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Language Policy

Language policy is formulated at national or State level. Attitudes and policies to language over the years have shown tension between three positions: English monolingualism as a symbol of loyalty to Crown and Empire, English monolingualism as a symbol of Australian identity, and multilingualism as an expression of demographic reality, inclusiveness, and outreaching cosmopolitan nationalism.

Up to the mid-1870s Victoria was supportive of its multi-lingualism, did not limit the use of languages other than English (LOTEs), and gave financial aid to bilingual primary schools. English was assumed to be the lingua franca. Most of the bilingual schools were German-English in the city area, the German settlements around Melbourne and country areas. There were also some German-English boys' and French-English secondary colleges. The Education Act (1872) mainstreamed monolingual English-medium education, and by Federation there was a strong identification of the emerging nation with English monolingualism. During and after World War I patriotism was marked by aggressive monolingualism. Australia and Australians were forced to forget the multi-lingual heritage. Publication in German was banned until 1925 and bilingual education was outlawed by an amendment to the Victorian Education Act (affecting French as well as German). Aggressive monolingualism continued in the interwar and World War II periods and into the period of mass immigration. This was inherent in the policy of assimilation, the scant opportunities for the public use and maintenance of languages other than English, and the need for self-funding for any such measures. There were severe restrictions on broadcasting in LOTEs.

With the policy change from assimilation to multiculturalism after 1972, limitations on the use of what came to be known as 'community languages' (immigrant LOTEs) in the electronic media and education were lifted. Language maintenance and community language service provision were financed by federal and State governments. This included library resources, some radio stations, and ethnic schools. Much of the thinking and lobbying behind multicultural policies took place in Melbourne, which was also pioneering many pluralistic developments, especially in education, the media, and libraries.

Up to the 1980s language policy, whether positive or negative, was implicit. Victoria was path-breaking in the development of explicit language policies favouring opportunities for the learning of English and other languages, the maintenance of community and indigenous languages, and the provision of services in such languages. These policies fed into national policy development (for example, Lo Bianco 1987 and, in part, Dawkins 1991).

Unlike some other States, Victoria maintains a balance between Asian and European languages, international and community languages in the prioritisation of languages in education. It has an ambitious policy by which all children should learn a LOTE for at least 11 years of schooling.

Michael Clyne

Bianco, J. Lo, National policy on languages, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1987. Details
Dawkins, J., Australia's language: The Australian language and literacy policy, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1991. Details