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Review of Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts
EDITORS: Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson TITLE: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts SERIES: New Perspectives on Language & Education PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates YEAR: 2006
Yasemin Kirkgoz, Department of ELT, Lecturer in English Language Teaching at the University of Çukurova
''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is an edited collection of papers aimed at presenting the impact of globalization on language policies in Asian countries. Each chapter in the volume focuses on different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of language policies of Asian countries in the social construction of national cultural identities; the relationship between language, culture, and identity (vii) through the impact of globalization; and language policy responses of the governments based on case study experiences. The book is introduced by a preface, which lays out the background, the aim of the book, and consists of fifteen chapters. As the editors state in the preface, in selecting contributors to the volume, they have been guided by the decision to include countries which have been underrepresented in the literature on language policy. Each chapter author is an Asian scholar with experience and knowledge concerning language policy of their country, as such the book aims to provide ''insider's perspective on each of the countries presented'' (viii).
The collection, edited by Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson consists of fourteen chapters including a preface, followed by Chapter 1. The fourteen chapters of the book are organized into three parts. Part 1 entitled ''Globalization and its Impact on Language Policy, Culture, and Identity'' consists of five chapters. Part II ''Language Policy and the (Re) Construction of National Cultural Identity'' comprises the next three chapters in the volume (Chapters 7-10). Part III ''Language Policy and Language Politics: The Role of English'' covers the last four chapters in the collection. The first and the last chapters are written by the editors themselves.
Chapter One ''Language Policy and construction of National Identity'', written by the editors, seems to be designed to provide a critical overview of all the chapters that make up the collection, presenting an analytical framework for understanding the case studies. As the editors put it, authors in this volume explore the relationship between language policy and national cultural identity by examining the impact of globalization on several Asian countries and their language policy responses to it. The authors first present several questions related to the spread of English with reference to Phillipson's (1992) ''linguistic imperialism'', arguing that English is considered by language policy makers in Asian countries as a ''multinational tool that is essential for achieving national goals and by individuals as an indispensable resource for personal advancement'' (p.18). While admitting that Asian countries have little choice other than legitimizing the hegemony of English, they argue that at the supranational level, the ownership of English still remains largely in the hands of English-speaking Western superpowers.
Chapter Two ''Japan's Language Policy and the 'Lost Decade''' by Kayoko Hashimoto examines how the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is situated in Japanese society and how the government has responded to the promotion of TEFL in its policy since what is known as the Lost Decade, when Japan was in search of solutions to tackle a national crisis. The discussion mainly focuses on the perspective that language policies are mainly cultural policies because they are connected with what can culturally be achieved. The author puts forward the idea that while promoting English, Japan has successfully maintained its own cultural identity by promoting TEFL within the framework of Japanese internationalization and the ''good'' qualities of the Japanese culture. Hashimoto remarks that efforts have been made by the government to ensure that the learning of English would not undermine Japanese cultural identity and cultural values.
Chapter Three ''Globalization and Language Policy in South Korea'' by Yim Sungwon explores globalization in the Korean context. Sungwon argues that in the Korean context, globalization has acted as a ''catalyst for developing a new sense of national identity'' (p.51). He clearly shows that unlike many countries where the imposition of ideologies and cultures of Western superpowers has rendered many nations helpless, many Koreans see the current spread of the English language and American culture as an opportunity for their nation to show itself to the world by appropriating the American culture and language to disseminate Korean ways of thinking and understanding rather than seeing it as a threat to their national integrity.
Chapter Four ''The construction of National Identity and Globalization in Multilingual Malaysia'' by Maya Khemlani David and Subramaniam Govindasamy is in two sections. In the first section the authors outline the multilingual and multiethnic context in which the Malaysian language policy is interpreted using a descriptive historical-discourse approach; the second part examines the role of English language textbooks in promoting national identity and the global outlook of Malaysia's citizens. After an overview of Malaysian colonial history and colonial heritage, the authors demonstrate the prominence being given by the leaders of the nation to the use of English, especially in education, which they remark has led to an increase in private English medium education as a recent response to globalization. Adopting a discourse analytical approach to examine the textbooks, the authors show that the textbook writers have achieved a major goal by introducing global values essential to contribute to the common goal of nation building without neglecting local customs through selecting topics and producing materials.
