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Review of  Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts

Reviewer: Yasemin Kirkgoz
Book Title: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts
Book Author: Amy B.M. Tsui James W. Tollefson
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 18.1461

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EDITORS: Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson
TITLE: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts
SERIES: New Perspectives on Language & Education
PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
YEAR: 2006

Yasemin Kirkgoz, Department of ELT, Lecturer in English Language Teaching
at the University of Çukurova

''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is an edited
collection of papers aimed at presenting the impact of globalization on
language policies in Asian countries. Each chapter in the volume focuses
on different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of language policies
of Asian countries in the social construction of national cultural
identities; the relationship between language, culture, and identity (vii)
through the impact of globalization; and language policy responses of the
governments based on case study experiences. The book is introduced by a
preface, which lays out the background, the aim of the book, and consists
of fifteen chapters. As the editors state in the preface, in selecting
contributors to the volume, they have been guided by the decision to
include countries which have been underrepresented in the literature on
language policy. Each chapter author is an Asian scholar with experience
and knowledge concerning language policy of their country, as such the book
aims to provide ''insider's perspective on each of the countries presented''


The collection, edited by Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson consists of
fourteen chapters including a preface, followed by Chapter 1. The fourteen
chapters of the book are organized into three parts. Part 1 entitled
''Globalization and its Impact on Language Policy, Culture, and Identity''
consists of five chapters. Part II ''Language Policy and the (Re)
Construction of National Cultural Identity'' comprises the next three
chapters in the volume (Chapters 7-10). Part III ''Language Policy and
Language Politics: The Role of English'' covers the last four chapters in
the collection. The first and the last chapters are written by the editors

Chapter One ''Language Policy and construction of National Identity'',
written by the editors, seems to be designed to provide a critical overview
of all the chapters that make up the collection, presenting an analytical
framework for understanding the case studies. As the editors put it,
authors in this volume explore the relationship between language policy and
national cultural identity by examining the impact of globalization on
several Asian countries and their language policy responses to it. The
authors first present several questions related to the spread of English
with reference to Phillipson's (1992) ''linguistic imperialism'', arguing
that English is considered by language policy makers in Asian countries as
a ''multinational tool that is essential for achieving national goals and by
individuals as an indispensable resource for personal advancement'' (p.18).
While admitting that Asian countries have little choice other than
legitimizing the hegemony of English, they argue that at the supranational
level, the ownership of English still remains largely in the hands of
English-speaking Western superpowers.

Chapter Two ''Japan's Language Policy and the 'Lost Decade''' by Kayoko
Hashimoto examines how the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL)
is situated in Japanese society and how the government has responded to the
promotion of TEFL in its policy since what is known as the Lost Decade,
when Japan was in search of solutions to tackle a national crisis. The
discussion mainly focuses on the perspective that language policies are
mainly cultural policies because they are connected with what can
culturally be achieved. The author puts forward the idea that while
promoting English, Japan has successfully maintained its own cultural
identity by promoting TEFL within the framework of Japanese
internationalization and the ''good'' qualities of the Japanese culture.
Hashimoto remarks that efforts have been made by the government to ensure
that the learning of English would not undermine Japanese cultural identity
and cultural values.

Chapter Three ''Globalization and Language Policy in South Korea'' by Yim
Sungwon explores globalization in the Korean context. Sungwon argues that
in the Korean context, globalization has acted as a ''catalyst for
developing a new sense of national identity'' (p.51). He clearly shows that
unlike many countries where the imposition of ideologies and cultures of
Western superpowers has rendered many nations helpless, many Koreans see
the current spread of the English language and American culture as an
opportunity for their nation to show itself to the world by appropriating
the American culture and language to disseminate Korean ways of thinking
and understanding rather than seeing it as a threat to their national

Chapter Four ''The construction of National Identity and Globalization in
Multilingual Malaysia'' by Maya Khemlani David and Subramaniam Govindasamy
is in two sections. In the first section the authors outline the
multilingual and multiethnic context in which the Malaysian language policy
is interpreted using a descriptive historical-discourse approach; the
second part examines the role of English language textbooks in promoting
national identity and the global outlook of Malaysia's citizens. After an
overview of Malaysian colonial history and colonial heritage, the authors
demonstrate the prominence being given by the leaders of the nation to the
use of English, especially in education, which they remark has led to an
increase in private English medium education as a recent response to
globalization. Adopting a discourse analytical approach to examine the
textbooks, the authors show that the textbook writers have achieved a major
goal by introducing global values essential to contribute to the common
goal of nation building without neglecting local customs through selecting
topics and producing materials.

