Review of Uniformity and Diversity in Language Policy
|EDITORS: Norrby, Catrin; Hajek, John
TITLE: Uniformity and Diversity in Language Policy
SUBTITLE: Global Perspectives
SERIES: Multilingual Matters
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Marián Sloboda, Charles University in Prague
The book under review is a collection of sixteen chapters about language
policies in several countries and regions of the world. In particular, these
areas lie in Europe (10 chapters predominantly about western Europe), Australia
(4 chapters) and North America (2 chapters), i.e. the volume focuses on the
so-called Western countries.
It is necessary to note right at the beginning that the book's title “Uniformity
and Diversity in Language Policy: Global Perspectives” may be somewhat
misleading. Uniformity and diversity in language policy is not a central topic
for most of the chapters, although it is (usually implicitly and to various
degrees) taken into account in some of the chapters. Similarly, the main
perspective is not always global, but very often it is a national, regional or
local one -- in a number of chapters it is the perspective of a nation, region,
minority language speakers, employees of a supranational company, participants
to an online discussion, etc. This does not mean, of course, that global
perspectives are absent from the book. Most authors consider important global
phenomena, such as international migration, international trade, international
protection of minority languages, etc. The imprecision of the volume's title may
be due to the high diversity of the topics which the book contains and for which
it must have been difficult to find a suitable common title.
Above all the book contains analytic descriptions of various aspects of variably
complex language policies in different locations of the Western world. What
holds this heterogeneous collection together is the attention to the historical
development as well as synchronic context of language polices, to the
(preliminary) outcomes of their implementation and to certain tensions between
the language policies and the existing situation in the given location.
The book puts strong emphasis on factuality and description -- an effort to
elaborate on the theory of language policy is absent from the volume. This may
also contribute to the high degree of the text's intelligibility and
accessibility to a wider rather than just specialist audience -- not only to
experts such as academics, researchers and policy-makers, but also to laypersons
not familiar with terminology but interested in language policy in the
The General Introduction opening the book describes, for the most part, the
content of the three parts of the book into which its 16 chapters are divided.
The first part, entitled “Language Policy at the Official Level,” consists of
five chapters which describe aspects of language policies formulated at the
official, usually state (national), level. The second part, “Language Policy in
Practice: Indigenous and Migrant Languages in Education,” contains five chapters
which deal in more or less detailed ways with the issue of languages in
education. Since it seems that they are about public school education, this part
can also be considered a description of official language policies. The third
part bears a rather vague title “Language Policy in Real and Virtual Worlds,”
where “virtual” signals that language policy in the online world would also be
in focus, which, however, is the case in only two out of the six chapters in
this part of the volume. This part is more heterogeneous than the two preceding
ones: it includes studies of language policies not only on the Internet, but
also in the commercial sector and among persecuted political opposition. I
return to the organization of the book later in this review. I turn now to a
summary of the content of the individual chapters in order to show the
variability of the topics and locations involved.
In Chapter 1 (“Language policy and citizenship in Quebec: French as a force for
unity in diverse society?”) Jane Warren and Leigh Oakes describe the promotion
of French as an element in the Québécois identity. Among other issues, they
point to the fact that, although it is not directly applied to the Aboriginal
peoples of this part of Canada, this language policy nevertheless has a
significant impact on this population as well.
In Chapter 2 (“Do national languages need support and protection in legislation?
