25.4317, Review: Sociolinguistics: Moyer, Roberts, Duchêne (eds.) (2013)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-25-4317. Thu Oct 30 2014. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 25.4317, Review: Sociolinguistics: Moyer, Roberts, Duchêne (eds.) (2013)

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Date: Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:16:08
From: In Chull Jang [inchull.jang at mail.utoronto.ca]
Subject: Language, Migration and Social Inequalities

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4563.html

EDITOR: Alexandre  Duchêne
EDITOR: Melissa  Moyer
EDITOR: Celia J. Roberts
TITLE: Language, Migration and Social Inequalities
SUBTITLE: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work
SERIES TITLE: Language, Mobility and Institutions
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: In Chull Jang, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Review's Editors: Malgorzata Cavar and Sara Couture


This book is a collection of papers that critically approaches language issues
in globalizing and neoliberalizing societies. Chapter 1, the introduction,
outlines the significance of this book and the common theoretical and
methodological underpinnings of the contributed papers. The empirical studies
that follow are grouped around three themes: sites of control, sites of
selection, and sites of resistance. A short postscript concludes the book. 

In Chapter 1, “Introduction: Recasting Institutions and Work in Multilingual
and Transnational Spaces,” editors Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, and Celia
Roberts open the volume by asking how language ideologies and practices can be
rearticulated in the context of the sociocultural and political-economic
transformations that have occurred worldwide in the wake of the new economy,
neoliberalization, and migration. The editors specifically draw attention to
the sites in which labor is practically and discursively configured by the
increased number of jobs in service industries, new discourses of skills and
selves, and migrant labor force. The changes that have occurred are not
limited to the macro- or institutional levels, and exert a profound impact on
everyday life. Because language plays an essential role in the production and
distribution of material resources, the editors suggest that examining the
ways in which language is practically and discursively used in various
institutional sites can facilitate an understanding of the reproduction of
social inequality in the neoliberal social order. The three parts of the book
are structured around three groups of sites, in which language plays different
roles and linguistic activities hold different consequences. “Sites of
Control” is concerned with the governmental, bureaucratic and linguistic
control of job seekers as they navigate potential workplaces. As the studies
in this part show, the navigation of potential workplaces is dominated by a
discourse that distinguishes between “bad” and “good” workers, and the onus of
proving that one is a “good” worker falls onto individual job seekers. “Sites
of Selection” focuses on the gatekeeping role that language plays when social
actors seek to access linguistic capital, or transfer their own linguistic
capital into other contexts. Selection processes involving language do not
only involve powerful institutions. Under neoliberalism, such selection
processes are likely to be subtle and suggest that individuals can make their
own choices within the selection process--in other words, there is a
suggestion that the selection process is a “self-selection” process. Because
self-selection is mediated by discursively constructed social meanings and
images, the studies in this part draw on the concept of indexicality, a
semiotic process by which a referential meaning points to a social meaning.
Lastly, changes in the practices and ideologies of language inevitably
reposition social actors in new material and symbolic conditions, and such
actors must subsequently negotiate new, emergent identities and resources. The
third part, “Sites of Resistance,” examines the negotiation and regimentation
of practices and agency. Although actions of resistance can be ambiguous and
are often articulated in a way that domination is strengthened rather than
hindered, the fact that such actions take place in and through language is

Part 1: Sites of Control

In Chapter 2, “Trade Unions and NGOs Under Neoliberalism: Between Regimenting
Migrants and Subverting the State,” Eva Codó examines two civil organizations
in Catalonia, to which the government has outsourced the provision of advice
to migrant workers. According to Codó, in helping workers to prepare documents
for visa or immigration applications, the language and practices of advisors
at the two sites remained permeated by bureaucratic control; applicants and
service centers were evaluated as “good” when they effectively completed
paperwork in line with governmental guidelines. However, this newly
conceptualized role conflicts with their original duty to improve workers’
rights and welfare, leading to tension which manifests when they deal with
undocumented workers who have employed “loopholes” in claiming their status.