Chapter Five ''Remaking Singapore: Language, Culture, and Identity in a
Globalized World'' by Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew situates Globalization in
Singapore, ''an increasingly depoliticized, postcolonial, and materialistic
environment'' (p. 75). The author first focuses on the language policy,
specifically, the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM). He then surveys
contribution by Singaporeans about what makes a Singaporean and examines
data from a recent questionnaire on language attitudes in Singapore. In the
evolving global society, Chew suggests that language is not so much as a
symbol of culture and nationhood but as an essential economic resource
having a particular value: a tool by which a nation may achieve varied
goals in the area of research, finance, manufacturing and public relations.

Chapter Six ''Transition, Culture, and Language in Cambodia'' by Thomas
Clayton discusses the impact of liberalization and democratization on
Cambodia's dominant minority cultures in relation to language choices in
education. Clayton argues that by influencing language choice in favour of
English and French the government's agenda to maintain and strengthen Khmer
culture is being threatened. He points out that the Cambodian government
has allocated its own resources only to the national language, by
extension, the Khmer culture, while leaving to others interventions that
advance Chinese, Cham, Vietnamese and indigenous languages and cultures.
Clayton also mentions that transition form a centrally planned to a Market
economy led to participation in a global economy, which resulted in an
increase in foreign investment. Many job opportunities were created leading
to an increase in demand for English.

Chapter Seven ''Language Policy and the construction of Identity: The Case
of Hong Kong'' by Amy B. M. Tsui discusses the language policy in the
construction of cultural identity in the Hong Kong context. Based on
Halls's framework of identity construction, Tsui examines the institutional
and socio-political processes that influenced the collective identity of
the people of Hong Kong in the colonial and postcolonial periods, exploring
the role of language policy in these processes. She claims that during the
colonial area, the interaction between the competing forces of British
colonialism and Chinese nationalism, and the resistance to both movements
shaped the local identity of the people of Hong Kong.

Chapter Eight ''Multilingual and Multicultural Identities in Brunei
Darussalam'' by Mukul Saxena addresses the very theme of the sociocultural
philosophies of governance embedded in Hinduism, Islamic and Western
thoughts that have shaped the national ideology, MUB, of Brunei. Saxena
remarks that by defining the nation state in terms of the national MIB
ideology, the Brunei government has highlighted the importance of Malay
culture and language to the national identity. This relationship between
ethnicity, culture, language and identity is extended to the Muslim
monarchy. What he seems to highlight in this chapter is that the policy
pressures from diverse sociolinguistic practices are ''constructing,
deconstructing, and reconstructing Bruneians' multilingual and
multicultural identities'' (p.158).

Chapter Nine ''Mauri or Mirage? The Status of the Maori Language in Aotearoa
New Zealand in the Third Millennium'' by Richard A. Benton presents - in a
very condensed and at times hard-to-process style - Maori language,
culture, and contact with English since the late 18th century. Benton gives
an overview of how the status of the language has been recognized and
reflected in practice both within and outside the Maori ethnic community
since initial contact with outside influences. He reports that the unequal
power relationship between English and the Maori language resulted in
several paradoxes. Maori people were interested in preserving the Maori
language and culture, yet they avoided speaking it at home. They sent their
children to English-medium schools. Although the Maori language is an
official language and it is used in parliamentary debates, it is hardly
used by legislators. Benton proposes an interpretation that resolves these
apparent paradoxes.

Chapter Ten ''Identity and Multilinguality: The Case of India'' by R. K.
Agnihotri gives the history of the language policy in India before and
after the partition of India and Pakistan. Agnihotri clearly shows that
language policy and national identity are mutually related, which he points
out is often used for political ends. Throughout the chapter, it is
demonstrated that in India, Hindi and Urdu were separated into two distinct
languages to serve the political end of projecting two separate identities,
Hindu and Muslim during the partition process. This had an unfavourable
consequence of destroying the ethnic harmony. The dominance of Hindi
contributed to the demise of Hindustani, a common language to Hindus and
Muslims, generating resistance from other linguistic groups. He describes
how English, the language of colonization, remained one of the official
languages to counter the absolute power of Hindi.

Chapter Eleven ''Change and Permanence in Language Politics in Nepal'' by
Selma K. Sonntag illustrates how the democratically elected government
turned to the ''Nepali-only'' language policy in the early 1990s and made
Sanskrit compulsory in primary and secondary education. Sonntag points out
that this reversal caused strong resistance from the ethnic minorities.
Unlike in India, such resistance lead to positive outcomes as it enabled
the minorities to resolve ethnolinguistic policy matters. With regard to
the role of English, she notes that as in the case of India, English
functioned as a tool for resistance against the linguistic dominance of
Nepali. With the spread of English, English-medium schools increased, and
concerns have been expressed about the widening social divide resulting
from such proliferation.

