6th Issue, January 2010

Language Policies in Contested Multilingual Spaces

In the UK, in Switzerland and in Spain, official language policies focus on languages which are considered to be indigenous to the country. In regions where the use of more than one language is sanctioned by law, it is mainly the regional minority languages which are supported, promoted or protected. In contrast, support for migrant languages is fairly weak.

Researchers have investigated regions with two or more co-official languages and where migration has become a significant demographic factor: Valncia and Morella (Spain, languages: Valencian, Castilian),  Cardiff/Llanelli and Llanybydder (UK, languages: Welsh, English), Grisons (Switzerland, languages: German, Rumansh, Italian).

The language policy in these regions are bilingual more than multilingual. They deal with the traditional regional minority languages, not with the migrant languages. For example, in Ilanz (urban city in Grisons, Switzerland) Rumansh language courses are advertised in Rumansh and German; similarly, in Morella, Valencian language courses are advertised in Spanish and Valencian.


Integration through language?
The overriding objective of language policy in all three countries is to facilitate the integration of the economic migrant into the receiving community by means of language learning which is effectively the dominant languages in these areas: Castilian, English and German respectively.

Language competence seems to be used as a measure of integration. However, a study (commissioned by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in Wales) has shown that language is not necessarily a factor in grassroots understanding of integration. The same seems likely for the Grisons (where German-speaking migrants are numerous) and for Spain (where interviewees reported to be confronted with prejudices even if they spoke their counterparts language).


Effective policy-making possible?
Current language policies have great difficulty in adapting quickly to changing migration flows. They are long in gestation evidence-based policy making relies on adequate data gathering and analysis, which have struggled to keep pace with the scale of population movement (shown by both documentary and interview evidence). Furthermore, the underlying language policy goal is still migrants long term settlement, despite the fact that many migrants do not necessarily want to stay for long.

However, the research found that examples of smaller bottom-up organisations (Valencia Acoge, Polish Advice Centre, Cymdeithas Y Neuadd, Chur Intercultural Library etc.) are able to respond quickly and effectively to changing situations, although they are hampered by their limited resources.


LINEE website: Scope, components and contacts of this project