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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 39, September 18, 2010

Comprehensive Analysis of Applied Linguistics in Complex Multilingual Societies

Monday 20 September 2010, by Madhulika Sharma



Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local by A.K. Mohanty, M. Panda, R. Phillipson and T. Skutnabb-Kangas (eds.); Orient Blackswan Private Limited, New Delhi; 2009; pages 400.

One of the aspects of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is the preservation of linguistic heritage. Linguistic globalisation, which has given English a predominant position, can lead to the extinction of many indigenous languages. To preserve the linguistic human rights of several communities and to empower them to participate in the wider global set-up without replacing diversity with uniformity, there is a need to actualise the theory of multilingualism. Local experiences can also enrich the global knowledge pool. This is the crux of the book under review here.

Multilingual Education for Social Justice: Globalising the Local brings together nineteen papers that examine how the use of a multiplicity of languages in education can facilitate achieving greater social justice and help in cultural and socio-economic development of indigenous people. The book is divided into six parts, commencing with an introduction about the current gaps in multilingual education (MLE). It is the view of this writer that MLE can serve as a foundation for strengthening the bridge between home and school and languages and cultures. The second part cautions in particular about an immature application of MLE models. Jim Cummins in “Fundamental Psycholinguistic and Sociological Principles underlying Educational Success for Linguistic Minority Students” elaborates the psycholinguistic and sociological principles underlying minority students’ academic development. He suggests a pedagogical framework for promoting academic development in multilingual contexts and also offers four interrelated dimensions of instruction. The specific programme models adopted in imparting bilingual education to the tribal people in India depends on various factors like availability of teachers and textbooks in different languages and community beliefs and aspirations.

Tove Skutnabb-Kangas in “MLE for Global Justice: Issues, Approaches, Opportunities” critically examines the homogenising effect of globalisation and emphasises the need to conserve all the world’s languages as linguistic diversity and biodiversity are correlated and mutually supportive of each other. She describes three approaches to education that curtail linguistic and cultural diversity. Subtractive education through the medium of a dominant language can, in her view, lead to linguistic and cultural genocide. Carol Benson in “Designing Effective Schooling in Multilingual Contexts: Going beyond Bilingual Models” analyses the early models of bilingual education and the problems in their application in policy and practice in the international set-up. She examines the effectiveness of basic models of the North in the multilingual contexts of the South in terms of the use and abuse of most common forms of bilingual education progr-ammes—submersion, transitional, maintenance, immersion and dual medium and proposes an alternative approach to bilingual or multilingual programme design, focusing on language acquisition and learning principles which would help establish the most practical means to fulfil the educational goals in the context of existing resources.

The global and local tensions and promises in MLE are investigated in the third part. Robert Phillipson in “The Tension between Linguistic Diversity and Dominant English” presents the discourse of English from the “language of colonisation to neo-imperialism”. The rapid process of economic, political, military and cultural integration in Europe and establishment of English as a dominant language has taken place simultaneously. To counteract the dominance of English the EU Commission has put forward a Framework Strategy for Multilingualism (2005). Labelling English just as lingua franca is in the author’s view misleading because it also plays the role of lingua frankenstienia. Kathleen Heugh in “Literacy and Bi/Multilingual Education in Africa: Recovering Collective Memory and Expertise” makes a comparative analysis of language policy and education in different African nations. She states that the current discussion on language-in-education issues in Africa reveals that the use of African languages as primary medium of instruction is almost obsolete in the contemporary system. The language learning programmes and materials that originate from English-dominant contexts cannot be applied successfully in Africa. The empirical data show that even in economically poor countries like Ethiopia long-term mother-tongue medium programmes can be realised.

Teresa L. McCarty in “Empowering Indigenous Languages: What can be Learned from Native American Experiences?” shares some of her Native American education experiences about empowering indigenous mother-tongues. The empowerment generated by the bilingual, bicultural and biliteracy programme carried out in Navajo shows that renewal of indigenous language and academic achievement are mutually congruent. Irrespective of the extent of transmission of native language, indigenous youth “inherently … value their heritage language”. This points to the importance of involving youth directly as planners and researchers to bring indigenous education from the margins to the centre. Ofelia Garcia in “Education, Multilingual and Translan-guaging in the 21st century” explores the relationship between MLE practices at the local and global levels and the fluid boundaries between languages in multilingual societies. She proposes two models of bilingualism – recursive and dynamic. She maintains that heteroglossic multiple multilingual education programmes have a long way to go officially.
“Privileging Indigenous Knowledges: Empowering MLE in Nepal”, which has been co-authored by David A. Hough, Ram Bahadur Thapa Magar and Amrit Yonjan-tamang, describes a “bottom-up community based approach” to empower MLE in Nepal. The authors provide different generic themes to encourage local development of critical indigenous pedagogies like herbal medicines and healing practices; traditional and modern knowledge and skills; history, numeric systems, weights, measures, religion, festivals, literature etc. and suggest that these traditionally grounded pedagogies can transcend the negative contradictions of globalisation and development. Shelly K. Taylor in “The Caste System Approach to Multi-lingualism in Canada: Linguistic and cultural Minority Children in French Immersion” examines the educational experiences of multilingual immigrants and First Nations students in early French immersion programmes in Ontario. She suggests that caste-like approach to multi-lingualism and views of minority population may be responsible for the dearth of linguistic and cultural minority students in the French immersion settings.

