Book review: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts

Sam Sonntag sks1 at
Tue Aug 7 17:41:02 UTC 2007

I just read this review of the edited volume in which I have a contribution
(on Nepal).  I was surprised to see how distorted the summary of my chapter
was in this review.  Whereas the reviewer claims that "Selma K. Sonntag
illustrates how the democratically elected government

turned to the 'Nepali-only' language policy in the early 1990s," I had
attempted to do the exact opposite: I argued that the "people's revolution"
in the early 1990s marked a turning away from the Nepali-Only policy of the
past to a much more inclusive multilingual policy, albeit not as inclusive
as multilingual advocates, both in Nepal and elsewhere, would have liked.  I
hope that my chapter is the only one that has been seriously misread by the
reviewer--and perhaps it is my fault for not being as clear a writer as I
would like to be.  However, I do feel the need to set the record straight,
precisely because the Nepal case illustrates the positive linkage between
democracy and multilingualism. 



Sam (Selma K.) Sonntag


Visiting Research Chair in Globalization and Cultural Studies

Institute on Globalization and the Human Condition

McMaster University

Hamilton, Ontario, Canada



Department of Government & Politics

Humboldt State University

Arcata, CA  USA

E-mail: sks1 at 


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Subject: Book review: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian


Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts


Announced at

EDITORS: Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson


TITLE: Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts

SERIES: New Perspectives on Language & Education

PUBLISHER: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

YEAR: 2006



Revied by Yasemin Kirkgoz, Department of ELT, Lecturer in English Language

Teaching at the University of ukurova


''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is an edited

collection of papers aimed at presenting the impact of globalization on

language policies in Asian countries. Each chapter in the volume focuses

on different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of language policies

of Asian countries in the social construction of national cultural

identities; the relationship between language, culture, and identity (vii)

through the impact of globalization; and language policy responses of the

governments based on case study experiences. The book is introduced by a

preface, which lays out the background, the aim of the book, and consists

of fifteen chapters. As the editors state in the preface, in selecting

contributors to the volume, they have been guided by the decision to

include countries which have been underrepresented in the literature on

language policy. Each chapter author is an Asian scholar with experience

and knowledge concerning language policy of their country, as such the

book aims to provide ''insider's perspective on each of the countries

presented'' (viii).




The collection, edited by Tsui, Amy B.M.; James W. Tollefson consists of

fourteen chapters including a preface, followed by Chapter 1. The fourteen

chapters of the book are organized into three parts. Part 1 entitled

''Globalization and its Impact on Language Policy, Culture, and Identity''

consists of five chapters. Part II ''Language Policy and the (Re)

Construction of National Cultural Identity'' comprises the next three

chapters in the volume (Chapters 7-10). Part III ''Language Policy and

Language Politics: The Role of English'' covers the last four chapters in

the collection. The first and the last chapters are written by the editors



Chapter One ''Language Policy and construction of National Identity'',

written by the editors, seems to be designed to provide a critical

overview of all the chapters that make up the collection, presenting an

analytical framework for understanding the case studies. As the editors

put it, authors in this volume explore the relationship between language

policy and national cultural identity by examining the impact of

globalization on several Asian countries and their language policy

responses to it. The authors first present several questions related to

the spread of English with reference to Phillipson's (1992) ''linguistic

imperialism'', arguing that English is considered by language policy

makers in Asian countries as a ''multinational tool that is essential for

achieving national goals and by individuals as an indispensable resource

for personal advancement'' (p.18).  While admitting that Asian countries

have little choice other than legitimizing the hegemony of English, they

argue that at the supranational level, the ownership of English still

remains largely in the hands of English-speaking Western superpowers.


Chapter Two ''Japan's Language Policy and the 'Lost Decade''' by Kayoko

Hashimoto examines how the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language

(TEFL)  is situated in Japanese society and how the government has

responded to the promotion of TEFL in its policy since what is known as

the Lost Decade, when Japan was in search of solutions to tackle a

national crisis. The discussion mainly focuses on the perspective that

language policies are mainly cultural policies because they are connected

with what can culturally be achieved. The author puts forward the idea

that while promoting English, Japan has successfully maintained its own

cultural identity by promoting TEFL within the framework of Japanese

internationalization and the ''good'' qualities of the Japanese culture.

Hashimoto remarks that efforts have been made by the government to ensure

that the learning of English would not undermine Japanese cultural

identity and cultural values.


Chapter Three ''Globalization and Language Policy in South Korea'' by Yim

Sungwon explores globalization in the Korean context. Sungwon argues that

in the Korean context, globalization has acted as a ''catalyst for

developing a new sense of national identity'' (p.51). He clearly shows

that unlike many countries where the imposition of ideologies and cultures

of Western superpowers has rendered many nations helpless, many Koreans

see the current spread of the English language and American culture as an

opportunity for their nation to show itself to the world by appropriating

the American culture and language to disseminate Korean ways of thinking

and understanding rather than seeing it as a threat to their national



Chapter Four ''The construction of National Identity and Globalization in

Multilingual Malaysia'' by Maya Khemlani David and Subramaniam Govindasamy

is in two sections. In the first section the authors outline the

multilingual and multiethnic context in which the Malaysian language

policy is interpreted using a descriptive historical-discourse approach;

the second part examines the role of English language textbooks in

promoting national identity and the global outlook of Malaysia's citizens.

