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Review of  Paradigm Shift in Language Planning and Policy

Reviewer: Dave Sayers
Book Title: Paradigm Shift in Language Planning and Policy
Book Author: Ettien Koffi
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 23.5134

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AUTHOR: Ettien Koffi
TITLE: Paradigm Shift in Language Planning and Policy
SUBTITLE: Game-theoretic Solutions
SERIES TITLE: Contributions to the Sociology of Language
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
DATE: 2012

Dr. Dave Sayers, College of Arts & Humanities, Swansea University, UK

Etienn Koffi’s monograph begins by noting that it represents a major reworking of ideas he previously found 'unimplementable', 'in the language planning trenches' (p.viii) of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Togo. The book's overall aim is to highlight flaws in language planning in multilingual Africa, and propose a new model. This is to have economic as well as educational, cultural and psychological benefits: “planning multiple languages can turn the vast linguistic resources of Côte d’Ivoire into a multimillion dollar economic bonanza” (p.xi).

Chapter 1, 'Ten deadly impediments to language planning in Africa', takes aim at weaknesses in Language Planning and Policy (LPP) to date, and the last 60 years especially. The ten are as follows. 1. 'Excessive theorization': 'nearly 60 years of writing and publishing ... has not changed reality in many African countries one iota' (pp.2-3). 2. 'The glorification of the LWC [Languages of Wider Communication] model': equated with the belief that 'One Nation = One Language' and that 'multilingualism is a liability, not an asset' (p.4). 3. 'Faulty assessment of ethnolinguistic loyalty': oversimplification of the language-identity link. 4. 'Elite hypocrisy': elites 'give lip service to language planning' (p.12) but quietly educate their children in LWCs, causing wider disenchantment. 5. 'Unaddressed parental concerns': the 'indigenous LWC model that has been in vogue since the 1960s' is based on 'the opinion of educated city dwellers' -- some reports are cited favouring wider LWCs, principally English, and additive mother-tongue education (pp.22-23). 6. 'The low marketability of African languages': mother-tongue education should not come from 'sentimentality or some nebulous ideological concept of ''africanness''' (p.19), but utility and practicality. 7. 'The ''dependency'' syndrome', i.e. on former colonisers, for economic matters and for LPP, causing the current shortfall in indigenous African LPP and the persistence of 'the national LWC model even though there is compelling ethnolinguistic evidence that this model is no longer viable' (p.22). 8. 'The rigidity of mother-tongue acquisition models': 'UNESCO uses strong-arm tactics against African governments ... to adopt its prescriptive approach to mother-tongue education' (p.27) with idealised notions of ethnolinguistic authenticity. (The author's own proposed 'Maintenance Model' (MM) is first mentioned here.) 9. 'The alleged prohibitive cost': MM is again signalled as 'an affordable model of language planning', promising overall profits (e.g. $22 million annually for Côte d'Ivoire in 2010 figures: p.29). 10. '''Manifesto syndrome'' and the language plan of action for Africa' (LPAA). The LPAA (1986) is criticised as 'the work of language activists and the political and academic elite' (p.32). 'Both anecdotal and statistical evidence show that most Africans want to be educated in ex-colonial languages' (p.32). The point of Chapter 1 is to quash any sense of adequacy that language planners might have been entertaining.

Chapter 2, 'The strategic Game theory and 3±1 language outcome', deploys a version of game theory to 'help explain why the language policies of European colonists failed to meet the expectations of Africans' (p.36), and to begin developing a better solution. The overall goal of the book is aptly summarised here, on page 58:

'My contention in this book is that an attractive language of education policy can be formulated using the Game theory so that people ... can be fully bilingual and biliterate in their local language and in the ex-colonial language. Moreover, some who choose to study the local language can make as much money or more money than those who operate in the ex-colonial language.'

