Review of Language, Power and Identity Politics
|EDITOR: Nic Craith, Máiréad
TITLE: Language, Power and Identity Politics
SERIES: Palgrave Studies in Minority Languages and Communities
PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan
Paola Attolino, Department of Linguistics, University of Salerno (Italy)
This book is a collection of eleven papers exploring the interconnections
between language and power in the context of identity politics, with particular
reference to the process of globalization and its consequences for languages at
all levels, major, regional and migrant.
The editor opens the volume with an essay titled ''Languages and Power:
Accommodation and Resistance''. She gives a review of past and present studies on
the issue of language, power and identity and introduces the different
perspectives of analysis adopted in the volume.
The next contribution, Diarmuit Mac Giolla Chríost's ''Globalisation and
Transformation: Language Planning in New Contexts'', examines the impact of
globalization on the relationships between language, identity and conflict,
pointing to the concentration of new information and communication technologies
in urban milieus. The author advocates a redefinition of the notions of
community and sovereignty that recognize the importance of 'space' rather than
'place' (Kohut 1977) in the globalized world. This is one of the reasons why
English, which is a language no longer identified with a particular territory,
will continue to gather momentum.
The domination of English is queried in Jane Saville's contribution, ''Linguistic
Human Rights in Education: International Case Studies''. In particular, she
examines the extent to which linguistic and cultural rights have permeated into
educational systems in South Africa, The Philippines and Peru. In all these
three countries the conflict between the use of English and indigenous languages
is heavily linked to economic globalization and could prevent many individuals
from benefiting from the development of their own countries.
Robert Phillipson's chapter, ''English in Europe: Threat or Promise?'', focuses on
the ''Janus-faced'' (p. 71) dimension of English in Europe, illustrated as being a
language of opportunity and, at the same time, a threat to the autonomy of
national language. The author of _English-only Europe? Challenging Language
Policy_ (2003) here analyzes the pro-English pressures of the European
linguistic market, which are encouraged by the United States and seem to
contradict the EU's commitment to maintain linguistic diversity.
Promotion of minority languages in Europe is a key feature of the contribution
by Markus Warasin, ''Minority Protection and Lesser-Used Language Promotion: The
Convention on the Future of the European Union''. The author considers the
achievements of speakers of minority languages in the process of designing a new
Constitution for Europe. When the Convention began its works in February 2002,
minority protection was not on the agenda. Several debates, conferences and
round tables outside the Convention succeeded in generating responses from
individual members of the European Convention itself, whose final document could
signal a potentially significant step forward for lesser-used language protection.
Philip McDermott's contribution, ''Broadcasting for Minorities: The Case of the
Celtic Languages'', analyzes the development of Celtic language broadcasting and
draws attention to some of the debates about the use of the media in relation to
minority languages. Broadcasting is extremely significant in maintaining the
vitality of a linguistic community. Moreover, it has an impact on the
consolidation of a language within family and education systems. In the Republic
of Ireland the establishment of a dedicated radio and television service for
Irish native speakers has also functioned so as to promote a minority language
on a national level.
The following three chapters focus on the concept 'community language', used by
Price (2000: xiii) to denote the vernaculars of ''reasonably settled communities
of (in most cases recent) incomers from such areas as Asia, Africa or the
Caribbean'', which have perceptibly achieved the status of ''languages of Europe''
if not ''European languages''.
Mary Delargy's contribution, ''Language, Culture and Identity: The Chinese
Community in Northern Ireland'', aims to outline some of the changes that have
occurred in the Chinese community since it was first established in Northern
Ireland in the early 1960s. A key issue is the influence of English: Chinese
children in Northern Ireland acquire fluent English through their everyday
contact with the language, but they feel a language barrier growing up between
themselves and their parents, which leads to inter-generational problems of
communication and understanding.
Rebecca Fong's chapter, ''Intercultural Communication: Chinese Culture in UK
Education'', addresses the increasing presence of Chinese students in UK.
Countering the over-simplicity of cultural research based on such binary
distinctions as high and low context (Hall 1976), she highlights the role that
'cultural awareness' plays in the curriculum, as well as the manner in which
this affects teaching and learning expectations.
