For or Against Official Models of Multilingualism – The BILD perspective (by Dr. Alison Crump)

From May 5 to 7, many of us BILDers attended a conference at McGill University called “For or Against Official Models of Multiculturalism and Multilingualism.” When we submitted our abstract for the conference, we did so with the BILD Research Group as the author. We had to assure the conference organizers that even though there are 10 of us in the group, we could be treated as a single entity (especially with respect to food ordering for conference attendees). We were quite sure that our talk “Unofficial multilingualism in an intercultural province: Micro-level case studies of policy as lived experience” would bring a different perspective. We were right! We had the great pleasure of closing the conference, in a session perhaps most appropriately called “And now for something completely different.”

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It was an interesting experience to attend a conference outside my usual crowd of critical language scholars. The community at this conference was largely from within translation studies and many papers focused on translation policy (legislation, legal documents, etc.). While I only attended the third and last day of the conference, I learned so much. In the Saturday morning plenary, Prof. Reine Meylaerts (KU Leuven, Belgium) argued for the need for translation studies to break away from reductionist approaches to translation policy in order to understand the complexities of social systems. She made several important calls to her field:

  • We need to shift our attention to the informal domain;
  • We need to explain and not assume boundaries; and
  • We need to beware of conceptual blindness as we are conditioned by our models to believe that everything has to fit into boxes and categories.

These calls resonated so clearly with the BILD perspective on language policy.

[Sidebar: “The BILD Perspective on Language Policy”]

Our research and lived experiences have taught us that language policy is not a static and fixed thing. Language policy breathes – people do the doing of a policy. They create, enact, implement, and resist. Language policy is embedded with ideologies and deeply imbued with relations of power. This interaction between rules and ideologies shapes what comes to be accepted as normative language practices. By extension, this also creates boundaries around what is not acceptable. Language policy does not exist in a vacuum, nor does it emerge from nowhere. Language policy is lived experiences. Language policy is history. And, it carries us forward into the future as each present moment stacks upon the next.

In a variety of ways, the BILD community has shared stories that show again and again the disconnect and tension between language policy and identities of belonging (Mela’s recent post about daycare language policy comes to mind). Here in Montreal, I believe we have a hard time imagining a future without Bill 101 – we may even think that Bill 101 will be with us, unchanged, forever. The policy has stamina, we have to admit. And, for good reason. This language law carries the weight of hundreds of years of history forward. It has already had tremendous impact with real and material consequences (good and bad) on individual lives. When do we surpass history? What is the tipping point for change? How much evidence from the ground is needed for policy to align with reality?

Let’s think about schools for a moment. Remember, schools in Quebec were divided along religious (Catholic and Protestant) lines until 1998. And then, keeping up with the secularization of the state, linguistic divisions, which were already de facto in place because they mirrored the religious lines, were put in place. As public relations consultant, Dan Delmar, provocatively wrote, “dividing Quebec’s 72 school boards by language, effectively segregating anglophone and francophone students, is hardly progressive or productive” (Montreal Gazette, April 24, 2016). In what way is segregation the best way to prepare our young generations to participate in and contribute equally to Quebec’s future?

I would like to imagine that Bill 101 can carry us into a future that resonates with individuals’ realities, dreams, hopes, and desires. The “for or against multilingualism” question is too simplistic; it doesn’t capture the complexities of language policy as lived experiences. It is too full of blind spots.

[And now, back to the conference]

This social and local (BILD) perspective was missing from the remainder of the talks I heard at the conference. I heard about language legislation and translation policies and regulations in a variety of contexts. This is fascinating and important work, but the BILDer in me was hungry for stories. I think we need to seek out more ways to increase the dialogue between these disciplinary boundaries, try to explain not assume boundaries. We may at times disagree at deep epistemological levels, but how can we challenge our blind spots if we don’t have some healthy and respectful debates?

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Photo: Mehdi Babaei

As Casey, Lauren, and I made our ways up to the podium for our talk, whispers from the audience: “C’est un trio!” Actually, we’re 10! And, using a polyvocal methodology, we shared insights data generated from 8 diverse research projects.

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During our talk, I saw some head nods and smiles of what I will interpret as appreciation (appreciation for the data, for the lived experiences, and for the social perspective). To be fair, not everyone was on board with our interpretation of language as a verb (something people do), and we may have been seen by at least some as liberalist hippies. But still. Our presentation led to curiosities about the BILD group – How did we form? How did we collaborate and do research together? What did we learn by working together?

And, perhaps, there was some interdisciplinary stirring of the pot. I think one of the unexpected (and un-planned-for) strengths of the BILD group is that we demonstrate that scholarship (doing being scholarly), can diverge from conventional models. And in this divergence, we interrogate blind spots, we expose conceptual blindness.

Perhaps the most exciting takeaway from the conference is that we gained some new followers of the growing BILD community.

Fellow BILDers, what are your thoughts on the conference? What did you take away?









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