LINGUIST List 14.1297

Wed May 7 2003

Review: Sociolinguistics: Wei, Dewaele & Housen (2002)

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  1. Guido Oebel, Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Message 1: Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Date: Tue, 06 May 2003 01:06:41 +0000
From: Guido Oebel <>
Subject: Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Wei, Li, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Alex Housen ed. (2002) Opportunities
and Challenges of Bilingualism, Mouton de Gruyter, Contributions to
the Sociology of Language 87.

Announced at

Guido Oebel, Saga and Kurume/Fukuoka University, Japan

This book discusses social aspects of bilingualism. It focuses on the
manifold opportunities that today's growing bilingual and multilingual
societies are being offered and the challenges they are being
confronted with.


Joshua A. Fishman opens the first main section with a contribution
entitled titled '''Holy languages'' in the context of social
bilingualism' (15-24). In it he critically analyses the process of
'sanctification' of languages within multilingual societies. Starting
 from Emile Durkheim's definition of 'holiness', Fishman examines
different types of 'holy' languages throughout human history. By doing
so, he classifies these languages according to whether

- one of the two languages is considered inherent holy (17-18),
- another language becomes holy by dint of association with the
 one already considered holy (18),
- both languages are considered holy (19-20), or
- neither language is considered holy. (20-21)

 From there, Fishman takes off to possible 'consequences of language
sanctity beliefs' (21-22) and the so-called 'staying power of
sanctity' (22-23), i.e. for example Latin or Hebrew, both languages
which due to their 'direct sanctity' live on in holy texts.

John Edwards starts his chapter titled 'Forlorn hope?' (25-44)
explaining the genesis of this originally Dutch expression that has
changed its meaning through inaccurate etymology. This illustrating
word-play and example of cross-language transfer serves the author as
an interesting example of how an incomplete bilingualism leads to
misunderstandings, and yet to a meaningful misapprehension. The
genesis of changing meaning of 'Forlon hoe' serves the author as
lead-in to his examination of 'language ecology' perspective on
linguistic diversity arguing stable societal bilingualism might be a
desirable outcome, however, as difficult to achieve and maintain.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas's contribution 'When languages disappear, are
bilingual education or human rights a cure? Two scenarios' (45-67)
continues the discussion of endangered languages, according to Krauss
(1992) dividing (oral) languages into three groups, the moribund, the
endangered and the safe ones. She predicts for the two first-mentioned
languages a linguistic genocide caused by agents of formal education
and mass media, acting on behalf of economic, military and political
groups. Within this context, in analogy to racism and sexism the
concept of discriminating linguicism was created with state education
systems not only violating the linguistic human rights (LHRs) of
minorities but even contributing considerably to linguistic
genocide. Taking the LHRs perspective, Skutnabb-Kangas examines the
work in international law and in education to counteract minorisation
of languages and, at the same time, to promote the survival of
linguistic diversity.

J. J. Smolicz's chapter 'Core values and nation-states' (69-85) is
concerned with the paradox of ethnic and national upsurge in an
increasingly globalized cultural and economic world. Giving the
situation in Australia as an example, according to him linguistic
diversity is contingent on the maintenance and development of cultural
core values of each of the ethnic groups concerned. Smolicz concludes
drawing a promising scenario for maintaining developing a nation-wide
multilinguism promoted by acknowledging the minorities' right to their
cultural heritage. By doing so, Australia fortunately happens to
demonstrate a radical departure from the monolingual and mono-ethnic
assumptions prevailing there from the beginning of the 20th century
until the mid 70's.

The papers in the second section ('Bilingualism worldwide') focus on
societal bilingualism, language ideology, its planning, maintenance
and shift, respectively, in individual countries. Harold
F. Schiffman's contribution 'French language policy: centrism,
Orwellian 'dirigisme', or economic determination?' (89-104) examines
language policy 'a la francaise' shedding light on the question of how
it is embedded in and proceeds from the so-called 'linguistic

Peter H. Nelde's and Peter J. Weber's article 'The non-linearity of
language maintenance and language shift: survey data from European
language boundaries' (105-124) discusses typical aspects of language
maintenance and language shift illustrated by comparing
Germanic-Romance (German speaking minority in 'Old Belgium') and
Germanic-Slavic (Sorbian speaking minority in Germany) minority
contact situations.

Juri Viikberg's contribution 'Language shift among Siberian Estonians:
pro and contra' (125-144) discusses the factors affecting language
maintenance and language loss in the Estonian linguistic enclaves in
Siberia. Starting out inter alia from Grosjean (1982: 107-112) who
listed several prominent factors vital for the survival of migrant
groups' languages, Viikberg analyses, besides other factors, social
and intrinsic factors that might have played the key role for the
ambivalent, somehow unexpectedly contradictory development of Siberian
Estonians' linguistic situation.

