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Review of  Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden

Reviewer: Wendy Bokhorst-Heng
Book Title: Language Planning in Nepal, Taiwan and Sweden
Book Author: Richard B. Baldauf Jr. Robert B. Kaplan
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 12.1543

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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
(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
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.


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