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

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 15 15:04:53 UTC 2007

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.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list