4 full pages essay, total word count: 1300The detailed writing instruction is post in the attached file, please answer all the following questions. The other files are my lectrue slides and readings, can help write for this essay.
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Module 2, slideset 1: Language diversity in Southeast Asia
What can you say about
the languages of
Is there a one-to-one
mapping of language to
Do languages stay within
the nation-state borders?
Here’s where we left oﬀ last time: Language is the perfect lens through which to launch our new “non-coloring book” view onto Southeast Asia – the fiction of “one country-one language” isn’t even
remotely plausible in Southeast Asia. Every nation has many languages, and every language family spills across national borders. Southeast Asia is rich in languages, with many language families and many
fascinating language features. It’s fascinating and important in its own right, and it’s also the best way to start thinking about the people of Southeast Asia, rather than the lines on the map. So be thinking
about – what are the implications of living in such a rich multilingual context? What might be some advantages?
What might be some challenges?
Overview of this module
Case study to give you some context
Language diversity – what does it mean?
Introduction to language policy
Language quiz round 2
Preview for your readings
This module is planned to take two weeks, with two sets
of readings and two slidesets.
Your first set includes the Introduction, Epilog and two
chapters of Sercombe & Tupas; your second set includes
four more chapters of your choice.
Imagine you are a newly-elected Member of Parliament in East Timor, a young
nation which gained independence from Indonesia in spring 2002. One of the
decisions you must make is to choose a national language(s). Here’s the
East Timor is home to 12-16 indigenous languages. The most widely spoken is
Tetum, which is spoken by about 60% of the population of approx. 800,000.
Tetum lacks a standardized writing system, although efforts are underway to
Prior to independence, the official language was Indonesian, which as the
language of the educational system for the last approximately 50 years, is the
language most widely spoken by people under age 40. However, the struggle
for independence from Indonesia was brutal and protracted. Indonesia is East
Timor’s closest neighbor geographically, and there are strong cultural and
linguistic affinities that transcend the border between the two nations.
By the way, East Timor is the right-hand
half of this island in the lower righthand part of the map in Slide 1. Just
half the island – the left side of the
island is Indonesia.
Before moving on with the rest of this unit on language diversity, I want to start with a case study to give you a taste of the kind of language diversity I’m talking about, and how it plays out in the decisions
policymakers and educators need to make.
Imagine yourself in this scenario – how would you begin to design a language policy? Why would it be important? What would you want it to accomplish?
About 10% of the population speak Portuguese. East Timor’s history
of nearly four centuries of contact and colonization by the Portuguese
has made Portuguese a popular language among the generation over 40,
which includes most of the country’s current leadership as well as the
leaders of the struggle for independence from Indonesia. East
Timor’s leadership feels a strong loyalty to Portugal and Portuguesespeaking nations like Angola and Mozambique, who supported East
Timor during the independence struggle. Portugal has influenced East
Timor extensively, especially in the area of religion – about 90% of the
population are Catholic.
English is a language many East Timorese view as a symbol of East
Timor’s long-awaited opening ot the rest of the world after
What would you do? What more would you need to know?
The plot thickens! East Timor is small, but it is very very linguistically complex! I want you to be thinking about this as I move on to discuss other aspects of language in Southeast Asia. We’ll come back to it, but I
don’t want to just give you the answer to memorize because there are so many factors and solutions that you could be thinking about.
What do I mean by that?
Why is it significant?
“Diversity” is a word we use in all kinds of contexts, but what does it even mean when we use it to describe language situations? How many languages does it take to make a place linguistically diverse? Why might it matter? Would
you say that the United States has a lot of language diversity?
Whatever your definition or cutoﬀ point would be for saying that a place is linguistically diverse, everyone agrees that Southeast Asia is. Linguistically diverse. Really, really linguistically diverse.
What does it mean to say that Southeast
Asia is a region of amazing linguistic
Here’s one way to think about it:
Give yourself a basis for comparison.
How many languages are spoken in the world?
a) about 600
b) about 6,000
c) about 60,000
There are “a lot” of languages spoken in Southeast Asia, but without some context, it’s hard to know what that even means. One way to understand how many languages
is “a lot” is to compare the number of languages in Southeast Asia with the overal number of languages spoken in the world. How many do you think that is? (Answer on
The correct answer is b.
How many languages are spoken in the world?
Of those 6,000, about 45 are spoken in Europe, representing 3 major language families. In terms of language diversity, that’s considered
Now, of those 6,000, about how many do you think are spoken in Southeast Asia?
OK, so out of the grand total of approx. 6,000 languages of the world, how do you think they are distributed? What regions have a lot of languages, and what regions
have relatively few languages?
2,000 – 3,000!
By any standard of measurement, that is a lot of
That number represents at least 8 diﬀerent language
What does that look like?
Northern Tai languages
The Tai language
extends all the way
Myanmar, as well as
Thailand and Lao.
