Issues of language and multilingualism take on new significance in socioeconomic and political life for individuals, groups, and nations [End Page 240] in our time of transition, but a no-man's-land between academic linguistics and public language persists, as Edwards (1994) identified in his lucid academic account. Edwards's 2012 book is a condensed and updated version for "people at all levels of linguistic sophistication" (p. 115). An introductory text with breadth, depth, timeliness, and style, it is firmly grounded in a materialist view that sees language issues as not only linguistic issues but, importantly, identity or social psychology issues rooted in the socioeconomic and political conditions of the speakers in relation to others. Historically, for instance, elite multilingualism has been a marker of high status, and it would have been unthinkable for European scholars, diplomats, and aristocrats in the middle ages to not to have known Latin, Greek, or French in addition to their vernacular, "but often unthinkable, perhaps, in the same way that it would have been unthinkable not to have had servants" (p. 29). Below I will introduce the content, with details on certain chapters to highlight the book's merits.
Chapters 1 to 4 provide an overview. Chapter 1 maps out global linguistic diversity with a historical dimension, including the debate about the first language before the Tower of Babel, the reasoning as to why all languages are linguistically equal, and a description of languages and language families around the world, about many of which we still lack linguistic knowledge. Chapter 2 explains the insufficient knowledge of declining languages via the case of Marie Smith Jones, whose death in 2008 marked the extinction of the first Alaskan language in recent time, Eyak, which drives the point that language decline is a consequence of inequalities at the point where communities meet. Insufficient knowledge is apparent in language categorization when languages, dialects, and their speakers have multiple names - disturbingly, various group names suggest the outsiders were, or are, "snakes," "mutes," "stutters," and even the "edible ones." Notably, political allegiance and identity politics add further confusions: in a post-Yugoslavian era, the Serbo-Croatian language has been replaced by three languages - Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian, with moves to make Croatian as different from Serbian as possible and as quickly as possible. Chapter 3 discusses multilingualism at the global, national/regional, and individual levels, before examining individual attitudes, or prevailing prejudices, including those found among teachers toward their students' languages and multilingualism today. Edwards then criticizes a recent development in bilingual and bicultural education, which discusses "languaging" and "translanguaging" instead of codeswitching, and "disinventing and reconstituting language" instead of heteroglossia: "Jargon and neologism to no useful purpose. Pretentiousness and barren verbiage. Lack of novelty [End Page 241] coupled with inelegant expression" (p. 37-38). Chapter 4 discusses the various scenarios leading to the rise of multilingualism, followed by assessing multilingualism, particularly the limitations of using a census to collect information on multilingualism.
Chapters 5 to 7 deal with ramifications of multilingualism. Chapter 5 focuses on lingua francas, including languages of wider communication, pidgins and creoles, and constructed languages. Focusing on translation, Chapter 6 stresses that concealment and privacy are as much features of language as is communication, and discusses the resentment towards "voice appropriation" that occurs when powerful outsiders name other communities and their languages and tell their stories, and the practical challenges in translation. Chapter 7 deals with the desire to, and effort made to keep languages pure, underpinned by nationalistic emotions and identity needs, including purism and prescriptivism, the establishment of language academies in Europe since 1582, and dictionary-making in the English-speaking world since the 1770s.
The rest deals with languages and identities in transition. Chapter 8 discusses big and small languages in contact, the decline of small languages and their maintenance, and future directions. Chapter 9 examines language revival and emphasizes the power of collective will. Analyzing the conflicts between the wills of the masses and the elites in post-colonial settings, Edwards highlights the contribution of distinguished Kenyan author Ngugi...