The 'predictioneer's model' is then introduced, a game-theoretic methodology used to identify 'players' in the language planning 'game', and to assess their prioritisation of language issues. Players in 'the language game in colonial Africa' (p.60) are listed, and their various interests operationalised. A computation is then performed which concludes that if the 'colonial powers had consulted with each other, they would have agreed on MM ... across Africa. ... Instead, the French and Portuguese ... imposed AIM [Assimilationist Immersion Model]. The Belgians and the Germans used FIM [Full Immersion Model], while the British groped along until they eventually settled for TIM [Transitional Immersion Model]' (p.73).

Chapter 3, 'A Game-theoretic assessment of language of education policies in French and Portuguese colonies', identifies the players in these colonial language games, for example French citizens and assimilated Africans. Colonial language policies are reviewed, and the weighted priorities of players calculated to show overwhelming preference for AIM (i.e. using only the colonial language). It is then argued that, to date, proposals to include African languages in school curricula 'have not been implemented' (p.107).

Chapter 3's structure is repeated in Chapter 4, 'A Game-theoretic assessment of language of education policies in Belgian, British and German colonies'. These three colonial powers were 'diametrically opposed' (p.110) to the French and Portuguese, flexible in the use of various languages. The same calculations of preferences are performed, and similar analyses offered about reasons for different language policies.

Chapter 5, 'Case study: Rethinking mother-tongue education in Côte d'Ivoire', begins by reviewing some population and language usage statistics, particularly the 'co-habitation of French and indigenous Ivorian languages' (p.153). Developments in language policy since the Berlin conference of 1884-5 are reviewed, especially the continued dominance of French. The predictioneer's model is applied to players in Côte d'Ivoire, and MM is found to be preferred. German and Spanish, currently introduced in the 9th grade, are proposed to be replaced by Ivorian regional LWCs: 'there is no convincing rationale for teaching [German and Spanish] and ... the space they currently occupy in the curriculum can be put to good use by teaching indigenous Ivorian languages' (p.173).

Chapter 6, 'Game-theoretic assessment of language of education policies in African megacities', addresses urbanisation -- to which 'language planners ... hardly pay attention' (p.181). A brief historical review is given of cities in Africa. 'Ethnolinguistic vitality' and 'ethnolinguistic loyalty' are contrasted, and the latter seen as more applicable in francophone Africa, for its focus on emotional investment and freedom from concerns about institutional support. African megacities are put into three categories (p.194): ethnolinguistically homogenous (e.g. Addis Ababa with Amharic); ethnolinguistically dominant (i.e. 50%+ speaking one language, e.g. Kinshasa with Lingala); and ethnolinguistic equilibrium, where 'no indigenous African language is spoken by the majority …. Only a handful of African megacities fall into this category' (no examples). Policies are recommended for each: for the first, 'formulating a ... policy is easy': either '{1+1}' or '{1+0}' (p.202); for the second, an international LWC is to be taught alongside the indigenous urban LWC and another indigenous language; for the third, policymaking is 'extremely challenging' (p.206), and Abidjan is used as an example to recommend MM. In Abidjan, 'it is impractical to teach all 17 regional LWCs' (p.208), and so five are chosen, Anyi-Baule, Bété, Senoufo, Duila, and Yacouba -- representing 'the four language families found in the country' (ibid.). So, each school would teach French + English + one of these five which replace German and Spanish.

Chapter 7, 'Framework and rationale for literacy planning in rural Africa', focuses on NGOs and charities, principally UNESCO and SIL International. Based on his own experience, the author suggests that African 'rural inhabitants have a preference hierarchy' of 'International LWC > Mother tongue > Regional/National LWC' (p.216). Literacy rates in these languages are reviewed, and a series of other suggestions offered.

Chapter 8, 'Planning multiple languages on a shoestring budget for profit', develops the book's earlier claims that 'many African countries can turn their vast linguistic resources into an economic bonanza' (p.251), 'generating multimillion dollar revenues' (p.255). Côte d'Ivoire is used as a hypothetical case study for how this boon might be realised, focusing on utilitarian motivations: 'It is precisely because language consumers see language as an economic good that [they] acquire high-yield languages' (p.253). Costs are estimated for status, corpus, acquisition and personnel planning for the various languages involved. Recommendations for legislation are offered, principally 'that every Ivorian national [in] grades 9th-13th ... must study and demonstrate proficiency in at least one ancestral Ivorian language as a precondition for graduation' (p.269). The 'multimillion dollar economic bonanza' (p.xi) to be reaped from this LPP endeavour is then described (see below for details).

