Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002

Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002

Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002

Multilingualism in China: The Politics of Writing Reforms for Minority Languages, 1949-2002

Synopsis

Minglang Zhou's highly erudite and well-researched volume on the policies concerning writing reforms for China's minorities since 1949 provides an original and well-reasoned summary of a complex process. It documents how different script reforms meet dramatically different fates according to local preferences, history, cross-border ties, and the vitality of previously-used scripts. In a style accessible to both undergraduate and graduate students, Zhou's book is of interest to language planners, sinologists, applied linguists, writing theorists, and ethnologists.

Excerpt

Joshua A. Fishman

Yeshiva U. (NY) and Stanford U. (CA)

In the early 70's I had the “good fortune” to be asked to write the preface of this book's intellectual predecessor, Glyn Lewis' Multilingualism in the Soviet Union. To my knowledge, that book was an “open sesame” to a world that was still largely hidden from the inquiring gaze of Western readership and scholarship. The two are alike in yet another and more basic respect: like that one, this book too is the first book-length (and by far the most comprehensive) study of one of the world's largest language planning efforts of modern times. The two efforts clearly merit and will richly reward detailed comparison.

In part, this volume itself constitutes such a comparison, since it carefully traces the major Soviet influences in Chinese language planning (and in Chinese social science more generally). Such influences have also been claimed in conjunction with India's hardly less monumental efforts. Thus, far more than half of the world's population were exposed to language planning interventions during the 20 century and the present volume is to be congratulated for making the last venture more accessible to Western specialists and the intelligent reading public alike.

Even just a cursory mention of the USSR, India and China, in one breath so to speak, must prompt an immediate realization of the importance of writing reform within language planning as a whole. The present volume is particularly noteworthy for the clarity with which it lays bare both the linguistic issues in such reform and the massive nonlinguistic and supra-linguistic factors – often including traditional religious influences, that are very extensively examined here – that ultimately mold it, shape it and control it.

Being a serious work, this volume is necessarily based not only on a meticulous examination of the relevant international and indigenous literature – including that on Marxism/Stalinism, nation-building, statebuilding and ethnic politics in China, but (and even primarily) on many years of intensive and painstaking fieldwork and archival research. It . . .

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