25.3857, Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Sociolinguistics: Norton (2013)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-25-3857. Thu Oct 02 2014. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 25.3857, Review: Applied Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Sociolinguistics: Norton (2013)

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Date: Thu, 02 Oct 2014 16:02:03
From: Andrea Lypka [alypka at mail.usf.edu]
Subject: Identity and Language Learning (2nd Edition)

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4041.html

AUTHOR: Bonny  Norton
TITLE: Identity and Language Learning (2nd Edition)
SUBTITLE: Extending the Conversation
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Andrea E Lypka, University of South Florida

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


Contemporary Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research within a critical
paradigm synthesizes second language (L2) learning as a social practice
negotiated between learner, teacher, and learning environment. The power
dynamics between the language learner and target language speaker can empower
or inhibit the learner from speaking in the target language and impact
learning development. Drawing on Weedon’s (1987) feminist poststructuralist
theory and the Foucauldian notions of discourse and power, in this second
edition of the book “Identity and Language Learning: Extending the
Conversation”, Bonny Norton challenges traditional SLA research paradigms on
identity by exploring language learning in social and political contexts, and
in tandem with learner identity or “the way a person understands his or her
relationship to the world, how that relationship is constructed across time
and space, and how the person understands possibilities for the future” (2013,
p. 4 and p. 45). The participants in this study are five adult immigrant
English language learners (ELLs) in Canada. The author investigates the lived
experiences of  these participants, including their evolving language learning
trajectories in academic and non-academic settings over the course of 18
months in Canada. Through these five case studies from research conducted in
the early 1990s, the author reveals that learner identity, language learning,
and power are inextricably linked. Drawing on the concepts of legitimate
discourse (Bourdieu, 1977) and situated learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991), L2
learning is conceptualized as a social performance influenced by individual
and social factors, such as motivation (Dörnyei, 2009), positioning in social
structures (Davies & Harré, 1990), race, gender, culture, learning
environment, globalization, and power structures in society.

This book opens with a preface that acknowledges the importance of
collaboration and peer review in the SLA field and then briefly refers to the
updated content in the second edition. The updates include a comprehensive
Introduction, an up-to-date literature review on identity, as well as an
Afterword by Claire Kramsch that situates the book within the current SLA
literature on identity and language learning.  In the Introduction, Norton
states that this book expands on research on identity in SLA,
poststructuralist theories on identity, and methodology, including a
discussion on challenges of qualitative research on identity, critical
research paradigm, researcher identity, and narrative analysis. Additionally,
the author draws on relevant studies by pointing out the importance of global
perspectives in language learning and teaching, multilingual pedagogies, and
technology. Norton then discusses her evolving theoretical constructs of
“motivation as investment,” “imagined communities,” and “imagined identities,”
provides future research directions, and concludes the Introduction with a
brief description of the seven chapters of the book.

Chapter one begins with the brief vignette of a language learner, Saliha,
(Ternar, 1988), who would like to practice speaking French with Madame Rivest
for whom she works as a housekeeper. However, Saliha is being silenced by the
unequal power relations at her workplace. Through her story, Norton argues
that learner identity is inseparable from the learning situation and social

The author questions SLA theories grounded in social psychology, such as
Gardner and Lambert’s (1972) theory of integrativeness and related theories on
motivation (Dörnyei, 2009), arguing that they tend to focus more on the
individual differences or social variables. By highlighting the discursively
constructed nature of identity, Norton calls for a “comprehensive theory of
identity that integrates the language learner and the language learning
context” (p. 44). 

In the following section, the author provides an in-depth discussion of
theoretical and methodological frameworks that informed her research agenda
and briefly discussed the five case studies included in this book, including
data collection and organization. Norton grounds her research in cultural
studies, critical ethnography, and feminism, because research within these
paradigms rejects an objective reality, contextualizes the individual-social
relationships within existing power structures and historical contexts, as
well as the participant-researcher relationship and the researcher’s own lived
experiences and beliefs in research as being a tool for “educational and
social change” (p. 60). She documents “stories of resistance” (p. 8) of five
ELLs, who were the author’s former students and were in the initial stages of
language learning. In order to highlight the participants’ challenges and
struggles to legitimize their status in the target language speaker community
and in their own ethnic communities in Canada, the researcher established a
supportive relationship with her participants, collected participants’
diaries, questionnaires, and follow-up interviews, and kept a researcher
journal over the period of 18 months. Findings suggest that the diary study
allowed the ELLs to practice writing in the target language, receive feedback,
reflect on their language learning experiences, and use these entries for
further discussions during the diary study meetings to make sense of their
lived experiences.