Chapter 9, 'Individual efforts in language planning', provides a brief review of the LPP achievements of 'three distinguished language planners of past centuries', 'St. Stefan of Perm, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, and Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther' (p.285), plus a range of other European missionaries.

The book makes a troublesome first impression with poor housekeeping. Terminology is not consistently explained, for example the acronym 'LWCs' is used first in the Preface but only defined later in Chapter 1 (p.1). At the end of the Preface the abbreviations list is mentioned, but the wrong page is given. The contents page itself comes after the Acknowledgments and the Preface. Chapter 9 seems out of place entirely; it is an interesting essay but it does not speak to, much less conclude, the rest of the book. A few cited sources are relied upon conspicuously heavily, such as Laitin (1992), De Mesquita (2009) and Schaaf (1994). That overreliance comes mainly in Chapters 2, 3, and 4's discussions of historical developments, which suggests an attitude towards such scene-setting as a perfunctory chore. The 'language game' is a term borrowed from Laitin (1992), though without clear citation. This is not a reference to Wittgenstein, incidentally, who is not mentioned -- that terminological duplication seems accidental. The author claims various other terms as his invention, but Google readily demonstrates otherwise; for example 'ethnolinguistic loyalty' (p.191) -- found at least as far back as Geertz (1963) -- or 'de-ethnicization' and 're-ethnicization' (p.195). These hasty claims contribute to a growing sense of stridence. But all this is nit-picking in a way. There are graver problems ahead, which can be arranged under three main headings: exhortation; 'garbage in, garbage out'; and tenuous postulation.

1. Exhortation. The author takes a generally conversational tone throughout the book. That can be done to good effect in academic writing, but only when not combined with overt exhortation, and open mockery of people with whom one disagrees. Chapter 1 begins by lampooning a broad swathe of linguists, then government bureaucrats, then indistinctly drifting between the two. It remains unclear for example, who foolishly 'assumed that as soon as an indigenous LWC was decreed and imposed on the citizenry, they would gladly adopt it' (p.6). One interpretation suggests an anaphoric reference to Robert Kaplan, lambasted in the previous subsection. Meanwhile a recurrent mocking, almost insulting tone pervades the book, e.g. the 'gullibility of leading African linguists' (p.26). Elsewhere (p.164) Salikoko Mufwene is yanked out of context for a dressing-down. There are easier and fairer bones to pick with LPP; all this rabble-rousing seems excessive.

A further aspect of exhortation is the troubling frequency of vague appeals to authority without citation, and other baseless generalisations. 'Survey reports indicate that ...' (p.23) -- no reports are cited. '[M]any Malian parents are unconvinced' (p.26). How many? No evidence is given. 'The cost projections [of LPP] are astronomical!' (p.28). How astronomical? No data are forthcoming. 'Game theory ... has been used ... with an amazing rate of success' (p.44). What is that rate? 'As is well known in Africa ...' (p.162). By whom? According to what surveys? Meanwhile, claims about general disinterest in national LWCs, shakily rhetorical to begin with, are referred back to and embellished as a solid foundation: 'Both anecdotal and statistical evidence show that most Africans want to be educated in ex-colonial languages' (p.32). Chapter 1 mentions some vaguely relevant reports to this end, but nothing like a convincing basis for such a sweeping assertion. There are many such statements which feel somewhat designed to convince unquestioning readers -- and which, as a result, frustrated this questioning reader.

