- The sociolinguistics of globalization by Jan Blommaert
This thought-provoking monograph by Jan Blommaert is an important contribution to the Cambridge Approaches to Language Contact series. By placing language contact in an ecological perspective, the series aims to highlight and integrate both theoretical and empirical issues associated with the complexity of evolutionary processes of language in society. The advent of third-wave approaches to sociolinguistic research (Silverstein 2003, Eckert 2008) has brought methodological as well as theoretical considerations to the forefront. In the era of globalization, sociolinguists are facing renewed challenges in choosing appropriate analytic lenses and tools for modeling and explaining sociolinguistic variation and change. It is in this vein that Blommaert proposes his own framework of sociolinguistics for understanding globalization.
In this seven-chapter book, Blommaert challenges the established paradigm of sociolinguistics, arguing that globalization calls for a sociolinguistics of mobility rather than that of distribution. While a sociolinguistics of distribution is concerned with language, abstract and linguistically defined, a sociolinguistics of mobility is concerned with concrete mobile language resources (e.g., accents, dialects, and narrative skills) deployed in real sociocultural, historical, and political contexts. Adopting an ethnographic viewpoint on the issue of postmodern social realities, Blommaert [End Page 140] rightly observes that globalization has removed us from a traditional sociolinguistic discourse, and that mobility starts to reformulate classical sociolinguistic themes, including locality, repertoires, resources, competence, history, and inequality. When seen from the perspective of mobility, he proposes, these issues should be included in the theoretical territory of sociolinguistics. Hence, Blommaert's ambition is to construct theoretical orientations by describing and explaining mobile resources in the globalizing world, taking under serious reconsideration the aforementioned traditional sociolinguistic themes.
Prior to the theoretical discussion, I would like to stress one impressive feature of the book. The research has very firm empirical grounding for its ethnographically formulated sociolinguistic theory. The reader will definitely be attracted by its detailed empirical ethnographical descriptions and analyses. From the first chapter to the very last, case studies are closely intertwined with theoretical insights to demonstrate the connection between empirical evidence and emergent theory. This paradigmlens reflects the current turn in sociolinguistics to small stories, or in Blommaert's terms, to "small-scale, niched" phenomena that we see as real language, or rather, language-related issues embedded in micro or macro sociolinguistic contexts.
Blommaert takes mobility as a crucial theoretical concern. To structure the network of our understanding of mobility patterns, he lays out three sociolinguistic parameters, namely, the concepts of scales, orders of indexicality, and polycentricity. When viewing language as a resource in motion, we find that the use of language is organized on "layered, vertical" scale-levels, forming various spatiotemporal dimensions, or scales, which interact with one another. When language moves across these different scales, it undergoes important shifts in function, structure, and meaning. In other words, linguistic resources move through different orders of indexicality. The process, therefore, involves different indexical potentials for the resources. Consequently, what works well in one context may not function at all in another. Hence, Blommaert argues for a sociolinguistics which considers and observes both language users and language varieties as historical entities, and which regards linguistic communities as emergent ones, shaped and reshaped by the constant interaction of their members. The analysis of a website page that "sells" American Accent illustrates convincingly how and why a "layered, scaled, polycentric" sociolinguistic environment has been created in the process of globalization, where the nature and function of linguistic resources mirrors postmodern mobility and has been constantly affected by it. For instance, different values (e.g., prosperity, success) are assigned to different accents and hence "accent" no longer denotes traditional values of belonging and authenticity. To immigrants with foreign accents (e.g., Asian accents or Middle Eastern accents), acquiring an American accent sounds like an effective means to hide their cultural identity and thus to increase their sociolinguistic invisibility on the global stage.
Moving from mobility to locality, in chapter 3, Blommaert argues for a paradigm shift from the centre to the periphery. When we observe patterns of mobility...