Kit Woolard UCSD

Mon Apr 24 15:18:13 1995

I'm happy to have this opportunity to follow the development of Joe Errington's ideas on language ideology, and of his arguments about the relations between Indonesian and Javanese language ideologies in particular.  In this paper he has more space to lay out fully the provocative schema he has been developing than in other forums that have demanded he telegraph these ideas. This forum for my response, however, seems to me to demand both brevity and informality on my part, and I will try to write accordingly.

Joe Errington rightly argues that such massive sociopolitical realignments as the emergence of nationalist imagined communities and of the public sphere pivot not just on particular uses of language, but on particular notions about the role and functioning of language in society.  He brings the problems of the discourse of authority and the authority of discourse together in his sketch which neatly and usefully summarizes two ideal-typical forms of language ideology (the "standardist" which is reflected in modernist, developmentalist and language planning models, and the "exemplary", an indexical form of linguistic authority).  In his acute characterization of Gellner as native informant on developmentalism, Errington shows that not just the occurrence but also the analysis of such social changes have rested on standardist local ideologies.

Errington further argues, contra Gellner and Habermas, that rather than being characteristic of different epochs, these two distinct stances toward language use can be simultaneous. Not only can social power be based on very different linguistic ideologies, but it can be based in very different linguistic ideologies even in the same society (I thank Sue Gal for this phrasing.)  Such a possibility presents a general challenge to the Habermasian account, for analysis of social change more generally, not just for sociolinguistics.

The analysis of the empirical case of Indonesian in these terms is quite persuasive. The typological notions Errington develops might also be usefully applied to other "developing" societies, to help straighten out sociolinguistic problems of apparently conflicting language standards that have been described, as in the case of Arabic in Cairo (Haeri n.d.)  But I would like to raise a few questions that pursue this apparently paradoxical simultaneity into the borders of the modern, (post-) industrial world.

1.  My first question is whether the particular conjunction of linguistic ideologies Joe Errington describes is not in fact a fairly general and common phenomenon, as pervasive in Western (post)-industrial society as in determinedly modernizing Indonesia. Errington finds a kind of Indonesian-Javanese ideological syncretism in which developmentalist treatments of language are as much served as subverted by a (refigured) exemplarist view of authority in language, which is rooted in Javanese tradition.  Certainly we can see that very nice fit with the traditional Javanese view, especially in the data on the incorporation of opaque foreign sources in Indonesian vocabulary development.

But is the apparent Javanese-ness of the phenomenon misleading? I take it Errington is suggesting the generalizability of his observations when he cites Bourdieu on the sacred character of high culture (p. 12), and notes (pp.3-4) that this standard-exemplary distinction and the challenge to the epochalist accounts of Gellner and Habermas are not unique to the Indonesian case. But I would welcome more discussion of whether the same "pre-modern" theatre of power is also not still playing in western society.

For example, the kind of indexical sociolinguistic phenomena Errington describes are also very familiar aspects of public language in the U.S., whether in the referentially gratuitous elaboration and of bureaucratese, the fondness for semantic opacity and syntactic idiomaticity in undergraduate exam answers, or the proliferation of decorative "daripada" equivalents in all kinds of prose genres, from the psychotherapeutic to the political to the academic.

Bourdieu (e.g., 1991) of course argues that all authoritative languages actually work in this exemplary/ indexical way.  Said to be rational, elaborated, context-independent, universal, etc., authoritative linguistic forms in modern society are instead for Bourdieu a cultural arbitrary, a kind of skeptron, signaling the right to speak and the right to be heard.  According to Bourdieu, the stylistic elaborations of the language of authority are simply there to underline that authority and contribute to its credibility; footnotes are the "indeeds" of our academic prose.  And just as language can be a skeptron of personal worth, it has been well observed that it can be an indexical stigmata, an indictment of that worth.  As Crowley (1989) describes for the emergence of a strong standard language ideology in Victorian England, "a single word could assign you to an inferior class and reveal a hidden history in a moment." What, then, is general and what's more distinctively Javanese about the interweaving of the standardist and exemplarist notions of the authority of discourse?

2. If these two ideologies, or recognizable avatars thereof, not only can but as Bourdieu suggests do occur simultaneously in the modern state, might it not be because they are ideologies in different senses, locatable on different planes of social experience?  So, developmentalist or standardist ideology is consciously articulated and explicitly espoused by Indonesian leaders, planners, and social commentators.  And such overt claims about language and modernity are familiar; they surface in the arguments of the U.S. English group, as just one example.

In contrast, the exemplary is, by Errington's account, mute on the subject of its own ideological backing; as self-evidently natural, it cannot be metalinguistically objectified (p. 22).  While I am not certain that I have fully captured what seems to me a rather subtle idea here, the contrast of the explicitly metalinguistic and the mute makes me think that we have different kinds of accounts here of how things work sociolinguistically, at different levels of consciousness. In rather flat terms, one seems to be an analytic account of rhetorical claims and the other of the implicit interpretive models that guide speakers and audiences.  Particularly as Gellner represents the modern native's developmentalism, the standardist/exemplarist ideological accounts themselves also seem to be to different ends; one, of why a linguistic form must exist/must be used, the other of why a speaker ought to be respected or obeyed. Though these are obviously not unrelated issues, it seems the notions might be expected to be potentially complementary rather than contradictory.

3. Which brings me to my third line of puzzling, and one that may contradict what I have already suggested. Having said that these ideologies of language are quite different in nature, I now want to wonder if  they're not actually the same.

On the surface, the standardist and exemplarist ideologies are dramatically and diametrically opposed. This fits with Gellner's description of the differences in the organization of culture and authority between traditional agrarian and industrial societies.  The former seek to widen and accentuate the cultural gap between the powerful and the powerless, while the latter, Gellner the Native asserts, seek to minimize the cultural gap.  One language ideology highlights the speaker, while the other makes him disappear. Of course, Barthes (1972) tells us that bourgeois developmentalist ideology also naturalizes, but where exemplarism naturalizes language as a transparent window to the nature of the speaker, the standardist referentially-focused ideology naturalizes language as a transparent window to the nature of the spoken.  While one ideology underwrites the authority of the speaker (and thus incidentally of the speaker's language?), the other underwrites the authority of the language (and thus secondarily of those who master it?).

But if in modernist Cartesian rationalism, speaking is cognition (language as a window on the mind as well as on the world), and cognition is the essential self, then is not language once again a transparent window on the person, and are not the standardist and exemplarist views rather similar?  Do we have two representations of the same circle of indexical relations between language and speaker, varying only in where they break into this circle to determine value and authority?

And with that somewhat dislocating musing, I will end my comments. They have not so much to do with the Indonesian case and much to do with the implications of Errington's analysis for others of us working in this field.  I do not think it is necessarily Joe Errington's job to address these too-broad questions in the paper at hand, but that paper raised these puzzles for me, and they might be worth pursuing.

References cited