14.382, Review: Sociolinguistics: de Mejia (2002)

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-382. Thu Feb 6 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.382, Review: Sociolinguistics: de Mejia (2002)

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Date:  Thu, 06 Feb 2003 14:08:04 +0000
From:  Joseph Park <jsp0 at umail.ucsb.edu>
Subject:  Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Thu, 06 Feb 2003 14:08:04 +0000
From:  Joseph Park <jsp0 at umail.ucsb.edu>
Subject:  Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism

de Mejia, Anne-Marie. (2002) Power, Prestige, and Bilingualism:
International Perspectives on Elite Bilingual Education. Multilingual
Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-590-X, xiv+325pp, Bilingual Education
and Bilingualism 35.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/13/13-1275.html

Joseph Sung-Yul Park, University of California, Santa Barbara

This book is devoted to the topic of elite bilingual education,
educational provisions that 'cater mainly for upwardly mobile, highly
educated, higher socio-economic status learners of two or more
internationally useful languages' (x). It surveys the field from
various viewpoints, including educational, sociolinguistic, and
cultural perspectives, and with respect to both the theory and
practice of elite bilingual education, supplemented with ample case
sketches in various nations and educational contexts. However, this
book is not merely a survey of existing information and research; the
author also presents her own arguments as to how the research and
policy making on elite bilingual education should proceed. In sum,
this is a comprehensive overview of the state of the art of elite
bilingual education research, a field which has been largely neglected
so far. As the book is written in a clear, approachable style with few
theoretical presuppositions, it will be useful for a very wide
audience, including teachers, students, parents, and policy makers
working in the area of elite bilingual education, not to mention
researchers who want to get a broader perspective on the issue or need
a solid reference on the subject matter.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 presents an overview of the
general issues that relate to elite bilingual education from various
perspectives. In chapter 1, the author surveys the major types of
education provisions often discussed under the rubric of elite
bilingual education: international schools, European schools, and
Canadian immersion programs, and also two types which are considered
to be more peripheral, finishing schools and language schools.

Chapter 2 discusses some of the terminology that relates to the field
of bilingualism and bilingual education in general. Central to de
Mejia's discussion is the notion of language as symbolic capital
(Bourdieu 1982, 1991), which allows us to see education as powerful
means of providing access to valued symbolic resources (37).

Chapter 3 looks as the issue of elite bilingual education from the
point of view of intercultural communication. Since elite bilingualism
and bilingual education often occur in contexts of cross-cultural
contact, factors such as intercultural marriage, international travel,
and international business are important issues to be considered in
understanding elite bilingual education.

Chapter 4 focuses on language use in elite bilingual education
classrooms, surveying issues in previous research, such as the need to
acknowledge code-switching in immersion classrooms, the relationship
between language and academic content, and how cultural content should
be incorporated in the teaching process. This discussion is given more
detail as several transcripts of instances of code-switching in
classrooms in Colombia and Hong Kong are presented and analyzed.

In Chapter 5, various issues relating to elite bilingual education are
discussed from the perspectives of the different participants in this
process -- parents, administrators, teachers, and students -- and the
expectations and concerns of each group are explained.

Chapter 6 outlines the trends in elite bilingual education research,
noting the shift from research focusing on educational outcomes to an
acceptance of a wider range of directions such as curriculum design or
ethnographic research projects. Based on her own work, the author also
suggests that empowerment of research subjects (teachers and
administrators at an elite bilingual school in de Mejia's case) should
be an integral part of the research process so that the gap between
researchers and practitioners can be reduced.

Part 2 presents in more detail the forms and issues in elite bilingual
education across specific social and historical contexts. In
particular, Chapters 7 through 11 take the reader to five different
continents (Africa, South America, Asia, Europe, and Oceania) and
overviews the bilingual education provisions within several sample
nations accompanied by detailed discussion of their historical and
sociolinguistic background.

