Review of Language Planning and Policy in Asia, Vol 1
|EDITORS: Kaplan, Robert B.; Baldauf, Richard B. Jr.
TITLE: Language Planning and Policy in Asia, vol. 1
SUBTITLE: Japan, Nepal and Taiwan and Chinese characters
PUBLISHER: Multilingual Matters
Henning Klöter, Graduate Institute of International Sinology Studies, National
Taiwan Normal University
This volume is the first contribution to Asia in the series ''Language Planning
and Policy,'' edited by Kaplan and Baldauf. Like the previous issues in this
series, this volume contains monographs which have previously been published in
the journals _Current Issues in Language Planning_ and _Journal of Multilingual
and Multicultural Development_, in the case of the present volume between 1999
and 2008. The focus of this volume is on particular polities, viz. Nepal, Japan,
and Taiwan, as well as on script reform in the People's Republic of China. The
studies on Nepal and Taiwan have previously been republished in another
collection, Baldauf and Kaplan (2000). The present volume contains updates to
The book opens with a series overview (pp. 1-6) and an introductory chapter (pp.
7-37) by the editors, briefly outlining the contents of the case studies and
elaborating on some common issues among them.
Shouhui Zhao's contribution is entitled ''Chinese character modernisation in the
digital era: A historical perspective'' (pp. 38-101). Although it primarily deals
with script reform, the analysis ventures into various related aspects of
language planning and policy in the People's Republic of China after its
establishment in 1949. Script reform refers to the standardization of simplified
Chinese characters. Zhao provides a detailed account of the chronology and of
the institutional responsibilities in the process of simplified character
standardization; he carefully distinguishes linguistic, educational, ideological
and technical arguments for or against different simplification schemes. He
emphasizes that the drafting of simplified character lists was by no means a
merely academic undertaking of various state commissions. Instead, ''simplified
characters created by the masses should get timely recognition'' (p. 56).
However, with the advent of the digital era, official recognition of popular
writing traditions is declining, as script reform is now primarily considered a
technical issue. From a broader sociolinguistic perspective, this shift
represents, as Zhao concludes, a move of language planning ''from serving the
masses to becoming elite-oriented'' (p. 92).
Nanette Gottlieb's chapter on language policy and language planning in Japan
(pp. 102-169) covers a wide range of topics. It starts with an analysis of the
emergence of national language ideology and policy from a historical
perspective, followed by sections on Japanese dialects, the writing system,
internet language, language policy, minority languages and the role of English
in language education. In contrast to Zhao's monograph, Gottlieb does not regard
the digitalization of writing as an imperative for script reform. Instead, she
gives illustrative examples of how the widespread use of digital text messaging
devices has affected the writing habits of script users. The main argument of
her monograph is that language policy in Japan is entering a process of
transition from its longstanding focus on official monolingualism towards
recognition of multilingualism. The future directions of Japan's language policy
will thus be ''towards global flows and identity interactions, while its current
language policies are largely derived from the first stage, when language was
viewed as a tool for nation building'' (p. 158f.). In the light of the lucid
analyses of the growing concern for minority language preservation, Japan's
exposure to the outside world in international trade and the growth of foreign
communities such as Koreans, Chinese and immigrants from South America, this
argumentation is entirely convincing. The monograph concludes on a slightly
pessimistic note on governmental language planning. Here, Gottlieb observes ''a
certain slowness in responding to change'', as well as a ''fragmented approach,
with different Ministries and Agencies undertaking different language-related
responsibilities'' (p. 159).
Sonia Eagle's contribution on the language situation in Nepal (pp. 170-225)
provides a broad and insightful sociolinguistic introduction to multilingualism
and language in education in Nepal. One focus of Eagle's monograph is the
dominant role of Nepali and English vis-à-vis other languages. Nepali is the
national language and the medium of instruction in all national schools. In the
past decades, however, the number of boarding schools offering education in
English has risen sharply. Moreover, ''English is the language which occupies the
second largest number of significant domains throughout the country, including
the tourist industry, international trade and business, international affairs,
aid projects, the media, private education, and science and technology'' (p.
219). English and Nepalese are the most important languages in the media (p.
208), yet they differ considerably with regard to their symbolic value and
speaker attitudes. Nepali is considered ''the language of the ruling castes, it
re-enforces a stifling, oppressive, and fatalistic caste system'' (p. 190).
