LINGUIST List 24.980

Mon Feb 25 2013

Review: Sociolinguistics: Rindler Schjerve and Vetter (eds., 2012)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <>

Date: 25-Feb-2013
From: Lelija Socanac <>
Subject: European Multilingualism
E-mail this message to a friend

Discuss this message

Book announced at

AUTHORS: Rindler Schjerve Rosita; Vetter, EvaTITLE: European MultilingualismSUBTITLE: Current Perspectives and ChallengesSERIES TITLE: Multilingual MattersPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2012

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


The book is a result of the project LINEE (Languages In a Network of EuropeanExcellence 2006-2010), initiated by sociolinguist Peter Nelde (†) and fundedby the European Commission. It addresses multilingualism in the EU in itssocio-cultural, political and scientific dimensions within the context ofadvancing Europeanisation. The authors’ task within the LINEE project was todevelop a research platform for theories and methods of multilingualism, whichmade it possible to summarise the results of the project with respect to thegeneral theoretisation of multilingualism.

The first chapter, “European Multilingualism: Political Scope,” is an attemptto define the basic concepts of European multilingualism and linguisticdiversity, largely based on official documents showing the historicaldevelopment of the basic concepts. The term ‘linguistic diversity’ is oftentaken to be synonymous with European multilingualism: On the one hand, it isused to refer to the many languages that are actually spoken in Europe andparticularly in the EU. On the other hand, it is used ideologically to referto a central value to which the EU adheres in its documents. Some crucialquestions, such as the role of minority and migrant languages (cf. Nic Craith2006) or the question of language hierarchies within the Europeanmultilingualism, have remained unclear. The authors conclude that ‘linguisticdiversity’ and ‘European multilingualism’ are intersecting notions which arenot fully synonymous. Rather, it can be taken that ‘linguistic diversity’constitutes the ideological basis for European multilingual politics, while atthe same time constituting a political goal promoted on the assumption thatlinguistic diversity can be equated with cultural diversity, which representsEuropean identity as a whole. European multilingualism is presented as anideologically driven concept, which in its functional top-down approach is notyet 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 fromthe diversity debate in the EU’s economic and political integration process.Linguistic and cultural diversity often tend to be equated, with the promotionof one assumed to involve the promotion of the other. Within this ideology ofdiversity, integration into a transnational community requires a pluralisticlanguage regime that would allow for democratic and civic participation. Adetailed reading of EU official documents reveals that in the beginning,European multilingualism was an issue primarily associated with educationalmatters. In the 1990s, it was mainly linked with the question of enhancedsecond and third language learning while, at a later stage, it included theobjective of social cohesion and intercultural understanding.

Section 1.2. discusses the European multilingualism policy in the making thathas 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 increasedlanguage learning has been motivated by economic concerns, since languageskills were assumed to contribute to professional mobility and increasedemployability. The learning of a second and third language was considered aprecondition for economic wealth and prosperity. Later EU documents suggestthat EU success as a knowledge-based economy depends on how well it tacklesthe issue of language learning. Language skills and interculturalcommunication skills are seen as assuming an increasing role in globalmarketing and sales strategies. In addition to its economic importance,multilingualism as a policy covers a wide range of areas including lifelonglearning, employment, social inclusion, competitiveness, culture, youth andcivil 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 languageeducation policy: the first centers on the question of how many, and which,languages European citizens should be proficient in , while the second focuseson external relations and global spheres of communication, i.e. spheresexceeding the member states. The requirement of ‘mother tongue + 2’ hasdeveloped from a maximum requirement for students to a minimum requirement forall 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 ‘thelanguages spoken in the Community.’ According to recent EU documents, therange of languages to be taught is, ideally, very wide, and includes smallerand larger European national languages, regional, minority and migrantlanguages, as well as languages of major trading partners throughout theworld. It remains unclear, however, how such a broad approach can beimplemented, especially since on the national level only a restricted numberof large national languages are usually taught.

As to linguistic minorities’ policy, considerable progress has been madethanks to the ratification of documents such as the ''European Charter forRegional or Minority Languages'' (1992) and the ''European FrameworkConvention on the Protection of National Minorities'' (1995), within the broadframework of human rights protection promoted by the Council of Europe. Withinthe European Union, projects such as Euromosaic, a study on minority languagegroups in the EU initiated by the European Commission in 1992, institutionssuch as the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages and academic networkssuch as MERCATOR have made a very substantial contribution in this respect.Immigrant languages, however, along with dialects, have been left out of theprotection of the European Charter. The authors argue that in spite of theefforts towards greater inclusiveness, the question remains of how tointegrate immigrant languages into the European diversity framework.

The EU institutional language regime reflects a model of integralmultilingualism, which ensures the linguistic equality principle among theofficial EU languages. The integral language regime, however, is not fullyviable in institutional practice since it is restricted to a very small andselected range of procedural languages.

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

Chapter 2 is devoted to multilingualism as a highly interdisciplinary field ofresearch. It shows how multilingualism has evolved into an independent fieldof research in a process of delimitation from bilingualism research. It isonly recently that the traditional understanding of languages as distinctlyidentifiable entities came to be seriously questioned and critics argued thatconceiving of bi- and multilingualism simply as a collective container ofseparate parallel monolingualisms could no longer be maintained (Martin-Jones2007). Over the past 20 years, multilingualism research has been undertaken inhighly diversified disciplinary contexts and with reference to a range ofdifferent perspectives, which are not always sufficiently elaborated. The widerange of methodologies and theoretical approaches to multilingualism hasresulted in the fragmentation of this discipline. The LINEE project is anattempt towards decreasing this fragmentation since it has been targetedtowards bringing together and seeking to reconcile discrepancies betweentheories and methods of European multilingualism within its research platform.As to the intersection between policy and academic research, research couldprovide the planners of European multilingual policy with the empiricalfoundations by means of which they can put pressure on the member states topromote and establish multilingualism in their particular sphere.