Chapter 7 deals with two African nations, Morocco and Tanzania. French
and English International Schools are discussed in the Moroccan
context. In the case of Tanzania, the importance of English as a
language of prestige still has strong influence on secondary and
post-secondary education systems, despite growing recognition of
Kiswahili as the national language.

Chapter 8 surveys three South American nations; in Argentina and
Colombia, elite bilingual education, once largely a provision for
expatriate children, is now becoming more of a national concern in the
education system, while in Brazil, foreign language education is still
centered around institutes and language schools.

Chapter 9 deals with Japan, Hong Kong, and Brunei Darussalam, which
differ from each other significantly in colonial history and cultural
heterogeneity, yet whose bilingual education in English is expanding
from its previous private nature into more open provisions.

In chapter 10, four countries in Europe are discussed, Finland,
Sweden, Belgium, and Catalonia (Spain), where, due to different
historical and political circumstances, different language pairs
became significant (Swedish and Finnish in Finland, Swedish and
English in Sweden, Flemish and French in Belgium, Spanish and Catalan
in Catalonia), and different types of modalities of bilingual
education developed (immersion programs in Finland and Catalonia,
International Schools in Sweden, and European Schools in Belgium).

In Chapter 11, Australia is considered among the countries of
Oceania. Here, there is rapid expansion of immersion-type programs for
learning foreign languages, as the country tries to recognize and
value its multilingual nature and establish an anti-isolationist
economic and foreign policy.

After surveying these different countries, the remaining chapters
present two more unique perspectives on elite bilingual education. In
chapter 12, the author presents a critical discourse analysis (based
on Fairclough's (1989, 1992) framework) of the discourse of elite
bilingual education. More specifically, she analyzes several texts of
advertisements for elite bilingual education programs around the
world, and also a speech given by the Bruneian Minister of Education
at the ''Bilingualism and National Development Conference'' in Brunei,
1991, showing how the ideologies represented through these discourses
can be seen as closely linked to contemporary capitalist ideologies
and reproducing existing social inequalities by appearing to offer
equal opportunity of access to the symbolic capital of language.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, takes the practitioner's perspective
and overviews the common problem areas as identified by teachers
working in elite bilingual education classrooms based on questionnaire
research. Several problems areas, such as motivation and opportunities
to use the foreign language, student language proficiency level,
development of biliteracy, language and content, and parental
involvement, are discussed with case sketches, along with suggestions
by the teachers themselves regarding how to resolve these problems in

Chapter 14 is the conclusion of the book, where the author reviews the
major themes and makes several recommendations for effective policy
and practice, which include suggestions such as i) formulate explicit
bilingual policy statements based on empirical studies, ii) question
monolingual classroom language practices in bilingual contexts, iii)
situate classroom language use in wider local and global contexts of
language use, iv) increase the scope and reach of bilingual education
teacher development, and v) provide international opportunities to
discuss issues related to elite bilingual education (300-302).

While research on bilingualism and bilingual education in minority
contexts has a long and rich tradition, elite bilingualism and
bilingual education have received little attention so far, with a few
exceptions, most notably that of Canadian Immersion programs. The
author suggests three possible reasons for this gap in the
introduction (x-xi). First, for researchers pursuing a role of
advocacy, minority contexts, where inequality of language rights
become a crucial issue, may seem to be a more worthy area of
study. Second, minority bilingual education programs often receive
state or federal funding, and thus need to be under constant
evaluation by authorities, leading to state-funded research or at
least accountability that is open to research (which partly explains
the abundance of research on Canadian Immersion). However, elite
bilingual education is generally offered in the private sector, with
less need for such accountability; in fact, the competitiveness among
institutions causes them to avoid sharing details of their programs,
therefore making research difficult. Third, even in potential contexts
for elite bilingual education, such as International Schools,
multilingualism has not been a prime concern until recently, as the
students were often expatriates and were expected to return to their
home countries. Therefore, there has generally been a lack of interest
towards the notion of elite bilingualism and bilingual education.

