By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2005 20:02:27 +0100 From: Thapelo Otlogetswe Subject: Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda?
EDITORS: Tollefson, James W.; Tsui, Amy B. M. TITLE: Medium of Instruction Policies SUBTITLE: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2004
Thapelo Otlogetswe, Information Technology Research Institute, University of Brighton, UK.
The book is an edited collection of 14 papers by 16 authors who argue for the centrality of medium-of-instruction (MOI) policy in socio- political processes. MOI policy choices are presented not just as pedagogical options, but are defined by and define the social, political and economic participation, social equality and human rights of citizens. They empower and disempower different language groups and perpetuate the subjugation of the minority groups by the dominant ones (cf. Honey 1997). Its scope is broad with papers on experiences from every continent. The papers detail experiences from New Zealand, Wales, the US, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, South Africa, Bolivia and Ecuador, Slovenia and post-colonial Africa. They dispel the dominant myth that linguistic pluralism is a root source of ethnic and national unrest, by defending the position that linguistic diversity empowers citizens to meaningfully participate politically, socially and economically.
The book is divided into three major parts:
Part one: Minority Languages in English Dominated States (Three Chapters) Part two: Language in Post-Colonial States (Six chapters) Part Three: Managing and Exploiting Language Conflict (Three Chapters)
There are two other chapters by the editors which do not fall within the broader three classifications above; one at the beginning of the book, which serves as a useful introduction to the chapters, and another at the end of the book which summarizes the common themes across all chapters.
In the first chapter the editors, Tollefson and Tsui, introduce the reader to the collection by offering a panoramic overview of the entire book, chapter by chapter. Each chapter is summarized by considering how it illustrates how state educational agendas mirror underlying political, social and economic agendas. In multilingual and multi-ethnic post-colonial states, for instance, the colonial language has been preferred over indigenous languages for its perceived ethnic and political neutrality to eschew ethnic and national upheavals. Such choices have favoured the elite educated in the colonial language and restricted political, economic and social participation of the rest of the population who lack the mastery of the foreign tongue. Thus the first chapter not only provides a summary of other chapters but also show how all the chapters in the book hang together.
I. MINORITY LANGUAGES IN ENGLISH-DOMINANT STATES In the second chapter Stephen May traces how the indigenous Maori of New Zealand fought for their linguistic rights under the colonial domination of English speaking whites of European origin, the Pakeha. The Maori established Maori-medium schools outside the government educational system to revive and maintain the Maori language and culture. This led to the recognition of Maori as an official language in New Zealand in 1987 through the passing of the Maori Language Act. The Maori used the linguistic gains as a platform for greater autonomy and to challenge the inequalities inherent in the state educational system. May believes that the Maori struggle presents a useful model that could be adopted by other minority languages in the country.
Dylan Jones and Marilyn Martin-Jones in the third chapter focus on the socio-political processes in the development of Welsh-medium and bilingual education in an English dominant environment. They show how in the 19th and 20th century Welsh was considered a stumbling block to moral progress and commercial prosperity. English-medium education was therefore seen as a desirable tool to combat Welsh backwardness and riotous mannerisms of the 1830 and 1840s. The Welsh, however resisted the English language dominance led be Welsh intellectuals, politicians, The Welsh Language Society and Welsh speaking parents. Welsh schools were established and the public sector institutions created employment opportunities for those educated in Welsh. In spite of all these progresses, the demand for English in higher education has meant that Welsh hasn't established itself at that level.
Teresa McCarty provides a critical analysis of medium of instruction policy in the United States observing that though the US is linguistically and culturally pluralistic it remains English dominated. Throughout the history of America when linguistic diversity was considered non-threatening as in the creation of religious texts in native languages, it was state-supported but when it was considered destabilizing, the state went into "a full-fledged language panic" (p. 79) and linguistic diversity was curtailed. McCarty therefore argues that decisions about language are rarely linguistically motivated but are about social class, power and control.
II. LANGUAGE IN POST COLONIAL STATES In chapter five Amy Tsui discusses Hong Kong's language policies first, over the 150 years of British colonialism and later when Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China. She argues that the policies have always been guided by underlying political agendas although economic justifications were offered to the public. Although Cantonese is widely spoken, English is widely used as a medium of instruction in many schools since it is crucial for maintaining Hong Kong as a major financial and trading centre and it symbolizes prestige, power and wealth. This argument has been sustained regardless of the fact that research has shown that mother tongue education improved students' academic performance, motivation and confidence. She argues that the political agenda always supercedes all agendas whether they are economic, social or educational although these agendas will be used as public justification for policy.
