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Review of  European Multilingualism


Reviewer: Lelija Socanac
Book Title: European Multilingualism
Book Author: Rosita Rindler Schjerve Eva Vetter
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 24.980

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AUTHORS: Rindler Schjerve Rosita; Vetter, Eva
TITLE: European Multilingualism
SUBTITLE: Current Perspectives and Challenges
SERIES TITLE: Multilingual Matters
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
YEAR: 2012

Lelija Socanac, Centre for Language and Law, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia

SUMMARY

The book is a result of the project LINEE (Languages In a Network of European Excellence 2006-2010), initiated by sociolinguist Peter Nelde (†) and funded by the European Commission. It addresses multilingualism in the EU in its socio-cultural, political and scientific dimensions within the context of advancing Europeanisation. The authors’ task within the LINEE project was to develop a research platform for theories and methods of multilingualism, which made it possible to summarise the results of the project with respect to the general theoretisation of multilingualism.

The first chapter, “European Multilingualism: Political Scope,” is an attempt to define the basic concepts of European multilingualism and linguistic diversity, largely based on official documents showing the historical development of the basic concepts. The term ‘linguistic diversity’ is often taken to be synonymous with European multilingualism: On the one hand, it is used to refer to the many languages that are actually spoken in Europe and particularly in the EU. On the other hand, it is used ideologically to refer to a central value to which the EU adheres in its documents. Some crucial questions, such as the role of minority and migrant languages (cf. Nic Craith 2006) or the question of language hierarchies within the European multilingualism, have remained unclear. The authors conclude that ‘linguistic diversity’ and ‘European multilingualism’ are intersecting notions which are not fully synonymous. Rather, it can be taken that ‘linguistic diversity’ constitutes the ideological basis for European multilingual politics, while at the same time constituting a political goal promoted on the assumption that linguistic diversity can be equated with cultural diversity, which represents European identity as a whole. European multilingualism is presented as an ideologically driven concept, which in its functional top-down approach is not yet established well enough in the grass roots and in civil society at large.

Section 1.1. shows how the plea for European multilingualism has evolved from the diversity debate in the EU’s economic and political integration process. Linguistic and cultural diversity often tend to be equated, with the promotion of one assumed to involve the promotion of the other. Within this ideology of diversity, integration into a transnational community requires a pluralistic language regime that would allow for democratic and civic participation. A detailed reading of EU official documents reveals that in the beginning, European multilingualism was an issue primarily associated with educational matters. In the 1990s, it was mainly linked with the question of enhanced second and third language learning while, at a later stage, it included the objective of social cohesion and intercultural understanding.

Section 1.2. discusses the European multilingualism policy in the making that has a direct impact on diverse policy areas such as education, culture, economics, external relations and foreign affairs, science and research, justice and social rights. Since the 1970s, the EEC/EU promotion of increased language learning has been motivated by economic concerns, since language skills were assumed to contribute to professional mobility and increased employability. The learning of a second and third language was considered a precondition for economic wealth and prosperity. Later EU documents suggest that EU success as a knowledge-based economy depends on how well it tackles the issue of language learning. Language skills and intercultural communication skills are seen as assuming an increasing role in global marketing and sales strategies. In addition to its economic importance, multilingualism as a policy covers a wide range of areas including lifelong learning, employment, social inclusion, competitiveness, culture, youth and civil society, research, translation and the media. Within this framework, multilingualism is linked to social cohesion and prosperity.

According to the authors, there are two central preoccupations of EU language education policy: the first centers on the question of how many, and which, languages European citizens should be proficient in , while the second focuses on external relations and global spheres of communication, i.e. spheres exceeding the member states. The requirement of ‘mother tongue + 2’ has developed from a maximum requirement for students to a minimum requirement for all Europeans. The question of which languages should be prioritized, however, remains open. While in the 1970s ‘languages of the Community’ referred to official languages, later on they came to be defined as ‘the languages spoken in the Community.’ According to recent EU documents, the range of languages to be taught is, ideally, very wide, and includes smaller and larger European national languages, regional, minority and migrant languages, as well as languages of major trading partners throughout the world. It remains unclear, however, how such a broad approach can be implemented, especially since on the national level only a restricted number of large national languages are usually taught.

