Edited by Hagen Peukert and Ingrid Gogolin
[Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity 6] 2017
► pp. 13–29
Linguistic theory and language policy
My purpose in this chapter is to describe and critique some of the common sense beliefs about language that are often implicitly incorporated in the theories of political philosophers who engage in discussions on language policies and language rights in liberal democracies. I then consider the limitations of these views, based on research in sociolinguistics that problematizes at least some of the more common beliefs about the nature of language, that is, views on discreteness, competence, function, complexities in diagnosing linguistic inequalities and discrimination, the complexities of the language-culture nexus, and language and identity. It is these complexities that political theorists need to pay more attention to when, for example, they argue that linguistic and cultural assimilation into civil society is relatively easy, since language and culture are mutable. I then focus on the ways in which these common sense views about language and culture, and language and national identity, have played out in the Canadian context, especially over the past half century, referring to testimony in the hearings that preceded passage of the Official Languages Act of 1969. I consider the ways in which national census data obscure the actual complex linguistic diversity that exists in Canada today, and I provide an example of political speech that reinforces the deeply held ideology of French-English dualism in a country in which 200+ languages are spoken on a daily basis, in which French-English bilingualism is actually declining, and in which other types of bi- and multilingualism are flourishing.