[Lgpolicy-list] [lg policy] Protecting Our Cultural Endangered Species: School [Language] Policies

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue Nov 4 15:49:30 UTC 2014

Protecting Our Cultural Endangered Species: School Policies
 Posted: 11/03/2014 4:32 pm EST  Updated: 11/03/2014 4:59 pm EST

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It took some time for the movement to save endangered species to catch on.
It has taken the endangered language movement even longer due to layers of
politics, globalization, modernization, assimilation and the dominance of
English.1 This is the start of a series of postings that will look at
efforts to save languages that are threatened or already endangered.

What are the keys to preventing minority languages from disappearing?
UNESCO recommends creating "favorable conditions for its speakers to speak
the language and to teach it to their children".2 UNESCO goes on to say
that national policies that "recognize and protect minority languages" and
"education systems that promote mother-tongue instruction" are two of
several factors that can help keep a language strong.3

In almost all countries with multiple languages, the opposite has been the
norm: national governments have purposefully suppressed the use and
teaching of minority languages in schools in their drive toward political
unity. Policies on language education are often "used by those in authority
to turn ideology into practice through formal education."4 This is
understandable from a nationalistic and perhaps economic standpoint, but
not so much from a cultural one.5

In 1896, in an effort to bring Hawaiians into the fold, the United States
mandated English as the language of instruction for all private and public
schools in Hawaii. Enforced by zealous administrators, this law
effectively, though not officially, removed Hawaiian from the schools,
sending all sorts of pro-English and anti-Hawaiian messages to school
children. It wasn't until 1978 that activists gained enough momentum to
convince legislators to grant Hawaiian official status, which paved the way
for the first private Hawaiian language immersion preschool to open in
1984. In 1986, only 28 years ago, public schools were finally permitted to
teach in Hawaiian alongside English6 the result of a small, but powerful
political movement to change Hawaiian language policy.7

In linguistically proud France, regional languages were considered a
significant internal threat. In 1925, after years of skirmishes, the
Minister of Education finally laid down the monolinguist gauntlet: only
French was to be used in all schools.8 It took eighty years for the
government to budge, cracking the door open wide enough to permit France's
minority tongues of Occitan, Breton, Catalan and Basque to be taught, but
only as extra-curricular activities.9 Now, regional languages are permitted
in schools and are recognized by the French Constitution10 but for many of
those languages, it is too late.11

Indonesian is a success story of how an indigenous language can be promoted
to a national language in the face of over 700 local languages and the
allure of English, but the success of Indonesian was at the cost of many of
the country's minority languages: a whopping 146 languages in Indonesia are
already endangered.12 Indonesia requires all schools in the 17,000 island
archipelago to be taught in Indonesian, but nodding to the national slogan
of "Unity in Diversity" had loosened up in some regions to permit schools
to teach minority languages for all of one hour a week (often more for
Javanese), hardly enough to teach anything substantial, but symbolically
important. In 2013, in a pro-nationalism move, the Indonesian government
decided to get rid of even that much. Schools were free to teach regional
languages, but regional language instruction had to be part of cultural
studies, meaning that the teaching of a region's history, dance, art, and
now language all had to take place in a single hour per week. Mass protests
by students and teachers in Bali led to the granting of an exemption for
Balinese13 to add to the exemption already afforded to the more politically
powerful Javanese. Schools in Bali were permitted to keep the one hour per
week instruction designated solely to the teaching of Balinese, but without
strong advocates, other languages in the archipelago were not given the
same protection.

The United States, France, and Indonesia are among scores of countries
which have set out mono-linguistic policies to firm up political unity. Now
on a more secure base, they have bowed to internal pressure to permit a
certain degree of teaching of regional languages. The combination of
political stability and internal educational policy advocacy is one
combination that seems to hold promise for the strengthening of regional
languages. But the pace needs to be sped up, before regional languages are
too inconsequential to be revitalized.

What has been your experience with educational policies that have helped
promote minority languages?

   1. Hornsby, Michael, Language Endangerment, Book of Knowledge,
   3. Ibid.
   4. Shohamy (2006) , Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches,
   Abingdon: Routledge, p. 76.
   5. Interesting debate on whether minority languages should be protected
   in BBC News, Talking Point¸8 March 2000,

   7. Language Matters With Bob Holman, a film by David Grubin, airing on
   PBS in January 2015: http://www.languagemattersfilm.com/
   8. Costa, James and Lambert, Patricia, France and Language(s): Old
   Policies, New Challenges, Towards A Renewed Framework?
   9. Ibid.
   10. Ibid.
   11. 26 French minority languages are on UNESCO's endangered list
   12. UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger,
   13. Students Oppose Removal of Balinese Language from Schools, The
   Jakarta Post, Dec. 15, 2012,

 More:  Endangered Languages
<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/endangered-languages/>  Minority
Languages <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/minority-languages/>
Languages <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/languages/>  Endangered
Species <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/endangered-species/>  Indonesian

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