The Multilingual Citizen: Towards a Politics of Language for Agency and Change

The Multilingual Citizen: Towards a Politics of Language for Agency and Change

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In this ground-breaking collection of essays, the editors and authors develop the idea of Linguistic Citizenship. This notion highlights the importance of practices whereby vulnerable speakers themselves exercise control over their languages, and draws attention to the ways in which alternative voices can be inserted into processes and structures that otherwise alienate those they were designed to support. The chapters discuss issues of decoloniality and multilingualism in the global South, and together retheorize how to accommodate diversity in complexly multilingual/ multicultural societies. Offering a framework anchored in transformative notions of democratic and reflexive citizenship, it prompts readers to critically rethink how existing contemporary frameworks such as Linguistic Human Rights rest on disempowering forms of multilingualism that channel discourses of diversity into specific predetermined cultural and linguistic identities.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783099672
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 02/27/2018
Series: Encounters
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Lisa Lim is Associate Professor and Head of the School of English, The University of Hong Kong.

Christopher Stroud is Director of the Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research and Senior Professor of Linguistics, University of the Western Cape, South Africa, and Professor of Transnational Multilingualism, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University, Sweden.

Lionel Wee is Provost Chair Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore.

Lionel Wee is a linguist in the Department of English Language & Literature, National University of Singapore. He is interested in language policy (especially in Southeast Asia), the grammar of Singapore English, metaphorical discourse, and general issues in sociolinguistics and pragmatics. He sits on the editorial boards of Applied Linguistics, English World-Wide and Multilingual Margins. His recent publications include The Singlish Controversy: Language, Identity and Culture in a Globalizing World (2018) and Language, Space, and Cultural Play: Theorizing Affect in the Semiotic Landscape (2019, co-authored with Robbie Goh), both with Cambridge University Press.

Read an Excerpt


Linguistic Citizenship

Christopher Stroud University of the Western Cape and Stockholm University

The capacity to live with difference is, in my view, the coming question of the 21st century

Stuart Hall


A major challenge of our time is to build a life of equity in a fragmented world of globalized ethical, economic and ecological meltdown. In this context, language takes on singular importance as the foremost means whereby we may engage politically and ethically with others across difference. Howevever, any attempt to address this concern would need to comprise a critical and fundamental rethinking of the idea of 'multilingualism' itself. Contemporary understandings of multilingualism are the nomenclature par excellence of how we have come to conceptualize and regiment our relationship to different others. However, the construct, with its colonial pedigree, continues to engage and contain diversity in ways that reproduce essential features of colonial social logics in contemporary 'postcolonial' societies (compare Stroud & Guisemmo, 2015). Non-metropolitan languages, for example, especially in the African context, are positioned vis-à-vis metropolitan languages (English, French, Portuguese) in a different temporal discourse as languages in the 'becoming' (in need of intellectualization), or languages of times past (in need of revitalization). In both cases, the temporal displacement of speakers of these languages produces a subaltern who is only able to engage linguistically in the present through the words of the metropolitan language. (For an extended argument, see Stroud & Guissemo, 2015.) In other words, there is an important sense in which the crisis of humanity we are experiencing as a crisis of diversity and voice is deeply entwined with a subterranean crisis of a politically fraught notion of language itself. Thus, if we are to engage seriously with the lives of others, an imperative is reconceptualizing language in ways that can promote a diversity of voice and contribute to a mutuality and reciprocity of engagement across difference.

This chapter offers the notion of linguistic citizenship as a blueprint for a conceptual space within which to think differently – politically and ethically – about language and ourselves. In what follows, I provide a short chronological overview in the second section of the idea of linguistic citizenship. I emphasize how acts of linguistic citizenship do not only challenge ideas we hold about language and multilingualism, but also contribute to an agentive and transformative understanding of the idea of citizenship itself. In the third section, I illustrate this argument further with a case study of Kaaps, a stigmatized variety of Afrikaans spoken in the Cape Flats of South Africa. The section offers an analysis of a performance of a Hip Hop Opera called Afrikaaps, as well as a documentary on the making of the opera, which shows how a new sense of language emerges simultaneously with a new sense of self, dignity and citizenship.

