August 18, 2003

Language Rights and Political Theory - Chapter Summaries and Specific Criticisms

Welcome to part 1 of what I'm planning as a three or four part discussion of language policy, starting with my long awaited review of Kymlicka, Patten, et al's Language Rights and Political Theory. Part 2 is almost finished, and I'm part of the way through part 3. It's long, folks. Pull up a pew an' set a spell.

If you're Jim over at Uncle Jazzbeau's Gallimaufrey, you can follow along with your own copy. I have included spoilers, so be warned. For everybody else, let me reveal the surprise ending in invisible text: The British did it, the French helped them and the Americans covered it up.

Okay, now on to the serious stuff.


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August 20, 2003

A different kind of language policy

First, let me thank Jacob Levy and Matthew Yglesias for linking to Part 1 of this discussion of language policy. If hits are any measure, you've drawn a fair amount of attention to it, and I appreciate it.

This post tries first to make an argument for linguistic diversity without assigning any intrinsic value to languages, and second introduces an additional element into the debate that I think has been sharply neglected: the economic value of second-language education for speakers of dominant languages. Then, I talk about some policy options that I think are worth considering.

It is after 1am as I post this. I had expected to put on a few finishing touches this afternoon and found instead that I didn't like where it was going to much, so I took a nap and then rewrote it from scratch. I tend to do that a lot. Long format blogging is a kind of seat-of-the-pants exercise for me. If I didn't work this way, every post would take a month to write. The downside is that I always find myself rereading these posts and cringing at things I would have said differently if I could edit it a week later.

My boss is back from Sweden, which means I have a paying writing gig tomorrow, extracting research funding from the Flemish Council for Industrial Research. So, although it's more than half done, I expect the third post to go up Thursday rather than tomorrow. It will cover a different normative political theory, one derived in large part from child development theory rather than traditional political or economic principles.


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August 21, 2003

French Immersion

I know I need to respond to the comments on the post below and I said I would get the important and somewhat complicated third post in my discussion of language policy up today. It may still happen, maybe. My boss - who really is a nice guy in most respects - has only today found me a copy of the outline for our research grant application, and informed me at the same time that I only have until Tuesday to write the whole thing up because he promised weeks ago we were going to submit it by the end of the month. No pressure.

Folks, if you have people working for you, and you work in a business with deadlines, I implore you to keep your people abreast of their work schedules and not inform them at the last minute when work must be ready.

It looks like part 3 will be up, in all likelihood, Friday instead of today. In the meantime, I want to discuss just one of the comments to part 2 because it has some bearing on language policy in general. Sylvia Li asks if I have "statistics, as well as anecdotal evidence, for saying that French immersion schools are a failure? If so, you'd think there'd be a bunch of very annoyed Anglophone parents in Western Canada."


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August 23, 2003

Mediation, Collectivism, Self-Development and Political Theory

Because of the extra workload my boss has dropped on me along with the length of this essay, I have decided to break this third post on language rights into two posts. I expected to put this up yesterday, but better late than never. The next post will go up sometime early next week.

You can view part 1 and part 2 by scrolling down the page or following the links. I'd also like to thank Language Hat for linking to this discussion.

This post outlines an alternative to normative liberal political theory, something I have promised to do since this surprisingly controversial post on the Middle-East. I've actually started writing it a half dozen times in the last couple of months, and then scrapped it. I guess I need a certain amount of pressure to actually get some kinds of work done, but language rights are a good example application so I'm taking this opportunity to do it.

This post only outlines the theory and offers an example of its application that has nothing to do with language policy. I use it to analyse arguments justifying affirmative action in the United States as a form of slavery reparations. In the next post, I will apply it specifically to language issues.


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August 29, 2003

Language, Culture and Reality

Finally, my long-delayed fourth post on language rights. Click appropriately for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

I'm not entirely happy with it, and may make some changes later on. It seems a bit diffuse to me. Well, I hope y'all aren't reading the blogs for polished scholarship. But, I decided that since I'm so delayed putting this out, I didn't want to wait until Monday to publish it. I have a rather busy weekend ahead, so there will probably not be much new here until next week.

I didn't quite cover everything I intended to say, but this post was already growing quite long.

Let me also say thanks to Kerim at Keywords for linking in. He also has some good points about this series. I am hoping to get together a post collecting and responding to the response I've gotten in the blogosphere.

But anyway, on with the show...


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December 25, 2003

Ya ne ponimayu!

Can anybody help me understand the comments over here? My Russian is nowhere near up to it. I can see that the main post translates part of this post, but that's about as far as I can get.


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May 10, 2004

The social significance of lexicography

Modern lexicography strives generally to be descriptive in its outlook, in contrast to terminology, which is much less averse to telling you how you ought to use words. However, modern lexicography is often presented with problems that verge on questions of critical theory. By acting as a structured but still descriptive discipline, it is forced to attempt to understand words in the way their users understand them. Without the benefit of telepathy, this problem quickly becomes a matter of ethnography and cultural anthropology.

A stunning example of this is provided by Brad Delong, commenting on a post at Legal Theory Blog:

Strict construction is short hand for the idea that the United States Constitution should be strictly construed. The phrase appears to have become popular as a campaign slogan used by Richard Nixon when he ran for President in 1968. Nixon promised that he would appoint judges who were "strict constructionists" as opposed to the "judicial activism" that characterized the Warren Court.

The question is: what does strict construction mean? Is there really a method of constitutional interpretation described by the phrase "strict construction" or is this a mere political slogan? The confusion engendered by the term is illustrated by the following definition (offered on

strict construction (narrow construction) n. interpreting the Constitution based on a literal and narrow definition of the language without reference to the differences in conditions when the Constitution was written and modern conditions, inventions and societal changes. By contrast "broad construction" looks to what someone thinks was the "intent" of the framers' language and expands and interprets the language extensively to meet current standards of human conduct and complexity of society.

This definition borders on incoherence, opposing "strict construction" to both originalism and to the notion of a living constitution--ideas that might be thought antithetical to one another. So can we offer a better definition of strict construction?

Legal Theory Blog pursues a strategy of enumerating possible meanings, both for strict constructionism and for its presumed antonym judicial activism. This may well be good legal theory, but it is neither good lexicography nor especially good cultural anthropology:


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