Damir Kalogjera's chapter 'On attitude towards Croatian dialects ad on
their changing status' (145-156) examines the notions of 'norm' and
'standard language' in the context of language contact in Croatia.

Wolfgang Woelck in 'Ethnolects - between bilingualism and urban
dialect' (157-170) has a closer look at the effects of language
contact in the city of Buffalo, NY. Starting with a review of how
fellow authors define the term 'ethnolect' that was coined in the late
1970's to designate the English of immigrants' descendants long after
their originally native languages are lost, Woelck understands this
label of specifically American sociolinguistics as dealing with how
these surviving language contact features were used to identify
citizens' ethnic and linguistic, respectively, origin. After
presenting convincing data supporting a revised definition of
ethnolect, Woelck confirms himself in advocating a narrower
restriction of this term and its application for a clearer and more
specific usage, e.g., considering criteria such as host-language
monolingualism and the relatively short life span of language
varieties compared to the real-time life of a speech community.

Bernard Spolsky's paper 'The development of Navajo-English
bilingualism' (171-198) analyses the process of Navajo language loss
in the southwestern states of America. On the basis of Spolsky's paper
from 1975 in which he then assessed the prospects for the survival of
the Navajo language, in this paper, he attempts to identify the
contribution of the various factors involved in the process of its
loss especially over the last quarter century. His conclusion at the
end of the chapter can be seen in sharp contrast to his enthusiasm
about the prospects for the survival of Navajo in the 1970's. Despite
the fact that Navajo has lasted longer than most other autochthonous
languages in the United States, it now is endangered, too. According
to Spolsky, the move from rural isolation to semi-urban and urban
density of communication, i.e. urbanization, has had its
sociolinguistic reflexes. Consequently, urbanization has had its
regrettable and probably irreversible effect on the shift from Navajo
to English, unfortunately reflecting a general tendency in the US as a

Tim Marr's contribution 'Language ideology, ownership and maintenance:
the discourse of the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua' (199-219)
explores the discourse of the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua
(henceforth: the Academia) based the former Inca capital Cusco. This
highly critical paper 'concerns the ongoing Peruvian project of status
and corpus planning being carried out by (...) the Academia (.)
displaying an ambivalent attitude towards both the nation-sate which
it claims to serve and the speakers whose aspirations it claims to
represent' (p. 199). Marr examines the perspectives and ideology of
the Academia considering this body 'at best an unreliable ally, and at
worst an implacable enemy' when carrying out 'a serious Quechua
language maintenance project' (p. 199). Marr's less promising outlook
is that the Academia's members and self-appointed representatives with
their roots in the bilingual Cusco elite evidently confuse their own
opinions and aspirations with those of mainly rural Quechua
speakers. According to Marr, thus one might call into question the
Academia's efficacious support for the maintenance of the Quechua
language, and simultaneously its authority.

Vivian de Klerk's chapter 'Xhosa as a 'home appliance'? A case study
of language shift in Grahamstown' (221-248) presents a case study of
language shift from Xhosa to English among Xhosa-speaking parents and
their children attending English-medium schools in Grahamstown in
South Africa. De Klerk's paper attempts to assess the relative
importance of a range of variables influencing the rate of possible
language shift. By doing so, the author provides an overview of the
ten main factors (economics, institutional support, educational
environment, education and literacy levels, linguistic networks,
language attitudes, language status, language functions, mass media,
gender) which have been identified as playing an essential role in
stimulating language shift in general. De Klerk then reports on the
relative importance of these factors, i.e. on findings from her
longitudinal study carried out in 1998. Despite the reservation of
over-interpreting surveys, the author concludes that, among the
children surveyed, shift to English seems to be well under way and
almost irrevocable. In terms of the ten variables aforementioned, some
have proven more prominent (economic and functional factors along with
high educational levels among parents) than others (socio-cultural

In 'Japan's nascent multilingualism' (249-271), the two co-authors
Florian Coulmas and Makoto Watanabe try to give plausible reasons why
linguistic diversity is increasing in modern Japan. Starting with an
historic overview on ethnolinguistic homogeneity constituted in Meiji
Japan, Coulmas and Watanabe draw a considerably changed picture of the
language situation prevailing in today's Japan. According to them, the
current Japanese society 'offers the opportunity to study the
transformation of a society largely under monolingual assumptions into
one which has come to terms with greater linguistic plurality'
(p. 249). Despite the authorities' reluctance 'to officially depart
 from the idea of Japan's homogeneity, (...) the traditional self-image
of Japan as a closed, homogeneous society has begun to break down, and
the push for more pluralism is welcomed (...) by many Japanese'
(p. 257). The once favoured ideals of homogeneity, yes even
uniformity, turn out to be obsolete in the face of the challenges
modern Japan has to cope with such as attracting more foreigners than
ever before, and, particularly, its rapidly aging citizens. Although
this development requires more immigrants, so far the authorities have
failed to implement a corresponding immigration policy or social
policy. The extent of developing into a more open, i.e. a pluralistic
society promoting linguistic pluralism as well, might be considered a
gauge of Japan's reinvention.

The third section 'Multilingual management and education' addresses
the issue of language management and language education in
multilingual contexts.

Xu Daming's and Li Wei's contribution 'Managing multilingualism in
Singapore' (275-295) examines the motivations for the language
policies advocated by the Singaporean government. The two co-authors
define their objective as to evaluate the city state's activities 'in
its attempts to change the linguistic realities and charter the future
development of the' four official 'languages of the country', Malay,
Chinese, Tamil and English (p. 275). To this end, they first examine
the effectiveness of the measures implemented and actions taken, then
they analyze the nature of actions in order to characterize them as
acts of 'dirigisme' or 'language management' in a manipulating sense.
Cutting short the authors' outcome, according to them, language
planning in Singapore can be called overwhelmingly successful, mainly
owing to the planners' management approach.

Bjoern H. Jernudd's paper 'Managing languages at bilingual
universities: relationships between universities and their language
environment' (297-309) discusses the relationships between
universities and their language environment, more precisely, 'how
language management theory can diagnose and suggest solutions to
language problems' arising 'in a bilingual university' such as the
Hong Kong Baptist University (p. 297). Hong Kong universities operate
under a trilingual (English, Cantonese, Putonghua) and biliterate
(Chinese, English) policy whereas Putonghua is taught as a subject
and, in addition, largely confined to communications with visitors
 from the PRC. English dominates as a textbook language, serves as a
language of governance and of board meetings, and is furthermore used
on occasions in which Cantonese is not available as shared language.
Jernudd then classifies his so-called 'communicative acts in bilingual
university settings' into the following 'ad hoc' categories: -
teaching acts between students and teachers, - study acts by students,
- administrative acts between students and administrative university
members, - research acts, - writing and other presentation acts, -
service acts by faculty members addressing different audiences, -
governance acts between university representatives and civil servants
(p. 299-300). In his evaluation, Jernudd still sees much room for
removing the likelihood of systematic discourse inadequacies and
recommends audits of language use. Such, as he calls it, 'joint
language management action' would 'reveal the complex realities of
bilingualism in practice' (p. 307).

Ofelia Garcia and Cecelia Traugh et al. in 'Using descriptive inquiry
to transform the education of linguistically diverse US teachers and
students' (311-328) describe the efforts educators in two US settings
are making to continually support linguistically diverse schools. The
authors first describe the increased sociolinguistic heterogeneity and
socioeducational homogeneity of the US in general and of New York in
particular. In the further course of the chapter, the authors discuss
how a particular research methodology such as 'Descriptive Inquiry'
could be inclined to regenerate teacher training programme and thus
help deepen the understanding of bilingual education. According to
Garcia and Traugh, this innovative research mode facilitates
transforming a university programme to continually educate mainly
bilingual urban teachers, thus supporting the efforts of a dual
language school with the objective of eventually implementing

The last chapter by William F. Mackey, 'Changing paradigms in the
study of bilingualism' (329-344), simultaneously serving as Coda to
the volume, critically reviews key issues in bilingualism research
over the last two decades. The definitions of bilingualism, Mackey
quotes, range from 'the equal mastery, choice and use of two
languages' in the middle of the 20th century over considering it just
a peripheral phenomenon to a puzzle from fringes of such disciplines
as social psychology, social dialectology and social
anthropology. From the latter conceptualization of bilingualism in the
context of linguistics, bilingualism underwent a revised positioning
referring to its growing importance to bilingual or even multilingual
societies. Eventually, it became evident that the term bilingualism
had to be redefined taking into account that it had ceased to be
looked upon as a 'peculiar either/or trait', but rather as a
multidimensional and widespread phenomenon (p. 331). By the 1980's,
bilingualism itself began to generate a life of its own, and in the
further course it managed to engulf sub-disciplines such as
'ethnolinguistics, demolinguistics, glottopolitics, language planning
and others' (p. 332).

In addition, Mackey outlines a framework for future research
advocating 'new paradigms for new concepts' that might pave the way
'to new thinking about language' in today's 'increasingly diverse and
complex societies' (p. 342).


