Chapter published in:The Politics of Multilingualism: Europeanisation, globalisation and linguistic governance
Edited by Peter A. Kraus and François Grin
[Studies in World Language Problems 6] 2018
► pp. 223–243
Languages, norms and power in a globalised context
An important branch of linguistics, namely, sociolinguistics, considers “languages” as normative social constructs and not as fixed communication tools characterised by an identifiable set of core features. The latter position was defended in the early sociolinguistic studies of Joshua Fishman on language decline and maintenance in the second half of the twentieth century and in the influential work on generative grammar of Noam Chomsky. In contradiction or contrast to this position, today’s sociolinguistics, which I will refer to as “mainstream sociolinguistics” in this chapter, claims that, in the default case, languages have no fixed boundaries and that they are, in fact, “fluid”. The main argument which mainstream sociolinguistics puts forward to support this claim is that the output of speech production, i.e., referred to as “languaging”, taps from linguistic resources and not from identifiable languages. This chapter argues against this theory. Firstly, multilingual phenomena, including hybrid varieties of global English and hybrid expressions in linguistic landscapes, including that of the Dutch city of Utrecht which claimed to support the languaging-approach, are, in fact, traditional cases of code-switching and code-mixing involving identifiable languages. Secondly, the languaging-approach, in contrast to the languages-approach, makes the wrong predictions. The absence of identifiable languages predicts the “flattening” of linguistic power relations. However, it will be argued that, even in a linguistically highly diverse context, a re-arrangement of power relations between languages takes place and that language hierarchies pop up. Hence, the theory which recognises individual languages makes the correct predictions. Thus, there is no reason to abandon the language concept of early sociolinguistics or Chomskyan linguistics that languages, or at least some modules of language, especially in the domain of semantics and pragmatics, are socially constructed, but that, at the same time, they are characterised by a prototypical grammatical and lexical basic core.
Keywords: languages, normative constructs, languaging, code-switching, linguistic diversity, power, globalisation
Published online: 10 September 2018
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