2017 BAAL Book Prize

By September 4, 2017News

Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice has won the 2017 annual book prize of the British Association of Applied Linguistics.

Although I wasn’t able to attend the conference and award ceremony in person, my inbox has been filling up with congratulatory notes since the announcement of the prize last Thursday. I’m deeply grateful to all well-wishers and it is a good reminder that – although there is only one named author – the idea of individual achievement is a way of seeing particular to our time and culture.

In addition to the work of the author, there are the obvious contributions such as academic sources: these I referenced and attributed, as is common academic practice. There are also the obvious debts of gratitude that any author incurs: to teachers, students, colleagues, friends and family. These I thanked in the “Acknowledgements” section of the book although I actually had to say that they are too numerous to mention individually because any list of individual “thankees” was bound to leave out many more names than I could include.

Beyond these obvious contributions, there is a more fundamental sense in which individual and group achievement are intertwined, as I explained in another book, Bilingual Couples Talk. There, I pointed out that, in the Native American languages of the Pacific North-West, there is no equivalent for the English words “author” or “composer”. This is a tidbit of linguistic information I discovered from listening to music by the rock band Song Catchers. During their performances, the musicians explain that words and tunes are there in the community to be caught. They argue that music is not “composed” by an individual but “captured” from existing tunes. We can think about research and writing in the same way: a book is not only “authored” by an individual but presents a collection of words and ideas that circulate in a community. It is therefore good to see when a particular “catch” resonates with the community from which it springs: the fact that Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice has won both the 2017 BAAL Book Prize and the 2017 Prose Award in the Language and Linguistics category suggests it does.

The key idea of Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice is that understanding and addressing linguistic disadvantage must be a central facet of the social justice agenda of our time, characterized as it is by heightened migration and globalization and their blow-backs, heightened xenophobia and nationalism.

Language is an important aspect of our social position and the way we use language – be it in speech, in writing, or in new media – can open or close doors. For sociolinguists this is, in fact, old news. It has long been known that speakers of non-standard varieties are frequently deprived of equal opportunities. However, our understanding of the relationship between language and inequality in the highly linguistically diverse societies of the early 21st century is less systematic. Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice aimed to fill that gap and to provide an overview of contemporary research into the intersection between linguistic diversity and social justice.

The second aim of the book was to put linguistic diversity on the map of contemporary social justice debates. Engagement with social justice focuses principally on disadvantage and discrimination related to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion and age. It is extremely rare for “language” to feature as a basis on which individuals, communities or nations may be excluded. However, if we do not understand how linguistic diversity intersects with social justice and if we are unable to even recognize disadvantage and discrimination on the basis of language, we will not be able to work towards positive change.

Social justice has been thought of as the master virtue that undergirds all others since ancient times. In The Republic Plato put forward a view of justice as being fundamental to all other virtues, arguing that it is only by overcoming institutional injustice that it will be possible for other social and individual virtues to flourish. The understanding of social justice adopted in Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice draws on the work of the philosopher Nancy Fraser and conceives of social justice as constituted along three dimensions, namely, economic redistribution, cultural recognition and political representation. The book therefore pursues three principal lines of inquiry: First, an exploration of the relationship between linguistic diversity and economic inequality; second, an exploration of the relationship between linguistic diversity and cultural domination; and, third, an exploration of the relationship between linguistic diversity and imparity of political participation.

The focus is on linguistic diversity and injustice – how linguistic diversity relates to economic inequality, cultural domination and imparity of political participation – because our ideas about justice are formed by the experience of injustice. This is a pragmatic approach that is not concerned with “perfect justice” or “transcendental justice” but is focused on seeking solutions and exploring alternatives to existing problems and injustices.

To read more, make sure to look up Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice. If you don’t have your own copy yet, there is a chance to win one, as we’ll celebrate the award of the 2017 BAAL Book Prize to Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice with a Twitter give-away: original tweets including the hashtag #linguisticdiversity published between now and October 09 will enter into a draw for two copies. So, go and get tweeting about the relationship between linguistic diversity and social justice!

Author Ingrid Piller

Dr Ingrid Piller is Professor of Applied Linguistics at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Ingrid’s research expertise is in the fields of intercultural communication, bilingual education and the sociolinguistics of language learning and multilingualism in the contexts of migration and globalization.