English, by contrast, is seen as a neutral language, with ''a long history as the
language of Western education'' (p. 202). The dominance of these languages has
inevitably had a negative effect on minority languages. Due to lack of
government support and funding, calls for the protection and revival of minority
languages have largely been unsuccessful, leading to widespread language
endangerment and language death.
Eagle's monograph on the language situation in Nepal was first published in
1999. The present volume includes a short ''2007 update'' (pp. 226-236) which
outlines changes in the last decade. In the light of the fact that the first
years of the new century were ''marked by continual instability, protests, riots,
civil war, bombings, strikes, school closures and general unrest'' (p. 226), it
is unsurprising that language issues have received little attention. Eagle
points to modest attempts by the government to allow mother tongue education in
the first three grades of public schools. However, these regulations have a weak
legal basis due to the ongoing constitutional reform.
The third polity study is Feng-fu Tsao's monograph on the language situation in
Taiwan (pp. 237-284). Tsao approaches language planning in Taiwan from a
historical perspective. As he points out, Taiwan's sociolinguistic make-up is
the result of different waves of migration in the past centuries. Taiwan was
once exclusively inhabited by speakers of Austronesian languages, but speakers
of the southern Chinese Southern Min and Hakka dialects began to settle on a
large scale during the seventeenth century. In 1949, Taiwan became the last
refuge of the Chinese Nationalist government which, after its defeat in the
Chinese civil war, retreated from the Chinese mainland together with one million
soldiers, government officials and other immigrants from the Chinese mainland.
In the decades following the relocation of the government, the Nationalist
government imposed a strict 'Mandarin only' policy of monolingualism which
entailed restrictive measures against the use of local languages in public
settings, including ideological indoctrination and physical punishment. In the
course of Taiwan's gradual democratization following the end of martial law in
1987, the policy of monolingualism gave way to modest measures aimed at the
protection of local languages. One section of Tsao's monograph is devoted to the
issue of establishing a standard for the phonetic notation of Mandarin. He
provides a detailed description of various romanization systems and sets of
phonetic symbols together with an insightful analysis of arguments which have
been put forward against or in favor of particular systems. The monograph also
gives due attention to links between ethnic tensions, group identity, and
language use. In this respect, the monograph concludes with an optimistic
outlook. Tsao argues that ''as a result of some recent socio-political
developments, a new group identity seems to be emerging, indicating that ethnic
harmony could be achieved if the trend continues'' (p. 272). This ''supra-ethnic
identity'', as Tsao concludes, ''is not tied to any language at this moment'' (p.
Tsao's 2007 update on the language planning situation in Taiwan (pp. 285-300)
looks back on a decade of profound political change, marked by the repeated
defeat of the Nationalist party KMT in the presidential elections of 2000 and
2004. During the presidency of DPP politician Chen Shui-bian, local language
learning became a compulsory part of elementary school education. Tsao's update
provides a concise analysis of the problems of this program, for example, the
compilation of textbooks, the recruitment and training of teachers, and the
standardization of curricula.
Without exception, all monographs in this volume are excellent contributions to
the vast field of language planning and language policy in Asia, covering an
impressive breadth of topics and perspectives. Arguments are well-founded and
supported by clear facts and figures. Each monograph is accompanied by an
extensive bibliography. The book can therefore be recommended as a valuable
resource for both sociolinguists looking for case studies on Asian polities and
regional specialists interested in sociolinguistic analyses.
Some specific points of criticism should be mentioned. Zhao's analysis of
Chinese character standardization in the digital era tends to overemphasize
technical problems and limitations. In the introductory abstract preceding his
monograph, Chinese characters are referred to as a ''deficient communication
system both for human use and for mechanical application'' (p. 38). In this
respect, the enormous progress in the digitalization of the Chinese script
should have received more emphasis. Not so long ago, the Chinese script was
still widely considered incompatible with the needs of computer-assisted
writing. At the beginning of the 21st century, however, many once seemingly
insurmountable technical obstacles are things of the past. Commonly used text
processing software provides long lists of Chinese fonts; Chinese text messaging
has become commonplace. In this respect it is important to point out that until
now, not a single Chinese character has been altered in its graphic arrangement
due to incompatibility with digital input devices.