Chapter Twelve ''The Role of English in Pakistan with Special Reference to
Tolerance and Militancy'' by Tariq Rahman deals with the issue that the
spread of English is accompanied by the propagation of liberal values in
Pakistan. In a survey conducted by Rahman, the English-educated elites hold
more liberal values such as peace with India, equal rights for women, and
religious tolerance, and they support militant policies. The author points
out that due to access to English and the Internet, young people,
regardless of whether elite or nonelites, can freely express themselves on
various issues including politics, and religion. Such free expression,
according to Rahman, is a breakthrough for Pakistan which he considers as
an intolerant and oppressive society. Rahman also cautions that while
English brings liberal and democratic values, it may also make available
neofundamentalist Islamic values.

Chapter Thirteen ''Language Policy in Education in Bangladesh'' by Tania
Hossain & James W. Tollefson address three issues in language and education
in Bangladesh: the role of Bengali in the ideology of Bengali nationalism;
the forces contributing to the spread of English among the elite, and the
language in the educational system. Hossain & Tollefson remark that the
linguistic resistance in Bangladesh to the domination of Urdu and the
struggle for the recognition of the Bengali as a co-official language
eventually turned into military resistance, which resulted in the political
independence of Bangladesh from West Pakistan. Bengali was declared the
state language as well as the medium of instruction in the state education
system. The authors discuss how English-medium education has continued for
the elite despite high rate of illiteracy. They draw attention to one of
the educational problems: the lack of curriculum materials in Bengali means
that higher education has to continue in the medium of English. This
limits its access by the Bengali-medium graduates and deepens the social
divide between those who can access it and others that cannot.

Chapter Fourteen ''Issues in Language Policy, Culture, and Identity'' by
James W. Tollefson & Amy B.M. Tsui is the final chapter summarizing the
major research issues emerging from the chapters in the volume. The
authors agree that the answers raised at the beginning of the book to
several policy related issues are often complex, varying in accordance with
the political and cultural context, and changeable over time. They make a
number of important points: the language policy responses of Asian
countries indicate that these countries have as much a part to play as
English speaking Western superpowers in legitimizing the hegemony of
English. English is perceived by the policy makers as an essential tool to
achieve national goals and personal achievement. The authors conclude that
on the basis of the evidence, language policy responses of countries
included in the volume have been largely determined by the linguistic
practices, preferences of organizations both multinational and
transnational as well as international aid agencies. They also point out
that the threat of cultural homogenization brought about by the hegemony of
English has been a source of tension for Asian countries.


''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is a much
welcome addition to the scholarship on language policy, education, and
sociolinguistics, particularly for its contribution of much needed
empirical studies in Asian countries. It brings together a significant
amount of research studies on language policies and practices in Asian

The book is certainly a must-read for anyone who is interested in issues in
language policies and practices in Asian countries. It is a great
sourcebook that may be used in graduate and undergraduate courses on
language policy, language in society and language education.

With regard to the scope, the collection provides a critical survey of
language policies and practices in Asian countries. The usefulness of the
discussion questions posed by the editors in the first chapter might assist
readers in thinking through the whole volume in further understanding the
topics addressed in each chapter.

Each chapter is clearly laid-out and well written, some offering excellent
end-of-chapter summaries. Perhaps the most positive quality of this book is
that the authors introduce the historical and theoretical discussion on the
language policies of their countries from an insider's perspective. Each
chapter deals with a language policy in a different Asian country, thus
most chapters are well worth the time it takes to read. The content is
certainly not difficult to read, since it is presented in a very clear and
factual manner.

Another welcome contribution of this book is that each chapter addresses a
different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of language policies of a
particular Asian country in the social construction of national cultural
identities, and the relationship between language, culture, and identity
through the impact of globalization, and approaches adopted by the
government of the respective country, drawing on case study experiences.

Overall, I have found the volume to be cohesive, resourceful and
well-written. I would highly recommend this book to those involved in
language policy and planning. The detail of discussion makes this book an
extremely useful reference for those involved in language policy issues.


Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Yasemin Kirkgoz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English
Language Teaching at the University of Çukurova, Turkey. Her research
interests include influence of globalization on language policy,
English-medium education and classroom based research.

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