The multi-agent model of language choice: national planning and individual volition in China

Language choice is often studied as choices made by the state at the level of national language planning or as individual choice of language or variety in language use. There has been little research to directly connect these two aspects of language choice. This paper attempts to incorporate the two...

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Published in: Cambridge journal of education Vol. 37; no. 1; pp. 67 - 87
Main Author: Lam, Agnes S. L
Format: Journal Article
Language: English
Published: Routledge 03-01-2007
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Summary: Language choice is often studied as choices made by the state at the level of national language planning or as individual choice of language or variety in language use. There has been little research to directly connect these two aspects of language choice. This paper attempts to incorporate the two aspects and other related phenomena in a multi-agent model of language choice and illustrates the proposed model with some data on circumstances in China. The agents involved are: policy-makers, educators, family members, learners and other language users. After outlining the model, the discussion focuses on how choices made by policy-makers in China at the language planning level relate to choices made by individual learners or language users at the level of personal language development in China. It draws upon findings in the Language Education in China Project based on three main types of data: policy statements, survey statistics (on 415 Han Chinese learners, the majority ethnic group in China, and 60 learners from different minorities in China) as well as interviews of 35 Han Chinese learners and 17 learners from ethnic minorities. The paper presents brief accounts of the policies and some survey trends before focusing on interview data on six Han Chinese learners and three minority learners. It is argued that realization of national language planning goals depends on whether individual learners abide by the choices made by the state and whether the intermediary agents such as teachers and parents cooperate; it is also suggested that learners learn well if they choose to do so, where choice assumes active investment of learning time and energy into learning or using the target language(s).
ISSN: 0305-764X
1469-3577
1469-3577
DOI: 10.1080/03057640601179186