chapter  15
10 Pages

Language Policy and Democratic Pluralism

ByJames W. Tollefson

Language policies in education emerge as a result of economic, political, cultural, and social forces such as nationalism (Kenya), economic inequality (the United States), globalization (India, Japan), ethno-political struggle (Rwanda, Solomon Islands), tensions between different visions of language rights (the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, Native America, the School District of Philadelphia), the economic strains of postcolonial societies (Lesotho, Swaziland, Kenya), elite competition (Rwanda), and cultural revitalization (the Andes region, Native America). Despite the wide range of forces affecting language policies in education, however, the research reported in this volume reveals common issues that recur in many contexts worldwide. Below, I summarize these issues, suggesting common themes in language policies in education. (1) The close relationship between restrictive language policies and related policy areas such as immigration. In his analysis of restrictive language policies in the United States, Wiley observes that language restrictions are often accompanied by other forms of repression. As Leibowitz (1974) pointed out, official-language movements and other restrictions on language in education are “almost always coupled with . . . discriminatory legislation and practices in other fields against the minorities who [speak] the language, including private indignities . . . which [make] it clear that the issue [is] a broader one” than merely medium of instruction (p. 6). In the United States, statutory and constitutional restrictions on the use of minority languages in education are greatest in states in which other restrictions are also in place. The state of Arizona, for example, not only banned most forms of bilingual education but also passed a series of laws aimed at undocumented immigrants, such as forbidding the use of public funds to teach them English, requiring police to check the immigration status of any individual who appeared to be undocumented, and revoking the business license of any

employer who hired undocumented workers. (Courts have blocked the implementation of some aspects of such laws.) Analysis of language policies in education, therefore, must acknowledge the wider issues that generate such restrictions, such as anti-immigrant movements fueled by demagogic political leaders, efforts to block ethnolinguistic groups from political participation when their active involvement threatens ruling parties, and “divide-and-rule” discourses that make it possible for leaders to implement unpopular economic policies while remaining in power. (2) The paradoxical impact of globalization on language policies in education. In Japan, intense concern about limited English language proficiency among Japanese citizens and the perceived need to improve Japan’s economic competitiveness through English have been a focus of public debate for 20 years, and policies have been adopted at the national level to encourage English language learning at ever-lower grades in school. At the same time, however, the government ministry responsible for English promotion policies in schools is also committed to reinvigorating nationalism through citizenship lessons, patriotic symbols such as singing the national anthem in schools, and intensified interest in the Japanese language as a core symbol of Japanese national identity. The threat that English presents to the national language is widely seen as serious and immediate, as evidenced by the reaction against the proposal in 2000 to consider making English a second official language (PMC, 2000). Thus, the new English curriculum is as much focused on promoting Japanese as it is on promoting English. In India, the spread of English is also discursively associated with educational and economic opportunity, but the real impact of the increasing use of English as a medium of instruction may be to reduce educational participation and to limit the probability of success in school for the rural poor and others who have virtually no access to English or to high quality English language instruction. In other settings, such as Rwanda, English may be explicitly and deliberately linked with inequality. The rapid adoption of English to replace French as the medium of instruction in Rwanda is due not only to the economic value of English but also to interest-group politics, with Anglophones seizing the opportunity to replace Francophones in controlling the levers of power in the central government. As these cases suggest, globalization does not mean simply that English is the preferred language of study or instruction offering opportunity to all. It also means that English is intimately involved in new struggles over the distribution of economic resources and political power. In these struggles, the perceived economic advantages of English may be exploited by some groups for their own benefit, under the guise of promoting policies to help others. While globalization threatens community languages, it may also, through the new technologies on which it depends, offer tools for maintaining these languages. For example, the remarkable array of media resources for Quechua and Aymara that Coronel-Molina summarizes suggests enormous possibilities for

future programs. In particular, new media offer potential for active use of the languages, not only the relatively passive exposure that takes place with print, film, radio, and television. Moreover, for Quechua and Aymara youth the attraction of new media – indeed, its social identity function, as McCarty shows in her analysis of Navajo youth – provides hope that threatened languages can break out of their identification with the elderly, the “old ways,” and the past, and instead become associated with new multilingual and multiethnic identities (see Maher, 2005, for an analysis of “cool” metroethnicity). (3) Transformations in conceptions of “language,” “identity,” and “language rights.” The chapters in this book demonstrate that apparently similar policies may have fundamentally different motives and aims. For example, despite the risk of increasing inequality between the poor and the middle class, and between rural and urban dwellers, the promotion of English in India is widely perceived as having socially and politically integrative value, without sectarian consequences. In Rwanda, on the other hand, English promotion policies are linked with ongoing ethnolinguistic divisions that were most intensely manifest in genocidal violence in 1994. Although the rationale for English promotion policies in most contexts entails a non-sectarian discourse, there is little doubt that official language movements and medium-of-instruction debates remain linked with ethnolinguistic identity in Rwanda and elsewhere. In the multilingual Caribbean Coast region of Nicaragua, Native American communities in the United States, the Andean region of South America, and elsewhere, complex linguistic communities are not adequately described by straightforward notions of “language” and “dialect.” Instead, an adequate model of language in society must incorporate notions of linguistic ecology, sociolinguistic nexus, heteroglossic home-community environments, and the hybridity of communicative repertoires. Of course, a growing body of research adopting this perspective has enabled researchers to better understand real-life language use, and also to explain policy outcomes, such as the difficulties encountered in implementing language rights legislation in Nicaragua. The failure of traditional conceptions of “language” and “identity” to adequately describe the complex linguistic ecology of multilingual communities has become so widely recognized among language policy scholars that Freeland proposes that the underlying concepts of the language rights discourse “need deconstructing and reinventing in light of the local language ideologies of the target groups whose rights are to be vouchsafed.” She suggests that “the idea of ‘language rights’ ” may need to be abandoned “in favour of a broader concept like ‘linguistic citizenship.’ ” The case of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua reveals that even groups who agree on the importance of ensuring language rights may have fundamentally different notions of what this means. The discourse of language rights not only varies widely but – particularly in its forms that emerged from European conceptions of nationalism – may be only marginally connected with actual language use in multilingual communities.