LINGUIST List: Vol-20-2672. Mon Aug 03 2009. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.
Subject: 20.2672, Review: Sociolinguistics: Block (2009)
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From: Laura Callahan < [email protected] >
Subject: Second Language Identities
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Date: Mon, 03 Aug 2009 18:04:42
From: Laura Callahan [[email protected]]
Subject: Second Language Identities
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/20/20-273.html
AUTHOR: Block, David
TITLE: Second Language Identities
Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York
This is the paperback edition of a book first published in 2007. It
seven chapters, references, and an index. Notes are placed at the end of
chapter in which they appear.
Chapter 1: Introduction.
Here the author situates identity as it is to be examined in this book,
beginning with a brief acknowledgement of popular perspectives on the
With respect to second language learning (hereafter SLL), he quotes Norton
(1995: 12), who states that ''SLA theorists have not developed a
theory of social identity that integrates the language learner and the
learning context'' (p.1); Block notes that much work in identity has been
since the 1990s. He next provides a brief overview of its theoretical
in various social sciences disciplines, from which the field of applied
linguistics has borrowed as identity has grown in interest for SLL
Block maintains that ''[t]he rise of identity in SLL has [...] been a
catching up with developments in other social sciences'' (p. 2). He
several references of work on the history of identity, from the Western
enlightenment to the postmodern age. Finally, he summarizes the content of
remaining chapters, and also anticipates questions readers might raise
this volume's scope.
Chapter 2: Identity in the social sciences today.
Block examines the poststructuralist view of identity, with a comprehensive
overview of significant work from the past 20 years, as well as its
from earlier decades. Concepts elucidated include subjectivity, discursive
construction and discourse; performativity and presentation of self;
positioning; ambivalence and hybridity; communities of practice; and power
recognition. He then contemplates the seven most common angles from which
identity has been examined: race and ethnicity (considered in combination
to reflect their frequent, if erroneous, conflation), national identity,
identity, gender identity, social class identity, and language identity. He
cites authors who have objected to an over-reliance on the construct of
individual agency (e.g. May 2001), and ultimately demonstrates that the
progression from essentialist to poststructuralist and social
views can be seen as a building onto rather than a full scale replacement
school by another.
Chapter 3: Revisiting the past: identity in early SLL research.
In this chapter Block reviews pertinent studies from the 1960s, 1970s, and
1980s, teasing out references to identity. He points out that some work in
social sciences decades prior to this contains ''the seeds of
(p. 47), citing Whyte's 1943 book Street Corner Society. He then details
research on motivation and French/English bilingualism, moving on to
the language ego and adult ESL learners' pronunciation, work on the
of migrant laborers and the Acculturation Model, studies of affect in SLL,
accounts of foreign language learning experiences, the professional migrant
experience and fossilization, and the professional sojourner experience.
Chapter 4: Identity in adult migrant contexts.
This chapter is the first in a series of three, each one of which focuses
specific SLL context. Block argues that ''it is in the adult migrant
identity and one's sense of self are most put on the line [... and]
are forced to reconstruct and redefine themselves, both for their own sense
ontological security (Giddens, 1991) and the positions ascribed to them by
others in their new surroundings'' (p. 75). He examines investigations from
1990s and 2000s on adult migrants and gate-keeping encounters in Western
European countries, Portuguese among Toronto factory workers, life stories
female immigrants in Toronto, the language-based masculinities of a Polish
immigrant in California, and Spanish-speaking Latinos in London.
Chapter 5: Identity in foreign language contexts.
Here Block considers the possibilities that ''the emergence of significant
subject positions mediated by the TL [target language]'' (p. 113) will
take place in classroom settings in which students attempt to ''learn a
that is not the typical language of communication outside the classroom''
112). Studies discussed include ones focusing on interlanguage pragmatics
the identity of the foreign language learner; intercultural language
textual identity, language play, and the identity of the foreign language
learner; foreign language learning diaries; and the interpersonal language
learner. Block then reviews two cases that present exceptions to his
that identity in foreign language contexts is not often subject to target
language mediation. Both feature variations from the traditional
context. The first involves Japanese women studying English in Japan, in
in which instruction is organized around feminist themes. The second
university students in a French course in the U.S. who use the Internet to
communicate with French speakers in France.
Chapter 6: Identity in study abroad contexts.
In the final context of the tripartite series, Block examines work on the
abroad experience that includes case studies of sexual harassment of female
students in three countries, gendered subject positions, student-teacher
positions, and enhanced national identity as a result of the study abroad
experience. It is worth noting that this last outcome, an enhanced national
identity, is the exact opposite of what language educators have in mind
they encourage students to spend one or more academic terms living abroad.
addition, as is also the case in adult migrant contexts, mere physical
in a country where the target language is spoken does not guarantee an
of opportunities to interact in the second language, even when potential
interlocutors do not speak the learner's first language. The chapter ends
call for more research on the study abroad experience. While acknowledging
diverse perspectives offered in recent investigations, Block argues that
investigations need to be done, including ones covering a broader range of
nationalities of both students and host countries.
Chapter 7: Second language identities: future directions.
In the closing chapter, Block suggests five angles for future work on
a greater emphasis on social class, expanding the ambit of the 'First
the emergence of local lingua francas, electronically mediated SLL
and the psychoanalytic perspective. In regard to this last item, he points
problems that may arise when researchers who lack a thorough grounding in a
discipline not central to their field of expertise attempt to incorporate
psychoanalysis into SLL studies.
For its extensive survey of authors (too numerous to have included more
few names in this review) along with Block's lucid observations of their
significance and connections to other work, Second Language Identities is
recommended to graduate students and researchers who wish to acquaint
with seminal studies in the discipline of identity in SLL. The volume
cohesive sample of not only recent work - in which identity is the explicit
of investigation - but also of earlier studies in which it was not in the
foreground but was nevertheless present in a less developed form. Two
make the book especially readable. The first is that a case study-like
is taken with the investigations presented, in that Block goes into enough
detail to give a genuine sense of each one he has chosen to include. The
is that information essential to an understanding of fundamental issues is
repeated at a rate appropriate to the volume's denseness.
With respect to Block's assessment of the studies he describes, it is
to note, as he duly does, that the original authors did not in most cases
out with the same objectives that Block and other writers he mentions use
criticize these studies' shortcomings. As Block warns us in the first
''[a]s I discuss these studies, the reader should bear in mind that I am
deliberately misreading them, as I frame findings according to my own
and intentions'' (p. 4). This approach works well, even if at times it may
as though work not intended to address the issue of identity in SLL is
criticized for not going far enough in that direction.
Giddens, A. (1991). _Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the
Modern Age_. Cambridge: Polity.
May, S. (2001). _Language and Minority Rights_. London: Longman.
Norton (Pierce), B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language
_TESOL Quarterly_, 29 (1), 9-31.
Whyte, W. F. (1943). _Street Corner Society_. Chicago: University of
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Laura Callahan is currently Associate Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at
City College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
and Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in
Society (RISLUS), at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests
intercultural communication, language and identity, and heritage language
maintenance. Her most recent publication is _Spanish and English in U.S.
Encounters_ (Palgrave Macmillan 2009).
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