In the final section of the chapter, I discuss how the idea of linguistic citizenship might contribute to a construal of 'multilingualism' as a space of vulnerability. This is a space where speakers meet different others in disruptive and unsettling encounters that interrupt the status quo (Pinchevski, 2005), and where senses of self may be juxtaposed and refashioned as part of the deconstruction of dominant voices and more equitable linguistic engagement with others.

Linguistic Citizenship: Early Beginnnings

Linguistic citizenship is fundamentally an invitation to rethink our understanding of language through the lens of citizenship and participatory democracy, at the same time that we rethink understandings of citizenship through the lens of language. The conjuncture of these two terms troubles both our conventional ideas of the 'linguistic' as well as how we think about 'citizenship'.

The concept of linguistic citizenship is a Southern and decolonial concept that arose out of the contradictions surrounding programmes and practices of mother tongue and bilingual education in the 1990s in the context of the geopolitical South. The contradiction lay in the fact that similar investments in language teaching provisions for mother tongue/ bilingual education, such as literacy materials, grammars, orthographies, dictionaries, teacher-training programmes and infrastructure delivery, resulted in very dissimilar outcomes in different contexts. An extensive meta-analysis suggested that a key parameter distinguishing successful from failed programmes was whether, and to what extent, community members found vernacular/local language provisions useful in their everyday management of issues, such as employment, economy and (local/ provincial) politics of housing, education and health (Stroud, 2001). Importantly, the longer-term viability of mother tongue/bilingual programmes was dependent on the degree to which the community itself was actively involved in developing and administering the programme, for example, by contributing to the establishment of orthographic conventions or choice of curriculum content (Stroud, 2002). A good example of the importance of participation was a local mother-tongue programme in Ghana developed in conjunction with an HIV prevention programme for youth and adults – also involving an adult literacy programme – by a consortium of stakeholders (including Lufthansa, Nestlé and a German nongovernment organization (NGO)), the success of which was due to the local community engagement it inspired (Stroud, 2001). The importance of an engaged, committed and agentive community for successful programme outcome was thrown into relief by the relative unsustainability of the then prevailing models of top-down interventions designed in the North, often administered by foreign NGOs and aid organizations. The notion of linguistic citizenship was thus born out of the felt need for a perspective that situated linguistic practices and representations of speakers firmly within their everyday sociopolitical strivings for agency, transformation and participatory citizenship.

At the time, the prevailing political and educational philosophy of language relevant to multilingualism was that of Linguistic Human Rights (LHR). The idea of linguistic citizenship challenged LHR by referencing Nancy Fraser's (1995) distinction between 'affirmative remedies' and 'transformative remedies'. The argument was that LHR was in all essentials an affirmative remedy, an instance of a politics of recognition that, quite contrary to the intentions of its proponents, maintained and reproduced the status quo to the detriment of minority languages and to the disadvantage of their speakers. One reason for this is that LHR discourses are subject to all the exigencies of how power is exercised and structured in a State, with the resulting technologies and tropes of language description reproducing specific political and local construals of language.

Alexandre Jaffe (1999: 28) had earlier noted how 'forms of language activism that reproduce a dominant language ideology also reproduce the structures of domination', replicating in this way a colonial linguistic dynamic in contemporary time. An illustrative case in point is that of the South African Northen AnaNdebele National Organization that lobbied parliament to accord official status to siNdbele in the South African constitution (Stroud & Heugh, 2004). In response, the state agency responsible tasked the speakers of the language themselves to prove that siNdebele was de facto a distinct language and therefore eligible to be considered for official recognition. This led to the community actively contesting an earlier classification of siNdebele as a 'variety', thus creating a situation of conflict and division both within and between the designated linguistic groups. The siNdebele case illustrates how a linguistics of standardization, officialization and intellectualization reconstructs minority languages in the image of official standard languages; by excluding and reconstructing forms that articulate alternative voices, minority languages come to embody the social ideologies, class differences and standard/non-standard distinctions that led to the oppression of these languages and the hierarchization of their speakers in the first place.

