Reviewed by Sharon Utakis, Bronx Community College, CUNY
Language and identities comprises a broad survey of the relationship between ‘different levels of our linguistic behavior and diverse facets of our identities’ (1). It is divided into an introduction and four sections, with a total of twenty-two chapters that vary in length, detail, and specificity of topic. Sections are arranged so that the categories of identity discussed are increasingly abstract, moving from individuals, to groups and communities, to regions and nations.
Part 1, ‘Theoretical issues’, contains three chapters by prominent language researchers. These are the most dense and abstract chapters of the book. John E. Joseph’s chapter gives an overview of the study of identity within linguistics and adjacent fields, Mary Bucholtz and Kira Hall summarize a framework for an analysis of identity within linguistic interaction, and Barbara Johnstone focuses on indexicality and how relationships between linguistic forms and identity emerge.
Part 2, ‘Individuals’, includes chapters by Jane Stuart-Smith and Claire Timmins, David Bowie, Nick Miller, Dominic Watt, and Anders Eriksson. This section is the least cohesive, with chapters on the adoption of sound changes, voice changes over the lifetime, foreign accent syndrome, speaker identification, and forensic speech science. Most of the chapters deal with the perception of speakers’ identities. Many are inconclusive but advocate for further study in these research areas.
Part 3, ‘Groups and communities’, is the strongest section of the book, with papers by Nikolas Coupland, Norma Mendoza-Denton and Dana Osborne, Emma Moore, Ben Rampton, Sue Fox, Erik R. Thomas and Alicia Beckford Wassink, Lal Zimman and Kira Hall, and Louise Mullany. These chapters problematize identity within a wide variety of groups. In general, the chapters in this section achieve the best balance of data and argumentation in the book, especially those by Coupland and Rampton.
Part 4, ‘Regions and nations’, contains the most traditional sociolinguistic work, with chapters by David Britain, Judy Dyer, Joan Beal, Carmen Llamas, Tope Omoniyi, and Robert McColl Millar. The regions covered in this section are limited: all of the regions discussed are located within the United Kingdom, with the exception of the chapter by Omoniyi, which focuses on postcolonial Nigeria.
On the whole, this book is a useful but uneven collection. In their introduction, the editors state that their goal for this book ‘is to offer firmer foundations for how and where to position identity among the external motivations appealed to in explanations of linguistic variation and change’ (5). Some of the chapters succeed in this goal, but not all. A very brief section at the beginning of each part might have been helpful, in order to make the connections between the papers in each part clearer.