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Discursive approaches to language policy – challenges and opportunities

Toronto, Canada

co-presented with Elisabeth Barakos, Vienna University of Economics and Business

Link to Prezi: https://prezi.com/xtyorqzdrdzv/discursive-approaches-to-language-policy-challenges-and-opportunities/

Abstract

In this paper, we aim to explore the interconnectedness of language policy and discourse by proposing a ‘discursive approach to language policy’. This approach combines insights from the fields of critical language policy (e.g. Shohamy 2006, Tollefson 2006) and critical discourse studies (e.g. the discourse-historical approach). Specifically, we argue that a discursive approach to language policy integrates a focus on close textual, contextual and socio-historical analysis of language policies, ideologies and associated practices from a critical perspective. We also add a methodological orientation: to consider what can be gained by bringing together language policy and critical discourse studies, and also what challenges this combination gives rise to.

As case studies, we critically analyse and compare language policy discourses and practices in Wales and Scotland – two partly devolved constituent countries of the United Kingdom in which the autochtonous languages Welsh, Scots and Gaelic have been integrated as a more or less salient part of debates about identity, nation and culture. Given the current heated debates about independence in Scotland and increasing autonomy for Wales, we will trace constructions of language from the pre-devolution era (before 1999) to the present. In particular, we incorporate data collected in two heterogeneous fields: education and business. We combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates and guidelines with an analysis of ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups and interviews consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, we examine the dialectic between policies and practices: between the linguistic and discursive power of the policy per se which construct the symbolic or material value of these languages in strategic ways and the power of social actors that construct, live and breathe policies.

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Invited paper: Approaching language policy from a critical perspective: the role of discourse studies

Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Guangzhou, China

(N.B. This is an updated version of the talk I gave at Leeds LLTPRG last year)

Abstract

In this paper I will outline some of the main theoretical and methodological considerations involved in applying a critical discourse studies framework to the study of language policies and language attitudes. In particular, I will attempt to show how we can best use critical, discursive approaches such as critical discourse analysis when examining language attitudes and policies. Two case studies will illustrate this point: first, drawing on a previous research project, a study of the Scots language, an autochtonous minority language spoken in Scotland, is used to show how language attitudes pervade the public and private spheres, and how often languages are evaluated positively, but not necessarily valued; and second, I will present the findings from an investigation into attitudes towards the use of English as a Lingua Franca at a higher education institution in France, in which students in a highly multilingual environment hold sometimes unexpected attitudes towards the various languages in their linguistic repertoires. In each case, “top-down” data such as policy documents and debates among power elites are combined with “bottom-up” data gathered from language users affected by policies and attitudes. I will argue that it is not enough to look at the content of language policies and what people say about language. Rather, to fully account for the impact of policy and attitudes on the lives of language users, we must look at how both powerful and affected groups and structure, instrumentalise, and recontextualise discourse on language and language varieties.

Invited paper: Using critical discourse studies to investigate language policy and attitudes

Leeds University, Language, Linguistics and Translation PGR group (LLTPGR)

Abstract

In this paper I will outline some of the main theoretical and methodological considerations involved in applying a critical discourse studies framework to the study of language policies and language attitudes. In particular, I will attempt to show how we can best use critical, discursive approaches such as critical discourse analysis when examining language attitudes and policies. Two case studies will illustrate this point: first, drawing on a previous research project, a study of the Scots language, an autochtonous minority language spoken in Scotland, is used to show how language attitudes pervade the public and private spheres, and how often languages are evaluated positively, but not necessarily valued; and second, I will present the initial findings from an ongoing investigation into attitudes towards the use of English as a Lingua Franca at a higher education institution in France, in which students in a highly multilingual environment hold sometimes unexpected attitudes towards the various languages in their linguistic repertoires. In each case, “top-down” data such as policy documents and debates among power elites are combined with “bottom-up” data gathered from language users affected by policies and attitudes. I will argue that it is not enough to look at the content of language policies and what people say about language. Rather, to fully account for the impact of policy and attitudes on the lives of language users, we must look at how both powerful and affected groups and structure, instrumentalise, and recontextualise discourse on language and language varieties.

