LINGUIST List 12.1929

Mon Jul 30 2001

Review: Mar-Molinero, Politics of Language

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  1. Angela Bartens, Mar-Molinero, Politics of Lg in the Spanish-Speaking World

Message 1: Mar-Molinero, Politics of Lg in the Spanish-Speaking World

Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001 14:11:45 +0800
From: Angela Bartens <>
Subject: Mar-Molinero, Politics of Lg in the Spanish-Speaking World

Mar-Molinero, Clare (2000) The Politics of Language in the Spanish-
Speaking World: From Colonisation to Globalisation. Routledge,
xiii+242pp. Paperback ISBN 0-415-15655-6, US$30.99; Hardcover ISBN 
0-415-15654-8, US$100,00.

Reviewed by Angela Bartens, University of Helsinki.


Over the past few years, the complex interrelationships between
language and politics, language policy as much as the political in
language, have received increasing attention as a key to understanding
the patterning of sociocultural and political conflict and peaceful
coexistence of human nations. Clare Mar-Molinero aims at a
comprehensive presentation of the politics of language in the Spanish-
speaking world, a vast area defined as speaking the world's third most
used language, usually as an L1.

The book is divided into four parts which move from a generic
discussion of language and identity to the specific outcomes of chosen
examples of language policy and educational practices (cf. p. x). The
first chapter of each part consists of an introduction to the
theoretical framework for the concrete examples from the Spanish-
speaking world discussed in the subsequent chapters. Although
approximately 400 millions of Spanish speakers are spread all around
the world, Mar-Molinero chooses to limit the discussion to Spain and
Latin America "where Spanish is buoyant and secure" (p. 18).

Part I, "Spanish as national language. Conflict and hegemony" starts
with a discussion of the relationship between "Language and
nationalism" (ch. 1). Two basic types of nationalism are identified,
political nationalism as defended by Rousseau and the French
Revolution, and cultural nationalism which starts with Herder and has
been continued by von Humboldt, Fichte, and in the 20th century also by
Fishman. In cultural nationalism, language is seen as one if not the
most important defining characteristic of a nation. Political
nationalism, on the other hand, takes a pragmatic view of language as a
tool of deliberate nation- and/or state-building. While a nation may be
defined by a common language, race, religion, cultural traditions,
history, body of laws and/or territory, a state is above all a
political construct, the borders of which have often been drawn
artificially. European nationalism as it emerged during the 19th
century has aimed at the construction of nation-states where a state
consists of a single nation. Most present-day states are, however, home
to several nations, and the habitat of many nations is divided by
political borders.

Ch. 2, "The 'Castilianisation' process: the emergence of Spanish as
dominant language", traces the development of Castilian, originally
just another Iberoromance language or dialect, from its medieval
origins to its present-day hegemonic position. The first step towards
the victory of Castilian was taken when the Visigoths established their
capital in Toledo. The outstanding role played by Castile in the
Reconquista and later in the colonization of the New World - Catalans
and Galicians were banned from trading with the American colonies and
their languages were consequently not transplanted to the New World --
as well as the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1469 all
contributed to the rise of Castilian. But it wasn't until the18th
century that linguistic uniformity was required and the other languages
and dialects spoken on the Iberian Peninsula were (almost)
irretrievably marginalized. Charles' III 1768 declaration that only
Castilian could be used in the administration and in education had
severe consequences both on the Iberian Peninsula and in the American
colonies. The colonizing enterprise was both political-economic and
religious, and especially the Church relied on regional linguae francae
such as Nahuatl, Quechua, and Guaran�. Although opinions concerning the
most suitable language for evangelization differed, the use of
Amerindian languages came to an unexpectedly abrupt end with the 1768
declaration. In preparation of this declaration, the Jesuits, the most
arduous defenders of the use of native languages, had been expulsed
from the American colonies already a year earlier.