The case of Swedish as the ‘principal language’ of Sweden”) Sally Boyd
investigates the development of national language policy and legislation in
Sweden, where Swedish language use is losing some of its domains in favour of
English. A goal of the national policy is to support Swedish both at the
national and international levels in the domains in which English prevails. The
author points out that the argumentation employed for this national language
policy is inconsistent: certain principles are applied to the speakers of
Swedish as L1, but different ones to the speakers of other languages spoken in
Sweden as L1. She argues in favour of solving the issues of linguistic diversity
by way of more sensitive local language policy measures, rather than by national
In Chapter 3 (“Language policy and smaller national languages: The Baltic states
in the new millennium”), Uldis Ozolins returns to the intensive and emotional
debates over national language policies in the Baltic countries, which are
marked by a conflict between the promotion of the native national languages
(Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian), which were retreating from use in the Soviet
era on the one hand and the maintenance of Russian, the dominant language in the
Soviet period, on the other hand. On the basis of the data from national
surveys, the author argues that, in contrast to these debates, mutual tolerance
prevails among the population in general and the level of its multilingualism is
In Chapter 4 (“Language policy in Australia: What goes up must come down?”)
Paulin G. Djité traces the development of the national language policy of
Australia, which has been moving from support for multilingualism to support for
monolingual English literacy. The making of Australian language policies has not
always been based on actual communicative needs of the population, but also on
presumed economic advantages and ideologically motivated political interests.
In Chapter 5 (“Regional languages, the European Charter and republican values in
France today”) Leigh Oakes describes how the European Charter for Regional or
Minority Languages (an international treaty of the Council of Europe) and a
wider shift in thinking about minority languages influences the language policy
of France, especially the values of the French Republic. It becomes more
interesting to observe this influence when we realize that France, as a rare
case among the Council of Europe's members, has not ratified the Charter yet.
Chapter 6 opens the second part of the volume, which focuses on education. In
this chapter (“Breton language maintenance and regeneration in regional
education policy”), Tadgh Ó hIfearnáin addresses the efforts in the regeneration
of Breton in France. He investigates life experiences and opinions of Breton
activists and concludes that the minority Breton language policy relies very
much on school education, but needs to be accompanied by other language
management supporting Breton language use also in the life period after
graduation from Breton-medium schools.
In Chapter 7 ('Language policy in Spain: The coexistence of small and big
languages') David Lasagabaster describes the situation in language education in
Spain, especially in the Basque Country. He deals with the question of
successful teaching of traditional 'small' (minority) languages in the situation
in which this is challenged by increasing immigration and globalization (by the
immigrants' usual preference for the 'big' national language and a preference
for learning the 'big' English language as foreign). He arrives at the
conclusion that it is not efforts to promote monolingualism in the minority
language, but on the contrary, support for multilingualism that would be useful
for maintaining the traditional minority languages.
In Chapter 8 (“Language policy and language contact in New Mexico: The case of
Spanish”) Catherine E. Travis and Daniel J. Villa describe the development of
the situation of Spanish in New Mexico. They point out that the Spanish variety
which has traditionally been spoken in this state of the USA is vanishing, while
the position of another variety of Spanish, the one spoken by current migrants
from Mexico, is becoming stronger.
In Chapter 9 (“Indigenous languages, bilingual education and English in
Australia”), Gillian Wigglesworth and David Lasagabaster describe the
development of education policy for the indigenous language speakers in
Australia. This policy is currently heading towards monolingual teaching in
English. Among other conclusions, the authors point to the discrepancy between
the official espousing of the notion of 'knowledge society' on the one hand and
the situation in which official decisions are in contradiction to the newest
research findings concerning language education for minorities (i.e. to educate
them also in their home languages).
In Chapter 10 (“Bringing Asia to the home front: The Australian experience of
Asian language education through national policy”), Yvette Slaughter draws our
attention to another topic in Australian language policy, namely, the teaching
of Asian languages. She points to the strong economic motivation behind the
policy of teaching selected Asian languages which are important for Australia's
international business as foreign, and to the ensuing problem of language
learning continuity in the educational process and the inadequacy of the adopted
conception of Asian language teaching for those children in Australia who speak
these languages in their homes.
