chapter  2
24 Pages

Language Policy in a Time of Crisis and Transformation

ByJames W. Tollefson

As chapters in the first edition demonstrated, these questions are at the heart of fundamental issues in every society: the role of schools, the links between education and employment, and the unequal relationships among ethnic, national, and linguistic groups. A lot has happened since the chapters for that first edition were written, during 2000 and 2001. A harsh, predatory form of global capitalism has temporarily triumphed over alternative economic systems. One result is that the spread of English and the loss of other languages have rapidly accelerated, with policies in many countries encouraging the learning and use of English at the expense of children’s home languages. China’s economic transformation has continued, accompanied by major changes in medium-of-instruction policies designed to

encourage the use of English in higher education and in specific fields of science and technology. Conservative and right-wing governments have won elections in North America, Europe, and elsewhere, with neo-fascist movements in some places gaining significant influence over policymaking. Support for extremist, right-wing political movements has led to a wide range of anti-immigrant policies, including the reassertion of dominant languages in education (e.g., in France, England, Australia, and the United States). The United States invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrowing the governments of both countries and initiating violence that continues to the present. One result has been increasing state support for the teaching of Arabic, Farsi, and other languages of the Middle East (and Central Asia), but also “profiling” of individuals who appear to be “Middle Eastern” or who speak languages of that region. More broadly, the condition of permanent war that the “war on terror” entails means that “patriotic” and right-wing efforts to assert traditional forms of national identity have been successful in many countries, often accompanied by significant restrictions on civil liberties and new discourses of nationalism and patriotism. For instance, English-only policies, represented as both symbolic and practical expressions of national identity and patriotism, receive state support throughout most of the United States, whereas supporters of pluralist policies have been largely eliminated from the policy debate (e.g., in the recent US Supreme Court ruling in Horne v. Flores that recognized opponents of bilingual education as the only legitimate experts on bilingual education policies [Yamagami, in press]). In some settings, populist and democratic movements have made important gains. Popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have challenged entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. Some of these movements have been led by young people who espouse cosmopolitan identities linked with multilingualism and interaction (both digital and face to face) across ethnolinguistic boundaries, suggesting that a new push for English may take place in that part of the world. Yet movements for democratic reform often entail a period of nationalist resurgence or the assertion of ethnolinguistic identities, and so the implications for language policies in education are likely to be complex and variable from one context to another. In Latin America, several progressive and leftist governments have been elected, leaders of indigenous populations now vie for national office, and languages other than Spanish have gained increasing support in education and other domains (e.g., in Bolivia and Peru). Elsewhere, popular protests in Europe (e.g., in Greece and England) and large demonstrations in North America (e.g., in the states of Wisconsin and Ohio, and the Occupy Wall Street movement) suggest that the crisis of democracy has entered a new and tumultuous period. Intensified calls for democratic reform around the world have yet to result in widespread changes in language policymaking processes, but alliances of the poor, working class, and middle class, which include increasing numbers of ethnolinguistic minorities, may yet lead to policies that protect and promote multilingualism.