Chapter 3 presents the LINEE Project, whose aim was ‘to investigate linguisticdiversity in Europe in a coherent and interdisciplinary way, by developing aninnovative, visible and durable scientific network that can overcomefragmentation and serve as a world-wide quality and knowledge-based referenceframework’ (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 washypothesized that the four thematic areas would provide information on how theEU and its member states identify with linguistic diversity, how they plan andimplement it, how they provide the educational prerequisites for linguisticdiversity, and how they attempt to meet the multilingual requirements of asingle market. Each of the four thematic areas was subdivided into thesupranational, national and regional level. During the first two years of theLINEE project, multilingualism was explored with respect to Europeanisationand nationalization processes, aspects of immigrant and regional minorities,English as a lingua franca, diversified pedagogic cultures, multilingualclassrooms, multilingual companies, and migrants in the labor market. In thesecond phase, the major themes of the first phase were further elaborated andcultural tourism and multilingual cities were integrated into the LINEEthemes. A major LINEE objective involved developing new methodological andtheoretical platforms. They were aimed at 1) providing the comparativeperspectives from which diversified insights into both the power and theconflict potentials of European multilingualism should be attained, 2)ensuring scientific pluralism, and 3) combining fundamental and appliedresearch in order to test the existing scientific paradigms against theempirical background of the ongoing integration process.

The area-specific research revealed a set of recurrent features whichinteracted in variable degrees with the diverse phenomena of Europeanmultilingualism. The following features were identified: ’culture,’‘discourse,’ ‘identity,’ ‘ideology,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘language policy andplanning,’ ‘multi-competence,’ and ‘power and conflict.’ The next stepinvolved investigating how these variables were conceptualized and how theyinteracted with the shaping of multilingualism within and across the thematicareas. For example, culture is most salient in the identity area while itremains implicit in other areas. Regarding discourse, two characteristics arecentral to all approaches within the project, namely the multi-level and theideological nature of discourse. The LINEE studies clearly show the connectionbetween 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 isseen as contextually embedded and discursively formed. It is maintained thatEuropean identity includes multiple identities where local, national andsupranational identifications can exist alongside each other. Ideology is seenas a discursive reconfiguration of social space. Language policy and planningare described as intrinsically related to ideology and to power and conflict.The term ‘multi-competence’ (Cook 1991) refers to the compound state of mindwith two or more languages. It is closely linked to education, and it figuresprominently in the economy area. Power and conflict closely intersect withdiscourse, ideology, knowledge and identity.

Thus, it is argued that European multilingualism points to highly diversifiedphenomena, which do not allow for generalized definitions and explanations.Multilingualism should be conceptualized in terms of complex and unstablerelationships instead of a fixed range of variables. Apart from thetheoretical dimensions, the LINEE project was concerned with methodologicalissues. Within qualitative social research, five basic models were identified:case studies, comparative studies, retrospective studies, snapshots (analysisoff state and process at the time of the research) and longitudinal studies(Studer and Werlen 2012). The chapter ends by identifying problem areas thatrun counter to European multilingualism as a mode of effective Europeanisationsuch as the vagueness of the concept of European multilingualism, the weakimplementing power of the EU language policies, the lack of consensusconcerning the plurilingual repertoire, the traditionally strong bond betweenlanguage, identity and culture, the disregard of the disparities of power andthe traumatic histories that often combine with diversity, and monolingualideologies that continue to inform the foreign language learning practices atthe national level. English as a lingua franca is not seen as a threat toother languages, but as an effective means of flexibly engaging inmultilingual communication without compromising speakers’ motivations forlearning or using other languages.

Chapter 4 focuses on European Multilingualism beyond LINEE. The theoreticaland methodological framework developed within the LINEE project has made itpossible to re-conceptualize European multilingualism, which should not beregarded as a container of national languages but as a flexible and open-endedconcept. The chapter ends with an integrative view of Europeanmultilingualism. The main objective involves pointing out scenarios in whichEuropean multilingualism is adequately conceptualized in its dynamics andcomplexity. 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 researchfocus.

The book’s ‘Conclusion’ outlines the concept of European multilingualism againon the basis of results obtained, taking into account both political andscientific points of criticism. It considers potential options for reassessingthe discrepant aspects of conceptualizing European multilingualism and opensnew paths in order to theorize European multilingualism in its complexity anddynamics.


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

The book is a synthesis of the research findings of a European projectdesigned to meet the highest standards of scientific excellence, advocating anambitious framework for integrating different disciplinary perspectives.Within its wide scope it bridges the gap between practical policyconsiderations and academic research, theory and practice, fundamental andapplied sciences. It reveals the major discrepancies in the EU multilingualpolicies, which the EU must overcome by developing into a multiple inclusivesociety 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, aswell as to policy makers, who should be aware of results of scientificresearch pointing to problem areas and discrepancies related to the concept ofEuropean multilingualism and its practical implementation.

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

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


Martin-Jones, M. (2007) Bilingualism, education and the regulation of accessto 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, Migrantsand Outsiders. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

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

Studer, P. and I. Werlen (eds., 2012) Linguistic Diversity in Europe: CurrentTrends and Discourses. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton .


Lelija Socanac is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University ofZagreb, Croatia. She is the coordinator of the Centre for Language and Law,and she currently directs the project Legal and Linguistic Aspects ofMultilingualism. Her main research interests include sociolinguistics,historical sociolinguistics, contact linguistics, and legal linguistics.

Page Updated: 25-Feb-2013