Bess Li, August Chapin, Courtney Welch, Hannah Malkofsky-Berger
Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Chris Marsicano
The relationship between multilingualism and nationalism is undoubtedly complex, yet it is increasingly important to understand in order to preserve the history and culture that is intrinsically embedded in language. In the process of nation-building, language has always been a major component of collective identity or regional nationalism. However, language planning in nation states can be complicated by the presence of ethnic groups, who usually have their own languages. In this case, how to bring together the wide array of ethnolinguistic groups and create an overarching sense of belonging and loyalty to a collective nation becomes a massive challenge. Nonetheless, scholars have pushed back on the assumption that linguistic and ethnic diversity fractures the development of a collective national identity, and have instead pushed for a broader definition of nationalism. Previous literature has only scratched the surface on the broad implications of multilingual policies on national identity; we hope to complete this gap in the literature.
Through using the lens of education, this research is committed to determining the role that multilingualism can play in forming a cohesive national identity. We use a case study method to analyze and compare the language policies in the educational system of four multilingual countries: South Africa, India, Canada, and the Netherlands. The research questions explored in this paper are: (1) how is multilingual instruction implemented in educational systems? and (2) how does multilingualism support or diminish nationalism? We use government reports, legal documents, and local newspapers to gain insight on the official policies of multilingualism in schools and how embedded attitudes and public opinion towards multilingualism has an impact on the formation of national identity.
Four main themes emerged from our comparative case study. First, the highly politicized nature of language often leads to the misalignment of language policies and linguistic reality. Especially considering the post-colonial context in South Africa, India, and Canada, language policy has often been used as a political tool by the government to restrict opportunities or safeguard privilege. Next, the push for nationalism can cause tension between the nation-state and the ethnic groups. Our findings indicate the complicated relationship between national and regional identity, as ethnic groups largely feel a sense of belonging to their linguistically-familiar communities over the nation as a whole. Furthermore, the adoption of the monolingual nation-state model is theoretically sound but practically unstable for multilingual countries. When one language is pushed as the national language to represent collective identity, it is inviting separatism and inciting fragmentation in many states. Instead, a cohesive national identity can be achieved given multilingual policy in the educational system as it welcomes all groups of people into conversations and opportunities. Finally, the case of the Netherlands shows that language can be seen and marketed as a socioeconomic resource instead of a political device. In conclusion, we propose that multilingualism promotes nationalism, as a diversity of languages allows everyone to feel a sense of belonging and therefore feel pride in their nation.