Chapter three situates the five case studies within existing critical research
on adult immigrant female learners’ biography, identity, and workplace.
Results from all of the studies presented in the chapter confirm the
dichotomous position of immigrant language learners in relation to the target
language community and the social networks at the workplace. In order to gain
access to this community, learners are expected to communicate in the target
language; however, to speak the target language, learners have to practice the
language. If workplace discourses do not afford learners with opportunities to
practice in English, some of them might feel silenced or denied of equal
access to the “social and material resources that support acquisition of the
language and literacy skills” (Hawkins & Norton, 2009, p. 30). For example, a
study by Norton, Harper, and Burnaby in the 1990s reveals that female
immigrant workers felt silenced by the institutional discourses at their
workplace. Specifically, participants in that study could not take part in the
ESL program, because they had domestic commitments, perceived themselves as
inferior speakers of English, and did not have opportunities to practice
English at the workplace. 
In the current book, Norton provides rich descriptions of the study
participants--two younger women, Eva from Poland and Mai from Vietnam and
three older women, Katarina from Poland, Martina from the former
Czechoslovakia, and Felicia from Peru--including their language learning
experiences prior to the research, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic
backgrounds, learning goals, immigration reasons, and future plans as well as
descriptions of their interactions at their homes and workplaces as sites for
their language learning and identity formations.

The next two chapters provide an in-depth analysis of the learner profiles of
the younger participants, Eva and Mai and the three older participants,
Katarina, Martina, and Felicia with particular attention given on learners’
perspectives on their language learning investment. Learner’s voices are
captured in ample interview excerpts linked with researcher interpretations,
theoretical concepts, and related research findings. Drawing on the community
of practice framework (Lave and Wenger, 1991), Norton highlights how Eva and
Mai’s gendered identities might have influenced their investment in language
learning. Findings reveal that participants struggled with gaining access to
their community of practice at their workplace. Specifically, Eva, who lived
with a Polish partner and spoke Polish at home and was part of the Polish
community, was initially linguistically marginalized and perceived at the
restaurant she worked at as an “immigrant” who is “stupid” and “knows nothing”
(p. 100). However, due to exposure to English and practice in English, her
identity shifted from a victim to that of a co-worker. In contrast, Mai’s
identity evolved from that of a skilled seamstress to a single woman who is
unable to provide for herself if she is laid off. The language learning
investments of the other three older women, Katarina, Martina and Felicia were
further nuanced by their identities as mothers and their family relationships:
they were invested in learning predominantly to provide a better life for
their children. For example, although Katarina uses Polish at home, she is
eager to learn English to gain access to a professional community and acquire
a similar professional status in Canada that she had in Poland as a teacher.
In a similar vein, Felicia’s identity is influenced by positioning herself as
a wealthy Peruvian as opposed to being positioned as an immigrant. When her
husband takes on the role of the primary caregiver and language broker,
Felicia’s investment in learning the language further erodes. Martina’s
identity is shaped by her identity as a mother, primary caregiver, and her
positioning of her co-workers as children who are “doing nothing” (p. 136). 

In chapter six, pedagogical and theoretical implications of the study are
addressed. First, using analyses and examples from the five case studies, the
author indicates that some of the SLA theoretical concepts, including the
acculturation model, natural learning, and the affective filter might not
adequately consider inequitable power relations and might promote linear views
on language learning, monolingual ideologies, and traditional,
assessment-based views on education. Norton argues that feminist
poststructuralist theories of subjectivity, theories of power, and critical
research can explain learners’ evolving identities, linguistic marginalization
and challenges in learning investment. 

In the last chapter, pedagogical implications are discussed in light of the
case studies. Findings reveal that workplace discourses suggest a deficient
view of ELLs and such discourses may lead to the marginalization of learners
from different ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and racial backgrounds. Drawing
on the participants’ expectations of their formal learning and Katarina and
Felicia’s classroom resistance stories, Norton explores the socially and
ideologically constrained and performatively constructed English learner
identity. In this sense, language learning is dynamic, influenced by a series
of factors, such as identity, self-confidence, anxiety, motivation to speak,
and investment to practice English, and can be dichotomous. Katarina’s
resistance to attending a language class can be more adequately understood if
contextualized within Katarina’s self-perception, professional identity,
previous language learning experiences, and class expectations. Katarina had
17 years of teaching experience in Poland and had struggled to legitimize her
professional identity in Canada. Through her investment in language learning,
she sought to differentiate herself and possibly advance professionally. When
the teacher failed to recognize Katarina’s professional status and advised her
not take computer classes, Katarina felt that her professional identity was
being challenged. Similarly, when the teacher failed to mention Peru in an
activity, Felicia felt that her wealthy Peruvian identity had been challenged.

