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Deconstructing the instrumental/identity divide in language policy debates

Debates about language and literacy policies are increasingly constructed at national levels in relation to their potential contribution to the ‘knowledge economy’, and to the ability of nation-states to compete economically in an increasingly globalised world. Invariably, this instrumental approach to language privileges the role of English as the current world language. Thus, in contexts where English is not spoken as a first language, English is increasingly viewed as the most important and/or useful additional language. In English-dominant contexts, monolingualism in English is seen as being a sufficient, even an ideal language model, while literacy in English comes to stand for literacy (and related social mobility) per se. Where other languages are countenanced at all in these latter contexts, the instrumentalist approach continues to dominate, with so-called international and/or trading languages being constructed as the languages other than English most worth learning, or perhaps even as the only other languages worth learning. The growing dominance of economistic, instrumental approaches to language policy, and the valorisation of English that is associated with them, clearly militate against ongoing individual and societal multilingualism. The languages most at risk here are so-called minority languages, particularly indigenous languages. In the new globalised world dominated by English, and where the perceived ‘usefulness’ of language is elided with language value, such languages are increasingly constructed as having neither. This paper deconstructs and critiques this positioning of indigenous and other minority languages, along with the wider instrumentality of much language and literacy policy of which it forms a part. In light of this, it also explores how such languages can be actively, justifiably and effectively maintained and promoted, particularly in English-dominant contexts.
Conference Contribution
Type of thesis
May, S. (2005). Deconstructing the instrumental/identity divide in language policy debates. In S. May, M. Franken & R. Barnard (Eds.). LED 2003: 1st International Conference on Language, Education and Diversity, Refereed Conference Proceedings and Keynotes, The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, 26-29 November 2003 [CD-ROM]. Hamilton, New Zealand: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, The University of Waikato.
Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, The University of Waikato