People themselves alter so much that there is something new to be observed in them forever. -Jane Austin ‘Pride & Prejudice’-

the paper i submitted two days ago is undeniably one of the most interesting ones i’ve ever written (to me, at least). i began researching on the topic of language planning and policy as something long-winded and downright boring.

nonetheless, the language planning models turned out quite interesting.

the french model
the old french government basically had a kiasu problem. at that time latin was the administrative language and the old french language constituted of a mix of anglican (a variation of old english). of course, there were other language used and the idea is that people, including commoners and immigrants communicated in these languages. in fact, the french language was an elitist language that only the upper class used.

so, a law was decreed which made french the administrative language. note that the upper class was obviusly the people in power. their assumption was that commoners have no need need to be proficiant in the administrative language. a lot of linguists believe that this is a political move by the people in power to stay in power (and possibly eben suppress the voice of the common class).

but in their defence, the french government claims that instiling the french language as an administraive language (and eventually the compulsory language of french trade, court and education) was in fact a democratic move. they claim that their goal was to ensure that every french citizen was able to communicate with another french citizen.

even if we are to accept the justification of the french government, it still does not explain the move of the government to replace anglican terms of old french with a new set of terminologies. a sub to the language law not only made it compulasory to communicate in french in just about every social function, but it also removes ‘unpure’ words from the french vocabulary.

only recently do we see the french opening up to the idea of second or foreign language acquisition. even then, the government still insist that the country’s operational language remains purely french.

what we observe here is how a model promotes an almost (if not completely) monolingual society. we could see this from two point of views. from a communicative pov, it could be said that it does allow all french people to communicate with each other, no matter where they went. in a way, the literacy rate has increased, as well as their ability to understand the administrative process.

but from an ideological point of view, this model has successfully killed off the passing of a second or foreign language onto generations of french children. simple linguistics would reveal that a language needs to be practiced in order to be kept alive. by making it mandatory to use french in almost every facet of an immigrant’s life, their children forget, or do not learn their native tongue. i’m not going to say if this is a good this or bad. thus is the phenomenon that exists.

the australian model
the french model is usually compared to the australian model. australia is largely an immigrant country, from the uk, from germany etc… but what made the immigrant population different in australia from the french, is that they come in large numbers, ship loads, either as convicts and largely in search of a new homeland.

so as immigrants anxious to participate as part of mainstream australia, they picked up the english language. in fact, during the world wars, fluent and proficient use of english became a sign of loyalty to the australian homeland. the main trade partners of australia at that time was usa and uk. english, was therefore more than merely survival. it was a passport for social acceptance.

but not all people took on acquiring english willingly. what mustn’t be forgotten are the efforts of reshuffling minority aborigine tribes into new tribes and making them communicate using english and participate in mainstream culture.

so everyone spoke english in australia.

but then something happened. over the decades, japan emerged as an economic powerhouse and the main trade partner to australia. suddenly, the australian government turned its attention to the acquisition of asian and european languages. it was not that the government stomped out the teaching of second and foreign languages before. it was just that over the generations, people became less interested in learning other languages, since it appeared as if english was all they needed.

so the government began pumping a large amount of money into the training of languages teachers and develpment of language program. the initiative initially reaped good response. but when the government withdrew funding for such projects (with hopes that the interest stays and that state-governments would continue the effort), the response for such projects also dwindled.

in comparison with the french situation, the australian government actually tries to promote bilingualism or multilingualism. this is, of course, in light witht he emerging trends of asian economies such as hong kong and china and the european union countries. it is the people who are remain reluctant in acquiring other languages.

there are several conclusions to the models. primarily, language planning and policy-making is an unnatural, as well as natural part of the language evolution. on one hand, it interferes with the natural way a language should develop. language is a choice of the people. when a language is forced onto a person, the use i.e. development of the native language becomes distorted. eventually, as we see in both models, the native language is sidelined and could disappear altogether.

but on the other hand, many linguists who defend the parallel link between language and culture feel that language planning and policy-making in its ideological sense is in line with the natural process of cultural evolution. it shows the influence of the people in power trying to get political miledge, to dominate, to impose, to suppress, in short, to stay in power, and this is relected in their language use. people in power have always imposed their ideals onto others and that is a very real illustration of the contemporary culture. this is relected in language. planned or not.

language planning and policies then, could be concluded as a sign of times.


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