More posts by Ingrid Piller
  • Eleonora Beolchi

    Congratulations Ingrid, what a great achievement!

    The theme that you deal with in your book is current and touches us all directly or indirectly.
    Unfortunately, as you say, linguistic diversity is very much connected to economic inequality or opportunity deprivation these days, however I’d like to think that the human being is ready for the positive change and is ready to work together towards the linguistic conservation.
    Languages are a resource that is strictly related to cultures and therefore to history, regardless of them being widely spoken or spoken by a minority of people in the world. What I am thinking of is probably different from the social context that you are referring to however, I was thinking of how in Europe there are policies and programmes in place with the aim to protect language minorities.
    Awareness has been raised and we’ve finally come to respect linguistic diversity. I hope the same positive steps can be taken soon also at a wider and broader social context.

  • Tricia

    A beautifully profound acceptance write-up for an equally beautiful book that is clearly deserving of the award! Congratulations Prof. Ingrid on being the main catcher of the wisdom capsulated in this book! I’m so blessed to win a copy late last year. 😄 More power to Language on the Move and all its future award-winning publications! 🍾 https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e883b877617047b1cbd2d83dc57a48bd5ddbc270e3b263ff9a1d1f5d472f8c6b.jpg

  • Ha Pham

    Congratulations, Professor! that is an wonderful book that i have ever read so far. it has presented different aspects of social linguistics all around the world. Also, it helps me figure out what really breaks social justice linguistically in particular contexts which are taking place in many parts of the world.

  • 44285736

    Congratulation to your achievement, from the summative description of your book, I find it interesting to see that you have breached the cap between language diversity and social injustice. The interesting case study is in PNG there are minor or smaller language groups that have distinct lexicology for different gender. Male are suppose to speak using certain type of words and expression and female with certain type of words and expression. The demarcation of the sociolinguistic norm of the society has influence both the patrilineal and matrilineal societies in PNG. In the matrilineal society women have the upper hand of using certain spoken words that involves decision making that man do not say and vice versa for the patrilineal villages where women play the secondary roles. So, the gender problem in PNG is a mixture of both. What is evident is that women talk about gender equity but there are some places where man too face gender injustice. So as you have said there is discrimination on the basis of social realities and norms of the society and definitely influence the allowable and non allowable lexicon one can speak based on society. Most modern western societies the freedom of words to express has no limits, which is what human rights and other social justice organization are emphasising for a fair and free expression of speech. That is universal ideology that must be pursued but avoid gender bias. However, traditions of such mention are dying slowly but with change come consequences. Thanks for the input to society.


    Congratulations Professor Ingrid
    Language diversity and social injustice are clearly evident in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Language is a social tool and when it is not used positively as per the social norms in societies it causes injustice. Our diverse languages have categories according to the participants and contexts. For instance, during important occasions and ceremonies, like wedding, bride price, initiation, and so on, men represent family, clans, tribes to speak. So much so that women and girls take the back stage and thus couldn’t develop confidences in public speech. They become less convincing or somehow believe that they (females) aren’t capable of being leaders. This stereotyping has become fabrics of society for sometime. However, currently there are women who have risen to be leaders in various capacities. Women have moved into male dominated areas and thus have presented speeches in society that have been admired by men. More awareness on gender issues have empowered women and men to be change makers collectively.

  • Wonghoi

    Hi Ingrid,
    Congratulation on your book to win this award. I am so honored to have you around this semester in Literacy unit. I assume that this essay is like an advertisement for your book, and I hope I could have chance to read it in the future! As you mentioned that writing a book is like creating a new song, we have to be aware that this not just a job that assigned to a particular person, but instead it is a work that required teamwork. This is a book that relates closely with sociology, especially when you emphased the three main points in your book. I have done some researches about gender discrimination in China. I rememberd I have found some interesting terms about how people call women of females with certain degrees of insulting. Socical justice is a very huge and long-term project for us to persue in the next coming decades. No matter in Australia or China, this is a key cultural concept for us to focus on. You must have used plenty of time on this book, and I feel so happy for you to finally make your work shining in the world.