Mar-Molinero then discusses the alternative theories about the origins
of Spanish: either it developed directly from Castilian or it is an
amalgam of various Peninsular dialects, prominent in which was
Castilian (p. 36). The importance of Andalusian Spanish to the
emergence of Latin American Spanish has been exaggerated: most of the
early conquistadores came from Castile and the Extremadura where
admittedly a Reconquista dialect very similar to Andalusian was and is
spoken. The role of the Canary Islands in the colonization of the
Americas should not be forgotten, either. Whatever its roots and
whatever it was called in the different colonies -- Mar-Molinero shows
how the glossonym "Castilian" is preferred e.g. in present-day
Guatemalan usage as more neutral than "Spanish", still associated with
the colonial period, while e.g. U.S. Latinos reject "Castilian"
because they feel their roots are Spanish and not just Castilian (p.
37) -- the Spanish language was just a tool in the struggle for
independence and subsequent national cohesion in Latin America (Simon
Bol�var, the famous independence fighter, was much influenced by the
French Revolution and the writings of Rousseau). It wasn't until later
that some Latin American independent states more than others started
unearthing the Herderian links between language, culture, and identity.

Ch. 3, "Counter-nationalism and the other languages of the Spanish-
speaking world" examines the fate of communities speaking a language
other than Spanish both in Spain and in Latin America. Insightful
histories of the Catalan, Basque and Galician (counter-)nationalist
movements highlight their differences and common features: In Catalonia
and in Galicia, an initially culturally oriented movement became
political in the course of time while Basque nationalism at first
represented the political agenda of an individual (Sabino Arana, 1865-
1903). Catalans had a medieval cultural legacy to look back to and so
did Galicians, albeit to a lesser degree. For both Catalan and Galician
nationalism, language constitutes a defining criterion. However,
Spanish remains the prestige language in Galicia. Basque was a highly
fragmented oral language spoken by a minority and well into the 20th
century, race constituted the most important defining characteristic of
Basqueness. On the other hand, both Catalonia and the Basque Country
reaped the fruits of early industrialization while Galicia was agrarian
and poor which lead inter alia to a lower level of education in the
population. In all three cases, nationalism was promoted at least at
some point by the elites and the middle classes. By consequence, these
nationalist movements exist until the present day. While Spanish state-
building has been successful, this cannot be said to be the case of
Spanish nation-building.

In Latin America, it is clear from the beginning that we are dealing
with states or nation-states at best but certainly not homogeneous
nations. The indigenous nations are marginalized and poor and often
straddle borders. This explains why even such major linguae francae as
Nahuatl or Quechua are endangered today and Spanish continues to enjoy
"a position of immense superiority" (p. 63). Paraguay, with its nominal
coofficiality and wide-spread bilingualism in Spanish and Guaran�,
constitutes a counter example to the marginalization of indigenous
languages in the Americas. But it has to be born in mind that this
particular situation is due to three factors: Guaran� was the lingua
franca of the region already before the Spanish arrived; the role
played by the Jesuits in Paraguay; and it's geographical and post-
independence political isolation. By consequence, Paraguay is the
exception which confirms the rule.

Part II of this book deals with "Legislation and the realities of
linguistic diversity". In ch. 4, "Language rights, language policies
and Language Planning", Mar-Molinero sums up the relevant background
information: the 1996 Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights, the
difficulty of catering to both individual and collective linguistic
rights, etc. Mar-Molinero feels that it is necessary to distinguish
between language policy as decision-making from language planning as
implementation (p. 74). However, it seems to me that this makes drawing
a distinct line between language policy and status planning quite
difficult. Besides the traditional division into status and corpus
planning, Mar-Molinero also talks about acquisition and normalization
planning. This last concept developed by Catalan sociolinguists
overlaps with both status and acquisition planning and aims at
empowering the speakers of the minority language by increasing the
domains and functions of language use, the geographic area where it is
spoken, and language competence in the speakers.

In ch. 5, Mar-Molinero examines "The state and language policies in the
contemporary Spanish-speaking world". The point of departure in the
three peninsular minority communities is very different: After language
revitalization efforts in all of them, today 75% of the population of
Catalonia, 80% of the population of Galicia and 25% of the population
of the Basque Country speak the corresponding language. In an almost-
reversal of language policy since the end of the dictatorial Franco
regime in 1975, the Spanish state recognizes both multilingualism and
the autonomy of its regions. On the state level, however,
monolingualism is still implicitly encouraged. This hegemony is most
vigorously challenged by the Catalans, above all through the economical
power of Catalonia.

