Sustaining multiculturalism : problems and priorities for heritage languages




Lowe, Anjali.

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Canada actively promotes itself as a multicultural nation. Seeing that in the 2001 census, almost half of all Canadians reported an origin other than British, French, or Aboriginal, it can be said that Canada truly contains the globe within its borders. As the global economy becomes increasingly interdependent, and as linguistic and cultural diversity rapidly increase, it is as important as ever to address how Canada can fulfill its desire to become a multilingual and multicultural society. The 1971 federal policy of multiculturalism positioned the retention of heritage languages [HLs] as integral to maintaining cultural diversity. Yet, since the early nineties, HLs have been neglected by both federal and provincial governments. For many communities, language is at the core of ethnic identity. It has been Iong argued that the two are inextricably linked. Though the relationship between language and culture is a contentious issue, few deny the benefits of a multihngual society. Th~s thesis asks whether the government's laissez-faire approach to linguistic diversity has impaired cultural diversity and its maintenance. It investigates how the language policies of the Canadian government and three of its provinces, British Columbia, Ontario, and Alberta, have supported the maintenance of HLs, in talk and action, over the past thirty years. Through a critical analysis of federal and provincial discourse, it is demonstrated that government policy and action have excluded and diminished the value of languages and their role in sustaining multiculturalism. What is more, the lack of support for HLs, at both levels of government, has demonstrated an attack on culture and the core value of multiculturalism; the creation of an inclusive society that ensures all Canadians access to and participation in Canada's social, cultural and economic institutions. The goal of this study is to develop a policy framework which works to decelerate the loss of one of Canada's most valuable assets -- its hguistic and cultural mosaic.