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Review of  Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors

Reviewer: Richard G Littauer
Book Title: Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors
Book Author: Harold F. Schiffman Brian Spooner
Publisher: Brill
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
History of Linguistics
Subject Language(s): Dari
Language Family(ies): Indo-European
Issue Number: 23.3813

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EDITOR: Harold Schiffman
TITLE: Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors
SUBTITLE: The Changing Politics of Language Choice
SERIES TITLE: Brill's Studies in South and Southwest Asian Languages
YEAR: 2011

Richard Littauer, Computational Linguistics, Saarland University

''Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors: The
Changing Policy of Language Choice'', edited by Harold F. Schiffman and co-edited
by Brian Spooner, is a collection of papers presented at a workshop at the
University of Pennsylvania in December 2003. (The book cover and the publisher
information online cite Schiffman as the editor, but throughout the text and in
the introduction, Spooner is referenced as the co-editor.) The papers offer an
overview of the complicated history of language use and policy in Central Asia,
covering a wide range of relevant topics, from diglossia to minority languages,
from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan to Pakistan to Iran, from governmental language
policy to resources for scholarly study. The volume is intended to provide an
update on language policy in the region, an overview of language use in the
region, both historically and currently, and means and areas of potential
research. It can serve as an introductory text for on Central Asian linguistics,
as a course book for language learners interested in knowing more about the
relative scope of language policy issues in the area, and as a concise summary
and resource for experienced scholars. Afghani languages cannot be considered in
isolation, due to almost constant political and social upheaval historically;
this book expands on their interactions, and how multilingualism and language
policy, either implicit or explicit, play a constant role in this dynamic region.

The volume is divided into four main sections, covering various regions in
Central Asia, and wrapping up by providing resources. In the introduction, a
broad history is given of the languages of Afghanistan, as well as an in-depth
analysis of diglossia. In Section 1, ''Afghanistan and Iran'', three chapters
cover the state and history of the diverse languages and the policies
surrounding them in Afghanistan, covering not only their history, but in
particular the relationship between the Pashto and Persian languages in depth.
In Section 2, ''Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union'', the next
three chapters cover language shift in Kazakhstan, as well as the current and
projected situation of Uzbekistani languages. In Section 3, ''The Northwest
Frontier Province and Pashto, Punjabi, and Balochi'', the state of minority
languages with substantial populations is covered, particularly those which have
migrated from their native areas. Finally, in Section 4, various resources
available to potential researchers in Central Asia are presented, before a final
concluding chapter.

The first, introductory chapter (1-28), ''Afghan Languages in the Larger Context
of Central and South Asia'', by the editor Harold F. Schiffman and Brian Spooner,
briefly covers the history of language study of Central Asian languages, and
places the languages themselves in a larger geographical and historical context.
It gives a very good summary of language models relevant to the region,
providing a suitable linguistic review of Ferguson's (1959) theory of diglossia,
and Fishman's (1967) later extension. It wraps up with a discussion of
implementing language policy.

In the first section, ''Afghanistan and Iran'', the second chapter (31-52),
''Language Policy in Afghanistan: Linguistic Diversity and National Unity'',
Senzil Nawid briefly covers Pashto, Dari, and Uzbek, the three major languages
by speaker numbers in Afghanistan, providing historical background. She then
goes on to discuss the problem for each successive government, from the Pashtun
government in the 1930s until today, of choosing an official language for
Afghanistan, as Dari is the historical state language, although Pashto has the
largest ethnic group. She clearly explains how official implementation of
language policies in such a linguistically and ethnically diverse country
affects language attitudes and national identity.

