Bilingualism, multiculturalism, ethno-linguistic identity - they may not be words to conjure with, but much conjuring has nevertheless been done with them. Even the most casual observer can hardly be unaware of the interest in minority ethnic groups, their language and their education; and this has been paralleled by a concern for indigenous groups who speak the national language in a non-standard form. Where once the assimilative urge reigned supreme, we now see a growing tolerance of linguistic diversity and a respect for cultural pluralism. Where once, in Britain, Welsh and Scots Gaelic-speaking children were punished at school (and usually again at home) for using their mother tongue, we are now increasingly asked for bilingual education. Where once, in the United States, Spanish-speaking children were shunted into classes for the 'educationally sub-normal' we now observe a high-profile, affirmativeaction, politicised system of Federally-supported bilingualism. Furthermore, in these and other contexts, bilingualism at school is not only supported as a method of more expeditiously easing children into an English-speaking mainstream: it is also the hope of some that bilingual education will become a permanent fixture, characteristic of schooling for minority and majority alike, and a servant to the cause of a lastingly pluralistic society.
LRB 7 July 1983 | PDF Download