Publishing Partner: Cambridge University Press CUP Extra Publisher Login
amazon logo
More Info

New from Oxford University Press!


Style, Mediation, and Change

Edited by Janus Mortensen, Nikolas Coupland, and Jacob Thogersen

Style, Mediation, and Change "Offers a coherent view of style as a unifying concept for the sociolinguistics of talking media."

New from Cambridge University Press!


Intonation and Prosodic Structure

By Caroline Féry

Intonation and Prosodic Structure "provides a state-of-the-art survey of intonation and prosodic structure."

Review of  Language and identity policies in the 'glocal' age

Reviewer: Elisabet Vila-Borrellas
Book Title: Language and identity policies in the 'glocal' age
Book Author: Albert Bastardas-Boada
Publisher: Institut d'Estudis Autonòmics
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 24.4393

Discuss this Review
Help on Posting
The overarching aim of this updated translation of Les polítiques de la llengua i la identitat a l'era 'glocal', originally published in Catalan in 2007, is to review the main theoretical principles involved in the study of the relationship between language and identity and to factor in new proposals relating to the current state of globalisation. It also emphasises the difficulties in this relationship and argues for the urgent need to create language policies to confront the effects of globalisation. The book is divided into an introduction, five developmental chapters, a chapter with conclusions and discussions of the previous five, and a final chapter devoted to language and identity in Catalonia.

The introductory chapter sets out the main purposes of the book, which centre on the challenges of finding the best organisation for the coexistence and interrelation of different language groups and identities to promote their solidarity as members of one and the same culturally developed biological species. The need to reconsider this question is absolutely paramount because, according to the author, a sociocultural dynamic ecosystem can be affected by innovations of techno-economic and political organisation. In this light, the author delineates a human ecology of linguistic codes and, at the same time, a linguistic ecology of human beings, with special attention to the continually interpreted social meaning of reality and upholding a view of reality as “the-languages-and-their-contexts”. He also focuses on the situations of minority and majority groups, where most problems among different language groups and identities can be found.

In the second chapter, “The ‘glocal’ age”, Bastardas-Boada explains his choice to use the term ‘glocal’ instead of ‘global’ so as to express the complex view of the interrelation between the ‘localness’ and the globality, since as Edgar Morin would agree, the local is in the global which is in the local. He also describes the features and effects of the current situation, such as the expansion of traditional areas of economic organisation and the polyglottisation of many individuals. Language policy and planning must take on the new challenges posed by these changes.

In Chapter 3, the situation of English as the global lingua franca is analysed. According to the author, this has generally been a process without any explicit and centralised policy implemented by collective world institutions. Rather, it has been based largely on the decisions of techno-economic and scientific agents, educational authorities and individuals who believe that they will have better job opportunities with a strong command of English. The author also considers the present consequences of this situation, which mainly amount to the gain experienced in all fields (e.g., economics, media and politics) for any country in which English is the native language.

Nevertheless, this new lingua franca can be seen as a burden by other language groups and a fear of linguistic and cultural homogenisation has surfaced. Thus, institutions that support other languages adopt plans aimed at balancing the use of English versus languages originally spoken in a region. This is the case with French in Canada, which Canada’s Official Languages Commissioner promotes in order to guarantee language plurality in the country, and it is also the case with Spanish, supported by the Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos (OEI).

Although it may be too early to know whether this situation will lead to an abandonment of other languages, the author claims that one of the important aims of the language policies must be to protect and promote language diversity in local communication. Nevertheless, this promotion must also ensure that, in terms of the international domain, individuals and organisations are organised so as to all understand one another. This condition implies sharing at least one foreign language, which seems to be English at present. This does not, however, contradict the aim of promoting language diversity within the domain of the state.

Chapter 4 addresses the suprastate unions that have been created to increase the political-economic weight and the geostrategic influence of Europe and other continents in order to compete successfully. Examples are the European Union, NAFTA and Mercosur (Mercosul in Portuguese). They, too, have to adopt language policies to integrate diverse populations.

In the case of the European Union, polyglottism is promoted, but in reality English is the preferred foreign language among EU member states. Thus, there is a need for a clear distribution of the functions that are assigned to English so as not to destabilise the roles that the national languages fulfil in their own territories. In addition, this chapter describes the language situation in India, where English is a “neutral” language in terms of identity. In this kind of suprastate situation, the author believes that the principle of linguistic subsidiarity could be applied. This principle entails that any global -- or continental -- language must not perform any function that a local one can perform.

Chapter 5 deals with the effects of globalisation in terms of language planning and policies in multilingual states that do not have a common language, such as Switzerland. Examples of countries that do have an official language for intercommunication (e.g., Spain and Italy) are also considered. According to the author, these countries present a model for organising linguistic plurality that recognises an official state language throughout their territory and also have other official languages limited to the area where a particular language group lives. This model leads to effective mass bilingualisation but also to a feeling of lack of respect for the identity of those citizens who see that their local language is not fully legitimised or recognised officially in common state institutions. A functional distribution based on the principle of linguistic subsidiarity could also contribute to a solution in these cases, since it allows for general intercommunication and at the same time preserves the main functions for other languages.