Overall, this is an excellent volume, which met my expectations upon
reading it. The first two contributions to this volume, by Fishman and
Edwards, are exemplary papers and those readers already familiar with
their linguistic research, of course, cannot help but being delighted
to read their chapters.

Skutnabb-Kangas's describes two scenarios of linguistic genocide and
analyzes measures to halt or ideally prevent it - so far an absolutely
noteworthy issue, yes even sublime 'partisanship'. However, ten pages
of text dealing with the topic, in my opinion, hardly justify almost
eight pages of admittedly valuable references.

The last contribution to the opening main chapter by Smolicz is a
critical and in its result promising analysis of Australia's dealing
with the country's multilingualism acknowledging its minorities the
right to their cultural heritage thus maintaining their cultural
distinctiveness, too. All in all, this is an essay easy to read, with
particular interest to those not familiar with the language policy
carried out in Australia.

Schiffman's investigation on whether French language policy might be
motivated by centrism, 'Orwellian dirigisme', or economic determinism,
comes to the conclusion that 'the fallacy of linguistic 'dirigisme' is
based on supposed parallels with economic 'dirigisme''
(p. 99). Interesting as the comparison itself is, I have the
impression Schiffman's chapter lacks the topical relevance to the more
current situation as one fails to find a reference to the notorious
Law No. 94-665 of 4 August 1994 relative to the use of the French
language (cf. my online references) -- commonly known as 'Loi Tourbon'
- and its amendments until 20 September 2001.

Despite the specificity and thus excellence of Fishman's 'Holy
languages' and Edwards' 'Forlorn hope-?', I take the liberty to choose
Nelde's and Weber's co-authored chapter my favourite as it
coincidentally deals exactly with the profiles of the German speaking
minority in Old Belgium and the Sorbian speaking minority in Germany
on which I myself only recently published a paper (cf. my print
references). Gratefully, their chapter is accompanied by illustrative
figures, maps and tables. Besides their sound analysis, in the
reference section they give the English translation of German book
titles as well as the faithful translation of German quotations
faithfully to their meaning in the source language. Unfortunately,
there is a minor aspect, i.e. failing to mention the online
accessibility of an indispensable source they refer to throughout the
chapter: 'Euromosaic' (cf. my online references).

To cut short this review so far in great detail, I will only comment
further on Marr's chapter on the 'Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua'
and on 'Managing multilingualism in Singapore' co-authored by Xu
Daming and Li Wei. In my opinion, at least these two chapters deserve
an independent remark: as in my opinion justifiably critical Marr's
analysis of the Peruvian institution is as in some aspects uncritical,
yes even somehow indifferent glorifying is Daming's and Wei's hymn of
praise for Singapore's policy to manage multilingualism in the South
East Asian city sate. Without my intention to disparage their
expertise as scholars of high renown, maybe the prospect of facing
governmental reprisals is the cause for their unilateral analysis?

At the end of each chapter, the reader finds five study questions for
discussion. Following the authors' intention, these questions are
aimed to facilitate further debates about the issues raised and
discussed in the corresponding chapters. Their demand ranges from
mainly comprehension questions comprising just one line to entire
complexes of questions (e.g. Skutnabb-kangas, Schiffman, de Klerk and
Garcia/Traugh) stimulating further discussion among readers. Another
helpful factor is that the key references are asterisked so that
readers might feel invited to consult them for more detailed


In sum, I consider the present volume worth reading with only a very
few reservations. It constitutes a multifaceted compilation of
different aspects on the 'Opportunities and Challenges of
Bilingualism' and multilingualism. In my opinion, everybody interested
in this topic no matter whether experts in the field or laymen can
benefit from it. Its contributions combine sound scientific xpertise
with readability.


Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with Two Languages. An Introduction to
Bilingualism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oebel, G. (2002a). The German Language in Belgium. A minority
language, however, not endangered of extinction. In: Journal of the
Faculty of Culture and Education Saga University, 7 (1), 169-182.

Oebel, G. (2002b). European Culture and Languages: The Sorbs
(Wends). A Slavonic Enclave within German Boundaries. In: Journal of
the Faculty of Culture and Education Saga University, 7 (1), 147-151.

Spolsky, B. (1975). Prospects for the survival of the Navajo
Language. In: M. Dale Kinkade et al. (eds.), Linguistics and
Anthroplogy, in honor of C. F. Voegelin, 597-606. Lisse: Peter de
Ridder Press.

REFERENCES (online):


Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching
German as a Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL in Japan. His main areas
of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, adult education
and autonomous learning and approaches, particularly 'Learning by
Teaching' (LdL) invented by Jean-Pol Martin of the Catholic University
Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany).
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