The Language of Adult Immigrants: Agency in the Making

Author: Elizabeth R. Miller

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Multilingual Matters
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210mm x 148mm

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This book is the first to explore the constitution of language learner agency by drawing on performativity theory, an approach that remains on the periphery of second language research. Though many scholars have drawn on poststructuralism to theorize learner identity in non-essentialist terms, most have treated agency as an essential feature that belongs to or inheres in individuals. By contrast, this work promotes a view of learner agency as inherently social and as performatively constituted in discursive practice. In developing a performativity approach to learner agency, it builds on the work of Vygotsky and Bakhtin along with research on 'agency of spaces' and language ideologies. Through the study of discourses produced in interviews, this work explores how immigrant small business owners co-construct their theories of agency, in relation to language learning and use. The analysis focuses on three discursive constructs produced in the interview talk–subject-predicate constructs, evaluative stance, and reported speech–and investigates their discursive effects in mobilizing ideologically normative, performatively realized agentive selves.

There are few books on agency in applied linguistics, and this book is a welcome addition. It not only sheds light on the agency of immigrants, but also brings together multiple theoretical perspectives along with a detailed description of the microanalysis involved in the unique research process.

Applied Linguistics 2016: 1–6


Bringing together interdisciplinary research, and performativity theory, and using a discourse analytic approach, Miller's study challenges the notion of language learning as constrained to formal classroom contexts and celebrates the performance of continuous learning in an everyday context. Contextualized in the current US sociopolitical context on immigration and language learning, Miller extends the conversation in the research community to better understand immigrant language learner agency from an interdisciplinary stance. The interdisciplinary perspective on immigrants' English language learning make this book valuable for a varied audience, including scholars in other fields of study as well as teachers working with English language learners, policy makers, and others interested in practice and research in this context.




Andrea Lypka, Linguist List 26.1174

Elizabeth Miller's innovative focus on how the use of grammatical resources in interaction opens up a space for the construction and negotiating of agency in interview talk offers a fresh perspective for understanding the language learning experiences of adult immigrants to the United States – and a powerful tool for problematizing the old dichotomy between structure and agency.

Joseph Sung-Yul Park, National University of Singapore, Singapore

This data-rich monograph explores the elusive concept of agency from multiple and critical perspectives. Its significant contributions are that it illuminates not only how immigrants construct their agentive selves, but also how a micro-analytical approach to discourse can be employed to analyze interviews in second language acquisition studies.

Gergana Vitanova, University of Central Florida, USA

In this volume, Elizabeth Miller offers an in-depth analysis of adult learners' own accounts of their very personal paths towards proficiency in English. Miller's focus on the learner as an individual with unique and complex trajectories, desires and engagements exemplifies the latest and most fruitful developments in Applied Linguistics. Miller's book will constitute a fundamental point of reference for sociocultural linguists interested in agency and in qualitative approaches to research on learning.

Anna De Fina, Georgetown University, USA

Elizabeth R. Miller is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA.

1. Agency in Second Language Research 
2. Theorizing Agency 
3. Analyzing Agency Constructs in Interview Discourse 
4. Agency and Responsibility: Positioning Self in Subject-Predicate Constructs 
5. Stance and Subjectivity: Evaluating Agentive Capacity 
6. Performing Agency and Responsibility in Reported Speech 
7. Local Production of Ideology and Discursive Agency 
8. Conclusion 

Postgraduate, Research / Professional
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