Sociolinguistics Symposium 18: Multilingual Encounters in Institutions

Panel paper: Discourse on multilingualism in the Scottish Parliament

University of Southampton


Like many other European legislatures, the Scottish Parliament has recently debated and passed legislation on the autochthonous and immigrant languages that fall under its auspices. Language policy-making in the UK as a whole is complicated by the different responsibilities of the UK-wide and devolved administrations. For example, while broadcasting policy is reserved by the UK Parliament in Westminster, educational policy in Scotland is governed by the Scottish Parliament. This fragmented picture is matched by a disconnected approach to languages in the Scottish Parliament.
In this paper, I examine discourse on multilingualism in the Scottish Parliament since it was reconvened in its modern form in 1999. By employing a discourse-historical approach (Wodak 2001) in combination with Bourdieu’s (1991) concepts of symbolic capital and the linguistic market, I show that mere content analysis (i.e. examining what is said about language) is insufficient to give a full account of language policy-making. Rather, how languages are debated and discussed in the parliament is equally important.

For instance, despite the apparently high valuations of minority languages found in some of the debates, it is apparent these valuations apply only to certain very restricted ‘linguistic markets’, e.g. public celebrations and literary education. Policy-makers can therefore claim to be taking decisive action to support languages, but are not taking account of the low value they will continue to have on the ‘linguistic markets’ of daily life, (e.g. in dealing with local government, non-literary educational settings, job interviews, etc.), and in international contexts (e.g. multinational companies based in Scotland, call centres). Multilingualism is thus constructed as desirable only when it does not interfere with mainstream communication in English.




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