Language, Migration and Social Inequalities: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work

Language, Migration and Social Inequalities: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work


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ISBN-13: 9781783090990
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 11/15/2013
Series: Language, Mobility and Institutions Series , #2
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Alexandre Duchêne is Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Fribourg and Director of the Institute of Multilingualism of the University and HEP Fribourg (Switzerland). Recent publications include Ideologies across Nations (2008), Discourses of Endangerment (with Monica Heller, 2007) and Language in Late Capitalism: Pride and Profit (with Monica Heller, 2011).

Melissa Moyer is Professor of English Linguistics at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, where she leads the C.I.E.N. Research Team. Her current research is concerned with multilingualism and mobility in connection to linguistic practices and the construction of identity. She was editor of The Blackwell Guide to Research Methods in Bilingualism and Multilingualism (2008, with Li Wei).

Celia Roberts is Professor of Applied Linguistics at King's College London, UK in the Centre for Language, Discourse and Communication. Her publications include Talk, Work and Institutional Order (1999, with Srikant Sarangi). Her main interest is in the practical relevance and application of sociolinguistics to real world problems.

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Language, Migration and Social Inequalities

A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work

By Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, Celia Roberts

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2013 Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, Celia Roberts and the authors of individual chapters
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78309-100-3


Introduction: Recasting Institutions and Work in Multilingual and Transnational Spaces

Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer and Celia Roberts

This volume on Language, Migration and Social Inequalities: A Critical Sociolinguistic Perspective on Institutions and Work appears at a time when linguists concerned with the social meaning of language are asking questions arising from its role in a changing social, economic and political context (Blommaert, 2005; Duchêne & Heller, 2012) and searching for new conceptual and explanatory frameworks to answer these questions (Coupland, 1998, 2010). The institutions and workplaces described here are all realms where the daily lives of migrants are regimented and controlled. They are also illustrative sites for looking at ways social inequality is (re)produced and challenged. Language in these contexts includes a focus on multilingualism and on normative modes of talking in the dominant language. Both sites play a central role in processes of categorisation and legitimation of migrant groups as well as in exercising agency in the organisation of and access to resources. Language, it is argued, is key in selection, social mobility and gate-keeping processes as well as being the object of organisational responses to these wider institutional processes. It is through language that the complex relationship between the material and symbolic capital of migrants is played out on a local scale, as power institutions of the nation-state interact with the globalised economic order.

Language in an Era of Globalisation

This book examines how social and political changes brought about by transnational migration and the new economic order, which are themselves the outcome of globalisation, produce new ways of regulating language and establishing what counts as 'linguistic capital' (Bourdieu, 1991). An explicitly critical ethnographic sociolinguistic stance provides an account of the overt and covert ways language and institutional practices address core questions concerning power and the place of migrants in various national contexts.

Specifically, the new conditions resulting from globalisation force us to reconsider the articulation between language, migration and institutions. In terms of language, the shift to the tertiary economy and so to the increased number of jobs in the area of services has made communication and language key. The chapters in this volume demonstrate how this actually works in various national, occupational and institutional contexts. Linguistic marketplaces are currently being shaped by global forces beyond the control of the individual. In many contexts and geographical spaces, there are new demands on competence in the dominant language. But in many other spaces, single language speakers no longer can get by in their local daily lives in the same way as they did in the past. Here, multilingualism and knowledge of more than one language have become almost a requirement.

Many of these changes affecting the heightened role of language are connected to migration and the manner in which people are mobile today. Migrants in the past tended to have limited connections with their country of origin, as travel was more expensive and contact was difficult to maintain. The internet, along with the inexpensive communication technology now available, has created improved means for migrants to communicate more frequently with family and friends all over the world almost instantaneously. Close-knit networks are facilitated and sustained because of the new ways migrants communicate and are in contact with each other through frequent travel. This in turn has led to the growth of new businesses and services to meet these new requirements.

The linguistic and cultural diversification of national populations in countries around the globe has led to the creation of a wide variety of services that target these new citizens as clients or receivers of welfare. Institutions such as those providing health, legal assistance, consumer goods and social services, to mention just a few, are facing new linguistic and communication challenges. These are also sites where control, selection and regimentation of these newcomers take place. Institutions are places where we can still encounter contradictory ideologies and practices concerning language. In some organisations, especially from public sector institutions, traditional ideologies connect a national language with institutional identity (see Allan, this volume). Here, social processes of exclusion are carried out on the basis of a person's competence and linguistic performance which can be identified and traced to localised micro-level social practices (see Codó et al., this volume). However, in the private sector, multilingualism related, for example, to the marketing of consumer products constitutes an added value and contributes to the way private enterprises make a profit (Piller & Takahashi, this volume).

There is a constant and complex dialectic between what a host society considers to be regimented (language being one of the terrains on which control can be imposed) and the way migrants' linguistic resources can serve economic interests which benefit either large institutions or small-scale minority ethnic businesses. The regulation and the capitalisation of language work goes hand in hand with the blurring of boundaries between the state, the NGO and the private, or between the local and the ethnic businesses (see Sabaté on locutorios, this volume). This is a dynamic that invites us to constantly question the way language operates as an instrument of power across and beyond institutions. New conditions of language use and new forms of interests (re)produce new and old forms of inequalities and resistances to them. These are always based on the value that certain languages and varieties of language have over others – the hierarchisation of languages – which endows some with added value within particular domains of use. This critical stance can seem overly abstract, bleaching out the speakers from their speech. But inequalities of language are also embodied in speakers' experience of linguistic regulation and capitalisation. They are positioned by these processes but they also actively engage in resisting them. For this reason, in order to challenge the notion of migrants as victims and to focus on their active agency, we have included a separate section on resistance.

Sociolinguistics: Continuity and Change

The theme of this volume, language and social inequality, is not new to the field of sociolinguistics. This area of inquiry has always addressed, to different degrees, issues of linguistic inequality in examining the relationship between language and social life. Although taking different ontological and epistemological stances (Moyer, 2008), both variationist, language system-focussed sociolinguistics (Labov, 1963, 1966) and practice-based, culturally and ethnographically informed sociolinguistics (Gumperz & Hymes, 1972) are concerned with the way in which language indexes, or points out to, social phenomena and ideologies beyond their denotative meaning. Labovian correlational studies showed that variation and linguistic differences were regular and patterned and that stigmatised varieties served as stereotypes, identity markers or indicators of social group categorisations. While variationist sociolinguistics had shown the significance of the indexicality of the language system, Hymes and Gumperz started not with structuralist systems but with speakers and their communicative practices, drawing on the functional approach of Jakobson (1960) and Pierce (1977) and on the linguistic philosophy of Austin (1962), Searle (1969) and Grice (1989).

For Gumperz and Hymes, only an activity and practice-based view of language can account for linguistic diversity and multilingualism and any other approach, 'feeds into monoglot ideologies of language standardisation (...) and (...) into oppressive language and educational policies' (Gumperz & Cook-Gumperz, 2005: 271). Their concern with the linguistic production of social inequality stems from this approach of cultural difference in understanding, linking the fine-grained detail of the poetics (Hymes, 1981) and rhetorics (Gumperz, 1982a, 1999) of language use to social categories and powerful ideologies. Gumperz's interactional sociolinguistic theory (Gumperz, 1982a) explicitly focuses on the communicative dimension to racial and linguistic discrimination when interpretation or inferencing strategies in ongoing conversations are not shared by interlocutors from different sociocultural backgrounds. Interactions for Gumperz are, therefore, the substance of social relations of power and are where linguistic ideologies are played out (Eerdmans et al., 2003: vi; Gumperz, 1982b).

Hymes and Gumperz were laying down their pioneering theories at a time when the nation-state, communities and class and ethnic categorisations were treated as unified, integrated and fixed systems (for example, Gumperz's notion of 'speech community', which he has subsequently critiqued (Gumperz & Cook-Gumperz, 2005; Rampton, 2000). Relationships between language use and social labelling and processes of belonging and exclusion seemed more straightforward than they do today. The connection of language to theorisations of power and to a wider social, political and economic order were not a question of concern (Gal, 1998). Today, with the social and economic changes brought about by globalisation and the instabilities of late modernity, such concerns can no longer be ignored and require more wide-ranging ethnography as well as more detailed and nuanced understanding of interpretive processes.

During this period, the role of linguistic ideology in understanding the relationship between language and social stratification was also being developed, much of it linked to American linguistic anthropology and to the early work of Gumperz and Hymes. The central role of ideology in understanding language in the social world began with Silverstein's innovative paper (Silverstein, 1979) and his later assertion that language must be studied by looking at the interaction between form, use and ideology (Silverstein, 1985: 220). Globalisation and mobility in the late modern context gave the notion new urgency, as the rash of anthologies on linguistic ideology attest (Kroskrity, 2000; Schieffelin et al., 1998).

Recent studies have drawn together some of the apparent dichotomies between a neutral notion of shared cultural knowledge and one of contestation, and between an explicit consciousness and articulation of language and one that sees linguistic ideology in embodied practices. For example, Kroskrity (2000) has disputed these dichotomies, arguing, with Giddens (1991), that speakers of a language will always have ideologies embedded in their relatively automatic conduct and that such apparently neutral concepts as shared cultural knowledge will always be derived from the interests of a group, whether it is the taken-for-granted knowledge of state policies on standards in language or of small communities of people struggling to have their voices heard and creating alternative modes of working and managing their lives.

So a balance needs to be struck between tracing the larger discourses about, for example, what constitutes acceptable language(s), and attending to the small-scale interactive moments within which both larger discourses lurk and also the resistances and alternatives to them. As Erickson (2004: 178-179) suggests, it is important not to 'reduce the local interaction order to the general social order'. Rather, as Gal points out:

... the notion of linguistic ideology allows for the integration of what, in more traditional terms, would seem to be different levels of social phenomena (e.g. macro-political and micro-interactional). To the degree that the implicit assumption of a micro/macro split has determined, in practice, the researcher's choice of field site and method [...] (it) puts aside the overly familiar separation of phenomena into levels and fruitfully suggests dissections of social life along different lines. (Gal, 1998: 318)

The critical perspective of this book draws on the sociolinguistic strands mentioned above, on linguistic ideology and on critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1992; Wodak, 1996). Language is considered a practice as well as a resource that can have both symbolic value and exchange value in a market economy (Bourdieu, 1991) and where knowing the right kind of language or variety can enable access to desired resources such as jobs or to public and private services provided by the state (i.e. airline businesses, health, education). This book also owes a debt to recent critical sociolingistic studies (Blommaert, 2008, 2012; Coupland, 2010; Heller, 2002; Jaffe, 2009; Scollon & Scollon, 2004) which argue, drawing on Giddens, that the sites we study are permeable and constantly influenced by other events, institutions, discourses and groups which flow across each other (Hannerz, 1996; Marcus, 2005). In contrast to studying a set of workplace or institutional interactions as relatively autonomous events with some background context added, the contributors attempt to make linkages across sites, activities and social actors, examining some of the ways in which discourses circulate and are recontextualised (Bauman & Briggs, 1990; Linell, 1998) and spatial, temporal and physical environments rework and reconnect social actors and their talk and text.


What distinguishes this volume is that the contributors are all grappling with similar questions about the economic and institutional regimentation of migrants and the manner in which this form of power, control and selection that goes on in the sites studied is carried out and resisted with language in its various modes and modalities (Kress, 2010). Migration and the mobility of citizens around the globe (Vertovec, 2009; Urry, 2007) pose important challenges to the linguistic and cultural homogeneity that nation-states still rely on for defining their physical boundaries, their language and identity as well as the rights and obligations of their citizens. Furthermore, the new social order resulting from neoliberal economic practices (Harvey, 2005), globalisation (Blommaert, 2012; Coupland, 2010) and outsourcing, as well as the dislocation of work and the expansion of marketplaces, is also challenging traditional ways the nation-state has organised its control over the people who have typically travelled to a new country looking for work or better life chances. These issues and the role of language are the linking threads of all the contributions that appear in this volume.

