Book Review: Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe.

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 8 13:56:41 UTC 2003

Forwarded from Linguist List, 14.6

Gubbins, Paul and Mike Holt, eds. (2002)
Beyond Boundaries: Language and Identity in Contemporary Europe.
Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-555-1, vi+162pp,
Multilingual Matters 122.

Guido Oebel, Saga National University (Japan)

It is not only from outside Britain that national identity is challenged.
Even from within the state, linguistic, ethnic and other social phenomena
seek constantly to question identity and to redefine it. As language --
and to a similar extent identity -- is complex and manifold it is
continually pushing at the boundaries defined for it by society and state.
Due to this fact and considering the old saying that we are what we speak,
then it should be true that what we are is undergoing constant changes. As
many of the contributions to the present volume evidence 'multiple
identity as well as linguistic allegiance are increasingly questioning the
cosy assumptions of traditional homogeneity'. One theme running through
this volume is 'that identity is not a mere reflection of reality ... but
rather a socially constructed phenomenon'.


Chapter 1: Stephen Barbour: Language, Nationalism and Globalism:
Educational Consequences of Changing Patterns of Language Use, pp 11-18.
Barbour adopts a broad approach examining nationalist and internationalist
discourse. By doing so, he regards language and national identity as
allies assuming every nation should have its own nation-state in which the
national language should dominate. According to Barbour, international
discourse, however, demonstrates awareness not only of languages spoken by
small groups but also of English as a globally spoken lingua franca.
Nevertheless, much internationalist discourse overstates the dominance of
English in international exchanges. Bearing this in mind, Barbour examines
policies at both national and international level in order to bring
education into line with the need for effective communication across
language boundaries.

Chapter 2: Jenny Cheshire: Who We Are and Where We're Going: Language and
Identities in the New Europe, pp 19-34.  In this chapter, Cheshire
continues the debate about English and emphasizing on shifts in the spoken
language that reflect changes in young adults' identity. That's why she
draws on research on dialect levelling in contrastive English towns where
young people - through the variable use of certain vowels and certain
non-standard grammatical features -- construct both regional and class
identity. Cheshire compares the situation with mainland Europe where
English in daily life is increasingly invading young people's expression
or construction, respectively, of their multiple identities. According to
Cheshire, this target group responds emotionally to English even
incorporating it in their language rather than just learning it. By doing
so, English tends to become a language separated from association with
native speakers of British English and elsewhere. Despite the just concern
about an English dominance in a multilingual Europe -- particularly voiced
by non-native English speakers -- the present situation augurs well for
the development of an original European identity.

Chapter 3: Richard Trim: The Lexicon in European Languages Today:
Unification or Diversification, pp 35-45.  Richard Trim's paper, too,
deals with dominance by a particular language and its impact on other
languages. Trim suggests that, despite the ongoing internationalization of
lexis and technology, business and politics, and unifying trends in
borrowing processes, the meanings of words, at least in the figurative
lexicon, are unlikely to become uniform. This, Trim continues, appears
particularly true because cross-fertilisation of meaning has not prevented
a proportion of the lexicon choosing paths specific to either one language
or groups of languages. He impressively illustrates his findings analysing
the shared metaphor 'dryness' in English and French.

Chapter 4: Paul Gubbins: Lost in Translation: EU Language Policy in an
Expanded Europe, pp 46-58.  Paul Gubbins' contribution is about language
policy and its confusion causing linguistic identity within the European
Union (EU) claiming the EU is ill-prepared for the linguistic challenges
owing to the enlargement to possibly 25 nations. By looking at the gap
between EU-policy and its practice in reality Gubbins considers some of
the options suitable for bridging it including proposals tabled by the
'Italian Radical Party' such as calling for Latin and Esperanto as lingua
franca. Despite Gubbins' conclusion the EU had a long way to go before
reaching consensus on a democratic language policy it may yet avoid the
fate envisaged by the Radical Party that the 'lack of a lasting solution
for the language problem may threaten long term political cohesion of the

Chapter 5: Harald Haarmann: Identity in Transition: Cultural Memory,
Language and Symbolic Russianness, pp 59-72.  Haarmann applies himself to
a more specific approach examining the implications of the feminine gender
in determining Russian identity in the post-Soviet era. He highlights the
efforts of leaders such as Lenin to play down nationalistic overtones in a
concept such as 'Mother Russia'. Despite prevailing communist doctrine,
the linguistic pull of feminism as a form of national identity proved so
strong that even in the 1960s it was reflected in national documents. In
1991, however, a significant change occurred when many non-Russians
decided to abandon 'Mother Russia' in favour of separation from the former
Soviet Union as they considered the idea of 'Mother Russia' an obsolete
one. Some of them such as Chechens, to a less extent among peoples in
southern Siberia and the far north (Slezkine, 1994), associate an enemy
vision, a somehow disguise of covert colonialism.  Haarmann comes to the
conclusion that owing to the current stalemate between the conflicting
ideologies of moderates and reformers and to incursions into the Russian
language by English there is a yearning at least in Russia for the
historical security of the past epitomised by 'Mother Russia'.

