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Policy in Conflict with Observable Reality.

We have seen that researchers tend to confuse language policies with multilingualism itself, and have often attempted to map both onto the same symbolic representation, with the result that neither the policy nor the facts of multilingualism emerge clearly. In particular we have seen that what is often missing is the distinction between `linguistic register(s)' (based on language use) and linguistic repertoire (based on the proficiencies of language users). And, as Fasold has pointed out, linguistic continua with variable or gradient functions are too often forced into discrete either-or cells.

While policy and sociolinguistic reality must be kept separate (since they do not represent the same thing) attempts to typologize language policy must reflect some of the same dimensions and factors used to symbolize users' competencies. The closer the representation of policy comes to the representation of users' competencies, and allowing for differing proficiency and gradient ranking of ability, as well as gradience in the expectations the policy makes of the citizenry, the better the `fit' of the policy to the linguistic reality, and the less tension there will be between the two.Singapore's bilingual education policy recognizes that different proficiencies in English and mother tongue are natural, and requires less bilingual proficiency from those who will leave school at an early age than those who take Cambridge A-level exams. That is, if users have diglossic or triglossic repertoires, a policy that takes these into account and legitimizes the status of these varieties will be more congruent with the reality than one that ignores these repertoires. As we have already noted, except for polities such as Luxembourg and Malta, few policies ever explicitly mirror the multiglossic reality; in particular, few policies ever take any cognizance of the existence of L-variety language, let alone establish guarantees of its domains and registers.In Singapore, e.g., there is little or no recognition of the proficiency that Singaporeans have in Chinese dialects (Hokkien, Hakka, Teochew, Cantonese), spoken Tamil, and other languages, despite the official use of exonormic Mandarin, RP English, Literary Tamil, and standard Bahasa Malayu. In fact the educational system sees these mother-tongues as a problem that needs to be eradicated, rather than a resource.

If one were to try to establish a typology of policies, one might begin with a catalogue of the types of `fit' or congruence (or lack of them) between the policy and the sociolinguistic reality. That is, a list might look like the following:

In terms of how these policies might be then symbolized, let us continue with the concentric-circle model, keeping policies distinct from realities. To represent language policy in India and how it lines up with the reality of the repertoires of many of its citizens, I propose the model shown in Fig. 2.6.

Figure: Language policy in India.

Fig. 2.6 shows a policy that makes no statements about domains of L-variety language; for the space occupied by H-variety Tamil in Fig. 2.4, this policy allows any language mentioned in Schedule (article) 8 of the Indian Constitution. In the outer ring the policy reserves most segments for Hindi, but allows temporary domains for English; in one case it reserves a domain for English (ultimate authority of English versions of laws). It takes no cognizance of the de facto control of higher education, medical/technical/scientific, and business domains by English. This policy also makes no mention of all the other linguistic varieties (languages, dialects, etc.) spoken natively by millions of Indian citizens that are not recognized by Schedule 8.For a summary of India's language policy as expressed in the 1950 Constitution, see Watts 1970:152-4. The Eighth Schedule (§§ 344(1) and 351) is the section that lists the legitimized languages, whose rights are mentioned elsewhere. A careful readings of these portions of the constitution reveals that although many clauses protect various languages and the rights of their speakers to promote their own languages, and prohibit restrictions on individual initiatives, very little is stated about domains that are reserved for languages, except to mention Hindi, or the right of a speaker to use hsr. language in certain situations. § 347, for example, allows for minority linguistic groups `with a substantial proportion of the population' that have a grievance in a particular State to petition the President, who, if satisfied that they have a grievance, may direct the State to recognize that language. What a `substantial proportion' is, is left up to the President to decide, as is the decision whether to issue orders to a State. And § 350A encourages every State to provide adequate facilities for instruction in the mother-tongue at the primary stage of education to children belonging to linguistic minority groups, and the President may issue instructions to any State that is not doing so; but nothing here is required or guaranteed. These varieties are in effect relegated to L-variety status, though as mentioned, this domain is not recognized as a legitimate one.It is no surprise that this policy is satisfactory only to Hindi speakers, and a source of disaffection for non-Hindi speakers.

Another situation, illustrated in Fig. 2.7, shows that lack of fit between Swiss language policy and sociolinguistic reality. In the Swiss Federal Constitution of 1874 (revised to 1953), § 116 specifies what languages are official and national:

German, French, Italian and Romanche are the national languages of Switzerland.

German, French and Italian shall be deemed the official languages of the Confederation (Hughes 1954:128).The German text is as follows:

Das Deutsche, Französische, Italienische und Rätoromanische sind die Nationalsprachen der Schweiz.

Als Amtssprachen des Bundes werden das Deutsche, Französische und Italienische erklärt.

