Review of Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy

Oladipo Salami diposalami at
Tue Jan 20 12:43:33 UTC 2004

I think this is the second in the series. The first was on "Voices from
Pnomh Penh...' also edited by Joseph Lo Bianco. The review was done by me.
Meanwhile, could I ask for an urgent help: I hope to attend Sociolinguistic
Symposium 15 in Newcastle (UK) in April but I come from a country (Nigeria)
where higher education is heavily underfunded (both by government and the
private sector) and I have no hope of getting a govt/private grant from my
home university. Could someone please advise where I  can send in an
application for urgent assistance.

>From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
>Reply-To: lgpolicy-list at
>To: Language Policy-List <lgpolicy-list at>
>Subject: Review of Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy
>Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004 11:26:29 -0500 (EST)
>This review is the first in a series that we are inaugurating for the
>Language Policy List.  If others of you have books you'd like to see
>reviewed for this constituency, please let me know.
>Reviewer: Joyce Milambiling, University of Northern Iowa (USA)
>Book Title: Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy
>Book Editors: Joseph Lo Bianco and Rosie Wickert
>Publisher: Language Australia
>Linguistic Field(s): Language Policy and Planning, Language and
>Lo Bianco, J., & Wickert, R., eds. (2001) Australian Policy Activism in
>Language and Literacy. Melbourne: Language Australia, xii + 401 pp,
>paperback ISBN: 1-878768-31-2, AUS$ 45.00.  Available for order from:
>Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy chronicles the
>processes and alliances associated with recent language policy in
>Australia. It is an edited volume that consists of 17 separate chapters
>divided into an introduction and five parts.
>The introduction, "Activists and Policy Politics," is written by the two
>editors, and outlines for the reader the period dealt with in this book
>(1972-1996), as well as the intellectual and political territory that the
>editors and the other authors intend to cover in this description and
>analysis of policy activism as applied to language and literacy in
>Part 1, "Openings," contains one chapter written by Joseph Lo Bianco, one
>of the editors. This chapter sets one of the dominant themes of the book,
>the tone of which is summed up in the title: ">From policy to anti-policy:
>How fear of language rights took policy-making out of community hands."
>The author states that the article has two functions within this volume:
>1) To provide a framework and define terms for the entire discussion
>throughout the book; and 2) for Lo Bianco, the author not only of this
>chapter but also of the 1987 National Policy on Languages, to give his
>"take" on what has happened in Australian language policy (and why), the
>consequences of policies which he terms "anti-pluralist," and some
>predictions for the future of language policy in that country.
>Part 2, "Processes, Politics and the Effects of Policy Text Production,"
>includes three articles written by insiders to the policy-making process.
>Two of the authors, Rosie Wickert (Chapter 3), and Helen Moore (Chapter
>4), write from, among other perspectives, those of activists in adult
>literacy and migrant education respectively. Paul Brock, in Chapter 2,
>describes his role as a consultant to the government in 1990-1991 during
>the creation of one of the major Australian language policies.
>Part 3, "Policy Positions," consists of three articles that, according to
>the introduction, represent "different approaches to understanding how
>policy problems and solutions are constituted in particular kinds of ways
>with an intention to generate different solutions" (p. 6). Singh's
>contribution (Chapter 5) is concerned with the issues of immigration,
>multiculturalism, relations between Australia and Asia, and Australian
>identity. In Chapter 6, Taylor addresses Indigenous Australian language
>and literacy, including the overt and covert conflicts over the teaching
>and learning of Standard Australian English. Castleton (Chapter 7)
>analyzes the content of adult literacy policy in Australia by focusing on
>a government report on workplace literacy to see, in the author's words,
>"how knowledge about workplace literacy has been constructed in Australia,
>and the consequences of this particular construction" (p.165).
>Part 4, "Policy and the Contexts of Practice," is the longest section of
>this book, consisting of nine chapters. The purpose of this section is
>summed up in the introduction as illustrating "what happens in different
>contexts as an application of the wider principles" (p.7). In Chapter 10,
>for example, McKay describes the effects that a 1998 national literacy
>plan and literacy benchmarks associated with this plan have had on English
>as a Second Language learners. The author focuses not only on concrete
>aspects of the literacy plan, but also on its underlying ideology and
>potential long-term effects. This section of the book also includes an
>article on the effect of language policy on the field of interpreting and
>translating (Ozolins, Chapter 12), another article that considers how sign
>language and Deafness have been represented in language policy documents
>(Power, Chapter 13), and one contribution near the end of this section
>that looks at which languages have been characterized as "priority
>languages" in Australia during a recent 12 year period (Scarino &
>Papademetre, Chapter 15).