In Chapter 3 (53-88), ''Locating ‘Pashto’ in Afghanistan: a Survey of Secondary
Sources'', Walter Hakala considers the state of Pashto in Afghanistan, starting
with defining 'Afghan' and 'Pashtun', words steeped with ideological and
cultural implications, particularly since the arbitrary Durand Line, established
by British state-makers in 1893, split the historical region of ethnic Pashtuns
between Afghanistan and Pakistan (formerly India). He discusses the various
dialects, and the issues surrounding identifying a standard for Pashto, as well
as the state of literature in Pashto, and the current and projected state of the
language in the region.

In Chapter 4 (89-117), ''Persian, Farsi, Dari, Tajiki: Language Names and
Language Policies'', Brian Spooner considers the significance of the use of the
various names for Persian -- Persian, Farsi, Dari, and Tajiki - in Central Asia,
and overviews the language's long history as a written language, as well as
current views of the language from outside of the region. He goes on to cover
the implications of the differing policies regarding Persian and other
languages, such as Arabic (particularly in Iran), before questioning whether
Persian is diglossic in the classical Fergusonian sense.

In Section II, ''Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union'', the focus
turns to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and so more time is spent on the Turkic
languages and Russian.

In Chapter 5 (121-175), ''Reversing Language Shift in Kazakhstan'', William
Fierman discusses the process of language shift and work on reversing it, mostly
from the perspective of Fishman (1991). Fierman discusses the geographical and
demographic background in Kazakhstan, as well as Soviet interests and policies
in the area. He covers in detail the educational issues and administrative
policies that have influenced the native Kazakh, and the relative success of
reverse language shift today.

In Chapter 6 (176-207), ''Language Policy and Language Development in
Multilingual Uzbekistan'', Birgit Schlyter treats the standardization of and
formation of a literature for Uzbek in Uzbekistan, and the influence of Russian,
before considering current language ideologies. She then gives some attention to
Karakalpak, a Turkic minority language, and lastly considers the state of
multilingualism, as concerns both the many minority languages as well as foreign
languages, such as English.

In Chapter 7 (208-260), ''The Fate of Uzbek Language in the ‘Other’ Central Asian
Republics'', Fierman's second chapter concerns Uzbekistani minority language
groups in the other former Soviet countries of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan,
Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. He identifies various factors influencing change in
Uzbek: borders, national policies, implementation and repression, the lack of an
independent arbiter, economic changes, and technology. He then describes, for
each country, the state of the language, as well as prospects for its use and
implications of shifting attitudes, particularly in regards to education and the

In Section III, ''The Northwest Frontier Province and Pashto, Punjabi, and
Balochi'', the relationship between southern languages, now Urdu, Panjabi, and
Balochi, is brought into focus.

In Chapter 8 (263-281), ''Pashto Language Policy and Practice in the North West
Frontier Province'', Robert Nichols outlines the history of Pashto in Pakistan,
focusing on the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pushtunkhwa), touching
on its relationship with Persian, and then proceeds to focus on the recent state
of education in Pashto, looking in-depth at the available textbooks. The chapter
covers the implementation and effects of regional language policies, and the
recent influence of Urdu.

In Chapter 9 (282-318), ''A ‘Vernacular’ for a ‘New Generation’? Historical
Perspectives about Urdu and Punjabi and the Formation of Language Policy in
Colonial Northwest India'', Jeffrey M. Diamond treats the history of language
attitudes and the influence of missionaries, administrative decisions, and
Indian literature in Punjab. He covers in-depth the history of language
relationships there, where Persian was predominantly the written language, while
Punjabi was the most widely spoken, before colonial attitudes brought about a
shift towards Urdu as the administrative vernacular, while Punjabi was not
formalised or standardised until recently.

In Chapter 10 (319-336), ''Balochi: Towards a Biography of the Language'', Brian
Spooner in his second chapter covers the history of Balochi, another Iranian
language, spoken widely throughout Central Asia and into the Persian Gulf. He
also speaks of attitudes towards the language, largely from within the ethnic
Baloch communities, and its current state and future.