As to linguistic minorities’ policy, considerable progress has been made thanks to the ratification of documents such as the ''European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages'' (1992) and the ''European Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities'' (1995), within the broad framework of human rights protection promoted by the Council of Europe. Within the European Union, projects such as Euromosaic, a study on minority language groups in the EU initiated by the European Commission in 1992, institutions such as the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages and academic networks such as MERCATOR have made a very substantial contribution in this respect. Immigrant languages, however, along with dialects, have been left out of the protection of the European Charter. The authors argue that in spite of the efforts towards greater inclusiveness, the question remains of how to integrate immigrant languages into the European diversity framework.

The EU institutional language regime reflects a model of integral multilingualism, which ensures the linguistic equality principle among the official EU languages. The integral language regime, however, is not fully viable in institutional practice since it is restricted to a very small and selected range of procedural languages.

Multilingualism seen as multiple monolingualism from the nation-state perspective is very likely to generate a hierarchical order of language preferences as shown in institutional language practice and in foreign language learning. Therefore, the authors conclude that if European multilingualism is to achieve its goal, it will have to take a perspective on the Union in terms of a multiple inclusive society rather than that of a nation-state.

Chapter 2 is devoted to multilingualism as a highly interdisciplinary field of research. It shows how multilingualism has evolved into an independent field of research in a process of delimitation from bilingualism research. It is only recently that the traditional understanding of languages as distinctly identifiable entities came to be seriously questioned and critics argued that conceiving of bi- and multilingualism simply as a collective container of separate parallel monolingualisms could no longer be maintained (Martin-Jones 2007). Over the past 20 years, multilingualism research has been undertaken in highly diversified disciplinary contexts and with reference to a range of different perspectives, which are not always sufficiently elaborated. The wide range of methodologies and theoretical approaches to multilingualism has resulted in the fragmentation of this discipline. The LINEE project is an attempt towards decreasing this fragmentation since it has been targeted towards bringing together and seeking to reconcile discrepancies between theories and methods of European multilingualism within its research platform. As to the intersection between policy and academic research, research could provide the planners of European multilingual policy with the empirical foundations by means of which they can put pressure on the member states to promote and establish multilingualism in their particular sphere.

Chapter 3 presents the LINEE Project, whose aim was ‘to investigate linguistic diversity in Europe in a coherent and interdisciplinary way, by developing an innovative, visible and durable scientific network that can overcome fragmentation and serve as a world-wide quality and knowledge-based reference framework’ (p. 60). The research focused upon four thematic areas, namely: 1) Language, Identity and Culture, 2) Language Policy and Planning, 3) Multilingualism and Education, and 4) Language and Economy. It was hypothesized that the four thematic areas would provide information on how the EU and its member states identify with linguistic diversity, how they plan and implement it, how they provide the educational prerequisites for linguistic diversity, and how they attempt to meet the multilingual requirements of a single market. Each of the four thematic areas was subdivided into the supranational, national and regional level. During the first two years of the LINEE project, multilingualism was explored with respect to Europeanisation and nationalization processes, aspects of immigrant and regional minorities, English as a lingua franca, diversified pedagogic cultures, multilingual classrooms, multilingual companies, and migrants in the labor market. In the second phase, the major themes of the first phase were further elaborated and cultural tourism and multilingual cities were integrated into the LINEE themes. A major LINEE objective involved developing new methodological and theoretical platforms. They were aimed at 1) providing the comparative perspectives from which diversified insights into both the power and the conflict potentials of European multilingualism should be attained, 2) ensuring scientific pluralism, and 3) combining fundamental and applied research in order to test the existing scientific paradigms against the empirical background of the ongoing integration process.

The area-specific research revealed a set of recurrent features which interacted in variable degrees with the diverse phenomena of European multilingualism. The following features were identified: ’culture,’ ‘discourse,’ ‘identity,’ ‘ideology,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘language policy and planning,’ ‘multi-competence,’ and ‘power and conflict.’ The next step involved investigating how these variables were conceptualized and how they interacted with the shaping of multilingualism within and across the thematic areas. For example, culture is most salient in the identity area while it remains implicit in other areas. Regarding discourse, two characteristics are central to all approaches within the project, namely the multi-level and the ideological nature of discourse. The LINEE studies clearly show the connection between discourse and power in diverse contexts. As to the key variables, discourse is shown to be closely related to language policy and planning. Identity is a salient force in the context of language policy and planning, education and economy. It strongly connects with culture since identity is seen as contextually embedded and discursively formed. It is maintained that European identity includes multiple identities where local, national and supranational identifications can exist alongside each other. Ideology is seen as a discursive reconfiguration of social space. Language policy and planning are described as intrinsically related to ideology and to power and conflict. The term ‘multi-competence’ (Cook 1991) refers to the compound state of mind with two or more languages. It is closely linked to education, and it figures prominently in the economy area. Power and conflict closely intersect with discourse, ideology, knowledge and identity.