After an overview of Malaysian colonial history and colonial heritage, the

authors demonstrate the prominence being given by the leaders of the

nation to the use of English, especially in education, which they remark

has led to an increase in private English medium education as a recent

response to globalization. Adopting a discourse analytical approach to

examine the textbooks, the authors show that the textbook writers have

achieved a major goal by introducing global values essential to contribute

to the common goal of nation building without neglecting local customs

through selecting topics and producing materials.


Chapter Five ''Remaking Singapore: Language, Culture, and Identity in a

Globalized World'' by Phyllis Ghim-Lian Chew situates Globalization in

Singapore, ''an increasingly depoliticized, postcolonial, and

materialistic environment'' (p. 75). The author first focuses on the

language policy, specifically, the Speak Good English Movement (SGEM). He

then surveys contribution by Singaporeans about what makes a Singaporean

and examines data from a recent questionnaire on language attitudes in

Singapore. In the evolving global society, Chew suggests that language is

not so much as a symbol of culture and nationhood but as an essential

economic resource having a particular value: a tool by which a nation may

achieve varied goals in the area of research, finance, manufacturing and

public relations.


Chapter Six ''Transition, Culture, and Language in Cambodia'' by Thomas

Clayton discusses the impact of liberalization and democratization on

Cambodia's dominant minority cultures in relation to language choices in

education. Clayton argues that by influencing language choice in favour of

English and French the government's agenda to maintain and strengthen

Khmer culture is being threatened. He points out that the Cambodian

government has allocated its own resources only to the national language,

by extension, the Khmer culture, while leaving to others interventions

that advance Chinese, Cham, Vietnamese and indigenous languages and

cultures.  Clayton also mentions that transition form a centrally planned

to a Market economy led to participation in a global economy, which

resulted in an increase in foreign investment. Many job opportunities were

created leading to an increase in demand for English.


Chapter Seven ''Language Policy and the construction of Identity: The Case

of Hong Kong'' by Amy B. M. Tsui discusses the language policy in the

construction of cultural identity in the Hong Kong context. Based on

Halls's framework of identity construction, Tsui examines the

institutional and socio-political processes that influenced the collective

identity of the people of Hong Kong in the colonial and postcolonial

periods, exploring the role of language policy in these processes. She

claims that during the colonial area, the interaction between the

competing forces of British colonialism and Chinese nationalism, and the

resistance to both movements shaped the local identity of the people of

Hong Kong.


Chapter Eight ''Multilingual and Multicultural Identities in Brunei

Darussalam'' by Mukul Saxena addresses the very theme of the sociocultural

philosophies of governance embedded in Hinduism, Islamic and Western

thoughts that have shaped the national ideology, MUB, of Brunei. Saxena

remarks that by defining the nation state in terms of the national MIB

ideology, the Brunei government has highlighted the importance of Malay

culture and language to the national identity. This relationship between

ethnicity, culture, language and identity is extended to the Muslim

monarchy. What he seems to highlight in this chapter is that the policy

pressures from diverse sociolinguistic practices are ''constructing,

deconstructing, and reconstructing Bruneians' multilingual and

multicultural identities'' (p.158).


Chapter Nine ''Mauri or Mirage? The Status of the Maori Language in

Aotearoa New Zealand in the Third Millennium'' by Richard A. Benton

presents - in a very condensed and at times hard-to-process style - Maori

language, culture, and contact with English since the late 18th century.

Benton gives an overview of how the status of the language has been

recognized and reflected in practice both within and outside the Maori

ethnic community since initial contact with outside influences. He reports

that the unequal power relationship between English and the Maori language

resulted in several paradoxes. Maori people were interested in preserving

the Maori language and culture, yet they avoided speaking it at home. They

sent their children to English-medium schools. Although the Maori language

is an official language and it is used in parliamentary debates, it is

hardly used by legislators. Benton proposes an interpretation that

resolves these apparent paradoxes.


Chapter Ten ''Identity and Multilinguality: The Case of India'' by R. K.

Agnihotri gives the history of the language policy in India before and

after the partition of India and Pakistan. Agnihotri clearly shows that

language policy and national identity are mutually related, which he

points out is often used for political ends. Throughout the chapter, it is

demonstrated that in India, Hindi and Urdu were separated into two

distinct languages to serve the political end of projecting two separate

identities, Hindu and Muslim during the partition process. This had an

unfavourable consequence of destroying the ethnic harmony. The dominance

of Hindi contributed to the demise of Hindustani, a common language to

Hindus and Muslims, generating resistance from other linguistic groups. He

describes how English, the language of colonization, remained one of the

official languages to counter the absolute power of Hindi.