While there was for example some interest towards the scientific study
of the indigenous languages and cultures in the Mexico of the second
half of the 19th century, the newly independent Latin American states
aimed at molding monolingual and monocultural nation-states. According
to Hamel (1997), a period of multiculturalism has followed in many
Latin American states in the 20th century: the existence of indigenous
groups has been acknowledged, usually alongside with measures to
assimilate these populations. Finally, in the late 20th century a quest
for pluriculturalism has started to emerge where diversity is seen as
an enrichment for the entire nation. However, both in Spain and in
Latin America individual linguistic rights, often ultimately aimed at
assimilating the individual, are more readily granted than collective
rights which especially in the case of Amerindian nations are
increasingly (and for good reasons) being tied to political and
economic rights by grassroots movements who have recognized the complex
interrelationships of territoriality, ethnicity, culture, and language.

Part III of the volume under review is entitled "Language and
education". Ch. 6, "Bilingual education, literacy and the role of
language in the education systems", presents the different models
employed in biligual education: transitional/assimilationist,
maintenance/pluralist, submersion (of the minority students in the
majority language, possibly with some extra L1 classes), immersion (of
majority students in the minority language), and segregationist (as a
non-pluralist subtype of maintenance programs), the 1951 UNESCO
recommendation that every child be taught in his or her L1 during early
formal education, and Freirean literacy theory where functional
literacy is seen as a means of empowerment and emancipation.

Ch. 7, "Latin American educational policies in the struggle for
linguistic rights", focuses on the educational domain where Mar-
Molinero is most hopeful that the linguistic and cultural rights of
indigenous communities will be granted and respected. Only the
constitutions of Mexico, Peru and Bolivia explicitly stipulate that
literacy be acquired in the students' L1 before transition to L2. This
is why bilingual programs in the formal educational system of these
three countries were chosen for closer scrutiny. From the 1930es,
bilingual education was more widely introduced into the Mexican school
system. At first, these programs only aimed at a rapid transition to
Spanish. Since the 1970es, L1 maintenance and cultural appropriateness
have been more keenly focused on but evaluators of Mexico's bilingual
education programs claim that there is still a long way to go before
rhetorics are put into practice. In Peru, the 1972 educational reform
also basically aimed at transition to Spanish, in spite of
acknowledging the indigenous cultures and languages as part of the
national identity. An exception was constituted by the Puno Quechua and
Aymara maintenance programs which have served as models for bilingual
programs throughout Latin America, for example in Bolivia where the
1994 educational reform stipulated that all indigenous languages be
both used as a medium and be taught as a subject and that Spanish
speakers are also required to study indigenous languages. Adult
literacy campaigns often take place as a part of a larger political
agenda. After the Cuban revolution, a spectacular literacy campaign
reduced illiteracy from 21 or even 24% to 3,9% in less than a year.
After coming to power in 1979, the Sandinistas tried to replicate this
campaign in Nicaragua. Although successful at the beginning, political
and economic developments reversed the trend and illiteracy was again
at 50% in 1993, just as it had been before the overthrow of the Somoza
regime (p. 150, 153). On the Nicaraguan Atlantic coast, the autonomy
status conferred in 1987 has lead to the creation of locally run
bilingual programs. In Guatemala, too, self-determination has proved
essential to the success of educational campaigns.

Ch 8, "Politics, language and the Spanish education system", focuses on
Catalonia and the Basque Country. In both regions, educational programs
can be termed as successful because the numbers of speakers have
increased. However, acquisition planning did not occur without friction
in either community. In Catalonia, the aggressive promotion of Catalan
after the end of the Franco era finally lead to a backlash by the
Castilian-speaking population. In 1998, a new language policy law made
Catalan the default language in education. Things are bound to get more
complicate when more and more immigrants who speak neither Catalan nor
Spanish arrive in Catalonia.

