Beyond identity: the desirability and possibility of policies of multilingualism

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Many contributors to the normative literature on language policy argue that inclusive multilingual regimes are beneficial on several grounds. However, despite the professed advantages of multilingualism, most nation-states have been reluctant to equally recognise minority languages alongside the majority language. This reality raises three questions. First, why is this the case? Second, should the situation be remedied? Third, if yes, how can change be achieved? The present article contends that a large part of the problem stems from the emphasis scholars and activists alike have placed on the deep ties between a minority group’s language and its collective identity. Yet, advocating for multilingualism on grounds of identity is likely to encounter strong resistance by the majority group and, consequently, thwart attempts to promote the official recognition of minority languages. In response, this article advocates three alternative defences of policies of multilingualism, which circumvent the obstacles that generally accompany identity-based arguments. The first justification stems from the unique instrumental nature of language, the second from utilitarian considerations regarding democratic performance and the third emphasises moral considerations such as equality and access. Together, these non-identity arguments provide normative and efficient grounds to the adoption of multilingual policies in heterogeneous societies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)632-644
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development
Issue number7
StatePublished - 9 Aug 2017


  • Multilingualism
  • democratic performance
  • identity
  • instrumentalism
  • nation-state
  • utilitarianism

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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