Chapter Eleven ''Change and Permanence in Language Politics in Nepal'' by

Selma K. Sonntag illustrates how the democratically elected government

turned to the ''Nepali-only'' language policy in the early 1990s and made

Sanskrit compulsory in primary and secondary education. Sonntag points out

that this reversal caused strong resistance from the ethnic minorities.

Unlike in India, such resistance lead to positive outcomes as it enabled

the minorities to resolve ethnolinguistic policy matters. With regard to

the role of English, she notes that as in the case of India, English

functioned as a tool for resistance against the linguistic dominance of

Nepali. With the spread of English, English-medium schools increased, and

concerns have been expressed about the widening social divide resulting

from such proliferation.


Chapter Twelve ''The Role of English in Pakistan with Special Reference to

Tolerance and Militancy'' by Tariq Rahman deals with the issue that the

spread of English is accompanied by the propagation of liberal values in

Pakistan. In a survey conducted by Rahman, the English-educated elites

hold more liberal values such as peace with India, equal rights for women,

and religious tolerance, and they support militant policies. The author

points out that due to access to English and the Internet, young people,

regardless of whether elite or nonelites, can freely express themselves on

various issues including politics, and religion. Such free expression,

according to Rahman, is a breakthrough for Pakistan which he considers as

an intolerant and oppressive society. Rahman also cautions that while

English brings liberal and democratic values, it may also make available

neofundamentalist Islamic values.


Chapter Thirteen ''Language Policy in Education in Bangladesh'' by Tania

Hossain & James W. Tollefson address three issues in language and

education in Bangladesh: the role of Bengali in the ideology of Bengali

nationalism;  the forces contributing to the spread of English among the

elite, and the language in the educational system. Hossain & Tollefson

remark that the linguistic resistance in Bangladesh to the domination of

Urdu and the struggle for the recognition of the Bengali as a co-official

language eventually turned into military resistance, which resulted in the

political independence of Bangladesh from West Pakistan. Bengali was

declared the state language as well as the medium of instruction in the

state education system. The authors discuss how English-medium education

has continued for the elite despite high rate of illiteracy. They draw

attention to one of the educational problems: the lack of curriculum

materials in Bengali means that higher education has to continue in the

medium of English. This limits its access by the Bengali-medium graduates

and deepens the social divide between those who can access it and others

that cannot.


Chapter Fourteen ''Issues in Language Policy, Culture, and Identity'' by

James W. Tollefson & Amy B.M. Tsui is the final chapter summarizing the

major research issues emerging from the chapters in the volume. The

authors agree that the answers raised at the beginning of the book to

several policy related issues are often complex, varying in accordance

with the political and cultural context, and changeable over time. They

make a number of important points: the language policy responses of Asian

countries indicate that these countries have as much a part to play as

English speaking Western superpowers in legitimizing the hegemony of

English. English is perceived by the policy makers as an essential tool to

achieve national goals and personal achievement. The authors conclude that

on the basis of the evidence, language policy responses of countries

included in the volume have been largely determined by the linguistic

practices, preferences of organizations both multinational and

transnational as well as international aid agencies. They also point out

that the threat of cultural homogenization brought about by the hegemony

of English has been a source of tension for Asian countries.





''Language Policy, Culture, and Identity in Asian Contexts'' is a much

welcome addition to the scholarship on language policy, education, and

sociolinguistics, particularly for its contribution of much needed

empirical studies in Asian countries. It brings together a significant

amount of research studies on language policies and practices in Asian



The book is certainly a must-read for anyone who is interested in issues

in language policies and practices in Asian countries. It is a great

sourcebook that may be used in graduate and undergraduate courses on

language policy, language in society and language education. With regard

to the scope, the collection provides a critical survey of language

policies and practices in Asian countries. The usefulness of the

discussion questions posed by the editors in the first chapter might

assist readers in thinking through the whole volume in further

understanding the topics addressed in each chapter.


Each chapter is clearly laid-out and well written, some offering excellent

end-of-chapter summaries. Perhaps the most positive quality of this book

is that the authors introduce the historical and theoretical discussion on

the language policies of their countries from an insider's perspective.

Each chapter deals with a language policy in a different Asian country,

thus most chapters are well worth the time it takes to read. The content

is certainly not difficult to read, since it is presented in a very clear

and factual manner. Another welcome contribution of this book is that each

chapter addresses a different aspect of the complex issue - the roles of

language policies of a particular Asian country in the social construction

of national cultural identities, and the relationship between language,

culture, and identity through the impact of globalization, and approaches

adopted by the government of the respective country, drawing on case study



Overall, I have found the volume to be cohesive, resourceful and

well-written. I would highly recommend this book to those involved in

language policy and planning. The detail of discussion makes this book an

extremely useful reference for those involved in language policy issues.





Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University




ABOUT THE REVIEWER Yasemin Kirkgoz is an Assistant Professor in the

Department of English Language Teaching at the University of ukurova,

Turkey. Her research interests include influence of globalization on

language policy, English-medium education and classroom based research.




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