In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
John Edwards. 2009. Language and identity: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. viii + 314. US $99.00 (hardcover).

The book under review explores the relation between language and identity by looking at several key concepts in sociolinguistic studies. The book is divided into 11 chapters, a glossary, a reference list, and an index.

After an introductory note in Chapter 1, the second chapter discusses how identity has become an important area of investigation in sociolinguistics. It is obvious that identity is at the heart of how a person or a group defines itself. It is also quite [End Page 159] obvious that identity does not exist in isolation. In fact, we all possess a number of identities. The author states that “while my emphasis in this book is upon the identity markers and attributes of groupness, I begin by arguing that personal and group identities embrace one another” (p. 2). The author then elaborates on the depths and dynamics of repertoires of language. He tries to demonstrate how identity facets are matched by speech styles and behaviour. Even monolinguals have more than one variety at their disposal. They are at least bi- or multi-dialectal and consequently bi- or multi-stylistic.

Chapter 3 discusses naming practices and some related issues. As the author aptly points out, this is not a common topic discussed in books on language and identity. However, the choice is fully justified throughout the chapter where the importance of names and group labels to personal and group identity is established. The author contends that name influences one’s perception of others. These perceptions influence the psychological contexts in which people find themselves and subsequently these contexts contribute to both personal and group identities.

In Chapter 4, the author discusses the main issues in group identity. He puts emphasis on the distinction between symbolic and communicative aspects of language. While these two aspects exist in many group cultures, they are separable. It is possible for the former to remain important in the absence of the latter. This is most clearly seen when one examines minority groups undergoing a shift in language use and attitude or, indeed, in any group where a shift has occurred in the fairly recent past. We would no longer expect that English speakers attach any significance to Old English communicatively though symbolically it is of great value. Another important point discussed in the chapter is the question of the relative worth of languages or dialects. No language or dialect is better than another. All questions of inferiority of dialects in comparison to languages are relevant for considerations of identity. It is argued that from a linguistic point of view, no dialect is superior to another. Language varieties always create a sense of solidarity and belonging regardless of whether they are viewed positively or negatively by their own speakers.

Chapter 5 continues with some deeper considerations of dialect assessment. The author discusses the work of Labov (1976) on American Black English, to provide important evidence for the point that there is no substandard dialect, or as the author puts it, “the term substandard must be consigned to the dustbin” (p. 73). He draws a distinction between attitude and belief. Attitude is considered to be an umbrella term, incorporating three elements, cognitive, affective, and behavioural, while belief contains just the cognitive element. The chapter mainly deals with the sociopsychological aspects that underpin language and dialect evaluation.

Chapter 6 elaborates on the interactions among languages, identity, and religion. The author asserts that the literature on the relationship between the sociologies of language and religion is scarce. Several scholars (Schiffman 1996, Marsh 1998, Spolsky 2003) have asserted that while the sociologies of language and religion have some ups and downs in terms of importance, they have not lost their power. The work of missionaries is presented as the most interesting case of the relationship between language and religion. The missionaries had a religious motivation behind whatever they did. A closed system of beliefs determined their use of language. The zealous [End Page 160] attitudes they had towards language gave particular energy to all aspects of using that language. Such attitudes towards language and...


Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.