Review: Castiglione and Longman, “The Language Question in European and Diverse Societies”

Book review of this collection of essays, written at the request of the Journal of Common Market Studies (after the jump, version as submitted but with added hyperlinks for the web version; will add citation after publication).

I retain copyright but was required to grant ‘an exclusive licence to publish (the review) in printed and electronic form, in all languages, and to administer subsidiary rights agreements with third parties for the full period of copyright and all renewals, extensions, revisions and revival‘. Permission to publish on my own website is explicitly included in the agreement; what’s more, the fact that this license exists does not take away from any user rights such as fair dealing, educational use, etc. Then again, it is a book review by a graduate student so I don’t think anyone really cares about the IP rights in it…

The Language Question In Europe And Diverse Societies: Political, Legal and Social Perspectives, Dario Castiglione and Chris Longman (eds) (Oxford: Hart, 2007, ISBN 9781841136677 (hb) / 9781841136684 (pb)); xiii + 285pp., np.

Google Books | Amazon | Hart (publisher)

The first regulation adopted by the Council of the European Economic Community in 1958 established “the linguistic rules of the institutions”. Over the course of the next fifty years, the Economic Community has become a Union and the six founding states have been joined by 21 others, with more on the way. But what of Regulation 1/58 and the question of language? This collection of papers, with a broad interdisciplinary and international orientation, brings the views of eleven authors to the table.

The cynic might say, of course, that this volume is typically European in that it explores a series of difficult questions without answering them. Indeed, among the range of unresolved (or unresolvable) issues of European politics and integration, language can surely claim to be one of the most sensitive and controversial. The European institutions are, as Niamh Nic Shuibhne puts it, “the ultimate project for the language policy maker”, yet the lack of an agreed ‘European language policy’ remains frustrating. In her essay, she reviews the caselaw of the European Court of Justice but also the roles of the main institutions in presenting legislation and – often of equal importance – regulating their own internal affairs. Canadian philosopher Omid Payrow Shabani also looks at legal expressions of language rights in the context of Habermas’ “constitutional patriotism” and the EU’s key legal texts.

Of course, the elephant in the living room is the popular claim that not just in Europe but across the world, English is becoming a lingua franca (if you will pardon my Frankish). The pioneering work of Robert Phillipson and others (including critical applied linguists) on linguistic imperalism put the politics of power and control at the heart of language policy debates. Surprisingly, these arguments are not considered in any detail except by Chris Longman, who steps up and indeed appears to come down in favour of the use of English, in a thoughtful and controversial contribution that challenges “the doctrine of multilingualism”. Similar sentiments are present in Phillipe van Parjis‘s paper, where his demands (expressed with an ample dose of humour) include “Ban Dubbing!” and “Grab A Territory”.

Language rights, of course, interest the researcher not only in light of contemporary political debates over language in European institutions, but also in the wider context of language and culture. In Sue Wright‘s careful review of the history of linguistics and language planning, she reminds us that legal structures of language rights and entitlements are relatively recent innovations, highlighting the symbiotic relationship between the regulation of language use and the development of the language itself. The debates on language policy in the EU are scrutinized by Alan Patten (in theoretical terms), Miquel Strubell (who parses the statements of the various European players) and Reetta Toivanen, who considers how language is used as a supposedly ‘neutral’ distinction but can often be a proxy for other, more suspect classifications based on minority or ethnic status.

Although Philip Schlesinger (in a concluding chapter) draws upon the work of Castells and others on networks and the information society, it may well be technology and the Internet is further, unexplored factor in ‘the language question’. Historically, the development of ‘new’ media forms has played a significant role in the regulation and mediation of language use. Ongoing difficulties with enabling workable multilingual use of essential facilities like e-mail highlight how the EU and those interested in language rights must go beyond conventional battle grounds (such as the language of parliamentary debate) and question the relationship between language, identity and culture in a supposedly globalised Europe. This collection of essays is an appropriate tribute not just to Regulation 1/58 on its 50th birthday but to the ongoing importance of language and linguistics in the European public spaces.

DAITHÍ MAC SÍTHIGH
Trinity College Dublin

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