A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education

John Petrovic is the author of A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in Education which we published this month. In this blog post, he tells us how he came to write the book.

A Post-Liberal Approach to Language Policy in EducationI have always had an interest in languages and language policy issues. As an undergraduate, I majored in International Relations and had minors in Spanish and Russian. The so-called “Great Communicator,” Ronald Reagan, never communicated with me about becoming Ambassador to Spain (my plan), so I pursued a Masters in Bilingual Education. Some years later, my doctoral dissertation was a liberal defense of bilingual education. A major influence was my study at the University of Barcelona during my undergraduate years. There, language policy issues were, and still are, front and center in national politics around official languages to the language of instruction in the university classroom. Inevitably, people proclaim their language rights at these levels and all levels in between and, I suppose, rightly so.

It is here that my two scholarly interests — language policy and liberal political theory — meet. Liberal political theory certainly provides us rights. But how can everyone enjoy language rights (at least in the way that I think a “right” should be understood)? As sympathetic to the work of Tove Skutnabb-Kangas as I have always been, this was still a question I struggled with for a number of years.

As my struggle continued, it only got worse when I began thinking about the debate around Ebonics (African American Vernacular) that had emerged in Oakland, California. If there is such a thing as language rights and language is what we speak, can’t the speakers of bad English (which is how critics and folk linguists refer to Ebonics) demand the same rights? My initial conclusion was “yes.” Certainly, liberalism requires this. Re-enter the annoying “but how” question. I had to back away from my initially adamant “yes.”

What I needed was greater clarity on language itself. I went back to de Saussure. Some clarity. Where it really hit me, however, was when I completed an edited volume — International Perspectives on Bilingual Education. In a chapter in this volume, Christopher Stroud revealed to me the way that liberalism shapes received understandings of language as a construct. With Aaron Kuntz, I worked through  — and, I hope, added to in some interesting way — Chris’ thinking. The resulting article published in Language Policy formed a major piece to the puzzle. I combined this with a couple of other pieces that I had laying around and a picture emerged.

This book is that picture. It represents my thinking on language policy in education, on language rights, on language and identity, and the role of liberal theory in these matters…for now. Yet I am under no delusion that it is not missing pieces or that I did not force some pieces together. Puzzles are frustrating like that.

For more information on this book please see our website.

Celebrating 10 years of our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series

In April 2004 we published the first book in our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights book series. Medium or Message? by Anya Woods was the first title in the series which is edited by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. The volume examined the relationship between language and religion within multicultural societies.

Ten years later we have ten books in the series, the most recent being Revitalising Indigenous Languages by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. The book tells the story of the Indigenous Aanaar Saami language (around 350 speakers) and cultural revitalisation in Finland. Leanne Hinton, from the University of California at Berkeley, USA called the book “a must-read for all communities and their friends who are trying to revitalize their endangered languages.”

The series aims to promote and maintain linguistic diversity throughout the world and protect endangered minority languages. The books in the series can take a variety of approaches, drawing on sociolinguistics, education, sociology, economics, human rights law, political science, as well as anthropology, psychology, and applied language studies.

The series editor Tove Skutnabb-Kangas is a renowned scholar in the field of minority education and language rights. You can find more information about her and her work on her website.

The full list of books in the series is:
Medium or Message? by Anya Woods
Imagining Multilingual Schools edited by Ofelia García, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and María E. Torres-Guzmán
Minority Languages and Cultural Diversity in Europe by Konstanze Glaser
Global Issues in Language, Education and Development by Naz Rassool
Regional Nationalism in Spain by Jaine E. Beswick
Language Allegiances and Bilingualism in the US edited by M. Rafael Salaberry
Social Justice through Multilingual Education edited by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Robert Phillipson, Ajit K. Mohanty and Minati Panda
Illegitimate Practices by Jacqueline Widin
English Language as Hydra edited by Vaughan Rapatahana and Pauline Bunce
Revitalising Indigenous Languages by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas

 

LDLR covers

Our latest books on Indigenous Education

The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin AmericaLast month we published The Education of Indigenous Citizens in Latin America edited by Regina Cortina. This book examines the development of intercultural bilingual education throughout Latin America. It assesses the challenges of implementing this educational practice in places where Indigenous peoples have struggled to preserve their cultural practices in the face of colonialism and forced assimilation.