In his essay, ''Faith, Language and Identity: Muslim Migrants in Scotland and
Northern Ireland'', Gabriele Marranci discusses the relationship that his Muslim
respondents in Northern Ireland and Scotland have with language and worship. In
particular, he focuses on the official role of Arabic within the ummah
('community') and the differences in approach to this language by Muslims in
Northern Ireland as opposed to Scotland. In the case of Northern Ireland,
Marranci observes how political sectarianism and what he calls 'symbolphagy' (p.
168) have induced the local Muslim community to adopt English rather than Arabic
as the main language for their Friday sermons. This approach contrasts sharply
with that of the Muslim communities in Scotland, where the symbolic importance
of Arabic as the only acceptable language of the 'emotional community'
represented by the ummah is not under discussion.
John Dunlop's chapter, ''Language, Faith and Communication'' is also concerned
with this view of words as symbols. Looking specifically at barriers to
communication between Catholics and Protestants during the Northern Ireland
conflict, Dunlop suggests that speaking the same 'mother tongue' does not
necessarily guarantee a similar worldview. He argues that Catholics tend to
''read between the lines'' (p. 189) and consider language (including political
statements) as open to interpretation and re-interpretation, whereas Protestants
approach language (and politics) in a literal fashion.
In the final chapter, ''9/11 and the War on Terrorism: The Clash of 'Words',
'Cultures' and 'Civilizations': Myth or Reality'', Javaid Rehman explores the
perception of Islam in the wake of the atrocities of September 11, 2001 and the
subsequent war on terrorism. He argues that the ''clash of civilizations''
predicted by Huntington (1993) should not be accepted without question. Instead
he queries the differential usage of key words and concepts such as
'civilisation', 'human rights' and 'terrorism', considering the extent to which
the application (or misapplication) in the usage of such words has had a major
role in exacerbating divisions between contemporary Muslim societies and the
Western world. As Rehman puts forth (p. 201), ''The clash, if there is one –
between Islamic states and the West – is not so much about values, but is more a
manifestation of control, domination and exploitation.''
As Marranci observes in his paper (p. 167), language is more than a medium of
communication: it is a symbol of membership in a community, a sign of belonging
to a group.
The contributions to this very interesting book succeeds admirably in presenting
and analyzing a wide variety of issues - mostly concerning Europe - looking into
powerful languages such as English, minority languages such as Irish, and
immigrant languages such as Chinese and Arabic.
On the whole, the volume explores the crucial role of language in negotiating
identity and highlights that the idea of power is highly contextual.
The volume combines theoretical and practical discourses on linguistic and
cultural heterogeneity. From a more theoretical perspective, it contributes to a
deeper understanding of the relationship between language and identity and it is
worthy of a thorough read by anyone interested in the development of minority
language endangerment discourses. Furthermore, it provides grounds for further
The contributions are well-balanced with respect to the different approaches
presented. Each chapter includes an overview of the literature and offers
attested examples, but beyond the intrinsic interest of the single essays the
reader does appreciate the strong interconnection between them. The book is
surprisingly unified, each chapter seems to anticipate the following, thus the
discussion on the various case studies turns out to be enjoyably readable and
Edited and published in almost perfect quality, the volume displays just a few
bugs related to Italian names (''Romani'' rather than ''Romano'' Prodi on page 67
and ''Marannci'' rather than ''Marranci'' on page 13).
Hall, E.T. 1976. _Beyond Culture_. New York: Anchor Books Editions,.
Huntington, S. 1993. _The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World
Order_. London: Simon and Schuster.
Kohut, H. 1977 _The Restoration of the Self_. New York: International
Price, G. (ed.). 2000. _Encyclopaedia of the Languages of Europe_. Oxford:
Phillipson, R. 2003. _English-only Europe? Challenging language policy_. London
and New York.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Paola Attolino is a researcher in linguistics at the University of Salerno,
Italy. Her research interests focus on sociolinguistics, non-standard English,
evaluation in language, argumentative discourse, and second language teaching.