The focus on migrants, who are the protagonists of this book, requires a further caveat explaining to what category of people this term applies. The definition of immigrant has technically been used to refer to a person who enters or settles in a region or state to which he or she is not native, but the general understanding the word has acquired is more specific, namely, a person from the developing world settling in a more developed area, typically in the Western world. This act of essentialising that typically gets (reproduced by using the word immigrant or immigration is substituted here for the term migrant that we use to refer to any mobile citizen who migrates or is mobile for various reasons such as work, leisure, asylum or some other reason. Migrants, for our purposes, refer to air hostesses, clients at a call shop or a health clinic, undocumented citizens, highly qualified documented citizens, ethnic minorities who are second-generation migrants, children at school, as well as skilled and unskilled workers participating in an informal economy. The reasons and circumstances that have led those people to be migrants does not fit under the traditional immigrant label, which is imbued with such negative and stereotypical associations. Our emphasis is on understanding migration as a social process of mobility that stems from a wider and more global political and socio-economic order.

While migration has existed throughout history, there are certain new features that are important to understand in the lives of present-day migrants. Changing one's place in a physical or geographical space, whether it is just once, several times or on a regular basis, is only one dimension in which today's migrants are mobile. As Urry (2007: 47) points out, one can also be mobile along corporeal, geographical, virtual, imagined and communicative dimensions. For migrants arriving in a new place, knowledge of local language varieties as well as of the appropriate interactional and interpretative strategies is key for negotiating access to work as well as to social ser vices and resources. However, the lack of valued linguistic resources does not render migrants as passive subjects under the control of powerful social agents. As Ahearn (2012: 278) notes, a socioculturally mediated capacity to act, along with strategies to contest and resist, as the chapters in Part 3 on resistance illustrate, is always an option open to migrants.


Excerpted from Language, Migration and Social Inequalities by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, Celia Roberts. Copyright © 2013 Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer, Celia Roberts and the authors of individual chapters. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

1. Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer & Celia Roberts: Introduction: Recasting Institutions and Work in Multilingual and Transnational SpacesPart I: Sites of Control2. Eva Codó: Trade Unions and NGOs under Neoliberalism: Between Regimenting Migrants and Subverting the State3. Kori Allan: Skilling the Self: The Communicability of Immigrants as Flexible LabourPart II: Sites of Selection4. Celia Roberts: The Gatekeeping of Babel: Job Interviews and the Linguistic Penalty5. Ingrid Piller & Kimie Takahashi: Language Work aboard the Low-Cost Airline6. Luisa Martín Rojo: (De) Capitalising Students through Linguistic Practices. A Comparative Analysis of New Educational Programmes in a Global Era7. Vally Lytra: From Kebabçı to Professional: The Commodification of Language and Social Mobility in Turkish Complementary Schools in the UKPart III: Sites of Resistance8. Werner Holly & Ulrike Hanna Meinhof: ‘Integration hatten wir letztes jahr.’ Official Discourses of Integration and their Uptake by Migrants in Germany9. Melissa G. Moyer: Language as a Resource. Migrant Agency, Positioning and Resistance in a Health Care Clinic10. Cécile B. Vigouroux: Informal Economy and Language Practice in the Context of Migrations11. Maria Sabaté i Dalmau: Fighting Exclusion from the Margins: Locutorios as Sites of Social Agency and Resistance for MigrantsMike Baynham: PostscriptContributors

What People are Saying About This

Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 2015 - Jennifer F. Reynolds

Language, Migration and Social Inequalities is a welcome addition to the growing literature on language and globalization. This volume can be easily incorporated in an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology. Chapters can be regrouped to reveal different issues...All in all, this volume offers a productive way into examining the intersections of language, migration, and social inequality especially in late-capitalist social democratic states.

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