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Review of  Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Reviewer: Guido Josef Oebel
Book Title: Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism
Book Author: Jean-Marc Adrien Dewaele Alex Housen Li Wei
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Language Acquisition
Issue Number: 14.1297

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Date: Sun, 4 May 2003 12:14:16 +0900
From: Guido Oebel
Subject: Opportunities and Challenges of Bilingualism

Wei, Li, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Alex Housen ed. (2002) Opportunities
and Challenges of Bilingualism, Mouton de Gruyter, Contributions to
the Sociology of Language 87.

Guido Oebel, Saga and Kurume/Fukuoka University, Japan

This book discusses social aspects of bilingualism. It focuses on
the manifold opportunities that today's growing bilingual and
multilingual societies are being offered and the challenges they are
being confronted with.


Joshua A. Fishman opens the first main section with a contribution
entitled titled '"Holy languages" in the context of social bilingualism'
(15-24). In it he critically analyses the process of 'sanctification'
of languages within multilingual societies. Starting from Emile
Durkheim's definition of 'holiness', Fishman examines different types
of 'holy' languages throughout human history. By doing so, he
classifies these languages according to whether

- one of the two languages is considered inherent holy (17-18),
- another language becomes holy by dint of association with the
one already considered holy (18),
- both languages are considered holy (19-20), or
- neither language is considered holy. (20-21)

From there, Fishman takes off to possible 'consequences of
language sanctity beliefs' (21-22) and the so-called 'staying power
of sanctity' (22-23), i.e. for example Latin or Hebrew, both
languages which due to their 'direct sanctity' live on in holy texts.

John Edwards starts his chapter titled 'Forlorn hope?' (25-44)
explaining the genesis of this originally Dutch expression that
has changed its meaning through inaccurate etymology. This
illustrating word-play and example of cross-language transfer
serves the author as an interesting example of how an incomplete
bilingualism leads to misunderstandings, and yet to a meaningful
misapprehension. The genesis of changing meaning of 'Forlon hoe'
serves the author as lead-in to his examination of 'language
ecology' perspective on linguistic diversity arguing stable societal
bilingualism might be a desirable outcome, however, as difficult
to achieve and maintain.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas's contribution 'When languages
disappear, are bilingual education or human rights a cure? Two
scenarios' (45-67) continues the discussion of endangered
languages, according to Krauss (1992) dividing (oral) languages
into three groups, the moribund, the endangered and the safe
ones. She predicts for the two first-mentioned languages a
linguistic genocide caused by agents of formal education and mass
media, acting on behalf of economic, military and political groups.
Within this context, in analogy to racism and sexism the concept
of discriminating linguicism was created with state education
systems not only violating the linguistic human rights (LHRs) of
minorities but even contributing considerably to linguistic
genocide. Taking the LHRs perspective, Skutnabb-Kangas
examines the work in international law and in education to
counteract minorisation of languages and, at the same time, to
promote the survival of linguistic diversity.

J. J. Smolicz's chapter 'Core values and nation-states' (69-85) is
concerned with the paradox of ethnic and national upsurge in an
increasingly globalized cultural and economic world. Giving the
situation in Australia as an example, according to him linguistic
diversity is contingent on the maintenance and development of
cultural core values of each of the ethnic groups concerned.
Smolicz concludes drawing a promising scenario for maintaining
developing a nation-wide multilinguism promoted by acknowledging
the minorities' right to their cultural heritage. By doing so,
Australia fortunately happens to demonstrate a radical departure
from the monolingual and mono-ethnic assumptions prevailing there
from the beginning of the 20th century until the mid 70's.

The papers in the second section ('Bilingualism worldwide') focus
on societal bilingualism, language ideology, its planning,
maintenance and shift, respectively, in individual countries.
Harold F. Schiffman's contribution 'French language policy:
centrism, Orwellian 'dirigisme', or economic determination?'
(89-104) examines language policy 'a la francaise' shedding light
on the question of how it is embedded in and proceeds from the
so-called 'linguistic culture'.

Peter H. Nelde's and Peter J. Weber's article 'The non-linearity
of language maintenance and language shift: survey data from
European language boundaries' (105-124) discusses typical
aspects of language maintenance and language shift illustrated
by comparing Germanic-Romance (German speaking minority in
'Old Belgium') and Germanic-Slavic (Sorbian speaking minority
in Germany) minority contact situations.

Juri Viikberg's contribution 'Language shift among Siberian
Estonians: pro and contra' (125-144) discusses the factors
affecting language maintenance and language loss in the
Estonian linguistic enclaves in Siberia. Starting out inter alia
from Grosjean (1982: 107-112) who listed several prominent
factors vital for the survival of migrant groups' languages,
Viikberg analyses, besides other factors, social and intrinsic
factors that might have played the key role for the ambivalent,
somehow unexpectedly contradictory development of Siberian
Estonians' linguistic situation.