Discursive constructions of Scots from the pre-devolution era to the debates on independence

University of Aberdeen

Abstract

Language, and language attitudes, are becoming an increasingly important part of the discourse on Scotland’s identity, both within and outwith Scotland, but nevertheless remain a relatively low priority for politicians. In this paper, I will trace the construction of the Scots language in public policy and public perception from the pre-devolution era to the present using a critical discourse studies approach. I combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates, educational guidelines and school resources with analysis of  ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, I will show that the seemingly positive evaluations of the Scots language both in official documents and amongst Scots speakers are problematic from a language policy and planning perspective. They employ a number of ‘macro-strategies’ to construct Scots in ways that potentially are barriers to the revitalization of the language. I will argue that despite the seemingly positive aspects of an increased interest in Scots among politicians and an apparent revitalization of the activist community, it is important to examine the content and form of language policies and discourse on the language, and to critically evaluate them in relation to latent language ideologies and political agendas. In particular, the current debates on independence could provide a strong incentive for politicians to instrumentalise the ideologies surrounding the Scots language, but this has not yet been particularly evident to date. I will conclude my paper by discussing some possible explanations for this.

ELF in an elite international educational context: Attitudes and perceptions under the ELFel Tower with Annamária Tóth

Boğaziçi University, Istanbul

Abstract

In this paper, we investigate the use of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) by highly mobile and globally engaged students and staff involved in a bilingual graduate programme at an elite higher-education institution in France. This paper builds on prior studies that investigate the use of ELF as a communicative tool in multilingual contexts (e.g. Hülmbauer, 2007), on attitudinal studies (e.g. Jenkins, 2007; Zeiss, 2010), and also on a number of recent approaches (e.g. Seidlhofer, 2006; Ehrenreich, 2009; Kalocsai, 2009; Tóth, 2010) that have taken up the notion of groups of ELF users as communities of practice (see Wenger, 1998). While there has been a wealth of studies on the structural and pragmatic features of ELF, there have been comparatively few in-depth qualitative analyses of the attitudes and perceptions towards language use of active ELF speakers. We will address this gap by presenting some findings from our research into a linguistically and culturally diverse community of ELF speakers who work or study on the Master in European Affairs at Sciences Po Paris, using both English and French daily as working languages. These speakers also tend to use other languages on a regular basis, reflecting their diverse backgrounds in terms of national and linguistic identities. We draw on the critical approach to the study of language varieties developed by Unger (2009, 2010) to investigate the discourse on ELF within this community by means of textual analysis of interview data. In doing so, we attempt to situate the discourse on ELF at Sciences Po in the context of Europeanisation and, also more generally, the globalisation of education.

Panel paper: Discourse on multilingualism in the Scottish Parliament

University of Southampton

Abstract

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.

 

Panel chair (with Ruth Wodak and Michał Krżyżanowski): Multilingual Encounters in Institutions

University of Southampton

Thematic Panel Abstract:


Participants

Organisers
Ruth Wodak    Lancaster
Michał Krzyżanowski    Lancaster
Johann Unger   Vienna

Other contributors
Adrian Blackledge    Birmingham
Bernhard Forchtner    Lancaster
Georges Lüdi    Basel
Luisa Martin-Rojo    U Autónoma de Madrid
Frank van Splunder    Antwerpen

General overview abstract
The purpose of this panel is to explore the overall conference theme, ‘Negotiating transnational space & multilingual encounters’ in the context of institutions.

Multilingual encounters have become commonplace in many national institutions, and have of course been an essential part of most supranational institutions since their inception. The main aim of the panel will be therefore be to explore and discuss different ways of researching the discursive dimensions of these encounters, and to critically examine their relevance to policy, politics and society as a whole. This will include institutions at the local, regional, national and supranational level.

Multilingualism is often seen as an obstacle, not an opportunity, at least with respect to European public and private spheres. We therefore have invited a number of contributions that address the following questions:

1)    How is multilingualism conceptualised and talked about in different institutions?
2)    How do different institutions ‘deal with’ multilingualism, both
a.    internally, e.g. through institutional regulations, social and discursive practices, etc. and
b.    externally, e.g. through institutional self-presentation, policies, interactions with politics, the media, civil society, etc.
3)    What are the policy-making roles and challenges for the future for various institutions with respect to multilingualism?

The individual papers can be loosely grouped by type of institution concerned:

1)    private sector institutions: international and national companies (Lüdi)
2)    national and supranational (political) institutions: the European Commission (Krzyżanowski, Forchtner), the European Parliament (Wodak), and the Scottish Parliament (Unger)
3)    educational institutions: mainstream schools (Martin Rojo), ‘complementary’, i.e. part-time, community-run schools (Blackledge), and universities (van Splunder)

There are of course numerous theoretical and methodological approaches to this topic, and our invited participants represent a broad cross-section of these approaches, with a particular emphasis on critical approaches to discourse and to language policy and planning. We anticipate that the application of these different approaches to different types of institution will provide a fruitful opportunity to share knowledge in an interdisciplinary setting.