Translation and language policy in the dynamics of multilingualism

  • 1 University of Geneva, Geneva, GE, Switzerland
François Grin

Abstract

Many of Fishman’s contributions to understanding language in society stress the importance of dynamics, drawing attention to the complex interplay of micro-, meso- and macro-level factors from which an integrated pattern emerges. Our understanding of language dynamics, therefore, should encompass processes unfolding at various levels and provide accounts that do justice to these interactions, while delivering an analysis broad enough to constitute a sensible basis for successful language policy. Such concerns, illustrated in particular by Fishman’s work on reversing language shift, call for revisiting this issue by focusing on the role of translation. Translation is linked to language dynamics, and it is both a conduit of language policies and a condition for their success, but these interconnections need to be explicitly acknowledged. Whereas translation studies often approach translation itself as a self-contained process, it certainly emerges from multilingual contexts, but is also, at least in part, dependent on language policies. Translation contributes to the maintenance of linguistic diversity and societal multilingualism which are, reciprocally, dependent upon the practice of translation. This examination confirms the ongoing soundness of the fundamentals of Fishman’s approach to “language-in-society” and helps to assess some recent criticism toward core notions of classical sociolinguistics that Fishman helped develop and disseminate, such as multilingualism, which is being called into question by current notions such as “English as a lingua franca” and “languaging”. The very existence of translation as a social, economic and political practice suggests that societal multilingualism cannot satisfactorily be described without resorting to classical sociolinguistic concepts like “named” languages, mother tongue and domain, which are crucial to successful policies and, hence, to the maintenance of the linguistic human rights to which Fishman’s work has made such essential contributions.

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