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How Many Chin Languages Should Be Taught in Government Schools?

How Many Chin Languages Should Be Taught in Government Schools?

Ongoing developments and structural challenges of language-in-education policy in Chin State

Nicolas Salem-Gervais and Salai Van Cung Lian

How Many Chin Languages Should Be Taught in Government Schools?

Ongoing developments and structural challenges of language-in-education policy in Chin State

Nicolas Salem-Gervais and Salai Van Cung Lian

 

 

Language-in-education policies have constituted an enduring concern under the successive political eras in Burma/Myanmar,1 with critical impli-cations regarding cultural and linguistic diversity, access to education, as well as the emergence of a nation. While this issue has often been described too sim-plistically, the overall sidelining of ethnic minority languages in formal education under military regimes is nevertheless patent. 

 

Language-in-education policies have constituted an enduring concern under the successive political eras in Burma/Myanmar,1 with critical impli-cations regarding cultural and linguistic diversity, access to education, as well as the emergence of a nation. While this issue has often been described too sim-plistically, the overall sidelining of ethnic minority languages in formal education under military regimes is nevertheless patent. 

 

Based on an analytical framework de-veloped in previous publications (nota-bly Salem-Gervais and Raynaud, 2020) and series of interviews conducted in 2019 and 2020, this paper deals with the teaching of Chin languages in gov-ernment schools, with a focus on Chin State itself. We discuss the rationale for including ethnic minority languages in formal schooling in the Chin context, provide a brief historical background of the issue, and examine the latest developments and prospects of lan-guage-in-education policy in Chin State, such as the project of promoting a lim-ited number of “major” languages as “common languages.” 

 

The challenges involved in producing a list of languages with official recogni-tion, as opposed to dialectal variations with a less formal status, constitute a central question in this paper. As noted by linguist Peterson (2017), the classical language vs dialect issue is indeed par-ticularly relevant in highly multilingual Chin State, where language politics, un-derpinned by a multitude of faith-based written cultures, often militates against the idea of two regional varieties being considered two dialects of the same lan-guage. Illustrating the fractal patterns often observed by language ideology scholars (Irvine and Gal, 2000), this situation leads to what seems to consti-tute two opposite threats: the prospect of what could be called “ethno-linguistic balkanization,” on the one hand, and the perspective of giving priority to cer-tain languages over others, which would entail multiple and significant tradeoffs (in terms of maintaining language diver-sity, improving access to education, and promoting “national reconciliation”) on the other. 


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