Japanese-English bilingualism

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Aug 20 13:43:34 UTC 2002

From: LINGUIST List 13.2118 Fri Aug 16 2002
Review: Socioling: Okita (2002)

Message 1: Okita (2002) Invisible Work

Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 23:46:29 +0000
From: Marian Sloboda <Marian.Sloboda at seznam.cz>
Subject: Okita (2002) Invisible Work

Okita, Toshie (2002) Invisible Work: Bilingualism, Language Choice and
Childrearing in Intermarried Families. John Benjamins Publishing Company,
x+275pp, hardback ISBN 9027218471, EUR 85.00, ISBN 1588111067, USD 77.00,
IMPACT: Studies in Language and Society, 12.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Marian Sloboda, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

The monograph "Invisible Work" by Toshie Okita (TO) is an
interdisciplinary study - it combines concepts and methods of family
studies, ethnicity studies and research on bilingualism. The main focus is
on the diachrony of several aspects of language management and
childrearing in intermarried Japanese mother - British father families.
(TO herself does not use the concept of language management, she speaks
about "language use" and "language choice".) TO's experience with
Japanese-British families she studies is not only as a researcher but is
also personal.

The book is not an instruction guide for heterolinguistic parents but it
addresses rather students and researchers in the field of bilingualism and
family studies. The book might, however, "serve to inform the advice
offered by practitioners," (p. 8).  The approach is predominantly
qualitative but TO skillfully combines both qualitative and quantitative
research practices.


In Chapter 1, "Introduction", TO briefly describes her study in general,
sketches the contents of each chapter, and poses several questions which
define the topic. The key question is: "How do a mother's and father's
values and aspirations concerning childrearing come together in ethnically
intermarried families, what structural and situational characteristics
influence this process, and how are language decisions and practice
located in this process?" (p. 1)

>>From the above question, four questions arise, and TO tries to give
answers to them in the following parts of her study. The questions are
(p. 1-2):

(1) "What are the major influences on childrearing in these families?"
(2) "How do two potentially diverse parental values interact, and how are
they     negotiated in the construction of childrearing?"
(3) "What structural and situational factors influence the language
decision parents make?  How, in turn, do the decisions influence family arrangements?"
(4) "How do these dynamics change over time, in response to new
challenges, as children  grow older?"

TO gives/offers answers especially to the question (3) and (4). The
questions (1) and (2) are dealt with to lesser extent (see discussion
in General Notes).

Chapter 2, named "Developing conceptual framework", discusses relevant
literature, introduces concepts (such as "bilingualism", "situational
ethnicity", "child-centredness" etc.) and presents the author's

In Chapter 3, "Research methods", TO introduces her methodological
approach and discusses her selection of methods: life and family history
method (to the literature TO mentions important work by R. Miller (2000)
can be added), questionnaire survey, semi-standardized interviews. Then,
the author describes the sample of her respondents and the process of
interviewing. She also raises important ethical issues, e.g. considers
that interviewing might burden the interviewer very much. On the other
hand, it is shown but not discussed that the interviewer has intervened
into the thinking of her respondents; it might be interesting to know what
consequences such intervention have had. Then, TO proceeds with short
description of data analysis and concludes the chapter by discussion of
validity, reliability and generalizability.

In Chapter 4, "Japanese-British families in the UK", the author first
gives brief information on the Japanese community in the UK, then
deals with her questionnaire, results of the questionnaire survey,
their implications for interviews, and eventually formulates several
hypotheses. On the basis of the survey she chooses 28 Japanese-British
intermarried families for interviews.

"Initial language decision" is the name and at the same time the main
focus of Chapter 5. TO discusses factors which influenced the

Chapter 6, "Getting on: Adaptations in language use", deals with
adjustments in language use made by parents during four stages of their
child's childhood. The stages were defined on the basis of the data (they
were not presupposed). Again, the most influential factors are pointed

In Chapter 7, which is named "Childrearing", TO deals with language use as
an inseparable part and constituent of the childrearing process in the
pre-school period. Consequently, situation in whole families and
intra-family relations are described. Three families are chosen for a case

Chapter 8, "Going to school", focuses on new factors (fears, time
pressures and interest conflicts) in childrearing and family daily lives,
which arise when the child enters the education system. Coping with the
difficulties and family-life management are described in detail.

Chapter 9, "Family relationship, identity and ethnicity", deals with the
situation in the families after the child reaches teen-age, acquires
her/his own will, forms her/his own individuality (incl. ethnic identity)
and, eventually, becomes independent and leaves the parents.

Chapter 10 is a concluding discussion and a summary of the main points of
the study. Three appendices contain a summary information of the 28
families, the questionnaire form and a summary of interview guides.


One of the merits of the TO's work is that she includes into her research
not only mothers but also fathers, mother and father as a couple and,
although to a lesser extent, children as well. The language management and
childrearing process is rarely reflected by the subjects themselves, it is
"invisible" in the course of the process. TO's aim is to "visualize" it as
much as possible. The term "invisible WORK" suggests that it is the
interaction process (e.g. negotiation of attitudes as mentioned in the
question (2) above) that will be dealt with. In fact, "only" a part of it
is described in the study. TO focuses mainly on what we can call "input"
of the process, i.e. parents' background, experience from childhood,
current social situation, influence from social network, own opinions,
attitudes, feelings, strategy and decisions concerning childrearing and
language use.

In the study, the "input" is (1) reconstructed from the respondents
narratives and (2) reproduced, that is, it is given how respondents
themselves reflect the issues, present and defend their point of view.
Sometimes it might not be clear enough in the text of the book whether a
statement is a reconstruction (interpretation) or a reproduction, but in
the majority of cases, reproductions are explicitly indicated. The
reconstructions are convincingly argued for, only several reconstructed
implications would be worth describing in more detail because they might
not be self-evident, e.g. child's communication at (English) school and
with her/his friends causes the child stops speaking Japanese with her/his
mother (p. 134).

The "input" is dealt with in its diachrony (evolution). It is shown how it
changes in reaction to the more or less successful implementa to make
theoretical generalizations, not empirical, i.e. to make generalizations
for a certain setting with the idea that they might apply also to other
settings which possess the same key characteristics. "Invisible Work" not
only "visualizes" a great part of the invisible and extremely complex
language-management and childrearing work in certain type of intermarried
families, but it also provides comparative and inspirative material for
researchers who deal with similar topics.


Miller, Robert L. (2000) Researching Life Stories and Family
Histories. London/Thousand Oaks/New Delhi: Sage Publications.


Marian Sloboda is an undergraduate student of linguistics, phonetics
and Slavic studies. His main interests are small ethnolinguistic
groups in heterolinguistic environment, bilingualism, identity, and
autobiographic narratives of members of such groups. He is working on
his M.A. thesis on the Slovaks in Croatia and idiolectal networks.

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