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Review of  Ideologies across Nations

Reviewer: Aria Razfar
Book Title: Ideologies across Nations
Book Author: Alexandre Duchêne
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 21.2592

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AUTHOR: Duchêne, Alexandre
TITLE: Ideologies across Nations
SUBTITLE: The Construction of Linguistic Minorities at the United Nations
SERIES TITLE: Language, Power and Social Process [LPSP] 23
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
YEAR: 2008

Aria Razfar, Department of Curriculum & Instruction, University of Illinois at


This book contains an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion. Drawing data
from United Nations' documents, it demonstrates the contradictions, limits, and
possibilities of establishing concrete measures for the protection of minorities
within an international institution that serves competing interests. In
general, the book shows how the institutional discourse of the United Nations
promotes the interests of nation states over the interests of minorities. The
book takes the reader through the subtle and complex ways in which discourse,
ideology, and the status of minorities converge and diverge. For scholars
interested in a critical approach to discourse and language, the book provides a
valuable case study about the inextricable link between discourse and ideology
in one of the most visible transnational institutions. Finally, the book
demonstrates the ethical imperative of analyzing ideologies through discourse in
that it ultimately leads the reader to question the purported function and
purpose of the United Nations in relation to the protection of minorities living
in member states.

Chapter 1: Duchêne discusses the history of how linguistic minorities have
become the object of investigation since the early 1970s, especially work in
language planning and revival. For the most part, language is assumed to be
quantifiable, measurable, the locus of struggle for civil rights, and a means to
solve social problems within the nation-state structure. Duchêne then frames the
rest of the book by arguing for an interactional, situated, and critical
framework to the issue of language minorization. More specifically, the notions
of ideologies, discourse, and historicity anchor the analysis. This approach,
grounded in social theories, allows us to go beyond 'monolithic' views of
national languages and narrow definitions of minorities as linguistic objects
within a nation-state. After arguing for the need to go beyond the nation-state,
Duchêne provides an outline of frameworks, methods, and the context of his
analysis, the United Nations and the institutional discourses surrounding
linguistic minorities.

Chapter 2: The social and discursive spaces within the United Nations are
increasingly becoming specialized and hierarchically stratified. Linguistic
minorities are not discussed in all areas of the UN; they are discussed in
restricted spaces. This chapter examines the history of how these restricted
spaces have emerged, from the late 19th century with the League of Nations to
the United Nations. These periods can be divided into a period of consultation
and a period of collaboration organized on the basis of nation-states'
interests. Originally, the official languages chosen for institutional business
(Chinese, Russian, Spanish, English, and French) reflected the inherent
stratification of international relations. Later, Arabic was also included as
‘the language of 19 member states’ and the language of the Koran which included
another 700 million people. Regardless, the ‘official’ status of some languages
over others is grounded in nationalist language ideologies. This national logic
within an international discursive space defines what constitutes a minority.
This history reveals the tension between a universal vision of a world order
that transcends national interest and the institutional structuring of consensus
that refuses to impinge on state prerogatives.

Chapter 3: This chapter focuses on how the documents at hand, all translations,
in the UN reflect an essentialist view of language are produced in the search
for 'objectivity' and 'intangible facts.' UN documents as a genre are
characterized as accessible to a wide audience (i.e. not subject to copyright)
and a strong emphasis on conciseness and accuracy. There are no transcripts or
official records of spontaneous discourse, thus maintaining tight institutional
control over the production of texts. The summary record is an important
document in relation to UN functions and the linguistic departments (English &
French sections) are responsible for precision in translation. The chapter
provides an in-depth analysis of the manual that provides translational
guidelines, several summary records and how they become 'official documents'
especially in relation to the institutional ideologies at work. The analysis
reveals a distinct pattern of homogenization, decontextualization, erasure of
speakers, emotions, histories, geographies, and other textual omissions (for
example, northern minorities in Russia and other endangered languages). Thus, a
codified and positivistic ideology of language frames the official discursive
spaces of the UN.

Chapter 4: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights serves as a significant
instrument for the protection of human rights, yet an analysis of the discursive
events surrounding its formulation shows constant attempts to reconcile tensions
between 'universal' values, state interests, and
heterogeneity of humanity. By examining the debates in the Sub-Commission and
the General Assembly, it is clear that the status of minorities and the minority
'problem' were debated, yet there was no mention of them in the article. The
reason for this ambivalence is framed within the strong push for assimilation of
minorities within the territories of Western powers. Several discursive
movements are discussed in detail (e.g. additions, omissions, lexical
substitutions, and reformulations) where most notably the term ‘minority’ was
replaced by ‘groups’ and the term ‘citizens’ by ‘persons.’ The ideological
issues raised by such discursive moves index three tensions in the article:
equality v. difference, restriction v. openness, and assimilation v.
recognition. Finally, the discussion in the General Assembly was marked by
polarization between capitalist and Communist state ideologies where ultimately
the legitimization of existing state practices leads to the lack of inclusion of
minorities in the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Chapter 5: A second discursive event that frames the ideological underpinnings
of the United Nations vis à vis linguistic minorities is the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The focus in this chapter is on several
factors including the covenant as the most enforceable document (Article 27)
that is the logical consequence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It
is also the first discursive event that explicitly references minorities. The
chapter reviews the seemingly contradictory discursive stages, especially in
light of the discussion in Chapter 4. The central ideological tensions in the
formulation of an article on minorities could be characterized as ‘pragmatic’,
‘thorough’ and ‘minoritist.’ The multi-modal procedure leading up to the
crafting of the resolution is examined in detail from each of these ideological
stances as the commission created a definition for conditional protective
measures. Language (p. 171) served as a neutral and ‘objective’ subject as
reaching a consensus on the protection of linguistic rights was granted and
discussion of ‘politically sensitive’ issues such as religion, nationality, and
ethnicity were completely avoided. This was further complicated by the new
African states following decolonization, who had to maintain relations with
former colonizers with minority rights serving as a critical tool. In the quest
for consensus, multiple approaches, definitions, and strategic cautiousness to
minority issues were adopted. Ultimately, the renunciation of universality makes
the presence of minorities possible, but the claim of particularism opens the
way for a lack of commitment or disengagement from UN.

