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"
Review of Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden
Baldauf, Richard B. Jr. and Robert B. Kaplan, eds. (2000) Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd. ISBN: 1-85359-483-0, 203 pages. Multilingual Matters 114. Series Editor: John Edwards.
Reviewed by Wendy D. Bokhorst-Heng, International Training and Education Program, Department of Sociology, American University, Washington D.C.
As the title suggests, Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden is a three-part book, with each part devoting attention to one of the particular nation mentioned in the title. This is the second volume in a series, which, as the editors explain, is intended to present detailed studies of the language situation in polities that are typically underrepresented in the literature. The first volume examined the language situation in Malawi, Mozambique and the Philippines.
Sonia Eagle's chapter on Nepal provides a detailed historical and social account of the very complex language situation in the multilingual nation. She notes that "most language matters in Nepal have not been planned; they have evolved in response to historical circumstances." In a sense, this notion of a reactive language policy to some extent contributes to a detailed, but largely non-analytical, account of the language situation in Nepal. It almost negates any focus on the ideological, and on any sense of debate embedded in the policies and planning practices. And so, glaring contradictions and questions are left unexamined. For example, she notes the need to make education available to a larger number of people has resulted in the adoption of one language as the official language. In the goal to achieve one basic human right (basic education), another is denied (mother tongue). This is a struggle common to many nations around the world struggle, begging a deeper analysis of the language-education-development trajectory.
In her account, Eagle documents the traditional languages of Nepal, notes the relationship between religion and language, expounds the historical developments of language in the nation including the arrival of Nepali during the Gorkha Era, and the impact of British India on Nepal. Considerable attention is given to educational policy changes, particularly the 1969 national education system. Nepali was made the medium of instruction, and English the international language. However, courses in math, science and technology were taught in English. Once again, this begs analysis -- what does this selective allocation of language do to the meanings and status of language and of their speakers? She does note that the choice of Nepali as the sole national language and medium of instruction was controversial; however, little information is provided concerning what this controversy entailed and which key players were involved. There is a section devoted to voices opposing the national position of Nepali (it is the language of a repressive government, the language of the ruling caste, inadequate to meet the modernization needs of the nation); however, there remains a sense of detached observation, with little detail as to specific players and particular power struggles between them. Other topics covered in this discussion on language planning in Nepal include: the relationship between religion and language -- although the section seems to get stuck in the past, failing to update us as to this fascinating and important relationship in Nepal; social class and language; a section on case studies related to the use of Nepali which documents how other languages coexist with Nepali and English; and a section dedicated to the New Language Policy of 1990, discussing the right for all persons to receive primary education in their mother tongue and how, in a story that is all too familiar, little has been done to implement this policy change. Special attention is also given to the role of English in Nepal: English and education, attitudes towards English as a medium of instruction, and English and social class. Eagle also begins to document how the multilingual situation of Nepal has resulted in a clear distinction between certain languages and certain domains: for example, English as the language of international trade, Nepali and English in mass media, Nepali as the primary language of national literature, and so forth. I say 'begin to document' the use of language in particular domains because most attention is given to Nepali and English, and only minimal to the other languages. And only a select few public domains are mentioned, with little documentation of the use of language in the private domains and other public domains that might suggest a more complex negotiation of language repertoire. In the last section, Eagle offers some commentary on the future of language planning in Nepal and summarizes some of the key features of the language situation in Nepal. It is curious that she concludes by saying "in the future Nepali, and possibly English, are likely to occupy an increasing number of domains and registers in Nepal", when everything she documented suggests the two languages are already well entrenched, when Nepali alone seems to be insufficient to attain high levels of socio-economic success. Again, the very dominant position of English in Nepal, which Eagle clearly documents, fails to be problemetized in any deeper analytical way.
The strength of this chapter is certainly in the scope of information offered. It serves as an appetizer, a tantalizing invitation to readers to inquire deeper into the very complex and fascinating linguistic situation of Nepal. Where it fails is in its somewhat cursory attention, a lack of 'on the ground stuff' which would tell us more about how policies were enacted, why, and for whom. Language planning is rarely done for linguistic purposes per se; this chapter doesn't take us to those extra-linguistic, socio-political agendas that would illuminate the policies documented.