Part IV, "Language politics in the new millenium: the outlook for
Spanish", starts with an examination of "Spanish as a minority
language" (ch. 9). Here we are, of course, talking about Spanish in the
US. Latinos have probably already supplanted African Americans as the
largest minority in the US. Since only very few Latinos are monolingual
in Spanish, Mar-Molinero concludes (p. 185) -- perhaps a bit hastily,
after all, the linguistic behavior of such groups as Mexican Americans,
Cuban Americans, and Nyoricans is portrayed as quite differentiated in
the literature -- that code-switching has become a mode of
communication across the community. In 1967, a bill on bilingual
education was passed on the federal level. But with the economic
recession and the rise of Hispanophobia, counter reactions in favor of
English as the only language of education, government and employment
have multiplied since the early 1980es. Seventeen states have changed
their constitutions to state explicitly that English is the (only)
official language, and in 1998 a proposition was passed in California
which abolished bilingual education. In the face of Hispanophobia, the
Latino community has become increasingly united, although especially
the Puerto Ricans, the first Hispanic group to arrive in the US, still
constitute a special group. Puerto Rico's commonwealth status makes
cycles of migration possible. This leads to a situation where the
migrants feel excluded in both contexts (US and Puerto Rico) and use
language as a means of demarcation in both of them: in the US, Puerto
Ricans insert Spanish into their code-switching as an act of identity
but when they are ridiculed for not being fluent Spanish speakers in
Puerto Rico, they often use English as an in-group code of those who
share the experience of returning migration. As a result, it is no
longer clear whether Spanish language competence is a defining
criterion of Puerto Rican-ness or not (cf. Zentella 1990).

The final chapter of the book (ch. 10) aims at summarizing and defining
the status of "Spanish in a global era". Almost paradoxically,
globalization leads to unification across national borders and to
fragmentation within borders. With the reforms undertaken in Spain in
the post-Franco era, Spain constitutes a good example of this
development. The regions have been granted relatively much autonomy
which turns Spain into a model and experimentation ground for EU
policies which favor decentralization and regional over national
development. The central government in Madrid may fear that it will
have less and less influence on their autonomous regions as EU support
can be expected to increase instead of decreasing. The organizers of
the1992 Olympics in Barcelona deliberately turned the event into a
Catalonian, not a Spanish affair, e.g. by using Catalan before Spanish
in announcements, by flying both the Catalonian and the Spanish flag,
etc. (p. 40). As indicated above, Spain has been more or less
successful in state-building but not in nation-building.

The same applies to the officially Spanish-speaking Latin American
states, albeit perhaps to an even smaller degree than in the case of
Spain. The drawing of arbitrary borders in the making of the
independent countries has lead to a situation where language is perhaps
the most important defining criterion for indigenous nations (cf. p.
97). With the advent of modern communication technologies the nations
thus divided by artificial borders are increasingly starting to unite
across borders. Interesting alliances between minority languages and
the first world language English against regional prestige languages
such as Spanish in this case come into being (p. 204; cf. Calvet &
Varela 2000). However, Spanish is in such a strong position in the
educational systems, the media and the administration of the Spanish-
speaking world as defined in this book that it is unlikely that it will
be ousted from its hegemonic position. What the defenders of language
purism will have to admit, however, is that Spanish has already become
a pluricentric language (p. 206).

In addition, the volume under review contains a table of contents (pp.
v-vii), acknowledgements (p. viii), an introduction (pp. ix-xiii),
notes to the individual chapters (pp. 207-217), a bibliography (pp.
218-230), and an index (231-242).


This book can firstly be read as an introduction into the issues around
language and politics in general. Second, it can be used as a textbook
for a course on the politics of language in the Spanish-speaking world.
As I am teaching such a course this fall (language policy and sociology
of language in Latin America), I will certainly make use of it when
preparing my classes. I will also recommend it to my students because I
think it is accessible to undergraduate students as well. As a matter
of fact, advanced students and scholars may find the discussion a bit
too superficial which, on the other hand, is inevitable given the wide
scope of the topic. And usually there is an in-depth discussion of the
examples chosen. As indicated above, those parts of the world are
excluded from the discussion where Spanish is no longer a vital
language. I think that is an unfortunate omission precisely given the
scope of the discussion.