>Part 5, "New Openings," like the first part of the book, consists of a
>single article. In this final chapter Jack Frawley "explores the concept
>of print literacy as being socially and culturally driven, and its
>positioning as a variable social technology within the context of an
>Aboriginal community" (p. 345). The co-editors state in the introduction
>that they chose this article as the final one because it contributes "new
>theorizations, perspectives and possibilities" (p. 9).
>Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy is an impressive
>contribution to the language policy literature. As an outsider to the
>Australian language policy debate, I was thoroughly informed by the
>different chapters in this volume on the issues and chronology as well as
>the theoretical and practical debates in this area of Australian policy
>during the last 30 years. The contributors come from a wide range of
>academic institutions and represent many different disciplines and areas
>of experience in providing service to the Australian public. As a result
>of reading this book, I was better able to understand and even to
>recognize some shortcomings in a recent journal article on minority
>language education in Australia.
>The book, as described in the synopsis, is subdivided into an introduction
>and five parts. The first and the last parts (also referred to as
>"sections" in this review), each consists of single chapters. As I was
>reading, I found the differences in the subject matter of the content of
>the articles in the three middle sections to be quite subtle. In
>evaluating the structure of the book I could not always tell why one
>article was put in one section rather than another. It appeared to me that
>the Singh article, "Advocating the Sustainability of Linguistic
>Diversity," to take one example, could have just as well been placed in
>the "Policy and the Contexts of Practice" section.
>That said, the organization did not in the least detract from the value of
>the book overall and its 17 individual chapters. The most fascinating, and
>to my mind worthwhile contributions in the volume paired a discussion and
>analysis of language policy with an area in which the author was
>well-versed and for which he/she provided specific examples from the
>field. Wickert's description in Chapter 3 of the role of literacy
>activists in the production of language policies benefited greatly from
>the author's more than 20 year involvement in adult basic education.
>Similarly, Power's excellent analysis in Chapter 13 of the representation
>of deafness and sign language in Australian government policy documents
>over a seven year period (1983-1990), would not have been possible nor as
>effective had the author not had such a long association with research in
>the field. The most interesting material in the book, exemplified in most
>of the chapters, was on how different programs and populations have been
>impacted (directly or indirectly) by the various language policies enacted
>during the period covered by the book, and what effect the policies and
>policy-making processes have had on the individual actors.
>The writing and clear presentation/justification of often controversial
>views are both strong points of this book. Ozolins' account of the
>interpreting translation (I/T) field in Chapter 12 provides a
>comprehensive picture of this field and how it has been affected, not
>always positively, by recent language policy decisions in Australia. The
>author's use of four examples on pages 270-273 plainly shows how the state
>and federal governments have had different effects on I/T, with the
>national level, in the author's view, proving to be the crucial one (p.
>272). Several of the articles are good examples of how to take strong
>positions on a topic, and how to argue individual points convincingly. For
>example, Nicholls (Chapter 16) critiques the decision by the government of
>the Northern Territory to eliminate bilingual education programs for
>Indigenous language speakers. She argues that the decision was based on
>the "cultural logic of elimination," a logic that the author says goes
>against the rhetoric of reconciliation. As another example, Singh, in
>"Advocating the Sustainability of Linguistic Diversity," presents the
>concept of what he terms "White Australian Politics" in support of his
>contention that earlier "colonialist thinking" is still exerting an effect
>on language education policies in Australia (p.124).
>There were only a few points throughout the book when I thought that the
>writing could have been more succinct, or when the different parts of one
>article did not fit together smoothly. Chapter 2 by Brock, for example,
>could have benefited from some editing to cut out redundancy and
>overabundance of detail (at least in my opinion) regarding what it means
>to be an insider to the policy-making process, and regarding some of the
>idiosyncrasies of the different actors in the account he is presenting.