Damir Kalogjera's chapter 'On attitude towards Croatian dialects
ad on their changing status' (145-156) examines the notions of
'norm' and 'standard language' in the context of language contact
in Croatia.

Wolfgang Woelck in 'Ethnolects - between bilingualism and
urban dialect' (157-170) has a closer look at the effects of
language contact in the city of Buffalo, NY. Starting with
a review of how fellow authors define the term 'ethnolect' that was
coined in the late 1970's to designate the English of immigrants'
descendants long after their originally native languages are lost,
Woelck understands this label of specifically American
sociolinguistics as dealing with how these surviving language
contact features were used to identify citizens' ethnic and
linguistic, respectively, origin. After presenting convincing data
supporting a revised definition of ethnolect, Woelck confirms
himself in advocating a narrower restriction of this term and its
application for a clearer and more specific usage, e.g., considering
criteria such as host-language monolingualism and the relatively
short life span of language varieties compared to the real-time life
of a speech community.

Bernard Spolsky's paper 'The development of Navajo-English
bilingualism' (171-198) analyses the process of Navajo language
loss in the southwestern states of America. On the basis of
Spolsky's paper from 1975 in which he then assessed the
prospects for the survival of the Navajo language, in this paper,
he attempts to identify the contribution of the various factors
involved in the process of its loss especially over the last quarter
century. His conclusion at the end of the chapter can be seen in
sharp contrast to his enthusiasm about the prospects for the
survival of Navajo in the 1970's. Despite the fact that Navajo has
lasted longer than most other autochthonous languages in the
United States, it now is endangered, too. According to Spolsky,
the move from rural isolation to semi-urban and urban density of
communication, i.e. urbanization, has had its sociolinguistic
reflexes. Consequently, urbanization has had its regrettable and
probably irreversible effect on the shift from Navajo to English,
unfortunately reflecting a general tendency in the US as a whole.

Tim Marr's contribution 'Language ideology, ownership and
maintenance: the discourse of the Academia Mayor de la Lengua
Quechua' (199-219) explores the discourse of the Academia Mayor
de la Lengua Quechua (henceforth: the Academia) based the
former Inca capital Cusco. This highly critical paper 'concerns the
ongoing Peruvian project of status and corpus planning being
carried out by (...) the Academia (.) displaying an ambivalent
attitude towards both the nation-sate which it claims to serve and
the speakers whose aspirations it claims to represent' (p. 199).
Marr examines the perspectives and ideology of the Academia
considering this body 'at best an unreliable ally, and at worst an
implacable enemy' when carrying out 'a serious Quechua
language maintenance project' (p. 199). Marr's less promising
outlook is that the Academia's members and self-appointed
representatives with their roots in the bilingual Cusco elite
evidently confuse their own opinions and aspirations with those of
mainly rural Quechua speakers. According to Marr, thus one
might call into question the Academia's efficacious support for the
maintenance of the Quechua language, and simultaneously its

Vivian de Klerk's chapter 'Xhosa as a 'home appliance'? A case
study of language shift in Grahamstown' (221-248) presents a
case study of language shift from Xhosa to English among
Xhosa-speaking parents and their children attending
English-medium schools in Grahamstown in South Africa. De
Klerk's paper attempts to assess the relative importance of a
range of variables influencing the rate of possible language shift.
By doing so, the author provides an overview of the ten main
factors (economics, institutional support, educational
environment, education and literacy levels, linguistic networks,
language attitudes, language status, language functions, mass
media, gender) which have been identified as playing an essential
role in stimulating language shift in general. De Klerk then
reports on the relative importance of these factors, i.e. on findings
from her longitudinal study carried out in 1998. Despite the
reservation of over-interpreting surveys, the author concludes
that, among the children surveyed, shift to English seems to be
well under way and almost irrevocable. In terms of the ten
variables aforementioned, some have proven more prominent
(economic and functional factors along with high educational
levels among parents) than others (socio-cultural factors).

In 'Japan's nascent multilingualism' (249-271), the two co-authors
Florian Coulmas and Makoto Watanabe try to give plausible
reasons why linguistic diversity is increasing in modern Japan.
Starting with an historic overview on ethnolinguistic homogeneity
constituted in Meiji Japan, Coulmas and Watanabe draw a
considerably changed picture of the language situation prevailing
in today's Japan. According to them, the current Japanese society
'offers the opportunity to study the transformation of a society
largely under monolingual assumptions into one which has come
to terms with greater linguistic plurality' (p. 249). Despite the
authorities' reluctance 'to officially depart from the idea of Japan's
homogeneity, (...) the traditional self-image of Japan as a closed,
homogeneous society has begun to break down, and the push for
more pluralism is welcomed (...) by many Japanese' (p. 257). The
once favoured ideals of homogeneity, yes even uniformity, turn
out to be obsolete in the face of the challenges modern Japan has
to cope with such as attracting more foreigners than ever before,
and, particularly, its rapidly aging citizens. Although this
development requires more immigrants, so far the authorities
have failed to implement a corresponding immigration policy or
social policy. The extent of developing into a more open, i.e. a
pluralistic society promoting linguistic pluralism as well, might be
considered a gauge of Japan's reinvention.