In general, this is a well researched and well written text. However,
there are a few minor errors. On p. 55, Mar-Molinero writes: "Finally,
the largest influx of outsiders other than Spaniards was of course the
scores of slaves taken to the Americas. Whilst the effect of African
languages in contact with European languages and the phenomenon of
pidgin and creoles have been widely studied, the occurrence of Spanish-
based creoles in Latin America is not wide, and mostly found in parts
of the Caribbean. Whereas African culture has had an enormous influence
in such areas as music, food, art, and even religion, there is very
little evidence of linguistic impact." First, a minor question I might
ask would be if the singular in "pidgin" indicated the author's view
that there is just one pidgin, not several pidgins, as they are
attested from various parts of the world. Second, it would be more
accurate to state that at present, two Hispanic creoles are spoken in
the Circum-Caribbean region, Spanish-based Palenquero or "lengua" in
Palenque de San Basilio, Colombia, and both Portuguese- and Spanish-
based Papiamentu in the Netherlands' Antilles Cura�ao, Aruba and
Bonaire. During the colonial period, other pidginized and creolized
varieties appear to have existed e.g. in Cuba while the(present-day)
scarcity of Spanish-based creoles indeed constitutes a major enigma in
Creolistics (cf. McWhorter 1995). Finally, African languages certainly
have had an impact on Latin American Spanish and Portuguese. If we
exclude the structural (phonological, morphosyntactic) features adduced
by those who try to prove the previous existence of a Pan-Caribbean
creole, we still have to admit that the lexicon, admittedly the
component of language structure most prone to foreign influence, has
been influenced in a significant way by the languages of the African
slaves brought to the New World. Semantic calques are sometimes
difficult to detect. However, in a 1997 study I demonstrate that
African lexemes are an integral part of the lexicon of standard
Brazilian Portuguese and that especially the older Bantu items undergo
productive word formation processes (Bartens-Adawonu 1997). A parallel
study demonstrating that the occurrence of lexical Africanisms is not
restricted to ritual cult language etc. could be done on several
national varieties of Latin American Spanish. And yet, e.g. Buesa
Oliver & Enguita Utrilla (1992) leave the African contribution to Latin
American Spanish completely unacknowledged.

Then, I would not claim that "Puerto Ricans ... have citizenship rights
in both countries" (Puerto Rico and the US; p. 186) because readers are
likely to conclude that Puerto Ricans have full citizenship rights in
the US which is not the case.

But such minor errors are bound to occur in books which are as
ambitious as the volume under review and I certainly feel that I can
recommend this insightful account as an introduction to the complex
issues evolving around the politics of language in the Spanish-speaking


Bartens-Adawonu, Angela. (1997). "Lexikalische Afrikanismen im
Standardbrasilianischportugiesischen (anhand von literarischen und
Pressetexten sowie des NURC-Korpus." In Ruth Degenhardt, Thomas Stolz &
Hella Ulferts eds.Afrolusitanistik -- eine vergessene Disziplin in
Deutschland? Dokumentation des 2. Bremer Afro-Romania Kolloquiums vom
27.-29.6.1996. (Bremer Beitr�ge zur Afro-Romania 2). Bremen:
Universit�t. 97-145.

Buesa Oliver, Tom�s & Jos� Ma. Enguita Utrilla. (1992). L�xico del
espa�ol de Am�rica: su elemento patrimonial e ind�gena. Madrid: Mapfre.

Calvet, Louis-Jean & L�a Varela. (2000). "XXIe si�cle: le cr�puscule
des langues? Critique du discours Politico-Linguistiquement Correct."
In Estudios de Socioling��stica 1:2. 47-64.

Hamel, R. E. (1997). "Language conflict and language shift: a
sociolinguistic framework for linguistic human rights." In
International Journal of the Sociology of Language 127. 105-135.

McWhorter, John. (1995). "The scarcity of Spanish-based creoles
explained". In Language in Society 24:2. 213-244.

Zentella, Ana Celia. (1990). "Returned migration, language and
identity: Puerto Rican bilingualism in dos worlds/two mundos." In
International Journal of the Sociology of Language 84. 81-101.

Dr.phil. Angela Bartens is Docent of Iberoromance Philology at the
University of Helsinki. During the academic year 2001-2002, she is also
head of the Iberoromance Studies program. Her research interests
include language contact, pidgins and creoles, sociolinguistics and
applied sociolinguistics including language policy and language
planning. She is currently working on a project financed by the Finnish
Academy "A Contrastive Grammar Islander (San Andr�s and Old Providence
Creole English) Caribbean Standard English-Spanish".
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