In Chapter 3, Kori Allan’s paper, “Skilling the Self: The Communicability of
Immigrants as Flexible Labor,” addresses the issue of immigrant professionals
in Canada. Although the Canadian government provides job-related language
courses for immigrant professionals to ameliorate their un(der)employment in
the job market, Allan’s fieldwork reveals that actual classroom practices
often emphasize soft skills that are ambiguous in definition and flexible in
practice. Among such soft skills, communication skills are most emphasized in
the classroom, because they mediate the demonstration of other ideal job
applicant attributes, such as competency, confidence, and ability to engage in
teamwork. However, students in the program indicated that they should continue
merely learning “skills” and accruing educational capital -- a process Allan
refers to as “de-skilling” -- because the barrier to their being employed was
their lack of Canadian work experience, not their lack of language proficiency
or technical expertise. 

Part 2: Sites of Selection

In Chapter 4, Celia Roberts’ paper, entitled “The Gatekeeping of Babel: Job
Interviews and the Linguistic Penalty,” demonstrates how the genre
characteristics of job interviews that have emerged in late modern and late
capitalist society have contributed to the exclusion of speakers from minority
backgrounds -- foreign-born applicants in particular. The rise of diversity
management and equal opportunity discourses has facilitated a situation in
which access to employment is determined by the extent to which applicants
respond to interviewer questions. According to Roberts’ interview data,
successful interviewees must self-reflexively and coherently articulate their
past work experiences, even if the work for which they are interviewing is
manual and repetitive. Moreover, the personal narratives of applicants must be
reconstituted within the discursive frame of the interviewer or the
institution. Foreign-born workers that are unfamiliar with the hybrid nature
of the new interview genre may be less likely to be employed; this is what
Roberts terms the “linguistic penalty.” 

In Chapter 5, Ingrid Piller and Kimie Takahashi’s paper, “Language Work Aboard
the Low-cost Airline,” investigates another nexus of work and language -- one
which lies between the desire for a certain job and linguistic and cultural
authenticity. In Japan, being employed as a flight attendant is highly
desirable among women, and flight attendants are represented in the media as
professional and cosmopolitan. Following the deregulation of the commercial
aviation industry in the eighties and nineties, the number of low-cost
airlines has increased, resulting in the creation of new jobs and new,
targeted client services and airlines. In this study, Japanese flight
attendants working for a low-cost Australian carrier were hired not only
because they had a professional command of English, which they had acquired
through living overseas, but also because their industry’s reliance on
emotional labor had valorized a stereotype of Japanese flight attendants as
polite and caring; the employment of Japanese flight attendants was thus
considered to offer good marketing value. However, this commodification of
Japaneseness and non-native English competence is double-sided, and often
impedes their ability to pursue other opportunities at work (e.g. the
opportunity to be placed on various routes with Australians). 

In Chapter 6, “(De)capitalising Students Through Linguistic Practices: A
Comparative Analysis of New Educational Programs in a Global Era,” Luisa
Martín Rojo compares two different bilingual program classrooms in Madrid,
Spain: an English immersion program for elite students and a language bridge
program for migrant students. Analyzing classroom interactions, this study
shows how students’ code-switching and teachers’ subsequent responses can
enable students to mobilize and value certain linguistic resources. Switching
into Spanish did not affect the engagement of elite students in classroom
activities, whereas migrant students’ use of their home language in the
classroom was interrupted and discouraged by the teacher even if it was
intended to assist their learning of Spanish as a second language. 

In Chapter 7, Vally Lytra’s paper, “From kebapçi to Professional: The
Commodification of Language and Social Mobility in Turkish Complementary
Schools in the UK,” argues that learning a community or heritage language in a
multilingual context can help students access other kinds of capital (e.g.,
entry to higher education). Complementary heritage language schools were
formerly viewed as “safe spaces” from mainstream society that protected
ethnolinguistic identity and culture. This old discourse has been replaced
with a new discourse, in which complementary heritage schools are viewed as
sites for providing additional, and valuable, linguistic capital. Furthermore,
the study indicates that this discourse shift has been facilitated by
well-educated Turkish elites and that standard Turkish has become the norm as
other varieties of Turkish have been erased. 

