Translation and language policy in the dynamics of multilingualism

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


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.

  • Abrams, Daniel & Steven Strogatz. 2003. Modelling the dynamics of language death. Nature 424(6951). 900.

  • Adamic, Lada & Bernardo Huberman. 2002. Zipf’s law and the Internet. Glottometrics 3.143–150.

  • Aitchison, Jean. 1991. Language change: Progress or decay? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Anderman, Gunilla & Margaret Rogers. 2008. The linguist and the translator. In Gunilla Anderman & Margaret Rogers (eds.), Incorporating corpora: The linguist and the translator, 5–17. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  • Bastardas Boada, Albert. 1987. L’aménagement linguistique en Catalogne au XXe siècle [Language planning in Catalonia in the twentieth century]. In Jacques Maurais (ed.), Politique et aménagement linguistiques [Policy and language planning], 121–158. Paris: Le Robert.

  • Bauer, Laurie & Peter Trudgill. 1998. Language myths. London: Penguin.

  • Carr, Jack. 1985. Le bilinguisme au Canada: l’usage consacre-t-il l’anglais monopole naturel? [Does Canadian bilingualism turn English into a natural monopoly?]. In François Villancourt (ed.), Économie et langue [Economy and language], 27–37. Québec: Conseil de la langue française.

  • Church, Jeffrey & Ian King. 1993. Bilingualism and network externalities. Canadian Journal of Economics 26. 337–345.

  • Conti, Virginie & François Grin (eds.). 2008. S’entendre entre langues voisines: vers l’intercompréhension. [Getting along with neighboring languages: Toward intercomprehension]. Geneva: Georg.

  • de Swaan, Abram. 2001. Words of the world. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.

  • Eco, Umberto. 1994. La recherche de la langue parfaite [The search for the perfect language]. Paris: Folio.

  • Edwards, John. 2012. Multilingualism: Understanding linguistic diversity. London: Continuum.

  • Escudé, Pierre & Pierre Janin. 2010. Le point sur l’intercompréhension, clé du plurilinguisme [Latest update on mutual understanding, the key to multilingualism]. Paris: CLE international.

  • European Commission. 2010. Contribution de la traduction à la société multilingue dans l’Union européenne [The contribution of translation to a multilingual society in the European Union]. Luxembourg: Office des publications de l’Union européenne. English summary available on

  • Even-Zohar, Itamar. 1990. Polysystem studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

  • Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing language shift: Theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  • Flores Farfán, José Antonio & Fernando Ramallo (eds.). 2010. New perspectives on endangered languages, 93–118. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

  • Gazzola, Michele. 2006. La gestione del multilinguismo nell’Unione europea [The management of multilingualism in the European Union]. In Augusto Carli (ed.), Le sfide della politica linguistica di oggi [The challenges of language policy today] (Collana di Educazione bilingue [Series on bilingual education] 26), 15–116. Milan: Franco Angeli.

  • Gazzola, Michele. 2015. Identifying and mitigating linguistic inequalities in the management of patent information in Europe. World Patent Information 40. 43–50.

  • Gazzola, Michele & François Grin. 2007. Assessing efficiency and fairness in multilingual communication: Towards a general analytical framework. AILA Review 20. 87–105.

  • Gazzola, Michele & François Grin. 2013. Is ELF more efficient and fair than translation? An evaluation of the EU’s multilingual regime. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 23(1). 93–107

  • Gentzler, Edwin. 1993. Contemporary translation theories. London: Routledge.

  • Giles, Howard, Richard Bourhis & Donald Taylor. 1977. Towards a theory of language in intergroup relations. In Howard Giles (ed.), Language, ethnicity and intergroup relations. London: Academic Press.

  • Ginsburgh, Victor, Ignacio Ortguño-Ortín & Shlomo Weber. 2007. Learning foreign languages: Theoretical and empirical implications of the Selten and Pool model. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 64. 337–347.

  • Ginsburgh, Victor, Shlomo Weber & Sheila Weyers. 2007. The economics of literary translation. A simple theory and evidence. CEPR Discussion Paper 6432, August 2007.

  • Grin, François. 1990. A Beckerian approach to language use: Guidelines for minority language policy. Cahiers du Département d‘économique [Papers from the Department of Economics]. Université de Montréal, no. 9007.

  • Grin, François. 1992. Towards a threshold theory of minority language survival. Kyklos 45. 69–97.

  • Grin, François. 1997. Market forces, language spread and linguistic diversity. In Miklos Kontra, Robert Phillipson, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas & Várady Tibor (eds.), Language: A right and a resource, 169–186. Budapest: Central European University Press.

  • Grin, François. 2003. Language policy evaluation and the European charter for regional or minority languages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Grin, François. 2005. L’enseignement des langues étrangères comme politique publique [The teaching of foreign languages as public policy]. Paris: Haut Conseil de l’évaluation de l’école.

