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Speaking Up for Native Languages

The case against linguistic hegemony--the dominance of a single language at the expense of all others--can be tough to make. On one side are all the benefits offered by the country or culture that are available to anyone willing to speak only the majority tongue; on the other side are memories of the culture immigrants came with and--typically--some rather uninspired, half-hearted efforts at creating multilingual classrooms. Yet it's a case that must be made, say the editors of a new book, or both the majority and the minority populations stand to lose.

In Imagining Multilingual Schools: Languages in Education and Globalization, TC Professor Ofelia Garc-a, TC Associate Professor Maria Torres-Guzman, and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas of University of Roskilde, Denmark, and Abo Akademi University, Finland, assemble a series of articles on multilingual teaching programs and outreach efforts that are successfully counteracting the effects of linguistic hegemony. The articles include a look at Navajo language loss in the U.S. and indigenous efforts to counteract it; a report on chil-dren's feelings about language learning at three different kinds of bilingual schools in Spain's Basque Autonomous Commun- ity; modern marketing methods used in Wales to promote the benefits of bilingualism to parents and prospective parents; and a language awareness project in Alsace, France, in which children ages six through nine are introduced to 18 languages and the cultures associated with them. Some of the articles end with a section written in the language the article is concerned with, including a passage in Navajo and one in Euskara (the Basque language).

The danger of linguistic hegemony is pressing, the editors agree. They quote experts in the field who tie free trade and open capital markets to a "present day imperialism" that is dispossessing people of their native languages worldwide, abetted by majority language schools. The editors say they hope "people become angry at this dispossession that schools are involved with daily and that this anger is then used to start not only demanding but finally implementing the multilingual imaginings that this book also describes." The beneficiaries would be not only those who are aware of what they have lost, but also those "who do not know that monolingualism has dispossessed them."

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