March 2002 — Volume 5, Number 4
Language Policies In Education: Critical Issues
James W. Tollefson (Editor) (2002).
Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xii + 350
ISBN 0-8058-3601-2 (paper)
US $34.50 (Also available in cloth US $89.95)
The specialized study of language policies and planning as a part of sociolinguistics is still relatively new, having originated in the 1960′s. This new collection of essays, edited by James Tollefson of the University of Washington, explores the various roles language policies play in education around the world. The topic of language policies is controversial and public discussions about it have been frequently contentious, since, as Alaistair Pennycook says in one of the book’s essays, language policies ultimately involve complex and deep relationships between “cultural politics, curriculum, education practice and the modes of surveillance of the liberal state” (p. 108). Language Policies in Education consists of 16 articles by linguists, and looks at six key issues.
These issues concern the following questions: “(1). What are the major forces affecting language policies in education and how do these forces constrain policies and the public discussion of policy alternatives? (2). How do state authorities use educational language policies to manage access to language rights and language education?…(3). How do state authorities use language policy for the purposes of political and cultural governance? (4). How do language policies in education help to create, sustain, or reduce political conflict among different ethnolinguistic groups? (5). How are local policies and programs in language education affected by global processes such as colonization, decolonization, the spread of English, and the growth of the integrated capitalist economy? (6). How can indigenous peoples and other language minorities develop educational policies and programs that serve their social and linguistic needs, in the face of significant pressures exerted by more powerful social and enthnolinguistic groups?” (p. 13 -14).
Part one consists of papers by Tollefson and Mary McGroatry giving overviews of the field of educational language policy. The second part, ‘Competing Agendas,’ has works by Terrence. G. Wiley on language rights in the U.S. and Barbara Burnaby on language policies in Canada. Part three. ‘Language Policy and Governance,’ examines the issue of how state authorities employ language policies to govern both culturally and politically. It has articles by Alastair Pennycook on British colonial language policies in Hong Kong, ESL language policymaking in Australia by Helen Moore, and a discussion by Thomas Donahue of the official English language movement that was very popular in Arizona in the 1980′s. [-1-]
The next section, ‘Managing Language Conflict,’ attempts to analyze the language policies of two countries, India and Yugoslavia, which have very diverse ethnolinguistic communities, and the ways in which these policies have influenced political conflicts. The essay on India, ‘Minority Language Politics in North India,’ is by Selma Sonntag, and James Tollefson’s topical essay on Yugoslavia is graphically titled ‘Language Rights and the Destruction of Yugoslavia.’ Part 5, ‘Language and Global Relations,’ has four articles that study how language policies and programs are influenced by globalization, the spread of English, and colonialism. Florian Coulmas writes about language policy in Japanese education, Sue Wright on the close connection between foreign relations and language education in Vietnam, Sook Kyung Jung and Bonny Norton delve into language planning in South Korea, and Alamin Mazuri looks at the effect of colonization on English education in Africa.
The final section, ‘Critical Pedagogy and Social Changes,’ examines how language minorities create educational programs to meet the pressures from larger and stronger linguistic groups. Teresa McCarthy analyzes this issue as it relates to the United States, and David Welchman Gegeo and Kare Ann Watson-Gegeo approach it from the perspective of language education in the Solomon islands. The final essay by Tollefson summarizes the main themes of the book..
For reasons of space, I will briefly only look at the four articles in the book dealing with the subject of language education issues in Asia. Alaistair Pennycook’s ‘Language Policy and Docile Bodies: Hong Kong and Governmentality,’ is an effort to give a Foucaultian interpretation of how colonial language policy in Hong Kong “was linked to a discursive construct of Hong Kong Chinese as politically passive (as docile political bodies), and simultaneously part of an attempt to bring about such docility through conservative educational curriculum (as docile cultural bodies)” (p. 91). Pennycook’s thesis is that language policy is a core part “of cultural governance that both reflects and produces constructions of the Other” (p. 91).
