Revisiting borders: named languages and de-colonization

Mario Saraceni, Camille Jacob

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Recent developments in sociolinguistics have been characterised by a move away from the notion of languages as discrete and separate entities. This has come within a frame of general criticism of structuralism as a theory of language fundamentally emanating from, or at least being tied to, monolingual ideologies of 19th -century European nationalism. Based on the recognition that linguistic borders are little more than political constructs, many sociolinguists prefer to describe language behaviour as social practice where speakers make use of shared linguistic repertories in fluid and dynamic ways rather than adhering to the static rules of pre-packaged and labelled languages. Revealing the ideologically-driven monolingual bias in applied and sociolinguistics, this work focuses instead on translanguaging and/or translingual practices, and has been immensely important g of language.

However, this intellectual impetus should not lead us to lose sight of the fact that, invented and artificial as they may have been, named languages and their borders do exist and play very important roles not only as layman’s concepts but also as part of the long process of political and cultural de-colonization in many parts of the world. The celebration of translanguaging as a better and more sophisticated analytical lens need not come with the denigration of other understandings. The argument against one bias must not simultaneously develop its own biases. While the notion of translanguaging helps us describe language behaviours in more adequate ways and can also usefully inform pedagogical practices, the political as well as practical consequences and potential benefits of nationally-defined languages must also be seriously considered within a sociolinguistics of globalization.

This paper examines this point by considering the cases of the sociolinguistic situations in Malaysia and Algeria.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalLanguage Sciences
Early online date24 May 2018
Publication statusEarly online - 24 May 2018


  • named languages
  • de-colonization
  • nation-state
  • translanguaging
  • identity


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