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"
Ager, Dennis (2003) Ideology and Image: Britain and Language, Multilingual Matters.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-1586.html
Shelley Tulloch, Department of Anthropology, Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In Ideology and Image: Britain and Language, Dennis Ager presents an overview of the motivations in language policy and planning in Great Britain. This book complements Ager's previous work on motivations in language policy and planning in two important ways. First, it illustrates the applications of the theoretical model developed in Ager (2001). Secondly, this book expands understanding of the scope of language policy and planning by shedding light on such processes in a country which may be popularly viewed as having no need or no interest to plan language.
Ager's thesis, as evident in the title and indeed obvious throughout the book, is that approaches to language issues in Britain are primarily motivated by ideology and image concerns. In the introduction, Ager challenges the popular view that 'we', as English-speakers, implicitly control the development of English through 'our' exercise of liberty and innovation in 'our' use of the language: ''There has long been a naïve and romantic belief that in Britain language, like culture, is, or ought to be, a simple reflection of mysterious social consensus'' (p.1). He suggests, on the contrary, that in fact language has been managed and controlled in Great Britain as it has been elsewhere (France being the prime example). Data relevant to this position are presented and discussed in the book's nine chapters, each chapter presenting one aspect of language policy and planning in Britain, and representing the how and the why of the interventions.
The first chapter introduces the reader to the linguistic communities and sociopolitical make-up of Britain and shows how such an understanding of linguistic communities is an essential starting point for analysis of the evolution of the linguistic situation in Britain. Variation within British English is discussed based on regional and class distinctions. England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales emerge as unique communities within Britain for reasons including but not limited to linguistic differences. The contributions of other, non-indigenous languages to the linguistic composition of Britain are also discussed.
Chapter Two discusses speakers' attitudes toward varieties of British English, ''territorial'' languages (i.e. Welsh, Irish and Scottish Gaelic), as well as ''non-territorial'' languages (i.e. Hindi). This chapter focuses on the concept of a standard British English, and examines the evolution of the definition of such a standard. Ager suggests that attitudes of archaism, elitism, xenophobia, and especially purism, have motivated attempts to define ''good'' English and to manage languages other than English in Britain.
Having established this background of linguistic communities and prevailing language attitudes, Ager contextualizes the current linguistic situation in Britain in Chapter Three, giving a history of language in Britain from 880 to the 1950s. He shows how an attitude linking morality to 'proper' speech emerged early in Britain's history. The motivations behind language policy and planning according to Ager were mainly political until 1800, then increasingly social and economic, targeting the 'civilization' and material advancement of British citizens.
In Chapter Four, ''Non-Political Language Planning'', Ager argues that language planning has continued in recent years as non-political, effected by individuals (including Members of Parliament and authors), private societies (including publishers) and the media, driven by purist motivations. The focus remains the perpetuation of 'good' English, as modeled by the 'best' speakers. Motivations in ''non-political'' language planning, as discussed in Chapter Four, include resistance to American influence, elitism, reform (simplification), altruism and snobbism.
In Chapter Five, Ager turns to discuss issues of language rights. He shows how the promotion of non-discriminatory language, as well as recent laws facilitating communication within the justice system for individuals who do not speak English, have protected human rights. Ager suggests that, in these cases, official intervention preceded popular attitudinal changes in Great Britain.
Chapters Six and Seven focus on English as a resource both for individual citizens and for the State. Recent attempts to empower individuals through increased access to English include adult literacy movements, ''Plain English'' and ''Better English'' campaigns. According to Ager, such efforts are motivated, once again, by purist attitudes and the desire to maintain a high standard of the English language. Chapter Seven shows how Great Britain has also exploited English as a resource for the State, promoting and teaching English internationally in connection with the promotion of the United Kingdom abroad.
In contrast to the preceding discussions of English as a resource, Chapter Eight suggests that language has also been a political problem in Great Britain. Language-related challenges discussed include how to teach and evaluate standard English in the schools, how to manage multiculturalism, as well as language issues emerging from the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Ager suggests here that multiculturalism is an Anglo-Saxon ideal (p. 151), and the discussion suggests a tension between a willingness to maintain minority languages and the desire to increase access to Standard English as the language of socioeconomic advancement.
Finally, in Chapter Nine, Ager broadens his discussion, showing how language policy and planning in Great Britain fits into a broader international context. The linguistic climates of France, India, Canada, Australia and the United States are discussed as points of comparison.
Ideology and Image: Britain and Language is a fascinating and thorough book. An advantage of Ideology and Image is that it is widely accessible, and will interest readers with little previous knowledge of linguistics or British politics and history, as well as students and researchers in the field of language planning. In an era of globalization and the threat to minority languages due, in part, to the spread of English, it is pertinent to consider how the country which initiated this spread of English has dealt with language issues internally. The book is short (208 + x pp.) and easy to read. Ager avoids extensive use of jargon, and provides the historical, political, and linguistic background necessary for understanding his examples.
The disadvantage of accessibility, however, is that some issues are over-simplified. Two examples that come to mind are the treatment of ''territorial languages'', i.e. Welsh, Irish and Gaelic (Cornish is given only brief mention), and the comparisons made between language policy and planning in the United Kingdom and the countries which were former British colonies. The comparisons with Canada, for example, emphasize language laws in Quebec (promoting the French language), and the official policy of bilingualism in Canada. However, Canadian language planning with regard to other minority languages (i.e. the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, Canada 1988), which would be directly comparable to planning in Great Britain, is not discussed.
Overall, Ideology and Image is convincing in its stated intention to debunk the myth that Anglophones are indifferent, or have a laissez-faire attitude toward their native tongue. It is of interest to specialists of language planning and policy as it paints a broad picture of the consistent evolution of language planning and policy in Great Britain. Undergraduate and graduate students will also find this book useful, whether it is used as a case study to introduce students to principles in language policy and planning or as a resource for more in-depth research on language planning and policy in Great Britain, particularly with regard to English. At the same time, the book offers the general public an accessible, entertaining and intriguing resource for understanding language issues in Great Britain; issues, which, as demonstrated by Ager, seem to interest the British public more than the myth of English linguistic disinterestedness may suggest.
Ager, Dennis (2001) Motivation in Language Planning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters. Reviewed in http://linguistlist.org/issues/12/12-1754.html
Canada. House of Commons (1988) Canadian Multiculturalism Act. LR 1985, chap. C-18.7.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Shelley Tulloch teaches linguistic anthropology at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her research focuses on language issues and language planning in Canada, particularly with regard to Aboriginal languages. Her current research examines needs and possibilities for language planning among Inuit youth in Nunavut.