Language and identity are closely interwoven: this collection of essays examines their relationship in a multicultural Europe and beyond and explores various ways in which language is used to forge class, regional and national identity. The question of multiple identity and the role of English are also considered.
About the Author
Paul Gubbins, a former journalist, teaches German at the University of Salford. His research interests include language planning and policy and the international language Esperanto.
Mike Holt is a lecturer in Arabic at the University of Salford. He has published work on Arabic linguistics and language and geopolitics.
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Language, Nationalism and Globalism: Educational Consequences of Changing Patterns of Language Use
The following views stem in particular from the book Language and Nationalism in Europe, edited jointly with Cathie Carmichael (Barbour and Carmichael, 2000), in which the editors and the other contributors examine the interrelations between language and nationalism in the various states of Europe. The book starts, in a sense, from a nationalist perspective, not because we are nationalists, but because this perspective forms a useful point of departure. A nationalist perspective tends to assume that every individual can be unambiguously classified as belonging to a particular nation, that every nation has a relatively easily definable territory, and that every nation could, in its territory, constitute a sovereign independent nation-state, although not all do at any given time. Frequently in Europe, though very much less frequently elsewhere, the nationalist perspective assumes that each nation has a clearly distinct national language, peculiar to that nation. I hardly need to say that this perspective is based to a great extent on illusion. We found it a useful starting point, however, since it enabled us to highlight the political problems which arise in the many cases where such nationalist discourse clashes with reality.
To make my own position clear, I regard nationalism as highly problematic, since its inherent classification and division of human beings harbours great potential for injustice and conflict. The book, and this chapter, focus on Europe not because we are intentionally eurocentric in our perspective but simply because it is particularly in Europe that language is so closely bound up with nationalism.
The data that we accumulated on the highly varied interrelations between language and nationalism will, I hope, prove useful for stimulating further research; we have so far been able to describe more or less how academics, politicians and journalists see the place of language in the self-image of the various nations, and we now need to investigate to what extent other sections in society share their vision. There is great scope for further research, and this chapter is intended more as a signpost to future research than as a report on work completed.
Many politicians and journalists adopt a generally nationalistic public discourse, not necessarily because this reflects their personal beliefs but perhaps more because they believe this is what the public wants to hear. Furthermore, with respect to language, most states operate generally nationalistic language policies, but with enormous variation across the continent. An important outcome of such policies is the weakening of minority languages. This can arise from many types of action, ranging from the physical removal of their speakers (for example in the many episodes of ethnic cleansing in European history) to benign neglect, as in the case of Channel-Islands French. Something highlighted by our research is the importance of the attitudes of the speakers of the minority language themselves, which range from the great insistence on using the language found among speakers of Catalan, to the sentimental attachment to Irish in Ireland which is often not matched by a desire to speak it. Striking is the frequency with which the very conceptualisation of a particular language may relate to the strength of national feeling in the group in question. Speakers of Catalan, although it is linguistically close to Castilian, have a clear conception of a distinct Catalan language while speakers of Breton, utterly distinct from French, identify much more strongly with local dialects than with a Breton language, in the absence of strong Breton nationalism (Mari Jones, personal communication). There is great scope here for further research into the highly varying levels of language loyalty not only among minorities but also among speakers of majority languages
Another deleterious effect of nationalistic policies on language use is monolingualism. Monolingualism means the ability to operate effectively only in one language. It represents a considerable handicap but probably only affects a minority of the world's population, chiefly in Europe and the Americas. In contrast, bilinguals and multilinguals operate effectively in more than one language and, moreover, may find it a great deal easier to acquire further languages; however, in both monolinguals and multilinguals there is great individual variation in language-learning proficiency. Monolingualism arises chiefly in centralised nation-states whose promotion of the national language leads them to prevent those most readily able to learn languages – young children – from being exposed to any language other than the national one. Exposure to other languages will then be too little and too late. In such states there can even arise the quite counter-factual belief that multilingualism is abnormal and problematic (for some more refined argument on the issues, see Edwards, 1994: 55–88).
Language and Globalism
Nationalism is an important motivator for many groups and individuals but also important, alongside self-interest or the interests of kin and neighbours, is globalism. Many people are motivated at least some of the time by the interests of the species or even the planet. Although I use here 'international' and 'global' and their derivatives interchangeably, I would prefer to use 'global' and its derivatives throughout, since 'international' implies that people can act only on a global level through the intermediary of the nation, which need not be so. I have, however, felt obliged to avoid some (potential) derivatives of 'global', such as 'globalist', which are not current English usage.
