Khubchandani, Lachman. Revisualizing Boundaries : A Plurilingual Ethos. Language and Development: Thousand Oaks, 1997. Print.


  • K.’s work is about unbounding language from its position as an object of study and situating it in the sociocultural complexity that surrounds real language in use.  This is a move away from formal linguistic codes toward a consideration of how individual language users have “moment-to-moment” successes that make language “transactive, functional, and alive” (14).
  • K. sees language use in discourse as a “transaction” or a negotiation process of “give and take” between/among interlocutors (33).  The indeterminacy of language is worked through by individual language users making synergistic and serendipitous transactions with one another toward the development of mutual understanding.  K. calls this the “communication ethos – the ways that speech communities design speech events in everyday life.  This is a break with traditionalists that view language as formal – language is “living” and perpetual flux (33)[1. I see resonances here with the Bakhtinian conception of language as living utterance, embodied with the centrifugal and centripal forces of its use in particular social locations/contexts.]
  • Methodologically, K. argues that linguists should apply a transactive approach to language use.  This means shifting orientations to see language as an ongoing process of social transaction rather than an “institution.”  K. sees this as a shift toward a soft sciences/social sciences methodology rather than a strict adherence to linguistics as a hard science with a formalized methodology.
  • Politically, K. wants to consider his work as a place where individuals who see language policy and language use as mired in issues of power and individuals who see the “synergic network” of plurilingual language use as a means to inspire trust in cross-cultural settings (37).

Chapter 1

  • Chapter one outlines how a scientific, formalist approach to language has developed over time resulting in a “historical bias” toward language as product instead of language as a transactional process.
  • K. notes that language functions in numerous ways: interpersonally, societially, aesthetically, and politically.  As such, it is irresponsible to see language as a monolithic system and instead should be viewed contextually, paying close attention to the ways that language is deployed and for what purposes (39).  Further, it is important to pay close attention to the ways that the different uses overlap to serve mutual interests/aims.
  • K. provides a nice critique of the scientific method as positivist endeavor:

  • On why formal linguistics aren’t appropriate to understanding language use:  “A speech event carries a ‘formal’ meaning within sentence(s) based on what the subject, the predicate and so on signify; a ‘specification’ meaning within a context (conditioned by interactional roles, setting, channel, etc.); and an ‘affective’ meaning within the discourse, emerging from the mutual relevance of various contributions to an interaction” (52).  Taken together, these three functions of language can be mapped as cognitive (the formal ‘blueprint’ of verbal activity), identity (adding the specific social details to the blueprint – context, etc.), and design (these are the rhetorical moves that “filter” value over details in the blueprint . . . in other words, this is where power might operate rhetorically in order to move language use toward specific ends) (52).  Here’s a nice visual representation of the tripartite operation of language:

  • K. closes the chapter by reiterating his desire that theoretical orientations are made plural for successful approaches to research in the social sciences.  In a sense, I see this as a turn toward the rhetoricity of method . . . sketching out research programs as a function of the data as opposed to applying formalized, a priori methods in order to discover particuarlist truths[2. I wonder what sort of convergences K.’s perspective shares with the ANT methodology as articulated by Latour?].

Chapter 2

  • In this chapter K. looks specifically to the Indian subcontinent to consider how the “linguistic-cultural landscape” develops out of a variety of literary traditions and mass media technologies.  This varied perspective leads to a view of language use and plurilinguality as lived process, not product.
  • K. claims that any literary tradition is bound to the collective consciousness in which it operates (Kant).  This consciousness is constituted by linguistic structures, genres and styles, themes, cultural milieu, philosophical vision, ideology, and geophysical space (country, region, continent) (55).
  • Again, K. emphasizes the co-constructed nature of the communicative act as dyadic not individual . . . as such, research methodologies should consider how communication operates at the complex level of transaction among numerous aforementioned forces.

Chapter 3

  • This chapter attempts to create a “linguistic ecology” that pays special attention to the ways that language is situated and constructed both in time and space while being circumscribed in larger sociocultural milieus.  This chapter sketches out the “geography of language plurality” in order to challenge the boundedness of language borders by offering a map of language use as fluid and situated in intra and inter group communicative practice.
  • K. describes the process of working as a multilingual in a non-native tongue:  “Individuals acquire more synergy (i.e., putting forth one’s own efforts) and serendipity (i.e., accepting the other on his/her own terms, being open to unexpectedness), and develop positive attitudes to variations in speech )to the extent of even appropriating deviations as the norm in the lingua franca), in the process of ‘coming out’ from their own language-codes to a neutral ground.  a seemingly incoherent manifestation in these societies can make sense, coalescing into a persuasive whole, almost in spite of disparate elements” (94)[4. Consider the import of what K. describes here for multilinguals in your own work on the idea of a transnational composition – how can synergy, serendipity, and positive attitude development concerning difference be worked into a transnational composition pedagogy?  Is this process reversible for individuals in the center reformulating their language subjectivity toward a new orientation to difference?  Is this relevant for your own project?].

Chapter 4

  • This chapter considers what it means to be a linguistic minority in the South Asian context.  K. provides a case study of the Sindhis in India as a way to point out the sociocultural inequalities in language value from a minoritarian perspective.
  • K. notes that reciprocity isn’t the rule of the day for minority-majority language relations.  Big cultures tend to exert their political and economic might in order to pursue language/ethnic policies that disenfranchise minority populations and disrupt any notions of a fair communicative situation (106).
  • Advantages of valuing a linguistic minority identity in the context of contemporary nation-states:  valuing ethnolinguistic identity provides the means to channel issues of difference toward the enrichment of a national culture rather than as a means of identifying linguistic difference as needing “cleansing” by the dominant culture (K 108, Appadurai Fear of Small Numbers).

Chapter 5

  • This chapter considers the fraught relations between “particularist” and “nationalist” factions in the Indian context.  K. does this by sketching out how the state’s formal sanctioning of particular languages operates as a tool for capitalist/corporatist interests.  These interests attempt to facilitate and expedite linguistic homogeneity by enforcing language requirements for participation in the capitalist system.  Unfortunately, these processes are state-corporate sponsored and do violence to linguistic minorities (34).

Chapter 7

  • This chapter interrogates the function of the language census as a means to homogenize linguistic heterogeneity by the state.
  • How have policy makers and social scientists oriented themselves toward social planning using language censuses?

  • K. recommends taking language census results in concert with other sociocultural variables – “age, education, religion, density, mobility, and urbanity” in order to more ethically develop social planning initiatives that don’t simply favor the linguistic majority (162).

Chapter 9

  • This chapter is an extension of Chapter 5.  Here K. sketches out how language policy-making decisions and language planning activities are carried out by the state in India as an attempt at instituting corporate-sponsored language change for integration in to the capitalist marketplace.



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