A normative overtone pervades the book in sympathy with 'African languages'. Fair enough perhaps, but this becomes problematic when in Chapter 5, for example, indigeneity is clearly denied to French, apparently in perpetuity, even in its localised varieties which are spoken nowhere else. There is only one mention of Nouchi (p.207) -- a creole based on French and a range of Ivorian languages -- and then only as something of a curiosity, ignored thereafter. This becomes something of a skewed argument foregrounding a constrained selection of languages, based as much on historical ethnolinguistic associations as evidence about present usage. The problem of exhortation grows worse in the author's description of 'linguistic schizophrenia' suffered by Ivorians, who apparently feel like 'ethnolinguistic traitors for having sacrificed their mother tongues on the altar of socio-economic mobility and modernity. ... They are hungry and thirsty for a workable mother-tongue education model ...' (p.159). This rhetorical flourish drifts free of substance. If there are such conflicts in the minds of Ivorians, why not give any evidence? And, given this excessive pathos, it is a little hard to stomach the accusation that both linguists (p.164) and language planners (p.253) use 'guilt-laced emotive arguments'.

2. 'Garbage in, garbage out'. The author cites this common phrase in relation to misapplying game-theoretic models (p.74). In many places, though, one is left wondering about the quality of what has gone into his own models. The game-theoretic calculations rest on identification of 'players'. These include missionaries, colonial teachers, and various groups of Africans. If the justification for their initial identification in Chapter 2 (e.g. p.60) contains any premises other than the author's own opinion, then those premises are not actually reported anywhere. Similarly, the 'rating' of the players appears determined largely by thought exercise (p.66). The argument is very interesting, but it is essentially premised on unsubstantiated reckonings. On page 74 it is stated: 'Extreme care has been taken to make sure that players have been identified accurately', and that their ratings 'are based on reliable information that can be independently verified'. That rigour is not actually described though.

Chapters 3 and 4 give a bit more coverage to the identification of the players (e.g. pp.88-92), but still it seems almost entirely the author's introspective decision. Puzzling over-simplifications continue here, for example: 'The Portuguese's colonial ideology was a carbon copy of the one that the French used in their colonies. Therefore, there is roughly the same number of players in both colonial language games. The influence scores are also identical' (p.99). A little later: 'all the players in the language game agreed that using Portuguese as the medium of instruction in all colonial schools for all grades was what they wanted. Portuguese nationals wanted it. Assimilated Africans, Euro-Africans, and all the colonized people wanted it ...' (p.103). Game-theoretical calculations like this obviously require a degree of grouping populations into categories, and some simplifications of rationales, but this all seems rather too imprecise and self-assured.

A further reminder of the author's caution 'garbage in, garbage out' comes in Chapter 5. Highly aggregated educational attainment data across age groups are brashly used to assert the effect of language use, overlooking all other factors affecting students as they grow up. 'A cursory glance at the table reveals' (p.161); 'A quick glance at the data shows' (p.163) -- this does seem to speak to the depth of the analysis going on here.

3. Tenuous postulation. Despite often breathless confidence that the author can 'prove based on solid data' (p.254) the reliability of his proposals, none actually emanates from worked examples, or even preliminary trials. They are based on fairly porous predictions of what might happen. The only mention of any actual experience is in small-scale literacy classes (mainly in Chapter 7). As a result, details of implementation come across as naïve at least. 'No special curriculum change is needed since the indigenous languages will simply take the time slot allotted to German and Spanish' (p.175). All very well, but what are the implications for separating students out based on 'their' indigenous language? One could foresee the problems found in Singapore where students are heavy-handedly separated on this basis (e.g. Lim 2009), but the author seems unaware of those lessons. And what about new contact-based urban vernaculars like Nouchi, which do not follow clear ethnic lines and have unclear historical associations? What of migrants who would encounter a different language selection in each place? Complications or unintended consequences, when they do get a mention, are swept aside with obfuscating garrulity -- for example the possible reactions of Germany and Spain to the exclusion of their languages (p.178). Elsewhere (p.176), the author asserts that the '8,262 German and Spanish language teachers' in Côte d'Ivoire can straightforwardly be 'retrained to teach one or two of the regional LWCs'. There follows an oblique reference to retraining of teachers in Russia and China following historical language policy changes, as if relevant to contemporary Côte d'Ivoire. Any finer details, such as possible resistance from teaching unions, or from individual teachers and their lawyers, are glided over.