In Chapter 6, the effects of migration are examined in the context of globalisation. In addition to the usual policies facilitating the integration of newcomers, there has been an increase not only in policies protecting a host society’s culture and identity, but also in newcomers’ defence of their own culture and identity. This chapter looks at examples of how these policies are managed in countries such as the US, the UK and the Netherlands. The author emphasises that these policies concern not merely language and communication, but identity as well.

Chapter 7 discusses and sets out the conclusions of the book. Specifically, ‘language’ and ‘identity’ are identified as phenomena that are not necessarily linked, because languages can exist without any strong sense of identity and there can be identities without any relation to language. The author points out that the relationship between these two terms only exists when there is contact among different groups in a context of resistance, especially when minoritised and majority groups are involved. Some particular situations of contact can give rise to a positive or negative self-image in comparison with the other group. In these circumstances, therefore, creation of language policies is highly needed. In addition, the author summarises the effects of globalisation regarding English and other major languages, as well as the economic and political unions and the migratory movements described in preceding chapters. Further, Bastardas-Boada offers ideas for how to organise this multilingual world based on four main conceptual dimensions: linguistic recognition, communicability, sustainability, and integration.

The eighth and final chapter describes the complex case of Catalonia in terms of identities and languages. Bastardas-Boada applies the four main dimensions for analysis set out in Chapter 7. He also draws special attention to the need to develop language skills and to distribute the uses of different languages through language policies that promote a new common identity.

This book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the link between language and identity as felt by people in the current situation of technological, economic and political change. Although they are interrelated, it is entirely appropriate to distinguish between the processes that affect the use of languages and those that have an influence on identities, because, as Joseph notes, “Knowing who one is belongs to the realm not of communication, but representation” (2004:91).

The book also provides insight into language policies for multilingual states and suprastate unions in the context of globalisation, as well as in the case of new migration movements and the language organisation of plural societies. In addition, the present-day sociolinguistic situation of Catalonia is examined in terms of language and identity processes and the book proposes some principles of organisation.

The book’s fundamental contribution of the book probably lies in the new principles that it proposes for organising the coexistence of human linguistic diversity based on the distribution of functions. Starting from the principle of recognising the benefits to be gained from our sharing languages, the book nonetheless postulates the priority allocation of functions to ‘local’ languages so as not to upset the sociocognitive ecology supporting their survival. The principle of subsidiarity, which comes from the European Union’s approach to political organisation, seems to offer an apt analogy in support of what the author calls linguistic sustainability, a notion that he has developed previously (see Bastardas 2007).

The issue of states without a common language is also interesting, because it shows how outside influences -- for instance, the spreading knowledge of English -- can contribute to a change alteration in the linguistic relations among the groups involved. Without any planning, it can even become a language of intercommunication. What we cannot yet know is what changes this might bring to the evolution of languages and identities in these countries.

Another highlight is the author’s application of his theoretical principles to the case of ‘medium-sized’ languages, which he exemplifies in with the case of Catalonia, where there are simultaneously various causes of contact. In this immense sociolinguistic laboratory, many factors come into play at once, such as membership in a state in which another language group is in the majority, the suprastate integration of the European Union, techno-economic globalisation, and large-scale migrations that have had major consequences in from the last century and until today.

Certainly, the many topics addressed are not settled. Rather, they are served up as initial explorations to be expanded in the future as we begin to see the sociolinguistic and identity-related influences that will emerge in the various domains of globalisation and how such influences will affect human populations. In my view, the author makes a sound decision to take a perspective that encompasses the human ecology of languages, the linguistic ecology of human beings, and their respective impacts, although it is also the case that the author provides only the broad outlines of this perspective and further development is needed.

The book will be of interest to scholars and students of sociolinguistics, especially for those who focus on language policies and the effects of globalisation in human language organisation. It is an excellent theoretical companion to other works published in recent years (e.g., De Swann 2001, Maurais & Morris 2003, Wright 2004); the author not only raises general issues, but also explores specific cases of medium-sized communities that simultaneously need to internationalise themselves and accommodate large-scale migrations, all without the benefit of having their own state.

Bastardas-Boada, Albert. 2007. Linguistic sustainability for a multilingual humanity. Glossa. An Ambilingual Interdisciplinary Journal 2. 180-202 ( ).

De Swaan, Abram. 2001. Words of the world. The global language system. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Joseph, John E. 2004. Language and identity: National, ethnic, religious. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maurais, Jacques, & Michael A. Morris (eds.) 2003. Languages in a globalising world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, Sue. 2004. Language policy and language planning. From nationalism to globalization. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Elisabet Vila-Borrellas has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics and Language Acquisition in Multilingual Contexts by the University of Barcelona. She is currently working in the General Linguistics Department of the University of Barcelona. Her main academic interests are in sociolinguistics and early language acquisition.

Amazon Store: