In and Out of Suriname: Language, Mobility and Identity, edited by Eithne B. Carlin, Isabelle Léglise, Bettina Migge & Paul B. Tjon Sie Fat

in New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids

Eithne B. Carlin, Isabelle Léglise, Bettina Migge & Paul B. Tjon Sie Fat (eds.), In and Out of Suriname: Language, Mobility and Identity. Leiden: Brill, 2014. xiv + 290 pp. (Cloth US$ 104.00)

This book constitutes strong testimony to the value of Suriname, with its long and continuing close contact among peoples and languages of many different African, Amerindian, Asian, and European backgrounds, as a field laboratory for the study of mutual interaction among language, history, economics, ethnicity, and identity (and more).1 A word about your expectations: The title and the introduction may lead you to expect each contribution to “look … at language practices in Suriname through the lens of identity construction, mobility patterns, linguistic ideology and multilingualism” (p. 2). Not all chapters succeed in meaningfully relating the three announced themes of language, identity, and mobility, although most do. Maud Laëthier’s account of Haitian migration through Suriname to French Guiana deals with mobility and identity, but makes only passing reference to language use. Other chapters deal explicitly with only one of the three themes, with scant attention to the others. Still, these latter do make significant contributions to our knowledge of the peoples and languages moving in and out of Suriname. Thus we learn from Marjo de Theije about small-scale gold mining on the Suriname-French Guiana border, and from Richard and Sally Price about “the aesthetics and politics” of Saramaccan multilingualism.

The editors’ introductory chapter usefully lays out the general approach and assumptions underlying the research reported in the book. Thus, in aiming to avoid “methodological territorialism,” which formulates research questions and concepts in terms of spatial territories, “this book breaks away from the traditional notions of bounded ethnic groups and the tug of the urban centres to show interwoven social interactions that are constitutive of identity-making processes and ever-changing linguistic practices” (p. 3). In particular, “the complex interplay between mobility, identity and language produces … challenges to the idea of the nation-state and its national borders” (p. 9).

The collection is commendable for its coverage of so many peoples and languages of Suriname and its neighbors. Two chapters essentially take all of Suriname into account: Isabelle Léglise and Bettina Migge survey language practices and ideologies among school children in many parts of the country, while Kofi Yakpo, Margot van den Berg, and Robert Borges deal extensively with all groups before focusing on linguistic convergence in Sranantongo, Sarnami, and Ndyuka. Three chapters focus on Amerindian groups in three different geographical areas. The Waiwai and Trio “hub” areas of southwestern Suriname receive thorough diachronic treatment by Eithne Carlin and Jimmy Mans. Gérard Collomb and Odile Renault-Lescure focus on the eastern Kari’na, following a Kari’na group’s movements across the Suriname-French Guiana border. And Raquel-María Yamada’s essay on mobility in and out of Konomerume (Donderskamp), western Kari’na, documents inter alia the emergence of a sub-dialect of Kari’na. Alex van Stipriaan focuses on the “communications revolution” among Maroons in Suriname’s interior. De Theije’s account of gold-mining along Suriname’s southeastern border deals primarily with (eastern) Maroons, but also brings in Brazilians, French, Chinese, Kari’na, and Wayana. Paul B. Tjon Sie Fat does us a great service with an appropriately long, thorough chapter that “presents one of the most obvious local examples, to the Surinamese public at least, of the link between mobility, language, and identity: current Chinese migration” (p. 196). The recent history of Chinese migration to Suriname and its impact on Chinese language and identity there will be highly informative even to many who consider themselves well acquainted with the sociology of language in the country. Laëthier’s essay on Haitian migration is another that presents much that is new for many of us whose research interests center on Suriname. Although not a focus of any chapter, the Suriname Javanese and the Arawaks, and their languages (both of which are declining in use), are also given more than passing attention.

Most of the authors spell out briefly the methodology of their research, and identify the major theoretical underpinnings of their work, foreshadowed in the introduction; so readers can both identify underlying assumptions and delve further into the literature on these theoretical frameworks. The reference list of around 370 entries, mostly in English, Dutch, or French but also in Chinese, German, and Portuguese (and a few in yet other languages), spanning some 230 years, is itself a valuable resource.

As a whole, this collection will appeal to many Suriname specialists for its up-to-date, broad account of interactions of language, mobility, and identity in the country and the broader region. It will also be a valuable resource for a much wider audience, including university classes and their professors, whether their primary interests are in economics, globalization, history, language change, technology and culture, ethnicity, sociology of language, identity, or various combinations of these fields with each other and with other fields touching on lives, cultures, and languages in flux.

Kudos to KITLV/Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies for making the contents freely available on-line—see


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 7 7 4
PDF Downloads 2 2 2
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0