Chapter Five ''Remaking Singapore: Language, Culture, and Identity in a Globalized World'' by Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew situates Globalization in Singapore, ''an increasingly depoliticized, postcolonial, and materialistic environment'' (p. 75). The author first focuses on the language policy, specifically, the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM). He then surveys contribution by Singaporeans about what makes a Singaporean and examines data from a recent questionnaire on language attitudes in Singapore. In the evolving global society, Chew suggests that language is not so much as a symbol of culture and nationhood but as an essential economic resource having a particular value: a tool by which a nation may achieve varied goals in the area of research, finance, manufacturing and public relations.
Chapter Six ''Transition, Culture, and Language in Cambodia'' by Thomas Clayton discusses the impact of liberalization and democratization on Cambodia's dominant minority cultures in relation to language choices in education. Clayton argues that by influencing language choice in favour of English and French the government's agenda to maintain and strengthen Khmer culture is being threatened. He points out that the Cambodian government has allocated its own resources only to the national language, by extension, the Khmer culture, while leaving to others interventions that advance Chinese, Cham, Vietnamese and indigenous languages and cultures. Clayton also mentions that transition form a centrally planned to a Market economy led to participation in a global economy, which resulted in an increase in foreign investment. Many job opportunities were created leading to an increase in demand for English.
Chapter Seven ''Language Policy and the construction of Identity: The Case of Hong Kong'' by Amy B. M. Tsui discusses the language policy in the construction of cultural identity in the Hong Kong context. Based on Halls's framework of identity construction, Tsui examines the institutional and socio-political processes that influenced the collective identity of the people of Hong Kong in the colonial and postcolonial periods, exploring the role of language policy in these processes. She claims that during the colonial area, the interaction between the competing forces of British colonialism and Chinese nationalism, and the resistance to both movements shaped the local identity of the people of Hong Kong.
Chapter Eight ''Multilingual and Multicultural Identities in Brunei Darussalam'' by Mukul Saxena addresses the very theme of the sociocultural philosophies of governance embedded in Hinduism, Islamic and Western thoughts that have shaped the national ideology, MUB, of Brunei. Saxena remarks that by defining the nation state in terms of the national MIB ideology, the Brunei government has highlighted the importance of Malay culture and language to the national identity. This relationship between ethnicity, culture, language and identity is extended to the Muslim monarchy. What he seems to highlight in this chapter is that the policy pressures from diverse sociolinguistic practices are ''constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing Bruneians' multilingual and multicultural identities'' (p.158).
Chapter Nine ''Mauri or Mirage? The Status of the Maori Language in Aotearoa New Zealand in the Third Millennium'' by Richard A. Benton presents - in a very condensed and at times hard-to-process style - Maori language, culture, and contact with English since the late 18th century. Benton gives an overview of how the status of the language has been recognized and reflected in practice both within and outside the Maori ethnic community since initial contact with outside influences. He reports that the unequal power relationship between English and the Maori language resulted in several paradoxes. Maori people were interested in preserving the Maori language and culture, yet they avoided speaking it at home. They sent their children to English-medium schools. Although the Maori language is an official language and it is used in parliamentary debates, it is hardly used by legislators. Benton proposes an interpretation that resolves these apparent paradoxes.
Chapter Ten ''Identity and Multilinguality: The Case of India'' by R. K. Agnihotri gives the history of the language policy in India before and after the partition of India and Pakistan. Agnihotri clearly shows that language policy and national identity are mutually related, which he points out is often used for political ends. Throughout the chapter, it is demonstrated that in India, Hindi and Urdu were separated into two distinct languages to serve the political end of projecting two separate identities, Hindu and Muslim during the partition process. This had an unfavourable consequence of destroying the ethnic harmony. The dominance of Hindi contributed to the demise of Hindustani, a common language to Hindus and Muslims, generating resistance from other linguistic groups. He describes how English, the language of colonization, remained one of the official languages to counter the absolute power of Hindi.
Chapter Eleven ''Change and Permanence in Language Politics in Nepal'' by Selma K. Sonntag illustrates how the democratically elected government turned to the ''Nepali-only'' language policy in the early 1990s and made Sanskrit compulsory in primary and secondary education. Sonntag points out that this reversal caused strong resistance from the ethnic minorities. Unlike in India, such resistance lead to positive outcomes as it enabled the minorities to resolve ethnolinguistic policy matters. With regard to the role of English, she notes that as in the case of India, English functioned as a tool for resistance against the linguistic dominance of Nepali. With the spread of English, English-medium schools increased, and concerns have been expressed about the widening social divide resulting from such proliferation.