One merit of Gottlieb's monograph lies in the systematic inclusion of language
planning issues which are absent from the agenda of language planners,
governmental and non-governmental alike. One important example is the growth of
non-Asian foreign communities. This phenomenon is certainly not restricted to
Japan, and the challenge it poses to national language planning institutions in
other Asian countries may as yet be underestimated.
Eagle rightly claims that ''there is an urgent need to conduct linguistic studies
of the dying languages in Nepal before they are irretrievably lost'' (p. 197).
Unfortunately, she does not mention that a number of excellent linguistic
descriptions of these languages have already been published (e.g., Van Driem
1987, 1993, 2001, Opgenort 2005, Tolsma 2006).
Tsao's study on Taiwan contains some interesting passages in which he places the
situation of Taiwan in a broader comparative context. This does, however, not
always lead to accurate conclusions. For example, referring to Romaine's (1995:
242) study on bilingualism, Tsao claims that Taiwan is no exception to the
traditional policy relating to minority groups which results in the ''eradication
of the native language/culture and assimilation into the majority one''. In the
case of Taiwanese Southern Min, however, the direction of linguistic
assimilation has been towards Mandarin, which, due to its small number of
Taiwan-based speakers in the late 1940s, hardly qualifies as a majority language.
As an update to Tsao's 2007 update it can be added that the Nationalist party
regained the presidency in the 2008 elections. Two language planning decisions
taken by the new government deserve attention. First, the Ministry of Education
declared Hanyu Pinyin the standard romanization system starting from 2009;
second, the government announced that it will apply for world heritage status
for traditional Chinese characters.
A major point of criticism pertains to the collection as a whole. In the series
overview preceding the volume, the editors justify the republication of
previously-published monographs with the aim of presenting ''coherent areal
volumes'' (p. 1). However, the introductory chapter on ''some common issues'' does
not succeed in establishing coherence among the selected case studies. Most
importantly, the motivation behind the selection of these particular case
studies is not clear. The combination of three polity studies with one on script
reform inevitably leads to lack of coherence with regard to the issues under
discussion. Also, due to fundamentally different social, economic and
geographical conditions, language planning in Nepal offers little basis for
comparison with language planning in Japan and Taiwan. A common issue of
language planning in all three polities is, according to the editors, that ''the
general condition of language policy, and especially of language-in-education
policy, is often chaotic and frequently ineffective'' (p. 27). They also argue
that ''it is not clear that national language policies in any serious sense of
the term have in fact been developed across the three polities reported in this
volume'' (ibid.). Despite this claim, the monographs on Japan and Taiwan present
a different picture. In Taiwan, for example, the language policy of the
Nationalist government has rightly been criticized for its oppression of local
languages. On the other hand, the former 'Mandarin only' policy must be
considered successful and effective by any standard when viewed from the
perspective of the intended outcome.
Language planning in Asian countries is a fascinating and challenging field of
sociolinguistic research. The manuscripts in this volume present a wealth of
data, in-depth background information, careful analyses, and thought-provoking
conclusions. An advance in comparative research will ultimately require a more
rigorous framework of key research questions and hypotheses.
Baldauf, Richard B. Jr. and Robert B. Kaplan, eds. 2000. _Language planning in
Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden_. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters
Opgenort, Jean Robert. 2005. _A grammar of Jero, with a historical comparative
study of the Kiranti Languages_. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers.
Romaine, Suzanne. 1995. _Bilingualism_ (2nd edn.). Cambridge: Blackwell.
Tolsma, Gerard Jacobus. 2006. _A grammar of Kulung_. Leiden: Brill Academic
Van Driem, George. 1987. _A grammar of Limbu_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Van Driem, George. 1993. _A grammar of Dumi_. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Van Driem, George. 2001. _An ethnolinguistic handbook of the greater Himalayan
region, containing an introduction to the symbiotic theory of language_. Leiden:
Brill Academic Publishers.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Henning Klöter is assistant professor at the Graduate Institute of International
Sinology Studies of National Taiwan Normal University (Taipei). His PhD
dissertation ''Written Taiwanese'' (Leiden 2003) was published in 2005. His
sociolinguistic research focuses on politics of language, language ideologies
and changing language regimes in Taiwan. Another field of his research is
missionary linguistics. He is currently working on a monograph on the earliest
descriptions of Chinese regional languages by Western missionaries.