>Also, although the interview data was integral to Moore's discussion of
>policy intervention in the Adult Migrant English Program in Chapter 4,
>some of the excerpts were very long, and the author did not provide enough
>information on who the individual interviewees were (not their actual
>identities but rather their particular positioning within the discussion)
>and why their comments (rather than someone else's) were being provided at
>that particular point in the article.
>Although some of the contributions contained technical or field-specific
>language, this did not generally interfere with the readability of the
>text. Although it was not clear either within or on the cover of the book
>itself or on the publisher's website what the intended audience of this
>book is, I assume that readers will come to this volume with experience
>either in linguistics, policymaking, individual fields like literacy or
>deafness, or that some (many?) of the readers will be from Australia and
>therefore familiar with much of the terminology and references within
>individual articles.
>The articles in this volume cover many different topics and, even though
>the authors represent some diversity in terms of their opinions on the
>past, present and future of language policy in Australia, I didn't find
>much support for the editors' claim on page 9 that "There is a wide
>variety of viewpoints represented in this book." For the most part, the
>authors seem to agree that the 1987 National Policy on Languages (NPL) was
>more firmly grounded in pluralist principles and for that and other
>reasons preferable to later legislation, especially the 1991 Australian
>Language and Literacy Policy (ALLP). Most of the authors in Australian
>Policy Activism in Language and Literacy maintain that policies after 1987
>have retreated from the earlier stance and principles, and I think it is
>fair to say that most of the authors in this volume also view the earlier
>policy positions as superior. Personally, I happen to be sympathetic to
>the ideology behind the 1987 policy, especially the idea that everyone (in
>Australia or anywhere else) should be bilingual or multilingual. I also
>believe that several authors in this book (including the two editors) make
>a convincing case for the greater desirability of the tenets of the NPL,
>especially as applied to specific populations. However, despite the fact
>that one of the chapters is authored by a consultant on the 1991 ALLP
>(Brock  in Chapter 2 ), and that some of the other authors of this volume
>under review bring up some minor criticisms of the 1987 NPL (e.g.,
>Nicholls on p. 338, Powers on pp. 284-285, and Ozolins on p. 268), it does
>not appear that, overall, the book contains what could truly be considered
>"a variety of viewpoints."
>The content of the articles is well-documented, and I found no case of
>missing references or contradictory dates or facts. The supporting parts
>of the volume, namely the table of contents, abbreviation list, list of
>contributors and reference list, are clearly written and organized. The
>abbreviation and reference lists in particular are potentially useful to a
>wide variety of readers, especially those who are unfamiliar with language
>policy in Australia and who may need guidance through the plethora of
>abbreviations and acronyms common in institutional contexts, or who would
>like to read further on language policy in general and language policy in
>Australia. One feature that would have been helpful is an index of terms
>and names used throughout. An index would have been valuable in a book
>such as this one for locating the specific topics in which the reader is
>interested, and because of the editors' claim that different perspectives
>are represented here. An index would guide the reader to all mentions of a
>term or proper name throughout the book, thus helping to focus the reading
>and enabling the reader to make comparisons more easily.
>In sum, Australian Policy Activism in Language and Literacy is an
>important contribution to the field of language policy because it covers
>so many different facets of how policy is formulated and by whom, how
>individual policy problems are constituted and often adjusted, and what
>actually happens in different contexts when policy is engaged to solve
>problems and/or improve situations. The concentration on language policy
>in one country, although the global context is certainly referenced
>throughout the book, focuses attention on how a "single" case is really
>much more than that due to the complexity of the issues and the lack of
>consensus in such a diverse nation as Australia. Finally, the book makes
>abundantly clear the statement that "Policy dialogue is both necessary and
>possible, and indeed, has been a feature of the Australian language and
>literacy policy experience" (p.3)
>About the Reviewer:
>Joyce Milambiling is Associate Professor in the English Department, TESOL
>Section, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls. Her research centers on
>the educational applications of linguistics in the U.S. and Southeast
>Asia, including second/foreign language learning and teaching, language
>policy, bilingualism and bilingual education, and language teacher
>education. Among her publications are articles in TESOL Quarterly, Theory
>into Practice, and Language Magazine.

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