Chapter 6: In this chapter, Duchêne analyzes the third and final discursive
event: the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,
Religious and Linguistic Minorities. This event signifies the ‘first and only
international UN mechanism dealing exclusively with minority rights’ (p. 206)
and allows for a deeper understating of political and institutional ideologies
in the construction of minorities within the UN. It is the principle document
for resolving conflicts and it frames the context for research and strategies
concerning minorities. There are three paradoxes that this particular discursive
event attempts to solve: a paradox between the presence and absence of a
definition of the term 'minority'; individual v. collective rights; and state
obligations v. state interests. In addition, a definition of ‘minority’
necessarily indexes an ideological position that counters state prerogatives and
thus the general consensus was that a definition was a ‘waste of time’ (p. 231).
For example, the delegate from France categorically rejected religious, racial,
and linguistic qualifiers as a criteria for minority status (p. 233)
rationalizing this position on the basis of the universal principle ‘All human
beings are born free and equal in dignity and in law.’ Nevertheless, to resolve
these paradoxes, the non-problematic qualifier ‘linguistic’ emerges as the most
‘non-problematic’ criterion in the logic of the UN (p. 241). This reifies the
underlying neutral language ideology framing the issues of minority rights.
Minority protection nonetheless remains subordinate to state prerogatives by
means of discursive manipulations.


Ideologies across Nations will serve as a good resource for instructors who
teach advanced graduate courses on language ideologies, critical discourse
analysis, and minority issues. It will also benefit professionals working
directly or indirectly with the United Nations or associated entities on issues
related to the protection of minority rights.

The book's intellectual contribution is twofold: 1) It provides an in-depth
diachronic understanding of how ideologies (language and institutional) and
discursive events construct policy concomitantly. Thus, it is serves as a
valuable case study of how a critical approach to discourse analysis enriches
our understanding of the inextricable link between ‘macro’ policy making and
‘micro’ discursive events (Fairclough, 2003). 2) It provides yet another cogent
argument for questioning the pervasive neutral, innocuous, and sometimes
sinisterly innocent approaches to the study of language and its implications for
protecting the rights of populations that have been marginalized and endangered
both physically and symbolically by nation-states (Street, 1993; Lippi-Green,
1997; Kroskrity, 2000). This book clearly dispels the notion of the United
Nations as an institution that transcends the interests of nation-states.
Hence, this analysis of the discursive events pertaining to minority populations
makes manifest the implicit and subtle ways in which the status and rights of
non-dominant groups are subordinated in favor of the interests of nation-states.

More profoundly, the book takes us through the paradoxes, tensions, and
contradictions that arise when the protection of ‘linguistic’ minorities,
diversity, and heterogeneity is addressed within an institution that on the one
hand projects universalist principles while fundamentally adhering to the
homogenizing imperative and interests of nation-states. Finally, the book not
only presents a critical account of the history of the United Nations, it also
provides a vision for the protection of minorities (not just ‘linguistic’ in the
decontextualized sense) as the forces of internationalization and now
globalization take heed.  By offering an empirical approach to ideological
processes, the book showcases how we can be better equipped to understand the
complexities of domination and subordination within the nation-state context by
adopting a critical approach to language and ideology.


Fairclough, N. (2003). Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social
research. London:

Lippi-Green, R. (1997). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and
discrimination in the
United States. London: Blackwell.

Kroskrity, P. (2000). Regimenting languages: Language ideological perspectives.
In P.
Kroskrity (Ed.), Regimes of language: Ideologies, polities, and identities, pp.
1-34. Santa
Fe, NM: SAR Press.

Street, B. (1993). Introduction: The new literacy studies. In B. Street (Ed.),
approaches to literacy, pp. 1-21. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Aria Razfar is an Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy and Culture & Bilingual/ESL Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research focuses on the educational outcomes and trajectories of non-dominant, linguistic populations. He has written on language ideologies in educational settings, sociocultural approaches to language learning, informal learning, and the intersections of mathematics, science and language. His publications include Language Ideologies in Practice: Repair & Classroom Discourse (Elsevier, 2005) and Re-mediating Second Language Acquisition: A Sociocultural Perspective (Taylor & Francis, in press).

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