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Re: mono-lingualism is curable
I suppose it is about time that I entered the fray, since Rainer
was kind enough to consult me about the desirability of a forum
on language policy, language diversity, language and politics.
And my wife, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas's T-shirt slogans seem to have
triggered a wide range of responses. Surely this is the function
of a punch-line of that sort - rather than subjecting such
"texts" to scrutiny for the scientific validity or speculating on
their function in social struggles?
Whether the slogan can promote a cause or not is very much a
question of the individual's perception. If you happen to come
froma dominant, often monolingual, group, your sensitivity to
language issues and language rights may well differ markedly from
that of a minority language speaker - or a stigmatized dialect
(Pygmalion). Thus as hierarchisation by means of language was a
cornerstone of apartheid (English and Afrikaans as the only
official languages), it is not surprising that all South
Africans, "black" and "white", are sensitive to language issues.
The Constitution now recognizes 11 official languages, plus a
range of others that are part of a religious or ethnic heritage.
Which of course does not mean that all individuals or
institutions are expected to function in all 11, or that everyone
there can see that English currently opens more doors than
others. Language policy therefore reflects a both/and philosophy
rather than an either/or, as does bilingual education worldwide.
Many of the questions raised by contributors so far are matters
on which there is an extensive literature, for example
encyclopedias of bilingualism, books on the sociology of
language, sociolinguistics of various sorts, language planning,
ethnicity and language, language and power, discourse analysis -
the list of academic specialisations is substantial. I am not
trying to convert this forum into an academic one, but merely to
point out that the questions have been of concern for decades.
Thus the point about bilingual brains is that those who grow up
with two ways of seeing, understanding and influencing the world,
and of formulating themselves, are more cognitively and
culturally flexible, they have the benefits of divergent
thinking, they are more likely to be cross-culturally sensitive.
Elite bilingualism has reflected this for millenia, and still
does. Much of the debate about multilingualism is snarled up by
prejudices about specific languages, and their supposed
limitations, which result in hierachisation which is intended to
keep some people at the bottom of the social pile.
Calvet is right therefore (salut, Louis-Jean, on se verra a Tokyo
le mois d'octobre, je suis tres heureux pour que tu as propose ma
participation au colloque; end of personal intervention, which
suffers from the fact that the e-mail discriminates against the
accents of French and other languages) when he talks about the
colonised learning the language of the coloniser. Yes, but if
like Caliban in Shakespeare's "The Tempest", you learn the
dominant language in order to curse, that does not change power
Interaction between specialists who plead the cause of
multilingualism/bilingualism and the general public is a fraught
issue, which the Californian vote on Proposition 227 shows
clearly. Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean-American writer, recently
published a wonderful book, "Heading South, looking North: a
bilingual journey" (Penguin, 1998), which is a "New York Times
Notable Book". But when he wrote a short article in the New York
Times entitled "If only we could all speak two languages", he was
at the receiving end of a torrent of denunciation and hate mail.
Evidently to suggest that Americans might benefit by being
bilingual (which, of course, is what millions of minority
language speakers have been throughout the history of the US) is
un-American and can justify a McCarthyite response. Plus ca
Yes, language matters raise powerful emotions. Meaning that
language loyalty can be used or misused by public figures,
demagogues of all kinds, just as religion and other marks of
The relationship between linguistic diversity and other types of
diversity, biological, cultuyral and spiritual, is of concern to
the organization Terralingua, and I recommend its web page:
It is probably invidious to select a few titles, but among the
most relevant in relation to the discussion so far are
Bailey, Richard W. 1991 Images of English: A cultural history
of the language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Muehlh,usler, Peter 1996 Linguistic ecology. Language change
and linguistic imperialism in the Pacific region, Routledge,
NgTaugTau wa Thiong'o 1993 Moving the centre. The struggle for
cultural freedoms, London: James Currey, and Portsmouth, NH:
Pennycook, Alastair 1994 The cultural politics of English as
an international language, Harlow: Longman.
Phillipson, Robert 1992 Linguistic imperialism, Oxford :
Oxford University Press.
LANGTAG Report 1996. Towards a national language plan for
South Africa. Final Report of the Language Plan Task Group
(LANGTAG) , presented to the Minister of Arts, Culture, Science
and Technology, 8 August 1995 (chair Neville Alexander).
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove (ed.) 1995 Multilingualism for all,
Lisse: Swets & Zeitlinger.
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove & Robert Phillipson (eds.) 1994
Linguistic human rights: Overcoming linguistic discrimination,
Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter
and for those interested in the European scene, and who feel
distressed, provoked, challenged, pissed off or whatever by a
slogan in any connecting monolingualism with stupidity (which no-
one has ever suggested a causal link between) prescribed reading
"Einsprachigkeit ist heilbar, Monolingualism is curable, Le
monolinguisme est curable", thematic issue of "Sociolinguistica,
International Yarbook of European Sociolinguistics", Tubingen:
Niemeyer, ed. Ulrich Ammon, Klaus Mattheier & Peter Nelde, 1997.
Auf wiederlesen, see you, a la prochaine, ha det godt (yes,
Danish obviously belongs too)
Department of Languages and Culture
University of Roskilde