Thus, it is argued that European multilingualism points to highly diversified phenomena, which do not allow for generalized definitions and explanations. Multilingualism should be conceptualized in terms of complex and unstable relationships instead of a fixed range of variables. Apart from the theoretical dimensions, the LINEE project was concerned with methodological issues. Within qualitative social research, five basic models were identified: case studies, comparative studies, retrospective studies, snapshots (analysis off state and process at the time of the research) and longitudinal studies (Studer and Werlen 2012). The chapter ends by identifying problem areas that run counter to European multilingualism as a mode of effective Europeanisation such as the vagueness of the concept of European multilingualism, the weak implementing power of the EU language policies, the lack of consensus concerning the plurilingual repertoire, the traditionally strong bond between language, identity and culture, the disregard of the disparities of power and the traumatic histories that often combine with diversity, and monolingual ideologies that continue to inform the foreign language learning practices at the national level. English as a lingua franca is not seen as a threat to other languages, but as an effective means of flexibly engaging in multilingual communication without compromising speakers’ motivations for learning or using other languages.

Chapter 4 focuses on European Multilingualism beyond LINEE. The theoretical and methodological framework developed within the LINEE project has made it possible to re-conceptualize European multilingualism, which should not be regarded as a container of national languages but as a flexible and open-ended concept. The chapter ends with an integrative view of European multilingualism. The main objective involves pointing out scenarios in which European multilingualism is adequately conceptualized in its dynamics and complexity. This aim is achieved by relating the single key variables, such as ‘knowledge’, ‘language policy and planning’, ‘identity’, ‘discourse’, and ‘culture,’ which are handled flexibly, subject to the respective research focus.

The book’s ‘Conclusion’ outlines the concept of European multilingualism again on the basis of results obtained, taking into account both political and scientific points of criticism. It considers potential options for reassessing the discrepant aspects of conceptualizing European multilingualism and opens new paths in order to theorize European multilingualism in its complexity and dynamics.

EVALUATION

The book presents European multilingualism as a multi-layered phenomenon, which raises questions both regarding its conceptual design and the way it is handled. These questions are closely related to the economic and cultural process of Europeanisation. In its broad perspective, the book offers answers to some of the major questions.

The book is a synthesis of the research findings of a European project designed to meet the highest standards of scientific excellence, advocating an ambitious framework for integrating different disciplinary perspectives. Within its wide scope it bridges the gap between practical policy considerations and academic research, theory and practice, fundamental and applied sciences. It reveals the major discrepancies in the EU multilingual policies, which the EU must overcome by developing into a multiple inclusive society beyond the nation-state.

The book will be of interest to scholars and students of multilingualism, offering them a wide range of analytical tools for their subject of study, as well as to policy makers, who should be aware of results of scientific research pointing to problem areas and discrepancies related to the concept of European multilingualism and its practical implementation.

The volume is a coherent whole bringing together political and theoretical aspects of European multilingualism, with a detailed account of the methodological and theoretical dimension of research characterized by a flexible and open-ended qualitative approach.

All in all, the book is an invaluable contribution to research on European multilingualism
and practice, as it discusses current and develops new comprehensive interdisciplinary conceptualizations, understandings, and perspectives, bridging the gap between theory and practice in a highly constructive way.

REFERENCES


Martin-Jones, M. (2007) Bilingualism, education and the regulation of access to language resources. In M. Heller (ed.) Bilingualism: A Social Approach (pp. 161-182). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cook, V. J. (1991). The poverty-of-the-stimulus argument and multi-competence. Second Language Research 7, 103-117.

Nic Craith, M. (2006) Europe and the Politics of Language: Citizens, Migrants and Outsiders. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Pauwels, A.; J. Winter and J. Lo Bianco (2007) Maintaining Minority Languages in Transnational Contexts. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Studer, P. and I. Werlen (eds., 2012) Linguistic Diversity in Europe: Current Trends and Discourses. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton .
 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Lelija Socanac is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia. She is the coordinator of the Centre for Language and Law, and she currently directs the project Legal and Linguistic Aspects of Multilingualism. Her main research interests include sociolinguistics, historical sociolinguistics, contact linguistics, and legal linguistics.

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