The third section 'Multilingual management and education'
addresses the issue of language management and language
education in multilingual contexts.

Xu Daming's and Li Wei's contribution 'Managing
multilingualism in Singapore' (275-295) examines the motivations
for the language policies advocated by the Singaporean
government. The two co-authors define their objective as to
evaluate the city state's activities 'in its attempts to change the
linguistic realities and charter the future development of the' four
official 'languages of the country', Malay, Chinese, Tamil and
English (p. 275). To this end, they first examine the effectiveness
of the measures implemented and actions taken, then they
analyze the nature of actions in order to characterize them as acts
of 'dirigisme' or 'language management' in a manipulating sense.
Cutting short the authors' outcome, according to them, language
planning in Singapore can be called overwhelmingly successful,
mainly owing to the planners' management approach.

Bjoern H. Jernudd's paper 'Managing languages at bilingual
universities: relationships between universities and their
language environment' (297-309) discusses the relationships
between universities and their language environment, more
precisely, 'how language management theory can diagnose and
suggest solutions to language problems' arising 'in a bilingual
university' such as the Hong Kong Baptist University (p. 297).
Hong Kong universities operate under a trilingual (English,
Cantonese, Putonghua) and biliterate (Chinese, English) policy
whereas Putonghua is taught as a subject and, in addition,
largely confined to communications with visitors from the PRC.
English dominates as a textbook language, serves as a language
of governance and of board meetings, and is furthermore used on
occasions in which Cantonese is not available as shared language.
Jernudd then classifies his so-called 'communicative acts in
bilingual university settings' into the following 'ad hoc' categories:
- teaching acts between students and teachers, - study acts by
students, - administrative acts between students and
administrative university members, - research acts, - writing and
other presentation acts, - service acts by faculty members
addressing different audiences, - governance acts between
university representatives and civil servants (p. 299-300). In his
evaluation, Jernudd still sees much room for removing the
likelihood of systematic discourse inadequacies and recommends
audits of language use. Such, as he calls it, 'joint language
management action' would 'reveal the complex realities of
bilingualism in practice' (p. 307).

Ofelia Garcia and Cecelia Traugh et al. in 'Using descriptive
inquiry to transform the education of linguistically diverse US
teachers and students' (311-328) describe the efforts educators in
two US settings are making to continually support linguistically
diverse schools. The authors first describe the increased
sociolinguistic heterogeneity and socioeducational homogeneity of
the US in general and of New York in particular. In the further
course of the chapter, the authors discuss how a particular
research methodology such as 'Descriptive Inquiry' could be
inclined to regenerate teacher training programme and thus help
deepen the understanding of bilingual education. According to
Garcia and Traugh, this innovative research mode facilitates
transforming a university programme to continually educate
mainly bilingual urban teachers, thus supporting the efforts of a
dual language school with the objective of eventually
implementing bilingualism.

The last chapter by William F. Mackey, 'Changing paradigms in
the study of bilingualism' (329-344), simultaneously serving as
Coda to the volume, critically reviews key issues in bilingualism
research over the last two decades. The definitions of
bilingualism, Mackey quotes, range from 'the equal mastery,
choice and use of two languages' in the middle of the 20th century
over considering it just a peripheral phenomenon to a puzzle
from fringes of such disciplines as social psychology, social
dialectology and social anthropology. From the latter
conceptualization of bilingualism in the context of linguistics,
bilingualism underwent a revised positioning referring to its
growing importance to bilingual or even multilingual societies.
Eventually, it became evident that the term bilingualism had to
be redefined taking into account that it had ceased to be looked
upon as a 'peculiar either/or trait', but rather as a
multidimensional and widespread phenomenon (p. 331). By the
1980's, bilingualism itself began to generate a life of its own, and
in the further course it managed to engulf sub-disciplines such as
'ethnolinguistics, demolinguistics, glottopolitics, language
planning and others' (p. 332).

In addition, Mackey outlines a framework for future research
advocating 'new paradigms for new concepts' that might pave the
way 'to new thinking about language' in today's 'increasingly
diverse and complex societies' (p. 342).


