Monolingualism and Multilingualism as Curable Diseases: Language Policy and Scholarly Discourse on linguistic Heterogeneity

Thematic Section: The development of social meaning in heterogeneous speech communities

social meaning, contact-induced variation and change, developmental sociolinguistics, language policy, language ideology

Raphael Berthele, Université de Fribourg

Language Policy Discourses on language variability and diversity are a stage on which in modern societies power relationships and group interests are negotiated. This paper addresses shifts in discourse with a focus on language acquisition planning, e.g. in the imposition or ban of specific varieties and (second, foreign) languages in state-governed education.
To shed light on the role experts play in shifts in policy discourse, I analyze a corpus of scholarly literature on language and language learning that addresses the role of linguistic heterogeneity. It shows shifts between monolingualist and multilingualist stances, but also their co-existence which creates interesting tensions and incoherences in policy discourse.
The way linguists and educational specialists frame their object of inquiry oscillates between monolingual and plurilingual idealizations; between the competent, monolingual speaker-hearer in the structuralist and generativist traditions and the holistic repertoire and translanguaging construals in current bi- and multilingualism research. Scholarly framing of what an ordinary speaker as the object of inquiry is, however, is not strictly linear from a monolingual past to a plurilingual present: some early outliers (e.g. Schuchardt, Weinreich) focus on language mixing and contact.
The early focus was on the national (standard) language and the importance of mastering the mother tongue, and bilingualism was considered a rarity or pathology. Today’s scholars tend to play the inverse role, pathologizing monolingualism (e.g. the slogan “Monolingualism is curable”) aiming to transform language policy discourse into a multilingualism discourse.
The analysis shows the role of linguists’ affirmations, beliefs, and findings in defending specific groups’ interests. The independence of scholarly investigation is shown to be self-delusional at times, as when scholars’ ‘scientific’ claims function as a legitimization of their respective scholarly field.