  • Grin, François. 2015. The economics of English in Europe. In Thomas Ricento (ed.), Language policy and political economy: English in a global context, 119–144. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Grin, François. 2016. Challenges of minority languages. In Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber (eds.), The Palgrave handbook of economics and language, 616–658. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Grin, François & François Vaillancourt. 1999. The cost-effectiveness evaluation of minority language policies: Case studies on Wales, Ireland and the Basque Country. Flensburg: European Centre for Minority Issues, Monograph No. 2.

  • Guidère, Mathieu. 2008. La communication multilingue [Multilingual communication]. Bruxelles: De Boeck.

  • Heilbron, Johan & Gisèle Sapiro. 2016. Translation: Economic and sociological perspectives. In Victor Ginsburgh & Shlomo Weber (eds.), The Palgrave handbook of economics and language, 373–397. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Hjorth-Andersen, Christian. 2001. A model of translations. Journal of Cultural Economics 25. 203–217.

  • House, Juliane & Jochen Rehbein. 2004. What is multilingual communication? In Juliane House & Jochen Rehbein (eds.), Multilingual communication, 1–17. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Inghilleri, Moira (ed.). 2005. Bourdieu and the sociology of translation and interpreting. Theme issue of The Translator 11(2).

  • Kubota, Ryuoko. 2014. The multi/plural turn, postcolonial theory, and neoliberal multiculturalism: Complicities and implications for Applied Linguistics. Applied Linguistics 2014. 1– 22.

  • Mackenzie, Ian. 2014. English as a lingua franca: Theorizing and teaching English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Martí, Fèlix, Paul Ortega, Itziar Idiazabal, Andoni Barreña, Patxi Juaristi, Carme Junyent, Belen Uranga & Estibaliz Morrotu. 2006. Words and worlds: World languages review. New York & Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

  • Mélitz, Jacques. 2007. The impact of English dominance on literature and welfare. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 64.193–215.

  • Meschonnic, Henri. 2007. Éthique et politique du traduire [The ethics and politics of translation]. Paris: Verdier.

  • Mira, Jorge & Ángel Paredes. 2005. Interlinguistic similarity and language death dynamics. Europhysics Letters 69(6). 1031–1034.

  • Munday, Jeremy (ed.). 2007. Translation as intervention. London: Continuum.

  • Ost, François. 2009. Traduire: Défense et illustration du multilinguisme [Translating: Defense and illustration of multilingualism]. Paris: Fayard.

  • Page, Scott E. 2008. Diversity and complexity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Pergnier, Maurice. 1993. Les fondements socio-linguistiques de la traduction [The sociolinguistic foundations of translation]. Lille: Presses Universitaires de Lille.

  • Piron, Claude. 1994. Le défi des langues: Du gâchis au bon sens [The language challenge: From chaos to common sense]. Paris: L’Harmattan.

  • Pool, Jonathan. 1996. Optimal language regimes for the European Union. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 121. 159–179.

  • Pym, Anthony. 2006. Globalization and the politics of translation studies. Meta LI(4). 744–757.

  • Selten, Reinhard & Jonathan Pool. 1990. The distribution of foreign language skills as a game equilibrium. In Language and society papers, Linguistic decisions series, 9. Seattle: Center for the Humanities, University of Washington.

  • Selten, Reinhard & Jonathan Pool. 1997. Is it worth it to learn Esperanto? Introduction to game theory. In Reinhard Selten (ed.), The costs of European non communication, 114–149. Rome: ERA.

  • Steiner, George. 1975. After Babel: Aspects of language and translation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • ten Thije, Jand & Ludger Zeevaert. 2007. Receptive multilingualism. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

  • Thivoyon, Marie-Ambrym. 2016. Le multilinguisme au Vanuatu: Entre perceptions, politiques et pratiques [Multilingualism in Vanuatu: Between perceptions, policies and practices]. Faculty of Translation and Interpreting, University of Geneva MA thesis.

  • van Parijs, Philippe. 2004a. L’anglais lingua franca de l’Union européenne: impératif de solidarité, injustice distributive, facteur de déclin? [English as a lingua franca of the European Union: Solidarity imperative, source of injustice, cause of decline?]. Économie publique [Public economics] 15(4). 13–32.

  • van Parijs, Philippe. 2004b. Europe’s linguistic challenge. Archives européennes de sociologie XLV(1). 113–154.

  • van Parijs, Philippe. 2006. Linguistic Diversity. What is it? And does it matter? Paper presented at the conference “Challenges of Multilingual Societies”, Université Libre de Bruxelles, 9–10 June 2006.

  • Wickström, Bengt-Arne. 2005. Can Bilingualism be dynamically stable? A simple model of language choice. Rationality and Society 17. 81–115.

  • Wolf, Michaela & Alexandra Fukari (eds.). 2007. Constructing a sociology of translation. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Journal + Issues

IJSL is dedicated to the development of the sociology of language as a truly international and interdisciplinary field in which various approaches - theoretical and empirical - supplement and complement each other, contributing thereby to the growth of language-related knowledge, applications, values and sensitivities. The journal features topically-focused issues with individual contributions on small languages and small language communities.