Book Review: Planning Language, Planning Equality

Planning Language, Planning Equality, by James W. Lollefson

It does not take very long in reading this book to realize that the author is either incredibly stupid or immensely wicked in his mindset about languages.  For one, it is clear that the author has  certain anti-American spirit about him, that he holds a disreputable Marxist mindset, and that he has little regard for good rhetoric much less something approaching truth.  As a result, reading this book is less like a straightforward task of reading what he says than it is a task of critically debunking his frequent errors and taking what he says several steps beyond his statements to demonstrate his intellectual dishonesty.  This is not the sort of book that one enjoys reading, even for one who has a strong interest in the matter of languages and culture [1], but is rather the sort of book that one reads largely to understand what various leftist wingnuts believe about the learning of languages and the supposed unfairness of expecting people to learn our language in our country rather than catering to their own linguistic background.  The book draws erroneous conclusions thanks to its biased perspectives and sets up a false dilemma between a view that individual factors hinder language acquisition and a view that it is due to structural and social causes, the view obviously preferred by the author.  As a result, the author’s conclusions end up being wrong largely because the worldview of the author is so bogus to begin with.  The book practically refutes itself.

The contents of this book are organized in a thematic fashion, as the author clearly desires to make a politically loaded cases about language education and community language planning.  The book begins with an introduction, then talks about the ideology of language planning theory, mother-tongue maintenance and second-language learning, modernization and its role in encouraging English language teaching around the world, language policy and migration, revolutionary language policy, education and language rights, and then a conclusion about language policy and democracy.  This is a book that has not aged particularly well, as its views are highly contradictory–the author decries domination of the world’s languages by English and comments that this favors wealthy elites in countries like the Philippines, but then praises the attempts of leftist Filipinos to enshrine as a national language the Luzon-based Tagalog, which has understandably drawn a great deal of criticism from those who speak other local languages.  The author comments on the division of Yugoslavia without showing any particular awareness of its division at the time the book was being written and published in 1991.  Likewise, the author complains about the struggles of a Bangladeshi young man to handle the mosaic of languages he deals with, blaming structural racism rather than the fact that the young man in question comes from a family that is not particularly well-educated or literate in any of their languages, which demonstrates how he suffers academically relative to other anecdotes from people who came from complicated linguistic backgrounds whose strong family tradition to education allowed them to be extremely successful in a variety of languages.

The author seems deliberately obtuse and that makes this 200 page work an unsatisfying read.  There is power in the choice of how one chooses to teach languages, and what languages are chosen as necessary in a given country.  The divided state of local politics may ensure that prestige foreign languages like English or French are used in postcolonial regimes rather than languages which would favor part of the local population over others.  The choice cultures face is not between justice and injustice to their people, but rather over different shades of partial justice or partial injustice.  Is it more just to favor one ethnic group or region within a multinational state or to favor the wealthier and better educated elites who have the resources to better achieve competence in different languages?  Is it more just to demand that migrants learn the language of the culture they are migrating too or that those nations cater to the whims of often undesirable immigrants who often lack a great deal of literacy in any language, including their own?  To choose any one language as an official language, either openly or indirectly, is to seek unity through a common tongue, and there will be some winners and losers in any choice made.  The only alternatives to enforcing some sort of regime that either requires everyone learn the same prestige languages or learn a common suite of multiple languages (like Switzerland, not discussed in this book) is to divide nations into smaller states based on languages, something that would be abhorrent and likely connected with a great deal of violence as it has been in areas like the former Yugoslavia and former Soviet Union.  Too bad the author appears to lack the sense to understand how much he is a tool of leftist ideology in this terrible book.

[1] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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