The main sections of Tsao Feng Fu's chapter on the language situation in Taiwan chapter include: (a) a discussion on 'what is language planning', where a clear distinction is made between language policy and language cultivation, and rationale is provided for a separate analysis of language in education from other language planning issues; (b) an overview of the socio-historical context of conquests and occupations throughout Taiwan's history, and how this history characterizes Taiwanese society today as multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, immigrant, Chinese and a modern industrialized society; (c) because Taiwan adopted most of China's language planning efforts in 1945 when Taiwan was returned to China, Tsao provides a brief account of such activity from 1911 to 1945 -- noting especially the two main concerns of national unification and modernization through a unified national language (Mandarin) and mass literacy (a romanized system of transcription); (d) a focus on language planning activities in Taiwan since 1945 -- the most significant being the propagation of Mandarin as the national language through the National Language Movement, and the effect that this policy had on the indigenous languages and dialects (for some, language death). In this discussion, attention is also given to the debate and controversy around the adoption of Mandarin, to some of the pedagogical concerns, and to the specific committees and players involved in the discussions (such as the ministry of education, the army, the Chinese Cultural Restoration Movement, the Committee for the Promotion of Mandarin, etc.). This section provides constant evaluation and analysis of the policies and claims put forward by the various players; In addition to the promotion of Mandarin, Tsao also speaks to the role of English, using Bamgbose's model of 'what language, for what purpose, at what level' to note that the mother tongue languages have no role (they were seen as an impediment to national unification), Mandarin is used at all levels, and English, the language for wider communication, is used only as a 'subject' in the schools (also seen as a potential threat to nationalism); (e) comments on recent developments in language planning, the most recent having to do with language-in-education planning (use of vernacular literature in secondary schools, issues concerning the national phonetic system), and, something that I think requires more analysis, the emergence of a new supra-ethnic identity and the lack of any significant role of language in this development.; (f) and finally, a section devoted to comments about the future of language planning in Taiwan, which Tsao optimistically feels will adopt a more democratic approach.
Throughout the chapter, Tsao's discussion and analysis is clear, with purposeful direction, and provides a concrete sense of debate, and the 'whys' and 'hows' of language planning.
In some respects, the book seems to be structured to move from less-organized to more organized language planning situations. The last, and longest, chapter of the book by Birger Winsa on language planning in Sweden depicts a situation of multiple layers of planning in the domains of governmental, religion, mass media, education, and even unplanned language planning. Sweden has five main minority language groups: Sami, Meankieli and Finnish, Roma, and Yiddish, in addition to the primary language of Swedish and the growing presence of English. Winsa's chapter is divided into four main sections: (1) the Language Profile of Sweden, profiling the official and minority languages as well as language varieties; (2) Language Spread, which documents the languages used in the education system and mass media, and considers methods of assessing language competence, particularly with respect to mother-tongue instruction; (3) Language Planning and Policy, which details the various polices and commissions put in place concerning mother tongue instruction, and also provides a historical account of language planning initiatives in Sweden and the various agencies involved; and (4) Language Maintenance and Prospects, an discussion of the intergenerational spread of the major languages, and the future of minority languages in Sweden. In each of these sections, he devotes particular attention to each of the five main minority language groups, in addition to Swedish and English.
What makes this last chapter particularly rich is Winsa's effort to continually place language policy and implementation in the socio-historical and political circumstances within which they are enacted. His introduction sets the tone when he says, "There is, however, hardly any language planning that is independent of a multidimensional socio-political discourse" (p.107). This focus is so important, as language planning is rarely about linguistic concerns alone, and sometimes, if at all. And so it is paramount that any discussion of language planning and policy is positioned within this socio-political context. All three chapters do this to some extent, with Winsa perhaps giving it more direct attention. Although, he too often treats the socio-political more cursorily than his introduction would suggest by just reminding us after a detailed policy or language situation account that the socio-political is there without giving any detailed discussion about its nature and significance. He also keeps the discussion at a fairly detached, macro-level, with very little mention of specific players or specific debates around particular policy decisions and actions.
While Winsa's chapter very carefully delineated issues pertaining to each of the five minority language groups, they were for the most part treated separately. Languages do not exist in isolation, but rather interact in very significant social and political ways. And so, it would be illuminating to hear more extensive discussion about the relationship and interaction between the minority languages and between the minority languages and the dominant languages, with more attention given to diglossia and code-switching, the social status of the various languages and their speakers, language as a marker of identity within a multilingual and multiethnic community, and so forth.
General Summary and Critical Evaluation:
Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan, and Sweden is a wonderful resource for any student of language planning and of the various issues complexities and issues involving the practice. As the editors note in their introduction, there are some common themes that run through the three chapters: the role and survival of minority languages; the influence of power elites to often force members of minority languages and cultural groups to assimilate into the dominant culture; and the impact of English as a dominant language of wider communication. To this I would add another common theme, and that is the complex global-local intersection that language policy and implementation so often finds itself. And one theme that did not emerge in any direct way, yet is necessarily implicit in any discussion about language planning, is that of nation-building, or as Anderson puts it, 'imagining the nation'. There are obvious relationships between these themes as well, which came out very clearly in each of the chapters. It is unfortunate that there was no dialogue between the three chapters around these themes; the authors appeared to be writing oblivious of the contributions of the others. Had they referenced each other around their common themes, the book would have gone much more beyond the feel of mere documentation to a deeper analysis of the various issues around language that they addressed. One way forward might also have been a clearer framework for analysis that they all could work from, and thus set the stage for a comparative discussion.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections of the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991.
Wendy Bokhorst-Heng holds a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. She is Assistant Professor and director of the International Training and Education Program at American University, Washington D.C. Her research interests focus on language and education policies and language/nationalist ideology in Southeast Asia.