Drawing from these stories of resistance, Norton furthers the call for adult
immigrant language learning to be studied within both informal and formal
learning contexts. Teachers need to integrate student-centered learning and
create opportunities for students to deconstruct the relationship between
language, power, and literacy, reflect on their language learning experiences,
and practice in the classroom without neglecting theory and grammar
instruction. By providing practice opportunities outside the classroom,
teachers can create positive learning environments for ELLs by promoting an
asset view of the ELL’s culture and language in classroom.

In the Afterword, Claire Kramsch first reflects on Norton’s passion for social
justice and research and then situates her research in “the social turn in
SLA” (Block, 2003), as well as globalization, technological advances, and
geopolitical trends. Second, she revisits the foundational concepts of
investment, identity, and imagined community that inform Norton’s identity
theory and then links this theory to Pierre Bourdieu, Chris Weedon, and
Benedict Anderson, the theorists that influence Norton’s research. 


The book is invaluable for both novice and experienced SLA researchers and
scholars interested in inquiring about language learning and identity, because
the author provides rich details and useful accounts on methodology and her
research experiences: her noticing of discrepancy between theory and practice
prompted her to continue her inquiry on learner identity.  Details about
questionnaire modification, a discussion of the researcher-researched
relationship, and data analysis process, as well as the insights the author
gained in this process provide transparency in methodology. 

The concept of identity as dialogically constructed and socially negotiated
seems to be the common thread among the case studies of five language
learners. The qualitative methods approach and the longitudinal research
design afford a deeper examination  of adult immigrants English language
learning experiences. Additionally, the way the author analyzes, triangulates,
and presents data from multiple sources, diaries, interviews, questionnaires,
and researcher journal, further enhances the value of the study.

To further the theory building, Norton complements the psychological construct
of motivation with the sociological constructs of motivation as investment,
imagined community, and imagined identity, arguing that language learning is
complex: English language learners’ “investments [are] co-constructed in their
interactions with their native speaker peers, and their identities a site of
struggle” (p. 7) and language learners imagine themselves bonded to certain
linguistic communities.

In “Identity and Language Learning: Extending the conversation”, Norton has
successfully combined international literature on SLA, identity, and social
justice with pedagogical suggestions to create a volume that effectively takes
a step forward in bridging the gap between research and pedagogy on language
learning and learner identity in ESL environments. Even though these chapters
center on language learning in ESL context, practitioners working with other
languages could benefit from the findings and pedagogical implications. 


Bourdieu, P. (1977). The economics of linguistic exchanges. “Social science
information”, 16(6), 645-668.

Block, D. (2003). “The Social Turn in Second Language Acquisition”.
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.

Burns, A. and Richards, J. (Eds) (2009). “The Cambridge guide to second
language teacher education”. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, B., and Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of
selves. “Journal for the theory of social behavior”, 20(1), 43-63.

Dörnyei, Z. (2009). The L2 motivational self system. In Z. Dörnyei and E.
Ushioda (Eds.), “Motivation, language identity and the L2 self” (pp. 9-41).
Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Dörnyei, Z. (2009). The psychology of second language acquisition. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Gardner, R. C., and Lambert, W. E. (1972). Attitudes and motivation in
second-language learning. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Harper, H., Peirce, B., and Burnaby, B. (1996). English-in-the-workplace for
garment workers: A feminist project? “Gender and Education”, 8(1), 5-20.

Hawkins, M., and Norton, B. (2009). Critical language teacher education. In A.
Burns & J. Richards (Eds.), “Cambridge guide to second language teacher
education” (pp.30-39). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J., and Wenger, E. (1991). “Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral
participation”. New York, NY: Cambridge university press.

Lucas, T., and Villegas, A. M. (2013). Preparing linguistically responsive
teachers: Laying the foundations in preservice teacher education. “Theory Into
Practice”, 52(2), 98-109.

Norton, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. “TESOL
Quarterly”, 29(1), 9-31.

Norton, B. (1997). Language, identity, and the ownership of English. “TESOL
Quarterly”, 31(3), 409-429.

Norton, B. (2000). “Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity, and
educational change”. London: Longman

Norton, B., and Toohey, K. (2011). Identity, language learning, and social
change. “Language Teaching”, 44(4), 412-446.

Norton, B. (2013). “Identity and Language Learning: Extending the
Conversation”. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Norton, B. (2000). “Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity and
educational change”. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.

Norton, B., and Toohey, K. (Eds) (2004). “Critical pedagogies and language
learning”. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ternar, Y. (1988). Ajax la bas. “Canadian Woman Studies”, 9(3).

Ushioda, E. (2013). “International Perspectives on Motivation: Language
Learning and Professional Challenges”. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.


Andrea Lypka is a third year PhD student in the Second Language Acquisition
and Instructional Technology (SLA/IT) program at the University of South
Florida (USF). Her research interests include motivation, identity, and
digital storytelling.

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