This is just one example of how seemingly expert and technical procedures of linguistic codification mask contested legislation, competing ideologies and social conflict in a community, as well as disguises the selective agency of its workings (Stroud, 2001, 2009; Stroud & Heugh, 2004). Multilingualism seen in a LHR framing appears as one technology among a broad battery of disciplinary and regulatory practices (Comaroff, 1998: 32) deployed by the state in pursuit of its continued reproduction including the de facto marginalization of minority languages.

If LHR remains mainly silent on the issue of how it is imbricated in the replication of existing institutional power structures of particular nation-states, linguistic citizenship seeks instead to lay bare this conspiracy by offering a different approach to language and multilingualism. Linguistic citizenship is a transformative concept (Fraser, 1995). It critically interrogates the historical, sociopolitical and economic determinants of how languages are constructed, at the same time as it pinpoints the linguistic, structural and institutional conditions necessary for change. Linguistic citizenship sees linguistic collectivities as bivalent, a notion that refers to the fact that, for language, 'neither socioeconomic maldistribution or cultural misrecognition are an indirect effect of the other, but ... both are primary and co-original' (Fraser, 1995: 85). It is the bivalency of linguistic collectivities that ties the refiguration of language to a deconstruction and reconstitution of social life and its institutions. This is why, when local languages were perceived by their speakers as central to community transformation, in a context where linguistic decisions were managed by the speakers themselves in structures of participatory engagement, the mother tongue/bilingual programmes could boast a successful implementation. It is also the bivalency of linguistic collectivities that allows us to see language and citizenship as two sides of the same coin – citizenship as mediated by forms of language, while forms of language in turn emerge out of the fluid and shifting entanglements of social engagement (Stroud, 2009: 217).

'Citizenship' in linguistic citizenship

The sense of citizenship referenced here is not the limited notion of nation-state citizenship that the term usually calls to mind. Isin (2009; see also Isin & Nielsen, 2008) has argued that 'our dominant figure of citizenship has changed throughout the 20th century' (2009: 368), and that we need a 'new vocabulary of citizenship' (2009: 368). He notes how in today's world:

new actors articulate claims for justice through new sites that involve multiple and overlapping scales of rights and obligations (...). The manifold acts through which new actors as claimants emerge in new sites and scales are becoming the new objects of investigation. (Isin, 2009: 370)

Isin introduces the notion of 'acts of citizenship' to refer to those 'deeds by which actors constitute themselves (and others) as subjects of rights' (2009: 371), or, alternatively, as those with 'the right to claim rights'. He argues that 'the manifold acts through which new actors as (rights) claimants emerge in new sites and scales' forces us 'to theorize citizenship as an institution in flux embedded in current social and political struggles that constitute it' (Isin, 2009: 368). Today, those who engage in such 'acts of citizenship' do not necessarily hold the conventional status of citizen (as, in Isin's conception, citizenship is not a status, but an act). Rather, acts of citizenship are the practices whereby new actors, seeking recognition in the public space in order to determine a new course of events, shift the location of agency and voice. In this respect, 'acts of citizenship' contribute to 'transformative' remedies in the sense of Nancy Fraser (1995), viz. remedies that attempt to deconstruct and restructure the political economic status quo and its institutions, and to bring about new social relations.

Isin's emphasis on the fluidity and dynamism of the 'fields of contestation around which certain issues, stakes, interests, etc., assemble' (e.g. sites, such as gender, sexuality and language), and the 'scopes of applicability (so-called "scales") that are appropriate to these fields' (going beyond conventional scopes such as state, nation, to include also sub- and supranational groupings), is borne out by the contemporary multiplication of 'citizenships', such as sexual citizenship, or intimate citizenship, and similar constructions. This is in keeping with the way in which struggles to extend the meaning of citizenship have historically brought about different ways of 'knowing' political subjects onto arenas of public and political discourse, with important consequences for key reforms in the social, political, economic or sexual rights of citizens. A political notion of citizenship emerged with the vote, and linking citizenship to economic rights and obligations accompanied the rise of trade unions and the development of welfare legislation. In the earlier years of the 20th century in Europe, and in the wake of the women's suffrage movement, the notion of citizenship was extended to also encompass issues of gender, and more recently also race and ethnicity. It is in this sense that 'citizenship' is used in conjunction with 'linguistic' – as an acknowledgement of the deeply entangled dependencies between language and politics, and as a pointer towards how a different construal of language may open up new political scenographies. Attention to complexities and subtleties of language practices (just as with an appreciation for different sexualities) can initiate and sustain state remedies for more encompassing and inclusive forms of citizenship agency and participation.

