Monthly Archives: November 2012

Pidgins and creoles in Asia

Pidgins and creoles in Asia. Ed. by Umberto Ansaldo. (Benjamins current topics 38.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. ix, 170. ISBN 9789027202574. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavallil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

This book is a collection of five papers, all previously published in the Journal of pidgin and creole languages, 25.1. In his editorial foreword to the book, Umberto Ansaldo highlights the sheer size and diversity of Asia and the resultant difficulty of addressing language-related issues on the continent, noting that the book ‘is intended to whet our appetites’ (viii).

The five chapters that comprise the book include ‘Chinese Pidgin Russian’ by Roman Shapiro; ‘China Coast Pidgin: Texts and contexts’ by Umberto Ansaldo, Stephen Matthews, and Geoff Smith; ‘The African slave population of Portuguese India: Demographics and impact on Indo-Portuguese’ by Hugo Cardoso; ‘Vestiges of etymological gender in Malacca Creole Portuguese’ by Alan N. Baxter; and ‘Bazaar Malay topics’ by Bao Zhiming and Khin Khin Aye. The book ends with a two-page index of key terms and names.

Ch. 1 presents a most curious but ‘much-understudied’ (1) case of a pidgin language formed by an inflecting language (Russian) as its lexifier and an isolating language (Chinese) as its substrate. Ch. 2, on the other hand, looks at a well-known case, aptly referred to as the ‘mother of all pidgins’ (59) by placing it in the context of the China Trade, which famously served as its breeding ground.

Ch. 3 is an in-depth study of the slave trade that flourished in Portuguese India and its impact on Indo-Portuguese. Ch. 4 examines the nature of etymological gender inflection in Malacca Creole Portuguese and its place in the diachrony of the language. Finally, Ch. 5 is concerned with a Malay-lexified pidgin, which was widely spoken in the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago before the British East India Company annexed Singapore in 1819.

While Chs. 1 and 2 are testament to the role of Chinese as ‘one of the big players in the region long before Western colonization’ (viii), Chs. 3 and 4 deal with Portuguese, the most influential of the colonial languages. Ch. 5 addresses the most widespread and scattered among the contact languages in the region.

The arguments presented in each of the chapters are well supported with documentary evidence. Far from exhausting the topics, they do succeed in arousing the curiosity of the reader and in inciting interest in the topics, as promised early on in the foreword.

This book is sure to be an eye-opener to many new to the field of pidgins and creoles, who have been led to believe that the field consists mostly of its Atlantic varieties. The five papers here assembled shed light on Asian contexts of language contact that have occurred over a period of centuries and continue to do so, for example, the case of the recent phenomenon of Singlish, or Singapore Colloquial English.

Pella Dutch

Pella Dutch: Portrait of a language in an Iowa community, an expanded edition. By Philip E. Webber. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011. Pp. xxix, 163. ISBN 9781609380656. $19.95.

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

The first edition of Pella Dutch appeared almost twenty-five years ago, and the work is now available as a paperback that has been expanded and revised. The new version contains an updated preface: here, Philip E. Webber not only focuses on the changes that have occurred in Pella since the original publication but also provides the reader with an extensive selected bibliography of works that have appeared since 1988.

Pella is a small community in Iowa, founded in 1847 by religious separatists from the Netherlands. Today the town boasts a population of approximately 8,000 inhabitants and remains proud of its Dutch heritage, as exemplified by an annual Tulip Time Festival and by a commitment to Dutch-style architecture. Most interesting, however, is the fact that there are still some speakers of Dutch in Pella, and a significant part of this work deals with the topic of the Pella Dutch dialect.

W set out to write a sociolinguistic investigation of Pella. His book is divided into three parts. Part 1 contains a general description and overview of the town’s inhabitants, their ancestors, and their place of origin in the Netherlands. Part 2 deals with the preservation of the town’s unique culture. Part 3 focuses on Pella Dutch language samples that W observed and analyzed. These samples were volunteered by forty percent of approximately 250 functional speakers whom W managed to locate and contact. As can be expected, the majority of Dutch speakers has retired and is among the older inhabitants of the town. Thus, it is clear that the Pella Dutch dialect is endangered.

In his treatment of the language, W concentrates on the tone of typical conversations, which he reports to be peppered with playful humor, folk wisdom, and proverbial observations. He indicates that visitors from the Netherlands quickly notice that the Dutch spoken here is quite different from Standard Dutch, and, at times, they may disparage the speakers’ language use. The author provides a comparison between Standard Dutch and the language spoken in Pella, describing some differences that he occasionally traces back to the dialect of the Gelderland region, where most of the early immigrants came from. In most cases, however, it is obvious that English influence accounts for a particular feature.

Although this book is sound and well researched, it was not written specifically for an audience with a background in language study and linguistics. As a result, the linguistic description may appear impressionistic to scholars of Dutch. The book, nevertheless, offers an interesting and lively report of the fate of an immigrant language and culture in the United States.

Storied conflict talk

Storied conflict talk: Narrative construction in mediation. By Katherine A. Stewart and Madeline M. Maxwell. (Studies in narrative 12.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. 144. ISBN 9789027226525. $128 (Hb).

Reviewed by Sharon Utakis, Bronx Community College, CUNY

Katherine A. Stewart and Madeline M. Maxwell examine how participants in mediation co-construct dispute narratives. They argue that while their data support the idea that the bilateral adversarial narrative model is widespread, it is not the only pattern. They discuss alternative narrative patterns.

In the first chapter, the authors give an overview of the research and its purpose. They express that the study of interaction in the narrative construction of conflict talk is of value ‘to scholars of conflict talk and narrative, conflict management practitioners, and anyone who has been involved in a dispute’ (8).

Ch. 2, ‘Review of the literature’, focuses on ‘narrative as emergent within the interactive environment’ (11), ranging across a variety of models of narrative. In addition, the chapter touches on discursive mechanisms, positioning and identity, and the role of mediation and mediators.

Ch. 3, ‘Data and method’, briefly describes the methodology of the study. Five videotaped cases were selected from a corpus at a university conflict resolution center. Unfortunately, these are given somewhat flippant alliterative case names, such as ‘Dissertation Discord’ and ‘Ballroom Blunder’. The method of analysis focuses on conversation categories and attempts both micro- and macro-analytical approaches.

The features of adversarial narratives are further detailed in Ch. 4, ‘Communicative construction of adversarial narratives’. These narratives are identified as increasingly entrenched and positional, consisting of defenses of one’s own position and attacks on the other person’s position (concerning justice/injustice and responsibility/accountability). The authors review the literature on the adversarial narrative pattern, and then go through the five cases in detail, making extensive use of quotations from the narratives. In each case, they explicitly discuss why each case fits or does not fit the typical pattern of adversarial narratives, concluding that only three of the five cases are model examples of the pattern.

In Ch. 5, ‘Co-construction of alternative dispute narratives’, the authors focus on the two cases that do not fit the typical adversarial narrative pattern. In both cases, they conclude that these are examples of a unilateral adversarial narrative pattern, in which one party presents an adversarial narrative but the other attempts to co-create a new narrative to ‘bridge conflicts, preserve or restore relationships, and craft collaborative solutions’ (58). In this chapter, the authors also discuss the function of the mediators, who in some cases play the role of audience or introduce narrative themes not present in the narratives of the disputants.

Ch. 6 briefly summarizes the findings of the research, discusses future research directions, and mentions implications for mediation practice. The section on implications is frustratingly thin; although the authors argue in their introduction that the study of the narrative construction of conflict talk is of value to conflict management practitioners, they hesitate to draw any conclusions about what is effective or ineffective conflict management.

On the whole, however, the book convincingly argues that researchers should take another look at narratives in conflict and examine alternatives to the dominant model more closely.

‘Ja toch?’: Linguistic style, discourse markers and construction of identity by adolescents in Amsterdam

‘Ja toch?’: Linguistic style, discourse markers and construction of identity by adolescents in Amsterdam. By Gerda H. Schokkin. (LINCOM studies in sociolinguistics 11.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2011. Pp. 100. ISBN 9783862881710. $73.

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

In recent years, many studies have concentrated on the development and the features of immigrant adolescent speech in large, northwestern urban areas of Europe. This particular book builds on said research and serves as a contribution to the investigation of multi-ethnic youth language in Amsterdam, focusing on data from conversations that include Moroccan, Turkish, and Dutch adolescents who grew up and still live in the Dutch capital. Based on an M.A. thesis that was submitted to the University of Amsterdam in 2009, Gerda H. Schokkin’s work has a narrow focus: she discusses the use of two discourse particles, maar and toch, in Moroccan Flavoured Dutch (MFD).

This book is divided into two sections. The first one is theoretical and aims to introduce the reader to the history of sociolinguistics, to explore concepts that are relevant to the study at hand, to highlight research on multi-ethnolects, and to discuss definitions and the use of discourse particles. The goals for the first part are ambitious, especially when one considers the length of this book, and at times the reader may be left with some unanswered questions. For example, the author introduces the terms straattaal and Murks (20) but does not immediately provide a clear definition for them. In addition, the discussion of the discourse particles that are at the center of the study is brief; the book is definitely written for native or near-native speakers of Dutch.

In the second part, S describes her main hypotheses concerning the use of the discourse particles maar and toch, her method of data-gathering and analysis, and then concentrates on her findings. She admits that the investigation of her data does not allow her to provide clear answers to her hypotheses, but in the process of her research, she uncovered some interesting facts, for example, that ja toch is completely absent from the speech of the Dutch participants, even though the expression occurs in the speech of Moroccan and Turkish participants.