Part 3: Sites of Resistance

In Chapter 8, the paper entitled “’Integration hatten wir letztes Jahr’:
Official Discourses of Integration and Their Uptake by Migrants in Germany”
starts with the assumption that integration is a discourse that has been
variously interpreted and applied. The most distinctive feature of this paper
is that the authors, Werner Holly and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof, conducted
fieldwork in two provincial towns rather than in cities. The two towns
demographically differed in the number of migrants and ethnic composition and
were compared to examine how official integration policies were locally
adapted and negotiated. In particular, the study found that residents in the
town with a smaller number of migrants were more aware of the presence of
those migrants, and the town provided lesser levels of institutional support.
Holly and Meinhof present eight strategies that migrants in the two towns
utilized to appropriate and resist established integration discourses:
avoidance, rejection, regrammaticalization, resignification, modification,
adaptation, transference, and self-empowerment. Migrants often avoid
problematizing integration issues or even are unwilling to admit their
isolation in the mainstream communities. However, a semantic shift is also
observed in their own appropriation of the German language usage and official
integration discourses. This shift reveals that the majority should be invited
to the minority and that the official notion of integration should be
distinguished from their authentic notion. Migrants also modify or adapt an
integration issue (e.g., racial discrimination or school performance) for
their intents. They separate their lives from these issues or project
arguments against their ethnic group onto the fraction of the uneducated
members. Similar to the adaption strategy, they stratify ethnic groups and
transfer a discursive element from one group to another. Lastly, migrants
dissociate themselves from an aggressive situation and downplay a realistic
threat by mobilizing cultural and linguistic means. 

In Chapter 9, “Language as a Resource: Migrant Agency, Positioning, and
Resistance in a Health Care Clinic,” Melissa G. Moyer draws attention to
another institutional site: medical interactions between doctors and migrant
patients. Such interactions are not exclusively dyadic and occasionally
involve a third person who meditates the interaction because of the patient’s
lack of competence with the language used at the clinic. In her analysis of
the medical encounters of four migrants with varying Spanish and Catalan
competency in Barcelona, Moyer shows that physicians who treat patients
lacking competence in the official languages are focused on obtaining medical
information from such patients, not on building a rapport with them.
Furthermore, third-party communication mediators often play a gatekeeper role
by only partially translating patients’ concerns or by aligning themselves
with the interactional rules of the physician’s side. Although Moyer indicates
that the use of computerized documents and records may allow migrant patients
to more actively communicate in this context, this benefit may also offer a
disadvantage: based on medical history records, doctors may negatively
categorize patients, for example, as “problematic.” 

In Chapter 10, as implied by the title of her paper (“Informal Economy and
Language Practice in the Context of Migrations”), Cécile B. Vigouroux
discusses the practices and ideologies involved in languages in the informal
economy, an economic sector that has been neglected in sociolinguistic
studies, based on her life-long study of French-speaking African migrants in
South Africa. She demonstrates why Congolese migrants in Cape Town, South
Africa, communicate in Lingala, a Congolese language, rather than other
socially dominant languages (for example, English or French) in order to
access the informal economic sector. Competence in Lingala can be used as an
advantage in accessing the local informal market, because it enables trust
between settled migrant stakeholders and their new migrant employees. Migrants
who had acquired Lingala at home and had newly arrived in South Africa could
choose to find jobs in the informal economy, while the previous generation of
Congolese migrants had had no choice but to enter the informal market even if
they were well-educated and had been members of the middle class in their
country of origin. 

In Chapter 11, locutorios -- “migrant-tailored call shops” in Catalonia -- are
presented as another case of the formation of a niche language market in a
migratory context. In “Fighting Exclusion from the Margins: Locutorios as
Sites of Social Agency and Resistance for Migrants,” Maria Sabaté i Dalmau
suggests that spaces such as locutorios can serve as sites enabling socially
disfranchised migrant workers to gather and mobilize their own social and
cultural capital. Locutorios have emerged as a response to the Spanish
government’s telecommunication policy, which requires that mobile phone users
provide identification on the pretext of preventing terrorist threats. Along
with this institutionalization of the mobile phone market, the government has
tried to institute the homogenous use of Spanish and English as the languages
used in relation to domestic and international telecommunications in Spain,
respectively. Under such regulations, locutorios provide (undocumented)
migrant workers with a variety of services, such as internet access, prepaid
phone calls, and even SIM cards in their home languages. Visiting this shop
and using these telecommunications technologies, migrants can build social
networks and obtain material or symbolic resources for survival. However,
Sabaté i Dalmau also points out that engagement in the informal market further
marginalizes migrants in society, because the informal market is fundamentally
affected by an orientation toward profit-seeking, as well as governmental

The book concludes with a short postscript by Mike Baynham. Above all, he
emphasizes the role of “socially committed researchers” in the present, marked
as it is by the (re)production of social stratification through language. As
all of the papers reveal, differences clearly exist between those who have
mobility and those who do not. Critiquing the abstractions of mobility and
transnationalism, and examining who benefits and who is excluded from
institutions and resources, is warranted. Furthermore, Baynham argues that
such research needs to be shared not only among sociolinguists, but also with
activists, policy-makers, and practitioners. 


