The magic of ignorance - English a false prophet

Trond Trosterud trond.trosterud at
Fri Jan 21 15:32:46 UTC 2005

20.1.2005 kello 17:59, Anthea Fraser Gupta kirjoitti:

 > I think Trond and I are sort of in agreement and sort of not...
Mostly, we are.

>> Italian, Bengali etc. children (immigrants) have the right to
> This is excellent though I really do wonder about the practicalities...

Practicalities: In my home town (70 000 inh.) a (say) Bengali teacher
will come to the school once a week to have 2-3 hours of Bengali with a
small group of, say 2 Bengali children. But their linguistic rights
have been weakened in the last curriculum: Now, they have the right to
non-Norwegian/Sámi/Finnish mother tongue education only if none of the
parents have Norwegian as a mother tongue, and as a rule, they should
have this education for 3 years only (earlier they got it during the
whole 9-year primary school). Some municipalities offer more mother
tongue education (i.e., more years), other ones (most notably, Oslo,
due to right-wing political rule) offer less.

> By the way, I have some issues with the term 'immigrant': I don't like
> (and have published on) the autochthonous/ immigrant distinction made
> in
> much European policy, as it is invidious. Many members of ethnic
> minorities in Europe are classed as 'immigrant' who are born and
> brought
> up in the European country and are citizens. I don't like that
> distinction.

Neither do I. The problem is that with the present political climate,
any change would be to the worse, i.e. to autochthonous minorities
loosing their rights, rather than recent immigrants loosing what they
have. Whenever some minority groups have a better status, we should
point out that the other ones deserve the same, and this is the
strategy we try to present whenever discussing these matters in the
relevant fora.

> Nevertheless, it does remain the case that there are many multilingual
> countries (e.g. Nigeria, India, Papua New Guinea).

Yes. Nigerias 3-language policy (local - regional (Hausa/Yoruba/Igbo) -
English) seems on the right track to me (although I would have given
more room and resources to both the local language and to H/Y/I (they
are still trying to standardise the Yoruba keyboard!!!)). I am
impressed when reading on Nigerian lg policy, especially compared to
other African lgs. As for papua new guinea, the speakers of its many
lgs live live in societies so different from mine, societies I know so
little about that I refrain from saying anything about them. Both from
a lg preservation view, and from the viewpoint of the inhabitants of
PNG, I am deeply concerned about recent news telegrams that the PNG
economy is on the brink to catastrophy. But deep concern is not enough
to build a lg policy on.

>> [I wouldn't say "superb", neither ironically nor in earnest.
> No doubt -- but would you be able to suggest anywhere better????

I know no better educational system that includes the whole population,
but that could be ignorance on my part (according to PISA, Finland and
Hong Kong are the top two, and Norway is on the lower end of the OECD,
so labels like "Northern Europe" are too simple; but then we leave our
topic, lg policy).

> The situation in Malaysia is that (...)

Thanks for a good presentation.

>  (I think
> I'd go down the route of English days or weeks rather than associating
> English with specifi subjects).

I guess that the question will always be "to what price". English
skills can always be improved (I talk of personal experience here), but
from what you tell it doesn't seem that Malay, Tamil or Chinese

>> Hindi leaves the scene to English only in too many domains.
> I don't understand this comment. English has a role mostly at national
> level. The regional languages are very very powerful indeed.

My experience is limited here, but i conducted a survey of the position
of lgs other than English in the computer and software industry in
India, of different langauges on the internet, and of lg technology
resources for the lgs other than the Indian state lgs. What I found was
that English has a far stronger position within these areas than it has
in the Nordic countries. This was the impression that made me
generalise to the phrase "too many domains" above.

>> Also, there is a hen-and-egg reasoning in the situation you describe:
>> "Only the English speaking are rich (..)
>> This wasn't what I meant!

No, I didn't think so, I just draw the conclusion of the scenario you
described, as what people may think. And I agree with your comment to
the situation in India.

> I do not think the
> legacy of imperialism has to be grim, so many years after it has ended.
> Social divisiveness is human nature and societies have to find ways of
> redressing it, but I really cannot see the colonial languages as
> automatic enemies.

No, the legacy of imperialism doesn't have to be grim, and French and
English aren't in themselves enemies. The "enemy" part comes in only
when they replace and thereby destroy the native education system.

Let me just repeat that I too, acknowledge that there are more than one
way to do things, people don't have to do it the way we did it in
Northern Europe, and local linguistic conditions may in fact prevent
them from doing it. The last thing I want to do is to "come down from
Europe and tell people what to do". But I think the Nordic and Finnish
experiences represent an alternative to the British model that ought to
be part of the total picture for lg and education planners. India and
Nigeria manage themselves (and eventual improvements will not come in
the form of copying any of the European systems), but there are other
some other countries, French-only and English-only ones, and they
should give the issue a second thought (and this was where the
discussion started, on a quote that in Malaysia they meant that they
had to use English as a lg of instruction in order to improve English

> Interesting discussion!

It was, indeed.


Trond Trosterud                                        t +47 7764 4763
Institutt for språkvitskap, Det humanistiske fakultet  m +47 950 70140
N-9037 Universitetet i Tromsø, Noreg                   f +47 7764 4239
Trond.Trosterud (a)

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