Judy Kalman from Centro de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados del IPN in Mexico City calls the book “A must-read for scholars, students, and others interested in issues of social justice.” The book features the voices of practitioners from the region, including Indigenous scholars, policy makers and educators.

A year ago we published Teresa L. McCarty’s book Language Planning and Policy in Native America which explored language education for the Indigenous people of Native America. The book examines similar themes to that of Cortina’s in that it looks at the imposition of colonial language policies which challenge community-driven efforts to revitalize threatened mother tongues.

Tiffany S. Lee from the University of New Mexico calls McCarty’s work “an insightful, thoroughly investigated, and critical examination of the complexities of Native American language rights and change.”

Youth Culture, Language Endangerment and Linguistic SurvivanceRevitalising Indigenous LanguagesIf you are interested in these topics you might also like some of our other titles such as Youth Culture, Language Endangerment and Linguistic Survivance by Leisy Thornton Wyman and Revitalising Indigenous Languages by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas.

Introducing our new book series ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’

To tie in with the publication of the first books in our new series, the series editors Melissa Moyer (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) and Celia Roberts (King’s College  London) have written this post presenting the series.

We are very happy to introduce this new series on ‘Language, Mobility and Institutions’. The theme of this series and the manuscripts we seek to publish address a new sociolinguistic reality brought about by globalization. This worldwide social process challenges researchers dealing with language to adopt innovative perspectives in order to provide an improved understanding of how language is implicated in the various institutions of society. ‘Institutions’ in the title of the series is not just limited to established social, administrative, political or economic entities in the public, private or non-governmental sector but also to sites and contexts where institutionalized practices are produced and reproduced in the daily undertakings of people who move around the world.

Communicative Practices at Work

The first books in the new series are being published this autumn. We hope these will be the first of many which aim to link the experience of being mobile with the institutional responses to increasing diversity. Institutions, understood in a wide sense, are grappling with the conundrum of national or institutional ideologies which assume standardization or homogenous ways of thinking in situations of superdiversity. Meanwhile, migrants see their social and cultural capital leeching away or look for ways to resist and develop alternative strategies to gain agency and cope with inequality and social exclusion.

Sitting on the train in any major city in the world, it is commonplace to hear five or six different languages in a carriage. In everyday life multilingualism is a banal event. But how does this play out in institutions? Much of the time, it is swept under the carpet as a largely unrecognised and rarely remunerated workforce of multilingual people is expected to act as interpreters and translators. At the same time, linguistic gatekeepers are at work in selection panels, designing an oh-so-narrow gate for the few to pass through.

The present series seeks to bring forth the innovative ways people are pushing at these very gates which are being safeguarded by powerful institutions and how they are finding creative ways of contesting exclusionary practices by setting up their own businesses. Similarly, some organisations are championing communicative flexibility within their own workforces.

Language, Migration and Social Inequalities

And this is one of the themes of Jo Anne Kleifgen’s book which was published last week. Communicative Practices at Work is an ethnographic and sociolinguistic account of how one US firm is drawing on the multilingual and multimodal resources of its staff. In November Language, Migration and Social Inequalities edited by Alexandre Duchêne, Melissa Moyer and Celia Roberts takes a critical look at sites of control, selection and resistance across settings in Europe, Africa and Australia.

Both these books draw the reader into research sites quite far removed from the majority of books on sociolinguistics which tend to focus on language rights, education or local communities. With this new series, workplace settings such as high-tech factories, the marketplaces of South Africa or the world of the airline stewardess are explored. Similarly, light is shed on the backstage work of institutions where language use is negotiated as migrants’ lives are made bureaucratically processable.

We are finding the editorship of this series a pretty exciting experience since any one aspect of language, mobility and institutions is nested in wider contexts, discourses and interactions. Local and national politics, the forces of the neo-liberal economy, the multiple networks of migrant groups and the contact they maintain with their countries of origin and transit are all part of the tangled web which has language as its centre.

We welcome manuscripts or book projects that presents research that would contribute to the widely defined themes of the present series. If you think you have a proposal to make then do get in touch with Anna Roderick at Multilingual Matters and we will get back to you soon.

Celia and Melissa