Language across difference

Language across difference: Ethnicity, communication, and youth identities in changing urban schools. By Django Paris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Pp. 226. ISBN 9780521193375. $100 (Hb).

Reviewed by Abby Forster, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

In this book, Django Paris follows eight South Vista High School students for one year, observing multiethnic linguistic practices in their community. South Vista High School is comprised entirely of students of color, and the student body has rapidly shifted from a historically African American majority to a Latino majority. Hyper-marginalized ethnolinguistic groups, of which Samoan is prominently featured in the book, also contribute to the school’s diversity. P employs a humanizing ethnographic approach in which both the participants and researchers work to decrease inequalities (9). In order to understand how to bring ‘pluralist repertoires of practice’ into curriculum and pedagogy, P studies how language use among the students (in ‘youth space’) works to solidify, exclude, and unify them (13).

Ch. 1 (1–23) introduces the South Vista community and the major themes of the book. The next three chapters focus on the three major ethnolinguistic groups in South Vista High School. Ch. 2 (24–55) explores the role of the Spanish language for both Spanish-speaking students and non–Spanish-speaking students. Ch. 3 (56–80) focuses on speakers of the hyper-marginalized Samoan language. Ch. 4 (81–118) explores the ways in which African American Language (AAL) has become a shared language resource in the youth space of the high school, and an interlude (119–25) discusses pedagogical implications. Ch. 5 (126–62) describes the role of three major textual practices (worn texts, delivered texts, and flowed (rapped) texts) in maintaining and challenging ethnolinguistic lines. Ch. 6 (163–74) proposes changes in schooling that support language pluralism. Finally, the appendix (175–84) contains notes on the research methods used.

As he participates in youth life, P shows how linguistic practices are integral to the students’ identities in their social groups and within their larger communities. He finds numerous opportunities for linguistic crossing (e.g. when students use the language of their peers, whether or not such language use is ratified), and these moments are integral to youth identity and empowerment. P also reveals opportunities for linguistic sharing (e.g. ratified uses of peer language) in youth space (14).

P largely succeeds in his goal to reveal the students’ ‘shouts of affirmation, shouts of identity and cultural worth in the face of the vastness of oppression’ (1) asserted in their linguistic practices. However, this is the backdrop to his larger call for changes in education. At the end of each chapter, P asserts a call for a ‘pedagogy of pluralism’ (55). For example, instead of segregating Spanish-speakers and non–Spanish-speakers, he argues for grouping these students together for Spanish classes so that they can share their linguistic resources within the educational space. Overall, this book is an accessible text for anyone interested in youth, identity, language, and education.