This is the text of the constitution that refers to language, in its entirety. From this statement it is in fact difficult to make any kind of symbolization that recognizes either registers or repertoires, except to distinguish between `official' and `national', but I would propose either separate circles or one circle segmented into four, with the outer circle adjacent to Romansch left blank.In actuality, this blank is filled by `German', since that is the reality (though not the policy) in the Romansch-speaking areas.

Neither of these symbolizations reflects the reality of language use or of the repertoires of language users in Switzerland---it fails to recognize the extensive domains of Schwyzertüütsch and the very restricted domains of Schriftdeutsch among `German' Swiss; it overlooks the fact that Italian has few if any domains at the Federal level, and it ignores the extensive extended (Fishman 1967) diglossic relationship between Romansch and German (of various varieties). One must look to cantonal regulations (Falch 1973:37-40) to see what local conditions (policies) are imposed on language; this is in fact a problem in many federated polities---in India, in Switzerland, and in the former Soviet Union the federal policies are explicit to varying degrees, but what happens at local levels, e.g. in various States of India, Soviet Republics, or Swiss cantons often is (or was) severely at variance with federal stipulations. In India, for example, there are few guarantees of linguistic minority rights at the State level---in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, the rights of various linguistic minorities (e.g. Telugus in Tamil Nadu, Tamils and Marathis in Karnataka, and Gujaratis in Maharashtra) are rather tenuous, and groups that are quick to protest linguistic chauvinism at the federal level are themselves guilty of it at the state or local level. In Switzerland the territorial principle is guaranteed to the letter, so French-speakers in a German-Swiss canton have in fact no rights except to L-variety use chez soi.

Figure: Language policy in Switzerland.

Further examples of the disparity between policy and sociolinguistic reality could be adduced, but my point is not to catalogue all the major types, only to show the disparities. My proposal is to use a symbolization scheme that

  1. Recognizes the difference between register and repertoire (the former being the jurisdiction of policies, the latter representing the reality of use and users);

  2. Notes the centrality of L-variety domains as at the core of a user's reality, and as the first variety acquired;

  3. Recognizes the gradual acquisition of other varieties, usually segmented into repertoires appropriate for different registers, and recognizes that control of repertoires is gradient or variable along a continuum.

  4. Recognizes the reality that policies typically ignore certain facts of linguistic use and users' repertoires; `multilingual' policies are in fact rarely congruent with the linguistic reality of any of its users, except perhaps that of the dominant linguistic community;

  5. Recognizes that policies that stake out domains for H-varieties and ignore the domains of L-varieties may in fact be doing the least contentious thing, as long as there is a perception of equality.

  6. Recognizes that language `strife' should perhaps best be characterized, not as `the language of a majority being imposed on a minority' but as the question of WHICH LANGUAGE WILL LEGITIMATELY OCCUPY (DOMINATE) WHICH DOMAIN OR FUNCTION in the society, and how this can be regulated with a perception of fairness.

  7. Recognizes that policies may have contradictions built into them, or may be deliberately vague and/or ambiguous, often because of stalemated conflict. The choice of a `neutral' (perhaps foreign, ex-colonial) language to dominate certain (usually) H-variety registers may be a compromise that pleases no-one; the lack of an explicit reserve for L-variety language may be a deliberate loophole that allows non-prestigious varieties to be tolerated.

Obviously, no diagram and no description can take into account all the factors that enter into the decision-making that results in the variety of language policies that could possible be enumerated, nor can all the even larger variety of multilinguistic situations known to us be easily catalogued. In the post-colonial era following the end of World War II, when attention first turned to the language policies of many newly-independent nations, the idea of using the taxonomy, a symbolic classificatory system known to anthropologists, seemed appropriate. Policy-planners and language planners wished to know how their country compared with others, and how to develop a policy that fit their own circumstances. But in the ensuing period, priorities have perhaps changed. There is more of a concern with dynamic systems and a recognition of the fluidity of categories. The Soviet Union, long a model for other multilingual polities, has collapsed and its much vaunted language policy seems to have been less successful (and less tolerant) than it once appeared. Concerns with pragmatics have turned our attention to such issues as what language is used for and who uses what in what situation. Ideally, symbolizations of policy and symbolizations of multilingualism should always be paired, so that the `fit' of the policy to the observable sociolinguistic reality can always be seen clearly. And since the boundaries between languages (and their dialects) are often permeable, and because proficiency in them is variable, we will never be able to provide neat pigeon-holes for everything. This may not make language-policy makers happy, but perhaps in the meantime language policy-makers have come to accept that language policy cannot be handed down from above.


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Next: About this document Up: Register and Repertoire. Previous: Examples of complex

Harold Schiffman
Wed Jan 29 12:05:21 EST 1997