Despite its values, this book is somewhat disappointing: sometimes it seems superficial, especially in that the history of sociolinguistics is described in a few pages. At other times, the reader feels that some background information is assumed, as exemplified earlier. This could easily have been avoided, particularly when one takes into consideration that the entire work is only about 100 pages long. As a result, I can recommend this study only to readers who have read prior material about MFD.

Whys and therefores: A rational look at the English language

Whys and therefores: A rational look at the English language. By William Rutherford. London: Equinox, 2011. Pp. 288. ISBN 9781845536510. $24.95.

Reviewed by Colette van Kerckvoorde, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

It is impossible to miss the unusual format of this book. One notices a very brief preface, followed by one hundred dialogues, each of which is the same length: two pages, followed by a section entitled ‘Notes and solutions’, a list of references, and an index. While the use of dialogues is indeed surprising, it nevertheless works well to fulfill the author’s goals.

In the preface, the author explains what he wants to accomplish: first and foremost, he hopes to provide his readers with an awareness that they indeed possess a lot of intuitive knowledge about their native language, English, and that they often need only to reflect on and analyze their own use of the language if they want to uncover its grammatical rules and structures. This is evident to most students of linguistics. To a more general audience, however, this may not be obvious, and William Rutherford had this kind of reader in mind when he developed the concept for this book.

The main part of this work consists of twenty chapters, and each chapter contains five two-page Socratic dialogues that focus on a common topic related to language use. In these dialogues, Patrick, a student, makes observations about some of the linguistic features he encounters; and Marta, his mentor, assists him in thinking about these features, coaches him to find additional examples, and helps him to recognize regularly occurring patterns within the language. Linguistic terminology is introduced in each dialogue and is highlighted, by means of capital letters, to alert the reader to a new concept. The dialogues are well written and easy to follow, and they are available online as audio files. They can be read in order, as suggested by the sequence in which they occur, starting with ‘Day one’, but it is also possible to read the dialogues in random order. At the end of each chapter, there is a postscript: here, the reader is invited to reflect on or analyze some simple materials.

This work is entertaining and refreshing. Any student who debates whether an introductory linguistics course might be useful could benefit from this work, as it is aimed at a general reader who is curious about language, but may expect a very different and more traditional approach. In addition, many language purists might enjoy this work. I can imagine that such readers may be puzzled at first but may become convinced by R’s approach. His approach provides the reader with an awareness that there is much more to language than what traditional English language education offers, and this work may encourage the reader to venture into more advanced linguistic material.

Dialogue, science and academic writing

Dialogue, science and academic writing. By Zohar Livnat. (Dialogue studies 13.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012. Pp. vi, 216. ISBN 9789027210302. $135 (Hb).

Reviewed by Kanavillil Rajagopalan, State University at Campinas

As announced in its very title, this book’s central thrust is to argue that scientific text is fundamentally and inescapably dialogic, although many academics tend to think they are engaged in a ‘one-man show’ or that what they produce is ‘a classic example of a monologic text’ (1). The idea itself is perhaps not an earth-shaking one, but the systematic manner in which Zohar Livnat conducts his discussion and endeavors to persuade the reader is by all means praiseworthy.

The book consists of six chapters. Leaving aside the introductory and the conclusive chapters, Chs. 2 through 5 carry the bulk of the argumentation in the book. Ch. 2, ‘Approaches to dialogicity’, is mostly exploratory and lays down the basic theoretical framework within which the author wants to conduct his discussion in the ensuing chapters. Themes such as dialogism, intertextuality, and voices in the text are examined in this chapter.

Ch. 3 looks at academic discourse as an exercise in persuasion. The persuasive goals are manifest in the very way research papers and articles are structured. L also argues that it is through the deft use of language that the researcher ‘present[s] his findings as “facts”’. (34). This in turn leads the author to posit ‘degrees of factivity’.

Ch. 4, ‘The dialogic dimension of academic discourse’, takes a closer look at dialogicity at work in academic discourse. This is the longest chapter in the book, running a total of seventy-five pages. L focuses on the use of citations in academic writing and argues that there is a veritable ‘rhetoric of citations’ in presenting an academic paper that ideally ‘looks both backwards and forward’ (64). Also examined in this chapter is concession, which L considers to be ‘a syntactic and discursive structure, as well as a rhetorical strategy’ (66).

Ch. 5, ‘Scientific dialogicity in action’, is the second longest chapter, comprising seventy pages. L zeroes in on controversies that occasionally take place in academia and notes that ‘[t]he notion of dialogicity may take on a more transparent meaning when an actual scientific dispute is being explored’ (123).

This book is an important contribution to the endeavor of gaining a clearer understanding of academic writing. It will greatly benefit those outside the academic community who are generally awestruck by the great advances in science but know very little about the field’s actual workings. However, the book will also be immensely useful to newcomers, helping them in ways not available to them in the normal course of things.

The book is rounded off with a fairly extensive bibliography. In addition, an appendix contains a corpus of journal articles (all published in Hebrew) referred to in the chapters. The book also includes an author index and a subject index.