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

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Nov 7 16:19:22 UTC 2014

 Protecting Our Cultural Endangered Species: School Policies


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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
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"
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.

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."1 This is
understandable from a nationalistic and perhaps economic standpoint, but
not so much from a cultural one.2

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 English
the result of a small, but powerful political movement to change Hawaiian
language policy <http://www.languagemattersfilm.com/>.

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. 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.
Now, regional languages are permitted in schools and are recognized by
the French
but for many of those languages, it is too late (26 French minority
languages are already endangered

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
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 Balinese being exempted from this new regulation
along with politically powerful Javanese.
Schools in Bali are 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 are not given the same

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. Shohamy, *Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches*,
   Abingdon 2006: Routledge, p. 76.
   2. Interesting debate on whether minority languages should be protected
   in BBC News, Talking Point¸8 March 2000,


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