A global perspective recognises the need for an international language. The response to this need on the part of many internationalists is to use English, a most important point considered below. A global perspective poses little real threat to national languages or indeed minority languages; globalism seems able to co-exist with linguistic and cultural pluralism. The international language, be it English or the earlier international language French (which still to an extent retains this role), tends to influence other languages, but not generally replace them in all spheres of life. While internationalists may switch to an international language for aspects of work, they show little sign of doing so for leisure activities and in the family. In contrast, while nationalists often succeeded in persuading speakers of minority languages that their language represented backwardness or disloyalty, no similar campaigns are mounted on behalf of international languages. The reasons for this differing progress of national and international languages are fascinating and profound (see Edwards, 1985).
The consequences of espousing both internationalist and nationalist perspectives can impinge on many aspects of personal and professional life, for instance the professional activity in which many academics are engaged, namely language teaching.
There is a widespread perception of crisis in the teaching of languages other than English in Britain. This can be summed up in the statement: 'There are too few students taking languages beyond a very elementary level' (see Boaks, 1998). Many reasons for this are suggested. As a teacher of German I often hear the argument: 'We have too few students of German because of the entrenched position of French'. This misses the point; there are too few students of every other language simply because of the position of English. I am astonished how rarely this argument is put (it is not prominent, for example, in Moys, 1998) because, in my view, it is patently obvious. One reason this argument is not debated is that, at least in our capacity as language teachers, we sometimes engage in a nationalist discourse. We speak as if English was 'our' language, and bemoan the fact that 'they' can all speak our language, but we cannot speak their languages. We also convey the impression that other countries are, like Britain, publicly monolingual; we tend to imply, for example, that to function in Germany you have to know German. Sadly this often fails to convince students, since the Germans they meet (incidentally not a social cross-section – a point further discussed below) can often communicate reasonably well in English.
We may then try to tell students they require other languages for the sound educational reason that they need to understand other cultures. This may also be unconvincing. Many students know they can encounter cultural variety in all major cities through the medium of English; they might also notice that for instance Paris or Frankfurt are also multicultural and that cultural differences between some European groups, such as (traditionally) Protestant North Germans and (traditionally) Protestant white English people are not great. In other words we imply a close one-to-one relationship between languages, cultures, nations and states which is, quite simply, counterfactual. Incidentally, if we were really serious about languages for multicultural education we might be teaching Yoruba, Arabic or Punjabi.
If English is the global language, why are other languages needed? Firstly, educational reasons. While learning other languages may not be a prerequisite for encountering other cultures, it is often indispensable to a deep and detailed understanding of such cultures. Those who find at any stage of their lives that they wish to engage in such study are likely to find the language learning required much more difficult if they are strictly monolingual.
Languages are also important for understanding other societies, as distinct from other cultures. German, for example, while not clearly providing an insight into sharply different cultures, does enable us, if we study it to an adequate level, to gain knowledge of a different society. In German society the various social, ethnic and cultural groups may or may not resemble social, cultural and ethnic groups found in Britain (though some are strikingly similar), but what is different is the relationship between them. For example, class differences in the white indigenous German ethnic group are less significant than differences in the parallel group in Britain; education has a different place in society; political and economic systems are significantly different; minority ethnic groups are even more marginalised than they are in Britain, and so on.
Perhaps the most important educational reason for teaching other languages is to free students from the prison of monolingualism. If we take this seriously, then we have to make much more effort to introduce other languages to children at an earlier age. Attempts to do this so far have met with only limited success, for various avoidable reasons (see Boaks, 1998); the effort must be made again.
There are also utilitarian reasons for learning other languages. The view of English as the global language is over-stated. If we look just at the German language and Germany, it is indeed true that many German-speakers can communicate in English. Those who can, however, are more likely to be educated, younger westerners. To communicate with anyone who does not fulfil these criteria it is helpful to know German. It is also interesting to note that, partly for ideological reasons, younger, liberal Germans may over-state the global significance of English. I have personally witnessed Germans giving themselves unnecessary problems by trying to use English in Greece where, because of the large numbers of former 'guest workers' who have returned to Greece from Germany, in some circumstances German is better understood than English.