Overall, this is an excellent volume, which met my expectations
upon reading it. The first two contributions to this volume, by
Fishman and Edwards, are exemplary papers and those readers already
familiar with their linguistic research, of course, cannot help
but being delighted to read their chapters.

Skutnabb-Kangas's describes two scenarios of linguistic genocide
and analyzes measures to halt or ideally prevent it - so far an
absolutely noteworthy issue, yes even sublime 'partisanship'.
However, ten pages of text dealing with the topic, in my opinion,
hardly justify almost eight pages of admittedly valuable references.

The last contribution to the opening main chapter by Smolicz is a
critical and in its result promising analysis of Australia's dealing
with the country's multilingualism acknowledging its minorities
the right to their cultural heritage thus maintaining their cultural
distinctiveness, too. All in all, this is an essay easy to read,
with particular interest to those not familiar with the language
policy carried out in Australia.

Schiffman's investigation on whether French language policy
might be motivated by centrism, 'Orwellian dirigisme', or
economic determinism, comes to the conclusion that 'the fallacy of
linguistic 'dirigisme' is based on supposed parallels with economic
'dirigisme'' (p. 99). Interesting as the comparison itself is, I have
the impression Schiffman's chapter lacks the topical relevance to
the more current situation as one fails to find a reference to the
notorious Law No. 94-665 of 4 August 1994 relative to the use of
the French language (cf. my online references) -- commonly
known as 'Loi Tourbon' - and its amendments until 20 September

Despite the specificity and thus excellence of Fishman's 'Holy
languages' and Edwards' 'Forlorn hope-?', I take the liberty to
choose Nelde's and Weber's co-authored chapter my favourite as it
coincidentally deals exactly with the profiles of the German
speaking minority in Old Belgium and the Sorbian speaking
minority in Germany on which I myself only recently published a
paper (cf. my print references). Gratefully, their chapter is
accompanied by illustrative figures, maps and tables. Besides
their sound analysis, in the reference section they give the
English translation of German book titles as well as the faithful
translation of German quotations faithfully to their meaning in
the source language. Unfortunately, there is a minor aspect, i.e.
failing to mention the online accessibility of an indispensable
source they refer to throughout the chapter: 'Euromosaic' (cf. my
online references).

To cut short this review so far in great detail, I will only comment
further on Marr's chapter on the 'Academia Mayor de la Lengua
Quechua' and on 'Managing multilingualism in Singapore'
co-authored by Xu Daming and Li Wei. In my opinion, at least
these two chapters deserve an independent remark: as in my
opinion justifiably critical Marr's analysis of the Peruvian
institution is as in some aspects uncritical, yes even somehow
indifferent glorifying is Daming's and Wei's hymn of praise for
Singapore's policy to manage multilingualism in the South East
Asian city sate. Without my intention to disparage their expertise
as scholars of high renown, maybe the prospect of facing
governmental reprisals is the cause for their unilateral analysis?

At the end of each chapter, the reader finds five study questions
for discussion. Following the authors' intention, these questions
are aimed to facilitate further debates about the issues raised and
discussed in the corresponding chapters. Their demand ranges
from mainly comprehension questions comprising just one line to
entire complexes of questions (e.g. Skutnabb-kangas, Schiffman,
de Klerk and Garcia/Traugh) stimulating further discussion
among readers. Another helpful factor is that the key references
are asterisked so that readers might feel invited to consult them
for more detailed examination.


In sum, I consider the present volume worth reading with only a
very few reservations. It constitutes a multifaceted compilation of
different aspects on the 'Opportunities and Challenges of
Bilingualism' and multilingualism. In my opinion, everybody
interested in this topic no matter whether experts in the field or
laymen can benefit from it. Its contributions combine sound scientific
xpertise with readability.


Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with Two Languages. An Introduction to
Bilingualism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oebel, G. (2002a). The German Language in Belgium. A minority
language, however, not endangered of extinction. In: Journal of
the Faculty of Culture and Education Saga University, 7 (1),

Oebel, G. (2002b). European Culture and Languages: The Sorbs
(Wends). A Slavonic Enclave within German Boundaries. In:
Journal of the Faculty of Culture and Education Saga University,
7 (1), 147-151.

Spolsky, B. (1975). Prospects for the survival of the Navajo
Language. In: M. Dale Kinkade et al. (eds.), Linguistics and
Anthroplogy, in honor of C. F. Voegelin, 597-606. Lisse: Peter
de Ridder Press.

REFERENCES (online):

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Guido Oebel (PhD in linguistics) is a native German currently teaching German as a Foreign Language (DaF) and FLL in Japan. His main areas of research are: DaF, sociolinguistics, bilingualism, adult education and autonomous learning and approaches, particularly 'Learning by Teaching' (LdL) invented by Jean-Pol Martin of the Catholic University Eichstaett-Ingolstadt (Germany).