Relying upon sources written by British ‘old Asian hands’, educators, and politicians, in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as insights he has presented in his recent book, English and the Discourse of Colonialism, Pennycook clearly shows that colonial language policies were not only the initial stages of linguistic imperialism, but also ironically directly connected to “Orientalist views on the need to preserve colonized cultures in a pristine state of precolonial innocence, as well as to local conditions of control. Education was seen as a crucial means for more effective governance of the people, and language policy was one mechanism for effectively providing such education” (94).
Pennycook also examines the concept of cultural fixity, how common Europeans images of the Chinese as ‘docile minds’ and ‘passive Orientals’ developed, and the role that opium and trade had in the formulation of Hong Kong colonial language policy.
Florian Coumas’s essay, ‘Language Policy in Modern Japanese Education,’ is a cogent, well researched account of how modernization and the emergence of a highly centralized modern state in Japan during the Meji era contributed to the development of a national language policy which, in turn, directly helped to shape Japan’s ethno-national identity. One of the surprising points that Coulmas raises is that while Japan has always been quite strong in ethnolinguistic homogenity, the notion of the country having a national spoken language is quite new. She shows that from the start of the Meji period, language planning was very high on the list of changes that were being pushed by moderate reformers. Heated debates revolved around topics like the simplification of Japan’s very complex and numerous spoken and written styles, whether the use of Chinese characters should be scrapped or greatly simplified, how the spoken and written language could be unified, and which spoken version of Japanese should be the model for the new colloquial written style (Tokyo’s became the choice). [-2-]
Interestingly, Coulmas writes that the problems associated with translating Western works into Japanese so that new ideas regarding modernization could be communicated to the public were so difficult that they “gave rise to a sense of language crisis so acute that even the adoption of a Western language instead of Japanese was seriously discussed” (p. 206). Coulmas also discusses how the compulsory educational system quickly spread the use of kokugo, the preferred language, both in Japan and countries like Taiwan and Korea (during the time they both were colonies of Japan). She concludes by examining the post war writing reforms and the current situation regarding Japanese language policy, where because of the forces of globalization and the number of foreigners in the country, the idea of the “unity of nation, state, and language” (p. 220), is now coming into question.
Sook Kyung Jung’s and Bonny Norton’s essay, ‘Language Planning in Korea: The New Elementary English Program, is about the recent attempts by the South Korea government to improve English education. Specifically, they look at a new elementary school English program that has been introduced which places a higher stress on the learning of English oral communication and starts the teaching of English at an earlier age than in the past. Jung and Norton use three schools in Seoul as case studies and investigates what the teachers think of the new program. Their conclusion is that while the program generally has had a beneficial and strong impact on the teaching of English and teacher training, there are also some potential problems associated with it. Among the teachers was a worry that “the elementary English program accelerates the dominance of English in Korea education, resulting in the neglect of other subjects¹.furthermore many teachers have expressed concern about students’ preference for English class, fearing that it undermines their commitment to the Korean language and culture practices” (p. 263). While Jung’s and Norton’s study is interesting and raises some important issues regarding language and identity, it is ultimately too limited. It would have been much more informative to also have had the student’s reaction to the program and perhaps an analysis of how the students are progressing in their English language learning as compared to students who were studying English before the program was implemented.
The final essay dealing with language policies in Asia is “Language Education and Foreign Relations in Vietnam,’ by Sue Wright. Wright’s purpose is to show how the country’s language education has been directly influenced by Vietnam’s tenuous relations with China, France, Russia, and the U.S. She readily concedes that foreign language learning has always mirrored the ongoing economic and political relationships that countries have with each other, but she also states that “the interesting aspect of the Vietnamese test case study is the abruptness of the changes and the very evident cause-effect relationships” (p. 243). Wright well supports why the problems facing language education in Vietnam should be viewed as a unique.
In conclusion, Language Policies In Education, is a timely, up to date compendium of essays dealing with the topic of language policies and planning in the world. One drawback though to the book is the lack of essays dealing with China, Russia, and Indonesia, countries with large populations which have in the past and right now are dealing with fascinating and important issues relating to educational language policy.
Beijing Language and Culture University, Beijing, China
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