhood that take place throughout the ward meeting discussed in the

Linguistically, Goebel notes in this chapter that in the ward meeting under
examination interethnic talk was conducted in Indonesian, while intraethnic
talk took place predominantly in Javanese. This worked to further solidify the
category of the “other” as being associated with[?] Indonesian, a point which
he had raised previously. Interestingly, in this chapter Goebel also argues
that since there are very few “original inhabitants” in the ward, the
expectations associated with linguistic sign usage could be lessened. This
works to reflect the overarching goal of the book, to examine the way that
language is used—or can be used—within transient communities. 

Chapter 8 focuses specifically on ward members who are of an Indo-Chinese
ethnic background and the associations between these ward members and
categories of personhood relating to “deviance” or “deviant behavior”. Goebel
frames this discussion through noting an upswing in representations of the
Indo-Chinese community in the media. The types of typically “deviant”
categories of personhood that were established in the previous chapter are now
linked to a single person in the ward who is of an Indo-Chinese background.
Eventually Goebel notes that this person’s Chinese ancestry is explicitly
called upon in indexing his deviant nature. Goebel notes that these more
explicit connections between Chineseness and deviance came at a time when the
national government was authorizing overt racism towards the Indo-Chinese.
This reflects that an awareness and integration of ethnographic information
from outside the ward-level is crucial to a thorough analysis of the

The connection made between actual linguistic exchange and signs that Goebel
argues are indexed as Chinese or reflecting Chineseness is really the major
contribution of the chapter. Goebel notes that this was an area that was
previously restricted to historical, sources without being empirically
grounded in actual speech data. Indeed, this is a major positive step towards
an analysis that seeks to integrate more macro level ideologies and
stereotypes relating to ethnicity and language use with speech data.
Throughout the arc of his argument in this chapter Goebel  also continually
draws on data from his transcripts that in turn provide further views on the
kinds of habitual linguistic exchanges that are taking place in these
communities, and also how these exchanges work to reify the normative values
that are tied to linguistic and nonlinguistic signs. 

Goebel ends this chapter with a brief word of caution. He notes that although
the situation that he describes resembles a koineization of linguistic signs
(Kerswill 2002), it is not truly the kind of process that is at work. He
argues that the conditions of contact in these communities differ quite
significantly from those described by Kerswill and others. Methodologically
Goebel’s approach is also inherently different than those employed in
variationist sociolinguistic work. Although it was not the main point of this
particular chapter, a more thorough discussion on why this particular
situation is not an example of koineization would have been an insightful
addition for those readers who are more firmly grounded in variationist
sociolinguistic work. Including that information would have further supported
his methodological considerations from earlier chapters and helped to
strengthen his argument.

Through looking at linguistic exchanges taking place during a card-game in
Ward 5, Chapter 9 investigates language practices and their relation to
overarching language ideologies in Indonesia. Goebel notes that one of his
main goals for this chapter is to point out the differences that exist between
these ideologies and actual situated linguistic practice. He discusses in some
detail how his findings contrast prevailing language ideologies, noting that
there appears to be a large discrepancy between ideology and practice, based
on his research. Here again Goebel reiterates that regular contact between
ward members and the frequency of their interactions appears to play a major
role in the development of their trajectories of socialization. This in turn
works to influence their linguistic usage and the degree and frequency of

In the concluding chapter, Goebel reiterates the main goals of the book while
highlighting some of the important findings from his research. As he
discusses, linguistic and nonlinguistic signs not only work to identify people
but also do work to construct community expectations of appropriate social
conduct. To conclude Goebel provides a diagrammatic sketch of how these types
of transient communities could be studied and the types of data that
researchers interested in the undertaking may want to consider in their own
work. Simultaneously, there is a reemphasis of the importance of taking an
ethnographic approach to the research, while noting that studies on migrant or
transient communities rarely focus their attention towards conversational
data, an area that forms the core of this book. 


Overall, Goebel’s “Language, Migration, and Identity: Neighborhood talk in
Indonesia” is a valuable addition to the body of work that exists on language
in Indonesia, as well as linguistic anthropology more generally. This book can
be useful for readers interested in linguistic anthropology or
sociolinguistics and is well suited as a text for a graduate level seminar.
The methodological discussions in the book would prove especially useful in
this regard. Goebel draws on an extensive and complex body of theoretical
work, but his writing style and attention to detail make it possible for a
reader with little prior exposure to grasp his main arguments. This book is by
no means a casual read and as Goebel notes, comments from reviewers of his
manuscript attest to how challenging a book it can be. However, that certainly
doesn’t detract from what is on the whole quite a rigorous and well thought
out publication.


Agha, Asif. 2007. Language and social relations. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press. 

Gafaranga, Joseph and Torras, Maria-Carme. 2002. Interactional otherness:
Towards a redefinition of codeswitching. The International Journal of
Bilingualism 6(1). 1-22.

Goffman, Erving. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of
experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Gumperz, John. 1982a. Discourse strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Kerswill, Paul. 2002. Koineization and accommodation. In Chambers, J.K.,
Trudgill, P., and Schilling-Estes, N. (eds). The handbook of language
variation and change. Oxford: Blackwell. 669-702.

Myers-Scotton, Carol. 1993. Social motivations for codeswitching: Evidence
from Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Ochs, Elinor and Capps, Lisa. 2001. Living narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University  Press.

Rampton, Ben. 1995a. Crossing: language and ethnicity among adolescents.
London: Longman. 

--1995b. Language crossing and the problematisation of ethnicity and
socialization. Pragmatics 5(4). 485-513. 

--1998. Language crossing and the redefinition of reality. In Auer, P. (ed.),
Codeswitching in conversation: Language, interaction and identity. London:
Routledge. 290-317. 

Wenger, Etienne. 1998. Communities of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press

Wortham, Stanton. 2005. Socialization beyond the speech event. Journal of
Linguistic Anthropology  15(1). 95-112. 
--2006. Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and
academic learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


William Cotter is a Dual PhD student in Anthropology and Linguistics at the
University of Arizona. He works primarily within a sociolinguistic and
linguistic anthropological framework and his research focuses on contact
between dialects of Palestinian Arabic in the Gaza Strip. In this respect, his
work explores how protracted political conflict and forced migration can
influence language use in this community.

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