External Linguistics

By contrast with the abstract and synchronic linguistics which is the core concern of most contemporary university departments of Linguistics, the Center's attention will be directed to what Saussure called `external linguistics'. As Crowley glosses this phrase, external linguistics ``takes as its object of study the role of language in history, or more precisely of the relations between language and political history" (Crowley, 1990: 242), with the proviso that history here must be understood in its broadest sense. Reflecting the kinds of expertise available in the host university, there is further emphasis on these issues as they pertain to North and South America, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Language policy studies has been in existence, as a field of inquiry, for a number of decades; but it did not become a sharply salient issue in North American academia until the 1960's, when sociolinguists and sociologists of language began to focus attention on the speech forms, problems, and aspirations of American linguistic minorities. Such issues as whether Black English (now referred to by some as African American Vernacular English, AAVE, or as Ebonics) was or is an autonomous dialect of English, or whether it originates to a large degree in West African languages, brought to the forefront of social attention some unresolved questions as well as some unmet needs. With a fuller linguistic understanding of AAVE came searching review of the scope of what may be termed the societal legitimacy (e.g., in education and in employment) of that variety and other dialects also (including the dialect labelled Standard English). Relatedly, the appropriateness of early education through Spanish for American children whose home and family language is Spanish continues to be a question with wide implications in terms of personal and cultural empowerment on the one hand, and in terms of social unity and cohesion on the other. The current resistance to USA linguistic diversification spearheaded by such groups as US English and English First raises other issues too, such as whether the American educational curriculum is Anglocentric and biased against other cultural backgrounds, whether individual states can expend public funds to facilitate the non-English linguistic needs of non-English speakers (or conversely can forbid the use of public funds for such purposes), and even whether the U.S. should have a constitutional amendment enshrining English as the nation's official language. The Supreme Court recently heard and then dismissed a case involving Arizona's English-Only law, and legislation (H.R. 123) in favor of officializing English (the ``Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act") was introduced by Rep. Randy Cunningham on the first day of the 105th Congress. More recently, the Supreme Court agreed with the State of Alabama that its English-Only amendment did not require modifications for driver-licensing, even if federal requirements for highway funding were impacted by this amendment. In all these areas of sociopolitical development, language choice, control and rights, and the extent to which these are vested in the individual or in the collective, are again the heart of the matter.

The Center for Language Policy Studies will explore these and other issues related to language and ethnicity in various cultural contexts by bringing together scholars and others whose proven interest in such questions may shed light on the rise, struggle, and decline of particular linguistic cultures. A primary focus will be educational and informational--the Center will sponsor workshops, summer institutes, informational and short-courses designed to bring to public discussion issues affecting schools and other multilingual sites of contention in contemporary America and other parts of the world. Scholars, language planners, journalists, legislators, and policy-makers will be brought together, not just to discuss issues and generate new knowledge, but will also be asked to participate in these workshops and make the discussion of language policy open and constructive. We intend to target in particular teacher organizations and their conferences, minority language organizations and their representatives, journalists, state legislative bodies, and any other venues where information about language policy issues can help the public to understand the problems children face, and what some possible solutions might be.

Another focus of the center will be on the question whether officialization of language (i.e. the imposition of `official languages' such as English in the US, or French in Qué ebec) is a necessary component of state polity or is more limitedly a reflex of western constructions of statehood, and one which has spread or been exported to non-western societies. Another theme may be contrastive studies of colonial, quasi-colonial, and multi-national systems of the past 150 years and their attendant language policiesE.g., the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro- Hungarian Empire; and more contemporarily, China, where toleration of minority languages may have been greater, and the former Soviet Union, now disintegrating into ethnolinguistic mini-states. Such systems seem to have often entailed conflict or attended language loss or annihilation (witness the fate of Irish in Ireland, Flemish in Belgium, and Welsh and Scots in Britain) as well as language expansion, protection, etc.

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Harold Schiffman