Chapter 11 opens the third and last part of the volume. It is devoted to
language policies adopted at other than the official levels and to the
interaction between official language policies and language policies in other
places and social structures. Chapter 11 itself (“Testing identity: Language
tests and Australian citizenship”) is an exception to this focus to some extent,
as its authors, Kerry Ryan and Tim McNamara, analyze the national language and
knowledge tests for obtaining Australian citizenship. This is a very important
issue nowadays if we consider the current changes in national identities in the
context of intensive international migration. The authors describe the origin
and development of such tests in Australia. They conclude that, in the current
test conception, the role of the tested language as a symbol (of national
identity, social cohesion or the like) predominates over the practical
implications of the required standard of language skills.
In Chapter 12 (“Language as political emblem in the new culture war in Northern
Ireland”), Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost investigates language management
(including small-scale informal language policies) in a totally different type
of setting than the previous chapters, describing Irish language acquisition and
efforts at its use in a community of prisoners who had fought against the
British rule in Northern Ireland. The author traces the politicization of their
local variety of Irish in the struggle between the Republicans and the Unionists
in the course of the second half of the 20th century and the penetration of this
local language management into Northern Ireland's public, including cultural,
In Chapter 13 (“Language policy and reality in South Tyrol”), Claudia Maria
Riehl and John Hajek describe the regional language policy and some of its
consequences in South Tyrol which has a regional German majority, but belongs to
Italy today. This language policy is interesting for its emphasis on the
separation of the two ethnolinguistic communities (the German one and the
Italian one) who, however, live together and inevitably come into contact and
In Chapter 14 (“Addressing policy in the Web: Netiquettes and emerging policies
of language use in German Internet forums”), Heinz L. Kretzenbacher investigates
the negotiation of local policy of formal/informal personal reference (du vs.
Sie, or T vs. V forms of pronouns and verbs) among the users of German Internet
forums. Noticeable is the trend towards more informality on the Web and a
perceived difference between the norms of online communication as opposed the
communicative norms in the offline world.
In Chapter 15 (“Language policy in practice: What happens when Swedish IKEA and
H&M take ‘you’ on?”), Catrin Norrby and John Hajek also investigate the use and
management of the informal pronouns and second person singular verb forms (T
forms), but in various languages and as part of the policy of two Swedish
supranational companies. The chapter focuses on which countries and which types
of communication with customers the informal address/reference was accepted in
and how local personnel in countries other than Sweden cope with this top-down
policy based on Swedish communicative norms.
In the last chapter, Chapter 16 (“Regulating language in the global service
industry”), Deborah Cameron analyzes company language policy as well. She
describes various forms of language management in service-providing companies
based mostly in the UK. She notes that the relationships between the ordinary
employees and managers and between the companies and their clients/customers are
prominent objects of language management in this sector. This language
management includes, e.g., the scripting of interactions to personalize
communication between the employees and the clients/customers or the promotion
of informal forms of address to evoke the impression of collegiality between
employees from various positions in the company's hierarchy. This chapter draws
attention to the variety of particular ways language management is
interconnected with economic and organizational management.
The quality of the studies in this volume testifies to the fact the authors are
experts with deep insight into the issues and locations they describe. Although
the chapters are very diverse in geography and focus, they concern a number of
topics of general interest, such as citizenship, nation building, the situation
of indigenous populations, minority language education, economic interests in
language policy, efforts to change communicative norms, etc. If the reader
focuses on these general topics, it becomes possible to compare the otherwise
diverse studies with each other or with another situation the reader is familiar
Out of the set of the general topics covered by the book, I would like first to
highlight the question of the ways in which the management of language is
interconnected with economic and sociocultural management. Particularly
interesting in this respect is the problem of identification of connections
between, on the one hand, the adoption and implementation of a language policy
and, on the other hand, the factors we are not used to relating to language
policy, such as politeness, real property market, transport infrastructure, etc.
The chapters about Australia suggest another interesting general issue, namely,
the question of the difference between language policy implementation in
federations and in unitary states and, more generally, the question of
interaction between various levels of governance, some of which often alter or
block the policy implementation process.