Chapter Twelve ''The Role of English in Pakistan with Special Reference to Tolerance and Militancy'' by Tariq Rahman deals with the issue that the spread of English is accompanied by the propagation of liberal values in Pakistan. In a survey conducted by Rahman, the English-educated elites hold more liberal values such as peace with India, equal rights for women, and religious tolerance, and they support militant policies. The author points out that due to access to English and the Internet, young people, regardless of whether elite or nonelites, can freely express themselves on various issues including politics, and religion. Such free expression, according to Rahman, is a breakthrough for Pakistan which he considers as an intolerant and oppressive society. Rahman also cautions that while English brings liberal and democratic values, it may also make available neofundamentalist Islamic values.
Chapter Thirteen ''Language Policy in Education in Bangladesh'' by Tania Hossain & James W. Tollefson address three issues in language and education in Bangladesh: the role of Bengali in the ideology of Bengali nationalism; the forces contributing to the spread of English among the elite, and the language in the educational system. Hossain & Tollefson remark that the linguistic resistance in Bangladesh to the domination of Urdu and the struggle for the recognition of the Bengali as a co-official language eventually turned into military resistance, which resulted in the political independence of Bangladesh from West Pakistan. Bengali was declared the state language as well as the medium of instruction in the state education system. The authors discuss how English-medium education has continued for the elite despite high rate of illiteracy. They draw attention to one of the educational problems: the lack of curriculum materials in Bengali means that higher education has to continue in the medium of English. This limits its access by the Bengali-medium graduates and deepens the social divide between those who can access it and others that cannot.
Chapter Fourteen ''Issues in Language Policy, Culture, and Identity'' by James W. Tollefson & Amy B.M. Tsui is the final chapter summarizing the major research issues emerging from the chapters in the volume. The authors agree that the answers raised at the beginning of the book to several policy related issues are often complex, varying in accordance with the political and cultural context, and changeable over time. They make a number of important points: the language policy responses of Asian countries indicate that these countries have as much a part to play as English speaking Western superpowers in legitimizing the hegemony of English. English is perceived by the policy makers as an essential tool to achieve national goals and personal achievement. The authors conclude that on the basis of the evidence, language policy responses of countries included in the volume have been largely determined by the linguistic practices, preferences of organizations both multinational and transnational as well as international aid agencies. They also point out that the threat of cultural homogenization brought about by the hegemony of English has been a source of tension for Asian countries.
''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is a much welcome addition to the scholarship on language policy, education, and sociolinguistics, particularly for its contribution of much needed empirical studies in Asian countries. It brings together a significant amount of research studies on language policies and practices in Asian countries.
The book is certainly a must-read for anyone who is interested in issues in language policies and practices in Asian countries. It is a great sourcebook that may be used in graduate and undergraduate courses on language policy, language in society and language education.
With regard to the scope, the collection provides a critical survey of language policies and practices in Asian countries. The usefulness of the discussion questions posed by the editors in the first chapter might assist readers in thinking through the whole volume in further understanding the topics addressed in each chapter.
Each chapter is clearly laid-out and well written, some offering excellent end-of-chapter summaries. Perhaps the most positive quality of this book is that the authors introduce the historical and theoretical discussion on the language policies of their countries from an insider's perspective. Each chapter deals with a language policy in a different Asian country, thus most chapters are well worth the time it takes to read. The content is certainly not difficult to read, since it is presented in a very clear and factual manner.
Another welcome contribution of this book is that each chapter addresses a different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of language policies of a particular Asian country in the social construction of national cultural identities, and the relationship between language, culture, and identity through the impact of globalization, and approaches adopted by the government of the respective country, drawing on case study experiences.
Overall, I have found the volume to be cohesive, resourceful and well-written. I would highly recommend this book to those involved in language policy and planning. The detail of discussion makes this book an extremely useful reference for those involved in language policy issues.
Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Yasemin Kirkgoz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English Language Teaching at the University of Çukurova, Turkey. Her research interests include influence of globalization on language policy, English-medium education and classroom based research.