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  • Youth, Language, and Identity: Portraits of Students from English-Language High Schools in the Montreal Area by Diane Gérin-Lajoie
  • Yan Guo
Diane Gérin-Lajoie. Youth, Language, and Identity: Portraits of Students from English-Language High Schools in the Montreal Area. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc., 2011. 215 pp. References. $34.95 sc.

Diane Gérin-Lajoie, a sociologist of education, is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. Her book, Youth, Language, and Identity: Portraits of Students from English-Language High Schools in the Montreal Area, is a critical examination of identity construction among English minority-language youth in Montreal, Quebec. The book is based on a three-year study at two English-language high schools in the Montreal area, as well as her previous work on Francophone minority identity in Ontario.

The book contains eight chapters. The first part of chapter 1 includes a theoretical framework. Working within a postmodern understanding of the notion of identity, Gérin-Lajoie views identity as complex, fluid, and influenced by the power relations in which social practices take place. However, the theoretical framework appears to be a bit weak as the author claims to adopt a postmodern perspective of identity, but could have included postmodern theorists such as Bourdieu’s (1977, 1991) work on power, Weedon’s (1997) work on subjectivity, Butler’s (1990)’s work on performativity, and Bhabha’s (1994) work on identity as a positioning to strengthen the theoretical discussion. The second part of this chapter presents a methodological framework. Multiple forms of data were collected, including a brief survey questionnaire, ethnographic observations, interviews with eight high school students, friends, their families, teachers, and administrators.

Chapter 2 presents a brief overview of the social and educational contexts of Quebec’s official English language minority and a description of the school settings in which the study was conducted. Since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec’s Anglophone community has changed from a community with majority status to a community with minority status. In 1974, French became the official language of Quebec and in 1976, Bill 101 made French the language used in the public sphere in Quebec. In education, prior to the 1960s, all parents in Quebec could choose the language in which their children were educated. After the 1960s, many children of immigrants were enrolled in English-language schools because the Montreal Catholic school system was reluctant to admit students who were not Francophones.

Chapter 3 examines the results of the survey that was administered to the Grade 9 students at Schools A and B. The sample consisted of a total of 106 students, 30 of whom were from School A and 76 of whom were from School B. Through the survey, the author gathered information on the language practices of these students, in particular the way in which they used English, French, and other languages in their daily lives. The survey results reveal that at School A, the majority language, (French) [End Page 155] is much more spoken in the halls and classrooms than at School B, where French is spoken in French classes. This survey is then compared with another survey in her previous study on Francophone youth in Ontario. The students in the Montreal area who were surveyed had better access to public services in their own language than did Francophone students in Ontario.

Chapters 4 and 5 sketch identity portraits of the participants in the study, three students in School A and five students in School B. The youths’ portraits are uniformly structured. For each participant, these identity portraits document experiences in three specific areas that had an impact on their identity construction: family, school, and friends, followed by a section on language and identity and a short conclusion. Yet their experiences, their representations of linguistic communities and their identity positioning are unique. Chapter 6 presents the author’s analysis of four major themes. First, the majority of the participants reported having a bilingual or a trilingual identity. This does not necessarily mean movement toward assimilation into the majority group. Instead, the participants have a strong attachment to the minority...


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