Sustaining Languages and the Language of Sustainability

The Need for Change


  • Richard Stephen Chapman Università degli Studi di Ferrara



discourse, sustainability, monolingualism, plurilingualism, complexity


This paper attempts to tackle a number of connected philosophical questions regarding the role of language in the debate surrounding sustainability. One of the most obvious effects of globalisation and our current ecological crisis is the disappearance of languages and the impoverishment of our linguistic resources. The paper initially contrasts the experience and nature of biological and linguistic extinction in order to better understand the effects of language death on sustainability. The paper then moves to examining the disempowering effects of predominant discourses and truncated repertoires in what is largely monolingual behaviour, with particular reference to current crises and attempts to alleviate them. Language teaching and practices are considered with a focus on the opposition of neoliberal globalising tendencies and policy on the one hand, and the actuality of the complexities of localised understanding on the other. It is suggested that sustainable policy and practice require sustainable linguistic means and uses, and will be informed by deeper, more detailed debate, rather than searching for sweeping solutions. The paper proposes a renewed approach to language policies regarding learning, teaching, testing and governance that are non-exploitative but, at the same time, respect the requirements of meritocratic values. The importance of receptive skills in (inter-)cultural interactions and the role of languages in the appreciation of truth values is also underlined.

Author Biography

Richard Stephen Chapman, Università degli Studi di Ferrara

Researcher in English Language,

Dipartimento di studi umanistici,

Università degli studi di Ferrara


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