Friday, December 28, 2012

Language Policy on a Global Scale

In this post marking my nine-year anniversary of blogging (less frequent postings now, to be sure), it seems fitting that my topic should be language policy.  I just got back from a two and a half week trip to Thailand and Vietnam, occasioned by a conference on language law and language policy in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Scholars from around the world came together to discuss various ways in which language policies and laws intersected with issues of ethnic conflict, and ways in which such policies could (or had) been used to hopefully mitigate such conflicts.  It was the second time that I'd attended this particular gathering (the last time was 2006 in Ireland), and I was struck once again by both the similarities of the challenges facing states around the world, but also the vast differences in contexts and needed approaches.  Many of the presentations that I attended had to do with language revitalization of indigenous languages in the developing world, particularly Latin America and Asia, where the core issues are quite substantially different from those of English-French bilingualism in Canada, and much more connected to revitalization of our own First Nations' languages.  For many of these countries, the key issues relate to illiteracy and/or marginalization of linguistic minority communities, often linked to violent ethnic conflict, and language revitalization is intended as a tool to promote both literacy and (more importantly for many of these states) national cohesion.  It was a stimulating conference that left me feeling re-energized for working on my book over the next year.

Language practice on the ground was also fascinating.  It's hard to ignore the prevalence of English as a global language when traveling.  We were able to get by with virtually no Thai or Vietnamese in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Hanoi.  In Vietnam in particular, there was ample English signage at the museums and travel points.  That being said, both my husband and I wished we could have spoken culinary Vietnamese to more fully sample the host of delicious foods that were available.  We did very well with the places with bilingual menus, and with pointing and gesturing elsewhere, but we definitely got a strong sense that being able to ask more directly for the wonderful things surrounding us would have led to an even richer experience.

Wishing you all a happy end to 2012, and great things to come in 2013!


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