I would gladly simplify the sociolinguistic options (regarding language contact management) currently opposed over the “globalisation” and the position of worldwide plurilingualism and local multilingualisms, according to a representation where, at one end of a continuum, liberal “free exchange” that prioritises laisser faire policy and the law of market forces (for example De Swaan 2001), is placed at the opposite end to an interventionist focus with two frequently linked variants: linguistic ecology (“altermondialist”), that puts forward arguments of an ethical and juridical nature (human rights-linguistic rights) (for example Hagège 2000, Nettle and Romaine 2003, Boudreau et al 2003) and linguistic nationalism, that prioritises identity positioning (Boyer 2004) :
Issue 99-100 (2001) of the Quebec magazine ‘Terminogramme’ provides an excellent opportunity to fathom the state of the knowledge on the “geostrategies of languages” “ (title of the publication in question), in other words the “relations and [language] competition on the international chessboard” (Maurais, 2001, p. 7).
On this issue, regarding the current debate centred on the sociolinguistic effects of globalisation, as stated by R.E. Hamel,
The latter position, that of “French sociolinguists [who] warn of the risks of replacement of local languages to the detriment of national and supranational languages” is put forward synthetically, in the article quoted by R.E. Hamel, by a quotation of a “communication by e-mail“ from L.J. Calvet(Hamel, 2001, p. 131), for whom “in terms of language politology, the promotion of “minority” or “regional” or “small” languages, follows the same path as English-speaking imperialism“.
L.J. Calvet had previously expressed the same position, about Europe in particular, a position whose deliberately and excessively macrosociolinguistic dimension can certainly be praised for its clarity, but in which the bias towards globalisation leaves little room to accommodate the complexity and variety of the positions.
Judge for yourselves:
From where :
A commentary on the diagnosis put forward in this way imposes itself, although one may always argue, in their defence, that it is a shortcut, and therefore a voluntary simplification. It is not exactly globalisation that wants to grant ever increasing weight to the regions of Europe, but really the defenders (of all types) of a European integration in which the weight of the nation-states, some of which are renowned for their resistance to major losses of sovereignty, would be reduced through the dilution of prerogatives, to put it one way. Nevertheless, not all the regions affected by this perspective constitute historical speech communities: of the 250 regions making up the recently formed Assembly of European Regions, how many have their “own language”, different from that which is official at state level, such as Catalonia, Galicia or the Basque Country in Spain?Surely a minority.As for the analogy with post-colonial situations, it seems to me to result more from political-media rhetoric than from an authentic comparative analysis.
We could not subscribe to the globalising hypothesis peremptorily put forward by L.J. Calvet concerning “the tendency to put back supercentral languages to the rank of central languages, which would be the central axis of language globalisation”.With specific regard to Spain, he can be reassured: Spanish, under the name of Castilian, is not in any way “in the process of being downgraded […] to the level of a regional language, alongside Catalan or Basque” (see specifically Boyer and Lagarde dir.2002), contrary to what a certain Spanish nationalist discourse would have one believe, a discourse allied to the detractors (a minority in the community) of the sociolinguist normalisation driven by the autonomous government of Catalonia since 1980 (Boyer, 2003).In the same way that Castilian itself is not under threat in Paraguay from the officialisation in 1992 of Guarani... (Hamel, 2001).
It is known that for Calvet, the appropriate model “to bring order to […] disorder“ is the “gravitational model” (Calvet, 2002, p. 26-27, see also Calvet, 1999, p. 76-81).
It is perfectly evident that “a configuration does not only consist […] of certify an established fact, but a transitive intervention on the facts, a presentation among possible others, according to a logic that gives these facts a certain form, a certain meaning” (ibid, p. 28; my emphasis).But precisely, “from among other possible [presentations]” related to language facts linked to globalisation, the one Calvet chooses gives “a certain meaning” that is problematic for all linguists who wish to fully place themselves in W. Labov’s “group A”, despite the limitations that this categorisation may present (Labov, 1976, p. 357).In fact, it is justified to voice the strongest reservations concerning the purely countable chosen configuration, we might say, when the reductive type of viewpoint that it seems to authorise is observed:
A simple reminder of the numerous factors listed by W.F. Mackey that may explain the “obsolescence [of a language]” suffices to underline the strictly polemic value of Calvet’s comments:
Also in issue 99-100 of Terminogramme, the promoter of the “gravitational model” adapted by Calvet, Abram de Swaan, puts forward a series of reflections on “the worldwide constellation of languages” that illustrate the model in question, (2) and show its fundamentally and narrowly economist grounding. To tell the truth, the title does not reflect well the nature of the discourse sustained in the article.
In fact, it analyses the relationships between languages, their respective values, and this analysis to a large extent develops from industrial and commercial logic. This can be judged by a number of enunciations analogical in the extreme:
It all boils down to “investment“, “expected […] profits”, “cost”, etc. since languages are “hypercollective goods”.Such rhetoric falls a long way from Bourdieu’s analysis on the economics of linguistic exchanges within a given community, according to a market hierarchisation-articulation, dominant markets (official) and free markets (peripheral, dissident), because the ecolinguistic dynamics described by Bourdieu is in the end nothing but a denouncement of a allurement: that the linguistic market is independent of the societal (socioeconomic, political, cultural) context. This conception of the relationship between language and society connects with, in this case with regard to the plurilingual market, the conception of Robert Lafont, who considers that “for the coherent sociolinguist, there are never “language questions“, but societal questions that usages envelop just as they derive from them “ (Lafont, 1994, p. 134).
De Swaan seems indirectly to pay homage to Bourdieu’s lucidity on sociolinguistic economy when dealing with free markets (such as slang) :
I will not dwell on a number of questionable observations that are obviously based on incomplete theoretical and/or factual information, like this one concerning Creole languages:
I quote another of these extraordinary observations on the interruption of language transmission:
Clearly, it is not the children who stop learning the language of the parents, but the parents that, most often victims of guilt (Lafont, 1971), of self-deprecation, products of a diglossicideology, (Boyer, 1991 and 2003) no longer pass on the dominated language to their children.
De Swaan is much more inspired in matters concerning “the abandonment of the language of origin“ (De Swaan, 2001, p. 63) :
Clearly, and in general terms, the suggestions made by De Swaan leave the sociolinguist perplexed. The voids in the bibliographical references to important European research on the areas dealt with, in particular regarding the diglossic conflict, are surprising. They are manifest in statements such as: “To date, the rivalries and compromises between linguistic groups have not attracted much attention” ...(ibid, p. 65).
These critical remarks and specific reservations in no way detract from the global interest of the Terminogramme dossier. The merit of this set of contributions lies in its advancement of the knowledge on language management, in how it raises the issues at stake and in its clear identification of the weaknesses of and the obstacles to a reflection in full development. Thus one can, one must discuss the fact that a “strong version of the Sapir-Whorf theory according to which a language imposes limits on the thought of those that speak it” inspires two main types of current geostrategies: “The race for “market share” by representatives of the main international languages, and the protection of languages on the road to disappearance by the community of linguists and representatives of non-governmental organisations involved with the linguistic rights of minorities” (Kibbee, 2001, p. 69).
The dossier includes numerous references to D. Graddol’s report edited by the British Council: The Future Of English?(1997), which refers to the possible disappearance of many “local languages” (Kibbee, 2001, p. 72).It is surely the “death” threat posed to these languages by globalisation, and their defence, that leads to the most confrontational positionings, as we have seen. Certainly, “languages are not the same as species“, but why “[would] the loss of a language [not be] equivalent to the loss of a species”? (Kibbee, 2001, p. 73).