Chapter 6: Brendan Murphy, Cristina Diaz-Varela and Salvatore Coluccello:
Transformation of the State in Western Europe: Regionalism in Catalonia
and Northern Italy, pp 73-90.  The three co-authors' paper is about the
distinction between policies in Spain (Catalonia) and Italy (Padania).
According to them, Catalonia's coherent national identity has grown over
centuries of distinct development from the central state whereas Padania
might be regarded a political construct rather than a social reality. In
comparison with Catalonia, achievements of the Padanian separatists remain
disparate and elusive, both most prosperous regions of Spain and Italy,
however, continue to press for increased autonomy and even secession.
Despite the separatist tendencies standing in contradiction to national
unity at a quick glance, the federalist direction of the EU seems to
facilitate the construction of alternative identities, particularly by
weakening the prestige of established states (Keating, 1998).

Chapter 7: Sue Wright: Fixing National Borders: Language and Loyalty in
Nice, pp 91-100.  Sue Wright examines border regions and the identity
changes they almost inevitably go through. According to her, many of these
regions are spearheading cross-frontier initiatives in the context of a
Europe of the regions. To illustrate her theory, she analyses the
relations between Nice and Italy, in particular between 1855 and 1865,
suggesting the alignment from the House of Savoy to incorporation in the
French state was so swift and at the same time so comprehensive that it
cut Nice from its old links and networks. Despite today's politicians
serious efforts to restore Nissart -- the autochthonous language of the
Nicois -- to life again it obviously means only little to the present
Nicois as a research conducted in early 1999 revealed when merely 10% of
those using the Nice bus service recognized that the timetable was given
in French and Nissart. Wright concludes a similar process of shifting
identity as in the Nice area can be seen to some extent in the rest of
present-day Europe through 'colonisation' by English.

Chapter 8: Mike Holt: The French Language, Universalism and Post-colonial
Identity, pp 101-110.  Mike Holt's contribution deals with French as a
'colonising' language, too. He picks out as a central theme the
increasingly violent conflict between the proponents of French and Arabic
for the right to represent Algerian identity. Holt argues that despite
Algeria being often portrayed as a country assimilated into French culture
and language, this was never truly the case.  Although universalist claims
for French provide strong cultural identity the same claims enabled
Algeria after independence to seek another universalism, one associated
not with French language and culture but with Arab nationalism. However,
French still plays a role in national life and, according to Holt, yet can
make no claims to represent national identity. Instead standard Arabic
tends to take over the role of representing Algerian identity even though
it also has no specifically Algerian pedigree.

Chapter 9: Michael Anderson: 'It's a Culture Thing': Children, Language
and 'Boundary' in the Bicultural Family, pp 111-125.  Michael Anderson's
paper is about identity and raising issues concerning children from
parents of different European nationalities. He takes a social
anthropological perspective and offers an insight into cultural
'boundaries' in domestic family settings. Referring to fieldwork from
Greek-British bicultural families Anderson notes that children can
sometimes be co-creators of their own hybrid identities rather than a
receptacle of parental beliefs. He supports his findings by giving
illustrating examples from children's use of language in their home and

Chapter 10: Lerleen Willis: Language Use and Identity Among
African-Caribbean Young People in Sheffield, pp 126-144.  Lerleen Willis
maintains the bilingual debate examining Creole-English bilingualism and
the manner in which second- and third-generation African-Caribbeans in
Britain overcome the constraints of societal attitudes and prejudice.
According to Willis, these young people manage to define a personal and
group identity based on in-group language despite the fact their mother
tongue being often a Creole and thus regarded a low-status language
complicating recognition of bilingual competence.  Supposedly, many young
African-Caribbeans are reluctant to embrace the culture and identity of
Britain into which they were born. By doing so, they support the desire to
maintain a separate black African identity within a wider British and as a
consequence European context.

Chapter 11: Mike Reynolds: Punjabi/Urdu in Sheffield: Language Maintenance
and Loss and Development of a Mixed Code, pp 145-162. Mike Reynolds
presents the findings of a three-year study carried out in Sheffield
dealing offering a different perspective on minority language use. It is
about bilingual speakers of Punjabi/Urdu focusing on mixed code and thus
examining its causality within the framework of social network membership,
code-switching behaviours and language maintenance or shift, respectively.


Most of the chapters summarized above illustrate the complex and
multifaceted nature of language identity. What becomes clear from all the
contributions in the present volume is that language identity in Europe is
diverse, complex and ever changing. Some chapters focus on the territorial
and regional issues and others on the multiple identities associated with
migration and urban environments. Some are concerned with identity in
relation to the state and others with the individual's sense of identity.
What they all have in common is somehow a kaleidoscope of shifting
identities and loyalties in Western Europe and beyond. Although to some
readers and especially to members of ethnic groups affected born and bred
into the relative stability of white-class Britain it might appear that
much of the discussion in this book is distant and irrelevant. I take the
liberty to dispel such criticism as depicted in each single chapter change
-- no matter whether at transitional, national, regional or local level --
is manifest in a variety of linguistic and other ways. Even though this
change takes place gradually and seldom immediately apparent, in my
opinion, this book represents an essential contribution to sharpen
awareness of acknowledging linguistic borders' fluidity, i.e. atrophying
them -- highly recommendable, hopefully not only for those interested in


Keating, M. (1998) The New Regionalism in Western Europe.  Cheltenham:
Edward Elgar.

Slezkine, Y. (1994) Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples
of the North. Ithaca/London: Cornell University Press.


Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching
German as A Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL at Saga National University and
Kurume University, both on the Southern island of Kyushu (Japan). His main
areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilinguism and autonomous
learning and teaching approaches, respectively, particularly Learning by
Teaching (LdL).

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