Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Multilingual San Diego: Portraits of Language Loss and Revitalization

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

Multilingual San Diego: Portraits of Language Loss and Revitalization

Article excerpt

Multilingual San Diego: Portraits Of Language Loss And Revitalization. BY ANA CELIA ZENTELLA San Diego, CA: University Readers, 2009. Pp. 200. Paperback $34.95.

In her preface to Multilingual San Diego, Ana Celia Zentella (henceforth Z) presents two reasons why her edited collection is so valuable. The first is that it provides the only ethnolinguistic description so far of the bilingual communities in San Diego and its surrounding areas. The second attribute is the highly participatory gestation of the book: the articles started out as student papers in Z's Ethnic Studies courses at the University of California San Diego. The result is a scholarly piece that both documents the resilience and resourcefulness of linguistic communities and exemplifies what can be achieved by promising students led by outstanding teachers.

The book is organized into chapters and short vignettes written in a style that straddles the academic and the journalistic, aiming to appeal to both a scholarly and a lay readership. In all, it presents information about Arabic, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kumeyaay, Mixtec, Persian, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. Some of the languages are better represented than others, as a reflection of both demographics and student interest. For example, there are two articles about Spanish, Japanese, and Tagalog, but other languages, such as French, German, Chinese, and Vietnamese, are described in a single vignette. Illustrations are provided through photo-collages and population maps, and census data are presented in appendices. The book can be used as a reference, and it makes an interesting case study for linguistic diversity, minority languages, linguistic rights, language policies and language planning.

1. PURPOSE. Z starts by outlining the general purpose and goals of the book. She shows that behind San Diego's sunny and relaxed exterior hides a reality of isolation of ethnic groups, disenfranchisement of undocumented immigrants, and general social mistrust. The resulting fragmentation jeopardizes the city's rich linguistic and cultural diversity, as immigrant children are under pressure to assimilate. Z then reviews the history of multilingualism in Spanish and Mexican San Diego (1769-1821 and 1821-1848, respectively), discusses state and local measures affecting bilingualism in the 19th and 20th centuries, and highlights San Diego's changing social attitudes in the bilingual education debate. On the one hand, the city witnessed the first successful challenge to educational segregation in U.S. history (the Lemon Grove incident) and was an early implementer of bilingual education. On the other, it also swiftly eliminated those programs in the nineties after the passage of Prop. 227, an anti-bilingual measure stoked by the mistaken belief that English is endangered by the arrival of non-English speakers. In fact, Z reminds us that the reverse is true: while English is under no threat, home languages are lost at an alarming rate, justifying the characterization of San Diego as a 'graveyard for languages'. The ethnolinguistic vitality of San Diego's heritage languages is studied through the framework of Giles, Bourhis and Taylor (1977), which measures how each language fares in terms of the variables of status, demography, and institutional support. The aim of the book is to present 'San Diego's multilingual history and the benefits of multilingualism--both individual and societal--in the hope of removing the stigma that results in linguistic death and contributes to intergenerational friction and academic failure' (p. 26).

2. FIRST SECTION. The first section (Demography) includes articles about Kumeyaay, Spanish, and Mixtec. Chapter 1 (by Maxx Phillips) focuses on Kumeyaay, an endangered Yuman language indigenous to San Diego and Imperial counties in California and across the border, in Baja California. His estimates are not promising: although 12 of the 17 Kumeyaay tribes retain some variety of the language, estimates of proficient speakers range from ten to 50 elders. …

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