Another general topic mentioned in the book is the question of binding private
subjects to a language policy adopted by public administration. This is an
important topic considering the current transfer of a number of services from
public to private organizations, which we can witness in today's Europe, for
An open question is the influence of international migration on the situation of
traditional minority languages. Some of the 'European' chapters in the volume
show that the linguistic situation in officially bilingual regions evolves to
the detriment of these minority languages. Political practice supporting
traditional minority languages has been more or less stabilized already.
However, the current increase in immigration presents a challenge when
immigrants generally prefer the majority language or when the present minority
language policy orients to parallel bilingualism and is monolingualist. Such
policy ceases to be sustainable in this situation.
A classical topic, which, however, is becoming more and more pressing with
regard to the intensity of international migration, is the methods of teaching
in schools of the so-called 'foreign' languages which are, however, used by
migrant children in their homes. How can we ensure the teaching of such
languages as foreign to one part of the child population and education
developing the already existing language skills in the other part?
Interestingly, the chapters on education in this volume constrain themselves to
school education. Therefore, the logical next step is to ask how it is with
extra-curricular forms of language teaching and learning, such as with various
types of language courses, tutoring and 'language tandems' or language exchange
partnerships (cf. Masuda, 2009). What role do these forms of language teaching
and learning play in the linguistic situation in a given location and how do
they interact with language education in schools? These were some of the
interesting questions the volume under review raises.
Characteristic of the book as a whole is the absence of theoretical ambitions or
efforts to elaborate on the theory of language policy, which, interestingly, is
likewise not very strong in recent publications on language policy (e.g.
Shohamy, 2006; Spolsky, 2004 and 2012). Methodological questions are also not
elaborated on and even not much described in the volume. The book is thus rather
'factographic' or documentary, although it does not lack interesting insights
coming from the authors' work with their data and experience.
The content summary above has shown a high level of the book's heterogeneity.
How can we read it, then? First of all, it is necessary to appreciate the
evidently large amount of editorial work spent on putting this volume together.
It is apparent that it was composed in such a way that the chapters follow each
other in a logical order. With respect to the heterogeneity of the volume,
however, selective reading may be more useful than reading the book as a
continuous text. For example, readers with rudimentary knowledge of language
policy in Australia, and possibly with a stereotypical idea of its successful
policy of multilingualism, will find it very useful to select the four chapters
on Australia (chapters 4, 9, 10 and 11). Those interested in 'small' national
languages, regional minority languages, national identity, supranational
companies or other topics may want to proceed in a similar way.
The volume's heterogeneity is underlined by the absence of a concluding chapter
with a discussion, summary or comparison across the chapters. The introduction
was not used for a general discussion on uniformity and diversity in language
policy but describes, instead, the content of each chapter, and the same thing
is repeated in the forewords to each part of the book. A discussion or
comparative concluding chapter could have lent more coherence to the book and
could have added another dimension to the chapters.
The book under review is a useful contribution to our understanding of the
historical development and present contexts of language policy creation and
implementation at various levels, from supranational to local, in the Western
world. Readers will very likely find in it something which will complement their
knowledge of the locations or aspects of language policy they are interested in.
Thanks to the book's relatively wide geographical coverage and its attention to
the outcomes of language policies cast against historical and present-day
backgrounds, persons working in language policy can find here inspiration for
their work on language issues in their own countries. Those seeking theoretical
innovations or methodological inspiration will most likely be disappointed --
however, this was not the editors' or authors' explicit ambition.
Masuda, Yuko. 2009. Negotiation of language selection in Japanese-English
exchange partnerships. In J. Nekvapil and T. Sherman (eds.), Language Management
in Contact Situations: Perspectives from Three Continents (pp. 185-205).
Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.
Shohamy, Elana. 2006. Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches.
Spolsky, Bernard. 2004. Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Spolsky, Bernard (ed.). 2012. The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
| ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Marián Sloboda currently works as Assistant Professor at the Department of
Central European Studies, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. He
is interested in the theory and practice of language management and in the
issues of multilingualism and minority language support. He is a member of
an advisory body to the Czech government on these issues.