3 main branches
Central Tai languages
Southwestern Tai languages
One thing we of course see is that languages appear to spill over national borders. Of course, that’s not always how it works – often, the languages were there first, and the national borders are superimposed upon them.
This map shows the Tai language family, which includes Thai and Lao, among many others which aren’t associated with a named nation-state.
Looking at a language family gives us one level of scale or granularity, but we can zoom in and get more detail too. So broad swaths of what seem to be a homogenous language family actually contain islands of
other language families. And too, don’t forget that we’re still looking at the patterns of language families – each of these families contains dozens of not hundreds of individual languages.
(So in that sense, the map legend is a bit misleading. It should say “Major language families” not “Major languages.”)
What country is this?
Can you recognize it from the shape?
And blowing the map up even bigger still, and so seeing it in even more close-up detail, you can see that smaller regions, even individual villages, can have a language that is different from the language of their
neighboring villages. So in Eastern Thailand, a Chong village can be surrounded by Khmer villages, which in turn are surrounded by Lao-speaking villages but which speak the same language as the villages on the
other side of the Cambodian-Thai border.
PS – The country is Thailand. You might think it’s hard to recognize without it’s neighbors to give you context, but look at the shape – Thailand is said to look like an elephant’s head, with its trunk extending down
into the Malay peninsula, and the capital Bangkok in its mouth!
This map is so zoomed-in that you might not even be able to tell where it is. Can you figure it out?
It’s known as the Golden Triangle – the area where Myanmar, Lao and Thailand come together, with China to the north, bordering Lao and Myanmar but not Thailand. Vietnam is just off the righthand side of the
map. You’ll be reading more about the Golden Triangle in Module 4 when we study the drug trade.
This pattern of distribution is very different from how languages are distributed in Europe, where related languages tend to be next to each other and to transform subtly with increasing distance from one language
to another in what we call a “dialect continuum.” Instead of a dialect continuum, the above map shows abrupt changes of language and language family.
And here, the level of detail is so fine that Thailand needs to be split into several different maps in order to reveal the tremendous diversity – this map doesn’t even show northeastern
Thailand, but already there are dozens of separate languages. The majority language of Thai, shown by the vertical green lines, is like an ocean with dozens of little linguistic islands floating
in it. The number shown in parentheses after each language is the number of communities that speak that language – notice that some of them only have a handful of communities.
What could account for
this pattern of incredible
language diversity, and
what can it tell us?
So in answer to my first question, “What is language diversity?” the answer is “That! That is language diversity.” But why is it interesting? One reason is what it can tell us about the history of the region. How did
all those languages get there?
Here’s one recent model of the peopling of Southeast Asia, based on genomic analysis
One of the keys to understanding the patterns of language distribution in Southeast Asia is to remember that people have been in motion here since forever. The first humans arrived before 60 or 70,000 years
ago, and ever since then they have been coming in successive waves and trickles, going in different directions, bringing their languages with them, and communicating with older and newer arrivals. When people
communicate, they don’t just trade ideas, they borrow new words and influence each others’ language patterns, so for tens of thousands of years, languages have been arriving and mixing it up – changing and
The peopling of Southeast Asia remains a hot research topic – the picture above shows a recent proposal that it occurred in four separate waves, the most ancient one directly from the west, and more recent ones
from the north, but all of them spreading out and overlapping over time.
However, that doesn’t explain the unique “island-like” distribution, where you seem to get small pockets of one language surrounded by larger pockets of another language, in turn surrounded by larger areas of a
more widely spoken language.
In order to understand that pattern, it’s important to visualize humans’ relationship with the topography of Southeast Asia. Apart from the coastal areas, which have their own ways of life and livelihood, Southeast
Asians tend to specialize in farming at different altitudes. Above you can see three distinct kinds of landscape – lowland river valley, rolling mountains and higher, steeper, rockier mountains. Think for a moment
– how would making a living from the land be different in each of these different terrains? How would communication and contact with other human beings be different?
Livelihoods in the lowland river valleys revolved almost entirely around growing wet rice in paddies, which easily flood during the growing season, bringing water and nutrients to the plants.
But – imagine trying to grow a crop that depends so much on water on a steep mountainside!
swidden with healthy rice plants after good burn;Photographer:Terry Rambo;Place:”Malaysia, Ulu Tamu”
Farming in terrain like this is very different from farming in a river valley
Throughout Southeast Asia, different ethnic groups came to specialize in the different kinds of farming that were called for by different kinds of terrain.
Remember Slideset 1 when I talked about Zomia, and how the people of Zomia are often highly mobile, moving their villages to a new location every 6 or 7 years? This is one reason why – erosion and soil
depletion require leaving fields fallow (resting) after several years of intensive farming, so in the highlands people leave their fields and move their villages to a new mountaintop of course bringing their languages
with them. This means that they can end up as the only village that speaks their language, surrounded by a ring of villages speaking a completely different language.
