Monday, 7 June 2010

The first plenary: A text, some debate, and the talk of teachers: Dimensions, problems and rights in language education planning today by Lo Bianco

[This talk is available in Moniviestin: click here.]

Here are some points I picked up for my first blog entry:

Lo Bianco started off with a critical question: What do teachers (and others) who are dealing with multilingualism in everyday context actually do compared to what they are said to do? Do language policy makers recognize those practices?
Taking that account he is working towards a new conceptualization of language planning.
1. A textual legal-political element, policy makers, conducted with the instruments of law and administration.
2. A discursive argumentative-rhetorical element, citizen-centred, conducted in debate, argument and persuasion;
3. A performance dimension, in the hands (or mouths) of teachers, >> linguistic choices, shaping the communicative fortunes of learners. (What actually is going on?)

He showed very interestingly how language planning and language policy making has been around already very early in the history, in various forms: Verbal policing, i.e. stating what language(s) can be talked and where for verbally cleansed space, or wanting to break the hold of traditional culture by doing language politics on genre (by Plato).

One effective tradition of European language planning is to name the language after the ethnic national group, “Create a nation by inventing a new language first and name it after the collectivity”. This tradition is also related to how many times multilingualism is seen as a threat for creating a sovereign state. Multiple languages create mayhem and war. It is thought that one language creates peace on earth.

When talking looking at language planning texts it is important to pay attention on what is named as a key problem. When key problems are named there are some interesting points that affect how the problem is formulated:
What is counted as literacy. Documents of ‘black on white’ or are graphs and other multimodal texts included at all when people talk about literacy? When talking about literacy skills and 100% rates of literacy it would be interesting to ask who is actually fully literate when reading, for example, a phone bill or patterns for making clothes?

What about different groups and their literacy skills? For example all Australians have variable literacy, so the question is: Can there be a comprehensive policy for general literacy improvement?

Lo Bianco wrapped up his talk by stating that language policy in the future should be more public:
public texts, public discourse (debate, argument, persuasion) and performative action (e.g. parenting, teaching, identity formation)

A comment from the audience used an interesting phrasing for this: Open source language planning. Would this kind of an approach guarantee for more people to get involved in language planning, especially those whose language practices are controlled by policy making?

He will continue this discussion in his workshop on Tuesday.


  1. I also reacted to this notion of "open source planning" (too bad I did not get who the person was"). If we think of policy as somehow discursively construed, then where are the sites that this "open source language planning" could take place? This, again, goes back to the idea of shifting the focus of political argument (as shown by lo bianco in his example of parliamentary discussion): "where" (time, space) is the "open source market place" for policy making

  2. I thought there was a Foucauldian aspect to the talk in that Joe talked about the need for action at the micro level. Unfortunately I was unable to hear the questions from the audience as the microphone was too quiet. Still, it was great to be able to listen in from afar, thanks for alerting me to this feature, Taina!

  3. Interestingly, the notion that language planning has been around for a while has also been evident in a BBC Radio 4 series I have been listening to entitle 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' (most famous example probably being the Rosetta Stone). Here's a link to the website:

  4. Thanks for asking the crucial question "What is the Problem?" ! Many issues of language planning seem to boil down to the simple fact that people (representatives of majorities, political decision-makers uneducated in linguistics) just don't have a clue of the broad spectrum of what "knowing languages" can mean. (The debate referred to, with a shift of focus from the bilingual education for Aboriginal Australians to "literacy", understood of course as "literacy in English", was a wonderful example.)

    What we really would need in many cases would be reaching beyond the level of labels used in language policy – for instance, what a "bilingual teaching programme" means in practice (it can mean a whole variety of things). Thanks for highlighting the "performative" aspect!