In Section IV, titled ''Pedagogical Resources and Conclusion'', there is only one
chapter (339-353), ''Resources for the Study of Language Policies and Languages
of Afghanistan and Its Neighbors'', in which Cynthia Groff provides electronic
and print resources for interested scholars, students, and teachers of Central
Asian language policy. She lists various universities and centers for relevant
general study of the Central Asian languages, as well as relevant books and
conference proceedings regarding language policy. She gives information for
potential resources for learners, as well as specifically for researchers. The
references section is helpfully split into resources by region and country.

Finally, in the concluding chapter (354-357), Harold F. Schiffman closes by
discussing diglossia again in light of the articles discussed, highlighting that
the dynamic nature of language interaction in Central Asia inhibits a clear-cut
alignment of theory to specific cases. He also discusses briefly the reversing
language shift issue dealt with by some of the authors, and how it can be
problematic in this region.

In the final chapter, Harold F. Schiffman returns to the volume’s goal, ''to
construct an updated picture of languages and language policy in the region, and
give potential language learners a clearer picture of what kinds of resources
exist, and what is still needed.'' This goal was certainly attained; the essays
do just that, and are brought together adroitly, given the wide range of
countries, languages, and policy decisions covered. All of the essays are well
written, and show a detailed analysis of the state of multilingualism in their
respective countries. As such, the volume can serve as a good springboard for
current researchers seeking to draw comparisons between different countries and
time periods, for those seeking avenues of research for particular languages or
language interactions, as well as for students of language policy interested in
Central Asia and the ramifications of cultural, ethnic, and political flux on
language use. Many of the chapters provide good background for their specific
topics, and several provide long lists of resources for further study; in this,
they are invaluable resources themselves. For experienced researchers of this
region, the book may provide interesting comparisons and insights by virtue of
its breadth, but for detailed analysis of a certain region or policy decision,
it may provide more of an overview than an exhaustive study -- as the intent of
the volume is not to close but to open up research in this area, however, this
is not consequential.

At certain points, the volume could have been drawn together more. For instance,
diglossia as a theory of language interaction in the region may not be the best
fit, as several chapters do not touch upon it, and as the dynamic nature of
political and language change in the area has lead many High and Low varieties
to shift in more complicated ways. The introductory chapter covers diglossia as
if the entire volume were to be dedicated to it, which is not the case --
language shift could have just as easily been the central theme. The same
concerns could be raised about some of the chapters' relations to the book's
title -- Afghanistan is often downplayed or ignored in several chapters. The
topic of this book is Central Asia more than Afghanistan in itself, and this
should be made more clear, especially as over a third of the book concerns only
other Central Asian republics further north. Furthermore, while the initial
conference which inspired this volume was in 2003 (SALRC 2003), some of the
papers reference more recent Afghani policy decisions, which is both timely and
called for -- but more time could have been spent on the influence of English in
the region, particularly given the last decade of intense Western influence. At
the same time, little attention is paid to other minority languages. Some time
is given to Karakalpak, Uzbek in Afghanistan, Balochi, and others, but there is
little about the Nuristani languages, Sindhi, Uyghur, Tatar, Munji, Shugni,
Wakhi, and other minority languages in the region. Given the participants at the
original conference, it is a shame that more time was not spent on this.
However, as the main languages are all covered, and very well so, there can be
no doubt that this is a valuable contribution to the field of Central Asian
linguistics and language policy studies.

Ferguson, Charles F. 1959. Diglossia. WORD 15(2). 352-40.

Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical
Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

South Asia Language Resource Center (SALRC). 2003. SARLC Sponsored Workshops:
Workshop on the Languages of Afghanistan, December 12th and 13th, 2003. (19 July, 2012.)

Richard Littauer is a graduate student in Computational Linguistics, studying for a joint degree at Saarland University and the University of Malta. He completed an MA (Hons) in Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. His main research interests include minority language documentation and conservation, particularly involving developing resources for low-resource languages, as well as understanding language change on a historical and evolutionary timescale.

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