Meanwhile, South Africa's famous paradox of de jure support for native languages but de facto dominance of English is mentioned only once (p.253), and injudiciously summed up merely as a problem of low marketability for indigenous languages. The solution, apparently, is that 'the more African languages are used in the educational system ... the more their market value will increase' (p.254). It all just seems dangerously unaware of lessons learnt elsewhere, often at great expense.

A more troubling aspect of this overconfidence and lack of forethought is a general recourse to force and coercion. 'Making [regional LWCs] compulsory ... will force students to take them seriously' (p.176). Proficiency in 'at least one ancestral Ivorian language' should be 'a precondition for graduation' (p.269). 'If strong legislation is not passed, some parents may find clever ways to exempt their children from learning Ivorian languages at school' (ibid.). Coercion seems too readily deployed, which is not only inherently distasteful but also unduly faithful in the strength of the state, in countries frequently discussed in the book as cash-strapped and politically precarious.

The reliance on conjecture and supposition reaches its unsettling peak in Chapter 8, which marks the book's normative crescendo. The Maintenance Model (MM), mentioned throughout the book, is filled out and elaborated upon here. The aim is to present a workable model for including a range of indigenous languages and LWCs in education, while also making a profit on the whole venture. The chapter does little to deliver on such promises. Ultimately, the 'multimillion dollar economic bonanza' (p.xi) turns out to be comprised exclusively of profits made by the government from the sales of indigenous language textbooks. To begin with, the crucial calculations of up-front costs are hazy and uncorroborated, for example an assumption of a discounted $2.00 per textbook (p.264) -- citing one textbook experiment in the 1970s as a basis for contemporary planning. The author mentions none of the extra costs of transport, storage, filing and administration arising from so many new books -- not to mention the political stability and continuity necessary for the proposed 15-year plan (p.277). Overall, this is a puzzling alley to be led down. Firstly, buying the books would be mandatory for parents, which is basically a stealth tax, the only 'profit' being to government coffers. Secondly, there is no anticipation of parents' inability to afford these extra costs, or of opposition to the plans (if anything, as noted above, the law is seen as a way to quash dissent). Thirdly, if this 'bonanza' is to be sustainable -- as the predicted $22 million annual return suggests (p.29) -- then it relies on parents dutifully buying fresh textbooks every year, rather than reusing or buying second hand. All in all, with its shaky premises, lack of trials or worked examples, and manifold conspicuous weaknesses, this much-hyped solution is a disappointing anti-climax.

'Paradigm Shift in Language Planning and Policy: Game-theoretic Solutions' seems out of place. Rhetorical grandstanding far outweighs substantial arguments, and anyone looking for a true paradigm shift will likely need to look elsewhere.

De Mesquita, B.B. 2009. The predictioneer's game: Using the logic of brazen self-interest to see and shape the future. New York: Random House.

Geertz, Clifford. 1963. The integrative revolution: Primordial sentiments and politics in the new states. In Clifford Geertz (ed.), Old societies and new states: The quest for modernity in Asia and Africa. New-York: The Free Press of Glencoe. 105-157.

Laitin, D.D. 1992. Language Repertoires and State Construction in Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lim, L. 2009. Beyond fear and loathing in SG: The real mother tongues and language policies in multilingual Singapore. AILA Review 22: 52-71.

Schaff, Y. 1994. L'histoire et le Role de La Bible en Afrique: II Poursuivit sa Route avec Joie. Lavigny, Suisse: Ed. Groupes Missionaires.

Dr. Dave Sayers is an Honorary Research Fellow in the College of Arts & Humanities at Swansea University, UK, and Visiting Lecturer (2012-13) in the Department of English at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His research is on language policy and planning, and sociolinguistics.