There are also functional reasons for learning other languages for business purposes. The reasons have been well rehearsed, for example by Nigel Reeves and others (see Liston and Reeves, 1985): the need to have a thorough understanding of the culture and society of the group in question; the public-relations value of meeting customers half way; the usefulness of being able to understand what partners or competitors are saying when they talk among themselves.
One of the most important instrumental reasons for speakers of English to learn other languages is to provide high-quality translators. It is axiomatic among many translators that the highest quality of translation is most likely to be achieved by those translating into their language of habitual use. It would be possible to rest the argument there but, if I did so, I would expose myself to challenge. Two of the arguments that could be used against me I will now outline and attempt to rebut.
On a practical level it could be objected that we will never have enough fluent English-speakers who can translate out of the languages that are hardly taught in English-speaking countries. This is a valid point, but it can nevertheless be argued that, with modern communications, it is not unrealistic to attempt to provide a speaker of any language with a course in any other language; it is possible to go at least some way towards meeting this challenge.
The second argument is more complex. It could be argued there is no problem in relying for translators on speakers of every other language who have learnt English. This argument actually arises from premises accepted in sociolinguistics and must be taken seriously. It runs thus:
Every language can potentially express any concept, every language is an equally valid system of communication.
Every social or geographical variety, any dialect of any language, can potentially express any concept. This includes L2 varieties, varieties used by those for whom English is clearly not a first language.
If therefore L2 varieties depart from standard English, as used by those who speak English as a first language, there can be no possible objection. They are valid varieties of English, with which – for instance – the middle-class white speaker of English born in England simply has to come to terms.
Nevertheless, coming to terms with such varieties of English can be problematic. It is encountered, for example, in certain academic journals published either wholly or partly in English but which are either edited in Germany (such as Sociolinguistica) or edited in Britain by non-linguists (such as German Politics). In such journals many German-speakers simply write in English, and this then seems not to be edited for English expression, resulting in frequent minor, sometimes major comprehension difficulties. The problem is most acute in humanities and social sciences; in the natural sciences much of the communication is in the form of mathematical expressions which are truly a uniform, global means of communication. Part of the problem, it can be assumed, arises from lack of linguistic awareness on the part of the authors. They may imagine that because they function well in spoken English, where reliance can also be placed on non-linguistic signals or where they can immediately seek explanation or clarification, that their use of the written language is equally efficient.
A different view of the problem could, however, come from sociolinguists concerned with Creole languages. I would not wish to push this argument too far since there are many important differences, but it is worth remembering that L2 varieties of English may, like Creole languages, exhibit strong substratum influence from other languages. Creole languages can be classified as languages distinct from English, from and into which translation takes place. The varieties of English used by L2 speakers could be treated similarly; as entirely valid means of communication but as perhaps inappropriate for written communication, in certain registers at least, with an audience of LI speakers or speakers of other L2 varieties. To assist L2 users of English with certain types of written English communication, we need to train considerable numbers of translators and editors who do not need, incidentally, to be LI speakers of English but who do need intensive exposure to LI varieties.
Excerpted from "Beyond Boundaries"
Copyright © 2002 Paul Gubbins, Mike Holt and the authors of individual chapters.
Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents
Introduction Mike Holt and Paul Gubbins, 1,
1 Language, Nationalism and Globalism: Educational Consequences of Changing Patterns of Language Use Stephen Barbour, 11,
2 Who We Are and Where We're Going: Language and Identities in the New Europe Jenny Cheshire, 19,
3 The Lexicon in European Languages Today: Unification or Diversification? Richard Trim, 35,
4 Lost in Translation: EU Language Policy in an Expanded Europe Paul Gubbins, 46,
5 Identity in Transition: Cultural Memory, Language and Symbolic Russianness Harald Haarmann, 59,
6 Transformation of the State in Western Europe: Regionalism in Catalonia and Northern Italy Brendan Murphy, Cristina Diaz-Varela and Salvatore Coluccello, 73,
7 Fixing National Borders: Language and Loyalty in Nice Sue Wright, 91,
8 The French Language, Universalism and Post-colonial Identity Mike Holt, 101,
9 'It's a Culture Thing': Children, Language and 'Boundary in the Bicultural Family Michael Anderson, 111,
10 Language Use and Identity Among African-Caribbean Young People in Sheffield Lerleen Willis, 126,
11 Punjabi/Urdu in Sheffield: Language Maintenance and Loss and Development of a Mixed Code Mike Reynolds, 145,