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The importance of language policies and multilingualism for cultural diversity

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Abstract

The article addresses the contribution of multilingualism to cultural diversity and the importance of explicit, comprehensive and public language planning to secure a stronger future for endangered indigenous and immigrant languages. It is critically important to develop language policies that ensure the access of minority populations to prestigious forms of national standard languages and literacies while supporting the intergenerational retention of minority languages, both indigenous and immigrant languages. These twin objectives are complementary but require a more expert practice of language planning. The multilingualism which is advocated aims to be nationally cohesive, economically productive and socially just.

An enhanced practice of intervention on behalf of multilingualism is discussed in sections devoted to the mechanisms and activity of language policy-making. Contemporary globalisation is a challenge for language diversity but in some ways makes the intergenerational retention of diverse languages more feasible than under conditions of strict assimilation as practiced by linguistically defined nation-states. Also potentially supportive of multilingualism are the voice-based communication technologies that overcome the tyranny of distance and dispersal, and promise access to information, communication and solidarity for preliterate groups or those that have limited literacy. The roles of language in memory and cultural production underscore how central language in its various genres is to culture. As a result, efforts to appreciate and foster human differences require awareness of the importance of multilingualism. The endangered state of many of the world's languages and the now almost universal phenomenon of multiculturalism make the practice of language planning a central instrument for states, international agencies and non-governmental bodies.

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