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"
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 Chicago
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: Routledge.
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.), Cross-cultural approaches to literacy, pp. 1-21. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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).