Bilingualism and the Multilingual Turn: Language-as-Resource

By Faltis, Christian; Smith, Howard L. | Bilingual Review, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Bilingualism and the Multilingual Turn: Language-as-Resource


Faltis, Christian, Smith, Howard L., Bilingual Review


In the mid-1980s, a young scholar named Richard Ruiz, a Stanford PhD, and assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, published an article in NABE, The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education. The article, a theoretical piece, was titled "Orientations in Language Planning." It was the first to frame language planning in terms of language-as-problem, language-as-right, and language-as-resource in ways that for decades to follow, served as intellectual grist for bilingual educators, bilingual advocates, and language planners.

When speakers of different languages share a space (e.g., Canada) or a task (international marketing), they must agree upon which language will be used in a given context. According to Diallo and Lidicoat (2014, p. 111) "language planning is a process of future-oriented decisionmaking to change some aspect of language practice in order to address a perceived linguistic problem." Such deliberations influence language maintenance, the status of languages, and the social spaces in which languages are accepted or disparaged.

As Ruiz pointed out in the beginning his article, most language planners around the world conceived of their work from the orientation of language-as-problem. Accordingly, in settings where there were multiple languages, the problem was constructed as how to unify a nation's peoples through language policies and practices toward a common language or in some cases, how to enable certain types of minority languages to develop while simultaneously sustaining the political and economic position of the dominant language. Multilingual South African, post-apartheid, is a prime example.

Language-as-Resource-Beginnings

The decades following the 1960s up to the 1980s, when Ruiz published his piece on orientations, members of Chicano, African American, and Native American groups, especially educators, began to question the language-as-problem orientation for how it problematized minority languages within a common language-national unity framework (Dillard, 1975; Wald, 1984). For them, language was not the problem; rather, what was problematic was that bilingualism and biliteracy were not recognized as community resources. Essentially, these educators turned the discourse on language planning from language-as-problem to language-as-resource, and Ruiz captured this discourse shift in his Orientations article in of 1984.

From a language-as-problem perspective, bilingual education was constructed as a solution to the problem of having children, particularly Mexican immigrant and indigenous children who entered school speaking a language other than English. It was reasoned that bilingual education would rid them of their problem (Crawford, 1992). From a language-as-resource perspective, bilingual education, designed around maintenance principles (Baker, 2006), was a critical tool for developing high levels of biliteracy in English and a minority language (Hernandez-Chavez, 1978). Moreover, maintenance bilingual education provided a context for minority youth to build their identities as emergent bilingual language users with strong ties to their ethnic groups and at the same time to become well-educated biliterate citizens of the United States (Garcia & Baetens Beardsmore, 2009). Bilingual education would promote identity formation as well as new educational opportunities for language minority students. (1)

During the 1980s and into the 1990s, under the rule of the conservative Reagan-Bush administrations, the one nation-one language ideology gained national momentum among nationalist politicos concerned with education and economic development. Their argument was that fully educating children and youth in languages other than English was problematic because it promoted divisiveness and fragmentation, where allegiances to ethnic and language groups rather than to Americanism were the likely outcome (Crawford, 1992; Ramsey, 2012). …

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