"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Language Imperialism

This week’s readings are two working papers published under the auspices of the Cultural Practices of Literacy Study (CPLS) situated at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Education http:/pls.educ.ubc.ca/.  I found that the case studies and their utilization of the CPLS Case Study Methodology had several attributes similar to our 1-2-3 Project Mini Case Studies, e.g. ethnographic studies investigating literacy issues using a very small sample size, e.g. two Puerto Rican farmers and four graduate students from Botswana. 

Nevertheless, I was initially distracted by some of the comments postulated in Catherine Mazak’s working paper on the literacy practices of Puerto Rican Farmers.  In particular, Mazak states that the U.S. military government’s declaration of English as the official language of education in Puerto Rico “ …actually succeeded in strengthening Puerto Rican identity and rallying Puerto Ricans behind Spanish as an act of defiance against the colonizer.” (p 3).   Really?  If I recall correctly, Spain was a former colonizer of Puerto Rico and Spanish was the primary language http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Puerto_Rico  Consequently, I do not appreciate the significance of rallying behind one colonial power’s language for another.   

But as I stated earlier, this was only a distraction to the broader narratives of both working papers, the history and consequences of language imperialism.  In the paper titled “Colonialism and Language Policy and Planning” written by Robert Phillipson http://research.cbs.dk/en/publications/uuid%2890095dac-8577-43e1-8314-0e7029d7e6f1%29.html  He writes about “Key factors that account for European languages and Christianity being transplanted worldwide….the privileged position of ex-colonial languages consolidated through Western influence on educational policies and linguistic imperialism,” and advocates for the requirement for “alternative language policies that create greater social justice.” 

So my next question I needed answered was “What is the link between linguistic imperialism and social justice?”  I found my answer in the citation for the winner of the Linguapax Award. http://www.linguapax.net/what-we-do/linguapax-award/  The International Linguapax Award is awarded annually to recognize and award the actions to preserve linguistic diversity, revitalization and reactivation of linguistic communities and the promotion of multilingualism.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguapax_Institute

In 2013, it was award to an organization named Ledikasyon pu Travayer (LPT), an independent association created in 1976 located on the Indian Ocean state of Mauritius.  As a French colony and later a British colony, the official language is English and the language of the elite (sugar plantocracy and urban intellectuals) is French.  However, their 2011 Census indicated that 84% of the people speak only Kreol at home, while 5.3% of people speak only Bhojpuri.  [Do these linguistic attributes seem similar to the ones reflected in the two CPLS case studies?] 

 For the first 25 years of its existence, LPT concentrated its battle to promote Kreol and get it recognized officially by stressing a number of arguments, including the fact children from poorer families are disadvantaged in school, peoples’ capacity to get good jobs is negatively affected, literacy levels are very low despite free education, and democracy is undermined by running the country in two languages that are not mother tongue to 90% of the population. Then, some 10 years ago, LPT shifted its emphasis towards exposing the harm being done by the State’s language policy to children’s cognitive development.

Consequently, the information provide in the LPT award citation answered my question about the link between linguistic imperialism and social justice.  It also reminded me about the need for initiatives like CPLS that produces case studies that areframed by theory that views literacy as a social and cultural practice, patterned by institutions, historical events, values, beliefs, and power relationships.”


  1. You raise many interesting points, Bob. I wil address three:
    (a) similarity to 1-2-3: I agree! Note how Mazak uses both a historical analysis and qualitative interviews in her case study. I can see how some 1-2-3 projects could use similar methods to provide context and then rich detail.
    (b) "I do not appreciate the significance of rallying behind one colonial power’s language for another." Ah, of course that's a key point of post colonial studies: YOU (nor I) need to get the significance of how "others" view, perform and interpret their linguistic identities. It seems to me, that a commitment to diversity means respecting the colonized expressions. But also, it is quite likely that Jacinto and family are of Spanish descent, so in fact Spanish is their heritage language, yes?
    (3) Call me a dreamer, but for me the primary link between language and social justice isn't about employment or democracy, its simple human dignity: our language is our memory and the connective tissue to those who brought us into the world. :)

  2. Hi Bob!
    I found your blog post truly reflective. Thank you for your thoughts for they made me also consider an array of ideas.

  3. You are always so passionate. Every week you bring extended learning to the text. Thank you.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.