Edited by Hagen Peukert and Ingrid Gogolin
[Hamburg Studies on Linguistic Diversity 6] 2017
► pp. 31–48
Accent on the positive
Revisiting the ‘Language as Resource’ orientation for bolstering multilingualism in contemporary urban Europe
In recent decades large components of the language sciences have been subjected to relentless critique. Criticism has not been exclusive to those branches directly concerned with application, such as applied linguistics, but it has been particularly robust when directed at language studies modified by the words ‘social’, as in socio-linguistics, sociology of language; or ‘education’, as in bilingual education, foreign language education; and ‘policy’ or ‘planning’, as in language policy (Lo Bianco 2004). Most trenchant has been the criticism generated from neo-Marxist, post structuralist and post-modernist positions, claiming that the practice, concepts and methods of the applied language sciences are complicit with the operations of power, especially the material and symbolic interests of powerful groups, and that LP practitioners are insufficiently aware of these collusions (seeLo Bianco 2010aand2010b, for an overview of these criticisms). In my field of specialisation, language policy and planning, LP, some of this criticism has served to sharpen our work, making contemporary LP writing more reflective and open to diverse kinds of socio-political activities that constitute LP, especially in urban, developed country multi-ethnic contexts, in contrast to ‘classical’ LP which had been directed for the most part to state activity and formal processes of resolving problems of national construction (Fishman 1972) in post-colonial developing societies. However, some of this criticism imagined that LP itself would be swept away, as a defective and tainted practice of state control of minority language, disadvantaged and marginalised populations (Lo Bianco 2009). While scholars of LP these days tend to be better aware of constitutive relations between forms and uses of language and social arrangements, replete with inequality, disparity, selective privilege and prejudice, one of the aspirations of the ‘critics’ was to challenge the very possibility of LP of any kind. However, in the early decades of the 21st century it has become clear that LP is a regenerated, invigorated andburgeoning practice. New kinds of LP scholarship and new kinds of LP activity that fuse technical procedures of formal policy making, with democratic practices of naming language problems and exploring solutions to them, are being generated. Rather than being a redundant practice located in the scientific policy era of the post-1950s, with its aspiration for finding technical solutions to contested social problems, what is emerging is a newly vibrant collaboration between language scholarship and community language vitality. The context of all this is the new, mainly urbanised but not exclusively so, multi-lingual polis of the contemporary age, the cities and cityscapes of a multilingual world on the move, tied together by instantaneous communications and immense population movements. What is needed to advance the rights and opportunities of minorities for intra-collective solidarity and transmission of tradition, with the imperative of horizontal communication across and beyond internal group solidarities? These twin needs of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic conversation, in the context of a wider appreciation of the enduring importance of multi-lingualism, and of the emancipatory aspects of language and cultural diversity, are now problems posed globally, with solutions emerging in localities across the world shaped by contingencies that prevail in those places, and their historical legacies. New LP needs show that it was never simply enough to find fault with the methods, assumptions and practices of the applied language sciences. Producing the social improvement requires investment in democratised methods, refined concepts and critical awareness within reinvigorated language sciences, research informed by and close to its sites of application, and with new design and execution that the disciplines of language can produce. In such ways language planners, sociolinguists and language educators can generate knowledge to productively engage with the globalisation of multiculturalism. To put language and communication to the service of diverse kinds of social improvement requires more than criticism, it requires redirecting the critical eye towards productive ends, framing criticism within concern for improvement and directly engaging with the lived realities of complex communication in radically changing societies.
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