The fourth part highlights MLE practices in diverse settings of Peru, Canada and Nordic countries. Susanne Jacobsen Perez, who was in an in-service teacher training programme for indigenous bilingual teachers in Quechua-bilingual areas, in “The Contribution of Postcolonial Theory to Intercultural Bilingual Education in Peru: An Indigenous Teacher Training Programme” examines the history of intercultural bilingual education (IBE) in Peru, which is a multilingual and multicultural country, and how IBE programme is designed to maintain the indigenous languages. She maintains that in order to guarantee long-term regional solutions or to influence state education policies, political advocacy can serve as an important tool for all IBE agents. Andrea Bear Nicholas in “Reversing Language Shift through a Native Language Immersion Teacher-Training Programme in Canada” critically analyses the irregularities and contradictions of the Canadian language policy. The university-based Immersion Teacher-Training Programme was successful in its language revitalisation efforts in different communities, especially Maliseet and Mi’kmaq. This was the sole university-based programme in North America on different indigenous languages, and brought into focus the challenges faced by the programme like lack of support by the Department of Indian Affairs, community disinterest or opposition, lack of funding and curriculum material and the rapid ageing and declining number of fluent speakers of the native languages. Reflection is offered on the solution of these problems for linguistic survival throughout the world. Ulla Aikio-Puoskari in “The Ethnic Revival, Language and Education of the Sami, an Indigenous people, in Three Nordic Countries (Finland, Norway and Sweden)” examines the nature of Sami education and role of Sami language and culture in education in Finland, Norway and Sweden. Discussing the consequences of cultural and linguistic assimilation on Sami language and education, the author maintains that the challenges and worries faced by the indigenous people regarding their native identity are universal and the first step towards remedying this worry is to have suitably different teaching programmes.

PART V of the book focuses on the diverse nature of MLE in the South Asian tribal experiences in terms of theory and practice. “All Nepalese children have the right to education in their mother-tongue—but how? The Nepal MLE Programme”, co-authored by Amrit Yonjan-Tamang, David A. Hough and Iina Nurmela, notes that the Nepal MLE Programme, involving six language communities, aims that by 2015 all non-Nepali speaking primary school students will be able to study in their mother tongue. This programme embraces various innovative features such as focus on most endangered and marginalised communities in extreme poverty, community participation, flexible localised curricula and use of material based on indigenous knowledge system and oral traditions. Dhir Jhingran tries to answer questions regarding language-in-education policies in the context of linguistic and ethnic diversity in “Hundreds of Home Languages in the country and many in most classrooms: Coping with Diversity in Primary Education in India”. He evaluates the varied language situations in Indian classrooms and the disadvantages faced by different groups of students facing moderate to severe learning disadvantage. The negative impact of excluding indigenous languages as a mode of instruction in classrooms is cause for concern but there have been some initiatives by the government at the national and State levels and some NGOs have come forward to implement small MLE programmes.

Rama Kant Agnihotri in “Multilinguality and a New World Order” urges for the conceptualisation of a new world order by forming an alternative view of language and multilinguality in both theory and practice. He stresses the need for sociological treatment of language behaviour and its socio-political and pedagogical implications and highlights the active role of sociolinguistics in contemporary society. He questions the impression of “standard language”, the sacredness attached to language and script and other language stereotypes. In his view, even minor attention to multilinguality can lead to a more just and equitable social order. “Overcoming the Language Barrier of Tribal Children: MLE in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, India”, co-authored by Ajit K. Mohanty, Mahendra Kumar Mishra, N. Upendra Reddy and Ramesh Gumigyala, discusses the vicious circle caused by language disadvantage. This leads to educational and social neglect of indigenous or minority language, weakening these languages and justifying further neglect. This vicious circle and language barrier are linked to poor educational performance, capability deprivation and poverty of the tribal community. A possible solution is the positive example of multilingual education for tribal children in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

Part VI of the book analyses the prospects for MLE to increase social justice. Minati Panda and Ajit K. Mohanty in “Language Matters, so does Culture Beyond the Rhetoric of Culture in Multilingual Education” proposes a special intervention called MLE+ approach Both MLE and MLE+ programmes for tribal children in Orissa are discussed in the context of multilingual society and current language-in-education policies in India. Better transfer of learning and community empowerment can be achieved by cultural practices that become a classroom reality through certain pedagogical processes. The authors show how indigenous language as a medium of instruction leads tribal children towards scientific thinking and analysis. In the final chapter, “MLE Concepts, Goals, Needs and Expense: English for all or Achieving Justice?”, the authors Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Robert Phillipson, Minati Panda and Ajit K. Mohanty conclude that Education For All is a mantra, not a reality, and stress the need to clarify different concepts used in the area of bilingual education. The chapter also discusses some important issues pertaining to the Right to Education and Linguistic Human Rights.

The book offers a comprehensive and detailed analysis of applied linguistics in complex multilingual societies. The case studies from different continents and countries like the USA, Canada, Peru, Nepal, Africa, India, and Europe give it universal appeal. It successfully seeks to relate theories and practices in the field of multilingual education to ensure harmonious development of indigenous people globally. The authors have done a commendable job of enlightening the readers on the significance and modalities of bilingual education to serve as a facilitator in developing models for complex multilingual environments.

Madhulika Sharma is a Junior Research Fellow at the Department of Education and Community Service, Punjabi University, Patiala. She can be contacted at:

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