However, we can no longer afford to simply ignore elite bilingualism
and bilingual education. As the author suggests, increasing
globalization means an increasing need for international
communication, and the major languages of the world (which, for that
reason, also tend to be perceived as prestigious) are increasingly
considered to be important resources for upward socio-economic
mobility. Neither is elite bilingual education for the select minority
of rich people, as the term ^'elite^' might suggest. Teachers,
businessmen, government officials, and other professionals, who may
not necessarily wealthy, all recognize the importance of being
bilingual and strive to learn these major languages. In this sense,
elite bilingualism is no longer a minor phenomenon that applies only
to a closed, privileged group of people. Elite bilingualism and
minority bilingualism are in fact like the two faces of a coin, since
both are loci where one can observe and study the ideologies of
language held by the participants in bilingual education and the
society at large. The practice and discussions surrounding minority
bilingual education are important sites where language ideologies (and
based on those ideologies, racial, political and other group
identities) are produced, reproduced, challenged, and contested, as
has been documented, for example, in the case of bilingual education
in North America (cf. Schmid 2001). Similarly, efforts to acquire and
provide access to prestigious world languages in various contexts can
be seen in terms of how they represent language ideologies that
reproduce the hegemony of such languages. The ideological nature of
English language teaching in colonial and postcolonial contexts and
its consequences has been well documented (Pennycook 1994, 1998,
Philipson 1992). While many elite bilingual education provisions seem
to have the effect of 'empowering' learners of prestigious languages
by providing them with access to arenas associated with those
languages, it is also true that the promotion of such languages
constitutes an institutionalized mechanism of reproducing the hegemony
of those languages. Therefore, studying elite bilingual education from
an international perspective allows us to complement our understanding
of how institutionalized practices of language teaching and their
ideologies can have the effect of reproducing those ideologies based
on minority bilingual education. Such knowledge can also contribute to
the fields of sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, where
language ideology has been one of the crucial issues.

de Mejia's book is very welcome in this regard, since, in addition to
providing a rich international perspective with examples from many
different countries and contexts, it also strives to move beyond a
purely educational perspective (without abandoning it) and achieves a
more critical perspective. Following Heller^'s (1990, 1994)
suggestion to look beyond the immediate school situation to understand
the social situatedness of bilingual education, the author widens the
horizons of elite bilingual education research. Her chapter 12, where
she presents a critical discourse analysis of some texts representing
elite bilingual education institutions, is especially interesting for
this reason.  Ultimately, I would have liked to see more research in
this direction, especially in combination with ethnographic and
interactional data, since such research will let us observe more
clearly how the participants themselves deal with and are influenced
by the ideologies that underpin the discourses of elite bilingual
education. However, of course, due to the closed nature of the area of
elite bilingual education mentioned above, collection and analysis of
such data remain methodologically quite difficult, so for the time
being we can say that the analysis presented in this volume makes an
important contribution in raising the issue. Overall, given the lack
of material written on elite bilingual education, this book provides
an ideal starting point for future research, which promises to have
many implications beyond the immediate field of elite bilingual
education itself.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 1982. Ce Que Parler Veut Dire. Paris: Fayard.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1991. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press.

Fairclough, Norman. 1989. Language and Power. London: Longman.

Fairclough, Norman. 1992. Discourse and Social Change. London: Polity Press.

Heller, Monica. 1990. ''French immersion in Canada: A model for Switzerland?''
Multilingua 9(1), 67-85.

Heller, Monica. 1994. Crosswords: Language, Education and Ethnicity in French
Ontario. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Pennycook, Alastair. 1994. The Cultural Politics of English as an
International Language. London: Longman.

Pennycook, Alastair. 1998. English and the Discourses of
Colonialism. London: Routledge.

Phillipson, Robert. 1992. Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Schmid, Carol L. 2001. The Politics of Language: Conflict, Identity,
and Cultural Pluralism in Comparative Perspective. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.

Joseph Sung-Yul Park is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of
Linguistics, University of California, Santa Barbara. His research
interests include discourse analysis, interactional linguistics, and
sociolinguistics. His dissertation research focuses on the ideologies
of English in South Korea.


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