  • Thi Lam Tra DINH

    Congratulation to your achievement.
    I have just read the introduction chapter that you assigned as the unit reading for week 6. I have been really interested in the term “submersion education” which could have negative effects of language learners. I taught English to two minority-ethnic students in Vietnam whose first languages were not “Kinh” language (Vietnamese). The medium of instruction in the national education system is Vietnamese, and they can be seen in submersion education. They were very good at oral performance in both Vietnamese and English, but they had very poor academic results (as we usually discuss). I could see their difficulties when they always tried their best. However, they finally could not achieve eligible levels for graduation. I still kept thinking of what supports that I and the system provided them. The answer is “Inadequate”. The reasons for these cases have not been fully investigated. After reading the chapter, I could imagine what cautions need to be done in my submersion education context.

  • Livia Gerber

    Herzlichen Glueckwunsch, Ingrid! This is a powerful text, both engaging and accessible, and composed in such a way that highlights so many issues related to our everyday language use that is often overlooked.

  • GlobalMikeW

    Congratulations on your award. It is true that there are many contributors to any creative endeavour, and certainly the ideas of others, which act as a foundation, must always be acknowledged. I think where the personal recognition comes in is that, okay yes, these concepts and ideas are already in existence, but it is still the author who has to sit down and channel them into a cohesive publication that further extends the body of work available. This means many, many hours of assembling material, formulating ideas and battling the inner resistance all writers feel. Subsequently, any recognition for your work is without question well deserved as much on a personal level as collectively.

    The topics you refer to are also very interesting and having read the unit reading for Chapter 6, I could see why the book is being seen as important. I had never considered the issue of submersion education, but your detailed explanation certainly raised some worrying questions. Namely, are we as educators insidious collaborators of this whitewashing of language diversity, and what can be done to try and alleviate the issues at a personal level? I work as a language teacher for a Direct Entry Program at a local university and one of our key directives is to stop students using their native language in the classroom. Obviously this is different to many of the examples you gave, but it still has given me wonder whether the monolinguistic approach of my classroom, in preparation for the monolinguistic environment of university, is indeed the worthy objective I’d always believed it to be.

  • Long leg

    Congratulations on your winning of this book. This topic really catches my interest. Under the circumstances, language has become a magical tool in social communication. The diversity of languages could create many opportunities as well as disadvantages. As I knew some people who used to be my classmates at university in Vietnam. Their major were English so that their linguistic abilities were quite academic. They often laughed at ones who were non English major when they tried to express their idea by English but using inappropriate words or incorrect pronunciation. This way, I think, is also a kind of injustice between language experts and speakers of non-standard language. This may different with your idea, but just my opinion.

  • MonyCRole

    Congratulations on the reward! From your description of the book, the interrelationship between overcoming language gaps and promoting social justice and equality is highlighted. To be honest, as once a translation major, I have never considered their connection because I was taught that the final goal of a translator was to deal with the differences of two languages and achieve mutual cultural understanding among the users of the languages as much as possible. But this book genuinely intrigues my curiosity: is it possible for me to accomplish more than simply drawing cultural equivalence when completing translation work? I guess this could be a serious issue in terms of the responsibilities of translators and their fulfillment.

  • Nadiah Aziz

    Hi all,

    I know by right I should be focusing more on the topic of Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice. However I couldn’t help but thinking about one of the famous Malaysian born singers; Zee Avi, when Ingrid mentioned the rock band; Song Catchers that she listened to. Zee Avi was born in Sarawak, Borneo Island, Malaysia whose mother tongue is one of the minority languages spoken by one of the ethnics in the east of Peninsular Malaysia.

    Zee Avi has worked closely with the soft rock singer, Jack Johnson and one of her famous songs entitled “Kantoi” (busted), a slang in Malay language, is very well- known and controversial at the same time. The song was adored by many but was criticised by the nationalists as they thought it has destroyed the beauty of the national language- Malay. The Malaysian Nationalist Party was the one responsible for the changes made in Malaysian education system back in 2012. In 2002, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Bin Mohammad decided for all schools in Malaysia to learn Science and Mathematics in English, instead of Malay as he sees the importance of English as lingua franca. I reckon this explains why we could see a great decline in the literacy rate that was shown in one of Ingrid’s lecture slides the other day. This issue was of course, problematic as we Malaysians have been using Malay language as the medium of instruction in schools. However, there were many parents who loved the idea as they wanted their children to be highly literate in English- a language that is being perceived as prestigious in our society.