And, another reason:
Until very recently, Southeast Asia was very sparsely
Wars were fought over people, and their labor and skills,
as much as they were over territory
When one empire conquered another, often they captured
the entire population of the capital and moved them en
masse to their own capital, thus spreading and
influencing language and writing systems, as well as other
aspects of culture
Another reason that is very interesting is that the idea of “one nation, one language” is actually quite recent, having arisen among the French after the French Revolution. Before that, people may have demanded tribute (goods, money
or people) or they may have tried to change people’s religion, but they didn’t care that much about what language they spoke. So even as waves of people came in and either settled peacefully side-be-side with the previous
residents, or conquered them or absorbed them into their empire, they left them pretty much free to continue speaking their own language.
Another consequence of the very sparse population was that if people got fed up with the state or even just their neighbors, they could pack up and move somewhere else, clear the land and make a new life there. So languages were
moving around at every scale, and while people were talking to their neighbors (thus influencing their ways of speaking and causing languages to change) they weren’t expecting them to speak the same language as they did (thus
maintaining the diversity that existed).
And, yet another reason
Colonialism superimposed even more complexity upon this
Colonial languages like English, Dutch, Portuguese and French
became imposed as oﬃcial languages over the local languages.
Colonial rulers played “divide and conquer” by encouraging
certain groups to migrate into the communities of other groups,
and to assume roles of economic or political influence.
Language use isn’t just a utilitarian matter of exchanging
information, but it carries symbolic significance – power,
prestige, intimacy, solidarity, respect, contempt can all be
conveyed by the choice of which language to use.
For all of these reasons, language is hugely complex in Southeast Asia. There is no language that is just a neutral code for conveying information – rather, all languages have symbolic as
well as communcative uses. Just using, for example, English will convey a very diﬀerent feeling and eﬀect than using Thai, even among people who know both languages well. And of
course, not knowing a language comes with its own set of symbolic consequences as well.
Think about all of these things as you examine language policy case studies in your readings.
But what does all this
have to do with policy?
How do you devise language policies that will
benefit all the speakers of these rich arrays of
But first – take a step back. What is language
policy, and why is it important?
Your readings for this module consist of case studies describing the language situation and the language policy for each of the 11 countries of Southeast Asia. Think
about all of the diﬀerent ways language use is central to identity and necessary for communication. Then think of all the variations on the theme of multilingualism – First
Language, Second Language, Mother Tongue, Language of Wider Communication,
What country is this, where kids fail their mother tongue?
“CL B”= a less
Name of country
Above is a letter to the editor of one of the big newspapers in one Southeast Asian country. It explains how children who had overall good test scores still can’t get into good colleges because they failed the exam
on their mother tongue. Usually we think of “Mother Tongue” as the language we are MOST comfortable and confident using. So how can anyone fail their Mother Tongue? What kind of language education policy
can result in children actually failing their mother tongue in school?
Thinking about those questions provide a good introduction to the first case study we’ll examine.
First of all, can you gues what country this is? Clues to the answer will be coming up in the next policy case study we are doing.
It is 1965, the height of the Cold War. You are a tiny island city-state.
You have just been expelled from a larger neighboring country because
of ethnic tension and suspicion. You have a long history of colonial
domination and betrayal by the British, and a still-fresh memory of
wartime occupation by Japan.
Your population of nearly 2 million divides thusly: Chinese 77%, Malay
14%, Indian 7.6%, “other” 1.4%. You face massive unemployment,
scarce land and housing, and virtually no natural resources or
agriculture. You have an intuitive certainty that building a nation and a
national sense of identity is not natural or spontaneous but that a
strong albeit “imagined community” is your only path to survival.
What should be the offical language for your new nation?
Here’s the case study – this describes the language situation for that country when it became its own independent nation, after independence from the colonial power of England.
How do you go
about devising an
policy with so much
Think about what the goals of your language policy might be. What are some factors you’re anxious about, and how might language be relevant? Think about concrete concerns, such as education, trade
and the economy. Think also about abstract concerns, such as crafting a common sense of purpose and national identity, or finding a sense of security for your vulnerable little homeland after so much
conflict. Think about the languages spoken already, what their usefulness or symbolic value might be.
What questions do you have? What policy recommendations would you make? What would you choose for an oﬃcial language(s)?
Just do the thought experiment of writing some of them in the space above or on a piece of scratch paper, before I give you the answers.
4 official languages
Here’s the answer! The country of course is Singapore, and they have four official languages, with things like signage, media, etc. usually listed in all four.
If you’re intrigued by how it works out to have four official languages, you’ll want to choose the chapter on Singapore as one of the chapters you read for this module.
The Chinese by Specific Community (1957)
Other and Indeterminate
Report on the Census of Population of Singapore 1957Summary Table 12-2
Since some of you will be reading in depth about Singapore, I only want to say a couple more things that will illustrate …
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