Anne Pakir offers a positive appraisal of Singapore's language policy model which she argues "represents an impressive case of a well- planned and effective implemented language-policy program" (p. 117). With its English-knowing bilingualism of English and another official language in the country Singapore has attempted the language preservation of different linguistic groups and the empowerment of learners for a knowledge-based economy which has English as a dominant language. English is the first school language and the main medium of instruction in all national schools and is seen as politically neutral. Pupils select their second school language on the basis of their ethnic classification. The official ethnic languages, Malay, Chinese, Tamil, are supported, promoted and taught as second languages. Although minority languages are taught alongside English, English still remains dominant, raising identity issues and problems in the transference of traditional values.
Sarah Kaur Gill traces the development of nationalism in Malaysia after independence through the establishment of Bahasa Malaysia as the official language and discusses the relegation of English, which played a dominant role before independence, to a second language status. English retained its official status for only 10 years after independence as Bahasa Malaysia replaced it in different sectors of the society in a process that lasted about 26 years. Bahasa Malaysia as an official language was crucial for enhancing feelings of nationalism and unity although the indigenous Malays formed 49.78% and there were other ethnic groups like Chinese (37.1%) and Indians (11.0%). The adoption of Bahasa Malaysia as an official language enhanced its status and gave Malaysia a unique national identity. However the dominance of Bahasa Malaysia impacted negatively on the comprehension of texts in English by undergraduates educated in Bahasa Malaysia. The government was therefore forced to revert to the use of English in science, engineering and medical courses in universities and colleges on the basis of economic and technological development justifications. This move was successfully opposed by the Malaysian intellectuals who retained Bahasa Malaysia in public schools at the expense of academic development of students, while private universities could teach in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. Malaysia has increasingly become receptive to the teaching in English not only in higher education but also at primary schools.
In chapter 8, Iluminado Nical, Jerzy J. Smolicz and Margaret J. Secombe measure language attitudes of Philippines rural students, their parents and teachers, faced by the dominance of both Filipino and English. Their research is based in the island of Leyte. Pre- independence Philippines suffered American imposition rule with its compulsory education in English which excluded indigenous languages from schools, universities and most of public life. After independence Filipino which gained popularity, was adopted as a political compromise to defuse ethnic tensions and so that a foreign language like English could not be adopted as a national language. Bilingual education through Filipino and English disadvantaged minority learners who "faced a double linguistic barrier to learning" (p. 160). The Philippines continues to face tensions between Cebuano and Tagalog which could develop into a serious ethnic conflict. Nical, Smolicz and Secombe argue for linguistic diversity alongside the development of a national language.
E. Annamalai points out that though India has about 200 languages, only 33 are used as the medium of instruction and 41 are made available for study in the school curriculum from which students must learn three. The three languages include either their mother tongue or a regional language, Hindi and English. English is considered ethnically neutrally, though it is not class neutral since it is a language of the elite. Making English the medium of higher education has heightened its demand and made it more prestigious. There is also no commitment from the government to change medium of instruction from English to Indian languages since it has been argued that the Indian languages have to develop first to handle technical terminology and textbooks have to be written before the languages could be used in schools. Annamalai argues that these conditions are unhelpful since a language develops in use and texts are easily produced when there is demand for them. Parental demand for English-medium of instruction put the government under pressure. Annamalai argues that the "solution to the problems of education through the medium of English is to teach English effectively while imparting education through the medium of Indian languages" (p. 191).
Hassana Alidou presents a critical review of medium-of-instruction in post-colonial Africa. Although the continent is vast, she successfully shows striking similarities between francophone and anglophone Africa. She observes that colonial education was created to serve European economical and political interests. Colonial administrators used a common language for learners since they did not speak the same language. In former British colonies African languages and English were used transitionally as medium of instruction and English became a dominant language after the fourth grade and the only language in secondary school and higher education. In former French colonies, on the other hand, African languages were excluded completely from the education system in an attempt to civilize and assimilate African students into French culture. However in post- colonial Africa, in avoidance of ethnic wars, African governments ironically retained colonial languages which were viewed as neutral means of communication. Political independence did not lead to educational and economic independence. This created problems for learners resulting with higher levels of dropouts and lower levels of pass rate. Alidou finally argues that medium-of-instruction issue in Africa can only be resolved through courageous leadership that will seriously address "both Western and African-based linguistic, cultural and economic hegemony" (p. 213).
III. MANAGING AND EXPLOITING LANGUAGE CONFLICT Vic Webb argues that although South Africa has 11 official languages (9 Bantu languages, English and Afrikaans) which constitutionally are of equal status and esteem, English is used as the de facto official language because of its prestige and partly because of a lack of a clear policy of the implementation of the language policy that will see the other languages used in official public domains. English though having a smaller number of native speakers, it has prestige and it is politically, economically, and educationally dominant. On the other hand Bantu languages, although numerically in the majority, they lack prestige, economic and educational value. Afrikaans remains stigmatized as a symbol of apartheid. The constitutional pronouncement binds the national and provisional governments to use at least two official languages for the purposes of government. Webb's criticism is of the government's "escape clauses" which may allow the government to avoid the full and meaningful implementation of future policy. One of these escape clauses states that policies should take into "account usage, practicality, expense, regional circumstances, and the balance of the needs and preferences of the population" (p. 220). While Webb has a positive view of language policy development in South Africa, he believes it is too soon to determine conclusively whether it is a failure or success.