    I remember playing “Kantoi” song during my Language and Identity class presentation back in UniSA, Adelaide and I highlighted the song lyrics which consist of a code-mix between English and Malay language. It was interesting how non- native speakers of Malay could get the gist of the song and what it was about despite the use of Malay words, whilst Malaysians can definitely capture the whole song naturally without having to consciously or cognitively think of the syntactic structure and their semantic representations to connect both languages to make sense of the meaning of the story that was being told in the song.

    In relation to what Ingrid has elaborated in this post, it is very true the fact that what author or in this case, a song writer or a composer is able to do, or if you like, should do, is to allow the listeners or the target audience to “capture the tunes” within the community as long as it “resonates” with what a society can relate to in order for it to be successful and recognised. I personally think that “Kantoi” represents the diversity of the multicultural and multilingual society in Malaysia and how the majority of its citizens are pretty much bilingual.

    Here’s a link to “Kantoi” if you’re interested ^_^

  • Thanks, Nadiah! Have you seen the poem “Malay sketches” at http://www.languageonthemove.com/malay-sketches/? You might enjoy it 🙂

  • Nadiah Aziz

    Hi Ingrid, thank you for sharing, just saw the post. Such an inspirational young lady ^_^. I could see her second “sketch” sometimes interestingly sound like the time when TV was black and white and her spelling of ‘pingan’ instead of the correct written form “pinggan” (plate) and that she did not translate the word “bamboo” to Malay- “buluh”. So much to comment on this Malay Sketch!! Thanks again for sharing, and congratulations on the award, you deserve it!


  • Kaniz Rahman

    Congratulation on your achievement. I really liked the part where you compared writing a book with composing a song. It goes to show that writing a book is just not sitting there and writing something, rather it requires research, analysis and team work. What I feel about writing a book or composing song, for both of them we need passion and inspiration.
    On the other hand, about language diversity creating disadvantage or injustice; I have seen few cases that seemed injustices to me. Back in my country Bangladesh, English is regarded as a prestigious one and people who speak English were respected more. However one who comes from the rural area who does not have more exposure in English were neglected and often laughed on just because he does not speak English properly even though he has knowledge about other things. Language is sometimes seen as the measurement of knowledge but for me it is a medium of gain knowledge, ad communicate. So those who struggle with English should not be neglected just because of what they speak.

  • Dee

    Congratulations on your prize! This post is eloquently written as is chapter six (which I read as per unit readings). The ideas you raised have challenged some of my preconceived ideas on the current programs available in NSW primary schools. The key point I take from this article is that whilst EAL/D students are offered additional ESL support and some schools offer community languages (to help maintain home language); these programs conflict with other government initiatives such as Best Start testing and NAPLAN testing. In discussing this conundrum, you have highlighted the link between linguistic disadvantage and social justice.

  • Donna Butorac

    I’m so pleased to read that you have won two awards for this book, Ingrid. Congratulations! I have incorporated readings from Linguistic Diversity and Social Justice in my second year Sociology unit, Language and Social Life, and find it an excellent source. Thank you for all the great work that you do.

  • 44209150

    Big congratulations on your such a notable achievement! Personally, I have never read this book yet. The image of the woman on the book cover has really aroused my curiosity about some questions: Why is the woman covered with a band? Is the woman chosen as a symbol of “the vulnerable part” in life? Does the balance of the two weights mean “justice”? That my interest in searching for the answers to these questions just keeps stimulating me to read this recommended book. From my personal experience, in any time and context, there has always existed a connection between linguistic diversity and economic as well as cultural disparities. Still, I am keen on solutions to the current problems related to dominant language use and injustice in society.

  • Kyungmin Lee

    Congratulations on the award! It is great that you have been recognised in this area of linguistics and as one of your students, I cannot express my appreciation more for your sincere effort. Liguistic injustice has always been with us living this century. Some would not have recognised it easily if they have benifited from the injustice unconsciously. From my point of view, linguistic injustice can also be detected in a country as well as across countries as even in a small country, different dialects have been used and only a capital language is recognised as a standard while others are perceived to be minors and are supposed to be neglected. This injustice in a small scale of society is the portrait of what people are likely to experience in a broader societies.