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Review of Multilingualism in the English-speaking World
Date: Mon, 16 May 2005 18:33:09 +0200 From: Jens Maier Subject: Multilingualism in the English-speaking World
AUTHOR: Edwards, Viv TITLE: Multilingualism in the English-speaking World SUBTITLE: Pedigree of Nations SERIES: The Language Library PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing YEAR: 2004
Jens Maier, Department of English Linguistics, University of Tübingen, Germany.
This book is about multilingualism in those countries that belong to the inner-circle according to Kachru's (1985) classification, namely the UK, Ireland, Canada, the USA, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. People from the expanding circle might expect monolingualism or at least linguistic homogeneity there; however, Edwards shows with many illustrating examples that this is nothing but a myth. She traces the history of multilingualism in these six countries over several centuries and describes the situation of people speaking minority or indigenous languages (including sign languages) in a majority language environment.
The result is an impressive collection of facts about linguistic life in the inner circle. It is of high interest for anyone who wants to know more about linguistic reality in all its facets, the developments and consequences of language policy in those countries and their shortfalls.
The book is divided into three parts: The first part describes "The extent of diversity", the second part takes a closer look at "Language at home and in school" and the last chapters are about "Language in the wider community." The rationale of this work is "to chart the influence of other languages on the English-speaking world". Edwards uses Kachru's (1985) metaphor of concentric circles - where this book will concentrate on the inner circle, namely: The UK, Ireland, Canda, the USA, Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Part I The first part of the book explores the extent of diversity in inner- circle countries. Edwards traces the history of diversity from the sixteenth century to our time and shows the roots of diversity, the extent and the effects on everyday life.
In the first chapter, Edwards clears the myth of monolingualism. She claims that the political monolingual mindset could be traced back to 19th century Europe and the rise of nation states. This mindset then changed the linguistic reality in Australia and the USA dramatically. She provides up-to-date census data to show how many people speak languages different from English today. For instance, there are approximately 28 million people speaking Spanish, two million speaking Chinese and still half a million people speaking Portuguese in the USA. Furthermore, Australia, New Zealand and the US still have indigenous languages, as those territories might have been blank on the map of the colonizers, but not in reality.
The second chapter provides a historical overview on the spread of the English language and the roots of diversity. From England, it was taken to Wales, Scotland and Ireland, although never completely. Later on, when British settlers sailed for America, their English language challenged Spanish and French, not to speak of the languages of the Indigenous in America, Australia and New Zealand. In the days of colonialism, language was too often used as a tool for the subjugation and assimilation of other peoples. The Welsh, for example, have fought for their language and identity with the proverb "Heb iaith, heb cenedl" (No language, no nation). English might seem a global language today, however, the first steps of the spread in the UK were of course the hardest and often the cruelest.
Chapter three looks at the problematic facts with respect to "Language and the provision of service" in the inner circle. Without basic skills in English, it is very hard to participate in the life of the community. But it is even harder to communicate with doctors or at court. Edwards describes various problems with interpreting, names the efforts which have been undertaken (for example telephone interpreting) and comes to the conclusion, that although the awareness for translation and provision of services in minority or indigenous languages has grown, a long way lies before us until the nonnative speakers in the inner-circle will eventually come to all their rights.
Part II Part two looks at language in two very important domains: home and school. Families are the core of society and the place where individual decisions may yield in the maintenance, growth or decay of a language. Edwards discusses the problem of bilingualism in families, describes the support for bilingual education and mentions the values of inherited minority languages for the identity of their speakers.
Chapter five and six on language and education are probably most interesting in practical terms: Edwards describes the role schools have played and still play in language policy. In the early years of colonialism, language policy was much more tolerant than today. In those days, schools were under control of local districts and lessons were usually held in the language of the community, for instance German or French. In the UK, however, the English-only policy has been imposed much more rigorously, for example by punishing children when they spoke in their native language. Today, however, institutions try to integrate minority speakers by teaching English in order for them to participate in society. At the same time efforts are made to teach minority and indigenous languages and thus keep them alive. Furthermore, linguists and professionals try hard to reduce prejudicial attitudes towards English varieties such as African American Vernacular English (or Black English), which are too often considered inferior.
Part III The third part of the book takes a look at "language in the wider community", such as language and economy, different languages in the media, the role of minority languages in diplomacy and defence. Correlations between minority languages and economic success and social status of individuals vary from country to country and depend on the language. On the group level, workplaces offer an opportunity to use minority languages and keep them alive. Tourism is another example, where minority local languages play a greater role in giving visitors a better impression of the uniqueness of the country.
The Internet brought completely new opportunities for minority language speakers to get informed. Chapter nine gives an outline of the historical developments in mass media and communication with respect to multilingualism.
Chapter ten gives the reader an idea about the role, minority and indigenous languages play in the arts. From bilingual story telling and rap and dub poetry, oral arts offer great opportunities for language awareness and cultural tradition.
Chapter eleven about "language, diplomacy and defence" then mentions the problems of the US after 9/11. For instance, a catastrophic shortage of translators and interpreters made it difficult to deal with important documents which had not yet been translated. Edwards reports, that government tried to motivate people to learn more foreign languages. It is yet the question, how long people will keep their interests in those languages.
Moreover, Edwards points out a problem in the relationship between linguistic research and political action. The UK and Australia both use language analysis to identify the home country of asylum seekers. A word pronounced in the "wrong" accent could lead to refusal, although there are no definite linguistic reasons to judge from accent to nationality.
Internet forums in other languages than English are also described as problematic for those who are responsible. In order to avoid possibilities for the underground, those discussions need to be monitored by speakers of that language. Therefore foreign language speakers are needed, but they are rare.
The last chapter sums up the findings of the book. The range of languages spoken in the inner-circle at the beginning of the twenty-first century is much wider than ever before and multilingualism is a normal part of life. As most inner-circle countries have a long lasting tradition of immigration, new people and new languages arrive every day. Still, the attitudes towards foreign languages remain problematic. Often, debates about language are in fact debates about culture, identity, legislative power and control. Although much of the official life is in English, immersion-schooling and places to learn other languages have kept minority languages from language death.
This book provides an up-to-date and in-depth description of the situation of people in the inner-circle who do not speak English as their mother tongue. Although intended as a textbook, the nature of describing language policies in six different countries over several centuries makes it more a encyclopaedia than a textbook. However, it is not solely a book for linguists as linguistic theories don't really play a central role in the book. Nevertheless, I am sure that many of the mentioned situations are well worth being further examined with linguistic methods in the future. Furthermore, I hope, that this book will not only be read by people from the inner-circle countries but also by politicians and linguists in Europe, as some of the problems of multilingualism seem to be emerging in the European Union as well. The book includes bibliographical references and an index.
Kachru, Braj B. (1985): Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: the English language in the outer circle. In: Randolph Quirk and H. G. Widdowson (Eds.), English in the World, (p. 11-34). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jens Maier is a doctorate student in the Department of English Linguistics, University of Tübingen, Germany. His interests concern language evolution and language variation, especially in the context of English as a Lingua Franca.