The 'linguistic' in linguistic citizenship

The other side of the coin is that the diverse and complex configurations of citizenship outside of the conventional understandings of politics usher in alternative construals of language. This point is well illustrated by the recent years' insurgent citizenship (Holsten, 2007) movements: From Occupy movements, such as the Greek Outraged or the Spanish Indiginados; through movements, such as Black Lives Matter; to Fall movements, such as Rhodes Must Fall. Each of these groups articulate their protest and claims to agency through a variety of semiotic means (compare for example Stroud, 2016, on the turbulent semiotics of a South African occupy movement). In like manner to the complexities of citizenship, linguistic citizenship recognizes that speakers' expression of agency, voice and participatory citizenship may require the use of a variety of semiotic means ranging over unconventional, non-institutionalized uses of language, to forms of embodied semiotic practice, such as the bearing of tattoos or corporeal use of space. Importantly, in the process of engaging with the social and political issues that affect them deeply – wrestling control from political institutions of the state, putting forward claims for new forms of inclusion or promoting and deliberating on contested stakes and interests – speakers reconfigure language through the creation of new meanings, repurpose genres and transform repertoires by using their language over many modalities (compare Williams & Stroud, 2013, 2015 for an analysis of performance genres, such as stand-up comedy, in this latter regard). In other words, just as the term 'citizenship' points to a fluid space of contestation, so should the term 'linguistic' not be confused with the idea of language as the artefactual product of formal linguistic analysis only. Speakers use a spectrum of expression outside of what is normatively (and narrowly) considered institutionally appropriate language to express agency, voice and desire for inclusiveness and participation. Linguistic citizenship encourages us to critically rethink the notion of 'linguistic' as practices that can be known through a variety of discourses and modalities.


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Table of Contents

Contributors’ Bios

Preface and Acknowledgements

Christopher Stroud: Introduction                                                                                                                             

Language Rights and Linguistic Citizenship

1. Christopher Stroud: Linguistic Citizenship

2. Lionel Wee: Essentialism and Language Rights

3. Stephen May: Commentary. Unanswered Questions: Addressing the Inequalities of Majoritarian Language Policies

Educating for Linguistic Citizenship

4. Blasius A. Chiatoh: Affirming Linguistic Rights, Fostering Linguistic Citizenship: A Cameroonian Perspective

5. Feliciano Chimbutane: Education and Citizenship in Mozambique: Colonial and Postcolonial Perspectives

6. Estêvão Cabral and Marilyn Martin-Jones: Paths to Multilingualism? Reflections on Developments in Language-In-Education Policy and Practice in East Timor

7. Suwilai Premsrirat and Paul Bruthiaux: Language Rights and “Thainess”: Community-Based Bilingual Education Is the Key

8. Kathleen Heugh: Commentary. Linguistic Citizenship: Who Decides Whose Languages, Ideologies And Vocabulary Matter?

Linguistic Citizenship in Resistance and Participation

9. Umberto Ansaldo and Lisa Lim: Citizenship Theory and Fieldwork Practice in Sri Lanka Malay Communities

10. Tommaso M. Milani and Rickard Jonsson: Linguistic Citizenship in Sweden: Resistance in A Context of Linguistic Human Rights

11. Gregory Kamwendo: Linguistic Citizenship in Post-Banda Malawi: A Focus On the Public Radio and Primary Education

12. Caroline Kerfoot: Making and Shaping Participatory Spaces: Resemiotization and Citizenship Agency in South Africa

13. Ana Deumert: Commentary. On Participation and Resistance

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