Kendall A. King and Carol Benson argue that the gap between official policy and daily practice in the implementation of the language policy in Bolivia and Ecuador can be traced to ideological and implementation challenges and resource constraints. Both countries experienced long Spanish colonial rule that marginalized indigenous people and their languages. They therefore argue for an educational system in mother tongue with Spanish being introduced gradually as a second language and that the mother tongue should be developed in parallel with Spanish throughout primary school. However they note that there is a lack of resources for and in indigenous languages. These include human and material resources. Untrained teachers and those who lack confidence in indigenous languages pose a great challenge to the teaching of indigenous languages. Ideological forces that could undermine the teaching of indigenous languages include expressed ideals which are not matched with actual actions on the ground. King and Benson are optimistic of the future of indigenous languages in Bolivia and Ecuador as more minority individuals take leadership roles in the society. Many indigenous languages also have written forms and are used in basic schooling.
James Tollefson discusses the languages policies in Slovenia focusing on the tension between the process of integration and ethnolinguistic nationalism. He argues that between 1945-1980 language policies in Yugoslavia were characterized by great pluralism. This was central to the maintenance of a united state comprising Serbs, Croats, Moslems, Slovenes, Albanians, and Macedonians. Linguistic pluralism therefore maintained peace, stability and unity. However in the mid 1980s, Slobodan Molosevic imposed Serbian nationalism and blamed pluralism for a plethora of problems in Yugoslavia. The resistance of Serbian nationalism led to the independence of Slovenia which established Slovene as the official language but offered Italians and Hungarians a right to mother tongue education in Slovenia. Tollefson argues that the case of Yugoslavia illustrates that to avoid tensions dominant groups must deal with minorities fairly and embrace pluralism.
In the final chapter James W. Tollefson and Amy B. Tsui reiterate the central theme of the whole book; that medium of instruction policies are not formed in isolation but rather in the context of complex political and social forces, changes in government and competition for resources. They summarize central themes across all chapters. These include amongst others, the gap between between official policy and everyday practice, limitations of resources to support minority language development, the relationship between ethnolinguistic diversity and social conflict and many others.
Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? is a must-have text for all those working in sociolinguistics, language policy development, education research and I recommend it as critical reading for all education and linguistics students. It covers medium of instruction matters in amazing depth and scope than any book I have ever read on the subject. It is well written and the contributors have an impressive mastery of their subject.
Having said that, there are weaknesses that must be pointed out. Although the book is divided into three main categories: Part one: Minority Languages in English Dominated States; Part two: Language in Post-Colonial States, and Part Three: Managing and Exploiting Language Conflict, these classifications are not helpful since there is considerable overlap between the classifications rendering them unhelpful and even misleading. This is partly because the classifications are not mutually exclusive. For instance papers that deal with Minority Languages in English Dominated States are found in a different section since states like India and South Africa have minority languages in an English dominated environment but are also post-colonial. Alidou's paper on medium-of-instruction in post-colonial Africa traces how African states have managed and exploited language conflict although it is not under Managing and Exploiting Language Conflict. This observation is true for other papers in the collection.
What I found striking also is how different writers characterized a country which is the focus of their paper as multilingual (e.g. Indian with about 200 languages, South Africa with about 80 languages and the US with over 300 languages) and then proceeded to ignore the vast majority of other minority languages and their status in the country and instead focused either on those languages which had been declared official or those whose speakers rendered the loudest protestation. While most writers argue for mother-tongue education, most stayed clear of addressing how each child could be guaranteed learning in their mother tongue in highly multilingual communities. Watson has observed that "the poorest countries are amongst the most plurilingual, especially in Africa" (Watson 1999:06). How then can states facing the scourge of Aids and with pitiable economies guarantee mother tongue education to each child in a highly plurilingual community? Related to this matter is the lack of an economic justification of how states can sustain the implementation of mother-tongue education. While the collection of chapters argue that medium of instruction policies are better understood within the a socio- political and economic framework, the papers succeed in illustrating the socio-political parameters but fail in showing the economic ones.
Having said that, I still consider Medium of Instruction Policies: Which Agenda? Whose Agenda? the best book on the subject of medium of instruction policy today.
Honey, John (1997) Language is Power: The Story of Standard ENglish and its Enemies. London: Faber and Faber Limited
Watson, Keith (1999) Language, Power, Development and Geographical Changes: conflicting pressures facing plurilingual societies. Compare, Vol. 29, No. 1.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Thapelo Otlogetswe is a PhD student at the Information Technology Research Institute, University of Brighton, UK. His research is in the area of corpus lexicography focusing on how minority languages can build robust corpora for lexicographic research.