The significance of this volume inheres in its interpretation of critical
sociolinguistics as a major theoretical framework. From this viewpoint,
language is viewed not as a fixed or abstract entity, but as a social and
symbolic resource that establishes boundaries between social groups, enables
the inclusion or exclusion of certain groups in social processes, and
articulates social stratification (Heller, 2011). The use of a certain
language is a social practice that is embedded in a complex of ideological
components (Heller, 2007). This theoretical framework is central to the
discipline of sociolinguistics; language is now subject, more than ever, to
the social and economic logic of the present, defined by trends such as
commodification, distinction, and flexibilization (Duchêne and Heller, 2012;
Heller, 2010). In this sense, all of the papers in this volume clearly
disclose the social processes of linguistic practices and ideologies.

Though all of the papers in the volume attend to the social, cultural and
economic changes in their respective contexts, they do not fall prey to
determinism. This is because these studies incorporate an ethnographic
orientation in their methodological frameworks. Rather than analyzing
macro-level discourses of domination, the authors observed the lives of social
actors -- for the most part, members of socially marginalized groups -- and
listened to their voices and narratives. Consequently, the papers in this
volume often come to the conclusion that there are tensions and contradictions
both in institutional policies and their informants’ reactions to such
policies. As the papers in the last part show, although these tensions can be
a form of resistance, prospects for resistance are not necessarily optimistic.
Rather, the authors admit that there is always a possibility that the agency
of social actors is incorporated into the dominant discourse. This is in
contrast to other critical volumes that have tended to simply highlight the
emancipatory and enlightened aspects of linguistic practices for social

Although most of these studies investigated subjects who were, in some sense,
vulnerable in their societies or communities, there has been scant discussion
as to how critical sociolinguistic research describing such marginalized
groups contributes to their lives, or how such research can be interpreted and
used by various stakeholders. It might be academically interesting that a
number of social actors have created alternative ways to draw on their own
linguistic and cultural resources and to use “loopholes” in institutional
regulations. However, as Baynham implies in the postscript, it is necessary to
reflect upon whom such findings benefit, what consequences such findings have,
and to what end. Such an awareness may be a starting point for research “with”
participants, as Cameron, Frazer, Harvey, Rampton, and Richardson (1992) have
suggested in the context of a critical approach to language research. 

Furthermore, most of the studies included in this volume are part of larger
research projects. For this reason, detailed study backgrounds and
full-fledged analyses and interpretations of data were not included in several
studies. Given that these papers have been published as chapters in a larger
volume in which space is limited, these omissions are acceptable. Readers of
this book may seek to refer to the complete analyses of each research project
if available in publication in longer form, to gain further insight into and
inspiration from the linguistic practices under neoliberalism. 


Cameron, D., Frazer, E., Harvey, P., Rampton, B. and Richardson, K. (1992).
Researching language: Issues of power and method. New York: Routledge.

Duchêne, A., & Heller, M. (2012). Language in late capitalism: Pride and
profit. New York: Routledge.

Heller, M. (2007). Bilingualism: A social approach. Basingstoke [England]:
Palgrave Macmillan.

Heller, M. (2010). The commodification of language. Annual Review of
Anthropology, 39(1), 101–114. 

Heller, M. (2011). Paths to post-nationalism: A critical ethnography of
language and identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


In Chull JANG is currently a PhD candidate in the Language and Literacies
Education Program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the
University of Toronto (OISE/UT). His thesis research concerns South Korean
English study-abroad, taking critical sociolinguistic ethnography as a
theoretical and methodological framework. His research interests include
critical sociolinguistics, language learner subjectivity, and the issue of
English in late capitalism.

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