My Mother Tongue and Me: Staying Unapologetically Foreign in the Land I Proudly Call Home

21 February 2017

In celebration of International Mother Language Day, we’re delighted to share this post written by Tommi’s mum, Marjukka, about what her mother language, Finnish, means to her.

The best description I have heard of mother-tongue was made by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, when she described it as being like skin. The second language, by contrast, is like a pair of jeans, which fits well and feels comfortable but will never replace the skin.

Marjukka rowing on Enäjärvi

Marjukka rowing on Enäjärvi

My mother-tongue, Finnish, is the language of my identity, and the language of my deep feelings. Through it I can describe my joys and sorrows, anger and delight much better than I could in any other language. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, nothing releases the pain better than “voi perkele” (devil) and when I get Sudoku numbers wrong, the frustration is vented with “voi paska” (oh shit). Just recently I remembered a word “hämäränhyssy” – the twilight time when my parents would sit silently in semi darkness just relaxing and waiting for the evening to come. Even now, at the age of 67, the word brings to my mind a beautiful sense of peace and harmony.

Marjukka with Tommi and Sami

Marjukka with Tommi and Sami

So how could I have ever spoken soft, caressing, loving words of baby talk to my two sons in English, since I hadn’t heard them from my mother and father? My language to my children had to be Finnish! And it still is. The best thing, however, is that it can now be Finnish, English or Finglish – since some things are easier described in the language they occur.

I have a strong Finnish identity, despite having happily lived in beautiful Great Britain for over 45 years. My accent reveals me to be a Finn even if I say just “yes”. Could it be that I want to be noticed as a Finn? My parents raised me with a love of the language: the happy memories of my father reading Moomin adventures, or my mother chatting and laughing with her numerous sisters. As a teenager, the romantic words of the Finnish melancholy tango songs moved me to tears. And there are so many words which just can’t be translated into English. Just like there are words in English which are hard to translate into Finnish.

So my mother tongue is my identity, my soul, and my tool. English is my very useful second tool, and I am very grateful I have learned to use that tool well, but it will never be my soul or my identity.

Marjukka Grover


Language Policy and Mother Tongue Debate in Iran

17 August 2016

This month we are publishing Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education? by Amir Kalan which explores multilingual education in Iran through a series of conversations with leading multilingualism scholars. In this post, Amir explains why the language situation in Iran is so unique.

Who’s Afraid of Multilingual Education?More than 70 languages are spoken in today’s Iran, yet by law all school textbooks are written in Farsi (Persian). Farsi is also the only language of instruction throughout the country, even in non-Persian areas with vibrant linguistic lives and solid cultural identities. My new book, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education?, tries to discover how ideological discourses in Iran have allowed the dominance of monolingual schools despite empirical evidence that advocates otherwise. The book examines arguments that doubt the effectiveness of mother tongue-based multilingual education in Iran and, through conversations with four respected international scholars, it compares the Iranian situation with global experiences with challenges of establishing multilingual educational systems that regard students’ plurilingualism as a valuable resource rather than an obstacle.

A focus on multilingualism in the Iranian context is worthwhile due to a number of reasons. Despite the current official systematic resistance against the demands of Iranian ethnic minorities for classroom instruction in students’ mother tongues (which has left Iran well behind India and even China, Iran’s civilizational cousins) Iran has a long history of multiculturalism and multilingualism. Diversity has always been an integral part of social life in the Iranian Plateau since the very beginnings of the formation of greater Iran (through Iranian empires) up to the contemporary Iranian society. On the other hand, minoritized Iranian populations – to the best of our knowledge – have not experienced the violence similar to what has been imposed on minority cultures in the West through colonialism and imperialism, such as attempts to eradicate aboriginal cultures and racial segregation in education systems. Up until the early 20th century, when the Iranian government of the time imported Western educational models along with European nation state ideologies, Iranian languages organically mingled and interacted in learning centers as well as everyday social interactions. Who is Afraid of Multilingual  Education? asks what discourses advocating mother tongue-based multilingual educational have rendered a heresy over the past 100 years in Iran despite the multilingual fabric of the country. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Jim Cummins, Ajit Mohanty and Stephen Bahry critique these discourses in the book drawing upon examples of the experiences of minoritized students in different parts of the world.

The arguments against mother tongue-based multilingual education discussed in this book include nationalistic one-language-one-nation discourses that deem the dominance of a single language a necessary factor in creating a national identity; political visions that advocate that imposing one single language on minorities would empower them by providing them the ability to communicate and to trade their skills and products in larger markets and thus “succeed” in life; linguistic theories that attempt to prove some languages are naturally wired to be superior to other languages and thus are to be shared by all the members of society regardless of their linguistic backgrounds; economic speculations proposing that mother tongue-based multilingual education is an appealing and perhaps moral idea but too expensive to put into practice; and finally, post-colonial and anti-imperial anxieties that help the state treat legitimate demands for receiving education in the medium of students’ mother tongues as separatist desires.

Unfortunately, empirical evidence supporting the benefits of multilingual education for students and society at large is often comfortably ignored by politicians and mainstream media. Traditional academic publications also often fail to find their way out of closed professional circles and remain unread by the public, typically fed by more popular but less accurate forms of dissemination such as TV shows and mainstream news websites. As a result, Who is Afraid of Multilingual Education? reviews the issues that the international language research community has struggled with in a more accessible interview format. Hopefully, the inter­views offered in this book and the analyses that follow them can open new horizons in the mother tongue debate in Iran, establish better communication between Iranian and international educators, and contribute to the ongoing conversation about multilingualism in the inter­national research community.

LDLR covers 2016For further information about this book please see our website. For other books in our Linguistic Diversity and Language Rights series take a look at the series page on our website.


Our latest books on Indigenous Education

4 February 2014

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.


Language Research from the Nordic Region

27 November 2012

We publish books based on research from all over the world, from Australia to Estonia, Mozambique to Canada but recently we have published several books stemming from studies from the Nordic region. This month we’ve published Literacy Practices in Transition: Perspectives from the Nordic Countries edited by Anne Pitkänen-Huhta and Lars Holm. This book brings together Nordic researchers working on different aspects of literacy, multilingualism and the changing living and learning environments, and initiates and promotes critical research on literacy practices in the Nordic countries. The book challenges the current practice of standardising language and literacy education and calls for the development of language and literacy policies to be tailored to the needs of the individuals involved. Leena Helavaara Robertson of Middlesex University, UK calls the book “an essential read” and “an innovative book.” The book is being launched next week at the University of Jyväskylä.

Revitalising Indigenous LanguagesIn February 2013 we are also publishing Revitalising Indigenous Languages: How to Recreate a Lost Generation by Marja-Liisa Olthuis, Suvi Kivelä and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas. This volume explores the Indigenous Aanaar Saami language (which has around 350 speakers) and cultural revitalisation in Finland. The book gives practical examples and a theoretical frame of reference for how to plan, organise and implement an intensive language programme. It is due to be published to coincide with the Sami National Day on 6th February 2013.

In the past few years we have also published the following books related to the Nordic region:

You can find further details about all these titles on our website or email us at: info@multilingual-matters.com.


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