While many of us only speak one language fluently, for others, multilingualism is a way of life. In their recent volume, Challenging the Monolingual Mindset, John Hajek and Yvette Slaughter examine the linguistic diversity in a range of several different communities around the world. Here, they discuss the background to the book and why multilingualism and other language issues are complex matters.
The idea that having one and only one language is normal is a persistent but mistaken one, particularly in the English-speaking world. Also known as the monolingual mindset, its impact can be felt in many different ways. It discourages, for instance, L1 English second language learners, because English is too easily considered to be more than sufficient. And it is prone to making multilingualism less worthy, if not invisible, when having more than one language is the reality for most of the world’s population.
This volume is dedicated to the memory of Michael Clyne, sociolinguist of international stature, who worked tirelessly during his life to challenging the monolingual mindset in Australia and elsewhere. He did so through his research, teaching and public minded outreach. In this volume his former colleagues and students in Melbourne – where he lived his life – have come together to share their expertise across a wide range of topics – to highlight the importance of language issues in everyday life – whether it’s in Australia’s schools or military, in the shopping arcades of Stockholm or on the streets of Switzerland or Singapore.
When the Swedish crown prince Daniel said, on the birth of his daughter, ‘Mina känslor är lite are all over the place…..’ [My feelings are a little bit all over the place], we see that using two languages – Swedish and English as it turns out in Sweden – is completely normal. It’s an indication, as Catrin Norrby shows in her contribution to this volume that Prince Daniel is, despite his regal status, just an ordinary citizen of Sweden.
Language issues and multilingualism are complex matters – as this volume highlights as it casts its light on Australia, Asia and Europe – across a wide range of settings. To support multilingualism we need to describe it and understand it.
Readers will undoubtedly enjoy the volume – each chapter is a good read in itself and a useful piece in the puzzle of how to bring language-related issues in modern society to the fore.