University of Tasmania
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The linguistic and cultural prerequisites for participation in Australian society

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posted on 2023-05-27, 06:51 authored by Bostock, WW
When we examine the liberal democracies of the world, we find that their workings are undermined by differences of language, culture and race. Members of linguistic, cultural and racial minorities often maintain that their participation in society must necessarily be from outside the 'rules of the game', through, for example, violence. Are we thus bound to draw the conclusion that the concept of liberal democracy presupposes a linguistically, culturally, and racially homogeneous society? In the case of Australia, its political leaders have, in their never-ending search for labour to develop bhe nation's resources, based their policies upon the assumption that this homogeneity must be provided, and hence the aim of assimilation. With regard to race, only members of the European or Caucasian race, with preference going to Northern Europeans, were permitted to enter, while the indigenous racial minority, the Aborigines, were expected to be racially assimilated or absorbed into the European-Australian population. With regard to their languages and cultures, these were expected to be replaced in due course by the English language and Australian culture, as were those of migrants. Has the assimilationist policy worked? In the case of the more easily assimilable migrants, such as the Dutch and the Germans, it has worked. They have often lost all trace of their original language and culture and become indistinguishable from other Australians. In the case of the less easily assimilable migrants, that is those whose language and culture are further removed from that of the host society, such as Greece and Turkey, it is proceeding with more difficulty. In the case of the Aborigines, assimilation is not proceeding at all. Instead of having the Aboriginal language and culture replaced with the English language and European-Australian culture, they are now finding a despised position on the fringe of a white society whose language and culture they only imperfectly understand while at the same time they have in many cases lost their own language and culture, and with it sense of identity. The ideal of an harmonious society, free from the violence and bitterness of oppressed linguistic, cultural or racial minorities is one that most would accept. But is the elimination through assimilation of minorities the only way to achieve this kind of society? The conceptual basis of the assimilation policy must be challenged. Firstly, the physical characteristics of a race can never be completely eliminated, even after many generations of intermarriage. Secondly, a language and a culture cannot easily be suppressed, not at least in the life of one generation. Thirdly, there is no basis for the belief that one individual cannot be both bilingual and bicultural, so that linguistic and cultural suppression may be unnecessary. Fourth and lastly, the results of unsuccessful policies of linguistic, cultural and racial assimilation may be more conducive to resentment, bitterness and conflict, than the absence of such policies. Rather than assimilation, the aim of government policy should be to provide the means of participation, that is, to encourage the members of linguistic, cultural and racial minorities not to suppress their distinct identities, but to develop, alongside their existing language and culture, the degree of competence in the English language and Australian culture necessary for participation. Many scholarly investigations have shown that the process of learning a new language and culture is facilitated rather than hindered by the maintenance of the existing language and culture. Our objective then is a policy with an ideal according to which, for example, Sicilians, Mauritians or Aborigines are not, as at present, struggling with limited success to assimilate themselves to the language and culture of white Anglo-Saxon Australians, but one in which the members of these groups are able to participate as Sicilian Australians, Mauritian Australians or Aboriginal Australians, secure in the uniqueness of their identity, and yet participating fully in every aspect of the life of the nation. The Jewish Australians and to a smaller extent, but in the same way, the Chinese Australians, have shown that participation without total assimilation is a realistic and desirable objective. Without the contribution of these groups, Australia would be a very much less rich society in many different respects. The participation of a minority group must be encouraged to take place within an open system. If minority participation is blocked by the linguistic and cultural majority, a situation of 'participation from outside' along the lines of terrorism and violence can be predicted. The participation must be carried out in the English language and according to common cultural norms, as for example, are provided in the parliamentary system of government. If every member of a minority is fully bilingual and bicultural, no such blockage could come to exist. The development of multilingual multicultural participatory democracy would be assisted by changes in the education system which produces at present a high degree of monolingual monoculturalism. If young Australians of British origin, could be encouraged to learn another language and assume the rudiments of another culture in addition to their own, they would realise the relativity of their native language and culture, and thus find themselves in a better position to admit the advantages to be gained from the participation of the minorities in their midst. Moreover, there could be an additional advantage: that Australia Gould participate more in the outside world than the monolingual and monocultural education which at present is given allows. This very same solution has been proposed by a Royal Commission into the languages and cultures of Canada. Moreover, in Switzerland, we find a multilingual and multicultural population who are able to exist in harmony because they are multilingual and multicultural. Furthermore, when the members of racial minorities possess perfect fluency in the language and culture of the racial majority, the causal conditions of discrimination are removed, while at the same time, a sense of identity is maintained. We are thus entitled to draw a conclusion that: providing the linguistic and cultural prerequisites of participatory democracy are met, any amount of linguistic, cultural and racial diversity can exist, and, moreover may be highly beneficial to participation within that democracy.


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Copyright 1974 the author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Footnotes: l. 375-405. Thesis (PhD) - University of Tasmania, 1975

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