Saeed Peyvandi, a sociologist and university professor, says sociological research clearly proves that the imposition of the majority language as a factor of cultural dominance, in its symbolic and actual dimensions, results in many negative effects in the social and educational development of children in minority regions. This statement is from a part of his article ‘’Education in Iran and the challenge of mother tongue’’ published on 21 February 2020.
Since the nineteenth century, the process of industrialization and development of society has been accompanied by neglect of native languages. At the time, the predominant opinion was that linguistic diversity hinders the progress of society, especially the progress of cultural, linguistic, ethnic and national minorities. Many countries chose the easy way of imposing one single official language (mostly the language used by the majority or the elite) and ignoring native and minority languages.
Today, the complexity of the phenomenon called ‘’mother’’ tongue stems from the gaps and ruptures that exist between geographical and political borders on one hand and cultural and linguistic borders on the other. There is virtually no country in the world in which a single language is spoken, and there are few languages which are limited within the geographical boundaries of a country. This important fact complicates the language policies of a country and sometimes gives it a political dimension. Mass immigration at the international level and the formation of emerging minorities in many countries adds to the complexity of the mother tongue phenomenon. The geographic dispersion of immigrant minorities has increased the risk of isolation and gradual forgetting of the mother tongue of the first generation.
In the second half of the century, with globalization and the increasing dominance of the main international and powerful languages, smaller languages were faced with even more problems. The position of language in a society cannot be separated from power relations. In order to respond to the needs of the times and to survive in the cultural and scientific environment, languages need regular care, updating, renewal and creativity, and they must continuously adapt themselves to the realities of the current changing world.
One of the most important discussions about the mother tongue is about its relationship with the language used in the educational system of each country. The educational system has become the most important means of preserving and modernizing languages due to its extensive coverage and the role it plays in acculturation and language learning. Since the 19th century, two important trends have been formed in relation to the official language of education in the educational systems of the world. The first tendency is to choose and impose one language (majority language in multilingual countries or colonial language in former colonial countries) on all residents of the country. One of the important reasons for this choice is the role that educational policies consider for the language of the educational unit in shaping the collective and national identity and preventing possible fragmentation and dispersion.
For the supporters of this theory, especially in countries with linguistic and cultural diversity, the multilingualization of education can lead to the weakening of national unity and the strengthening of ethnic and national movements or separatist tendencies. The second trend includes countries that recognize the linguistic diversity of minorities and allow them to learn their language in school (as a primary or second language). The policy of linguistic diversity in the field of education is sometimes implemented in the form of coexistence of several languages and sometimes in the form of a main language along with the possibility of learning the mother tongue for minorities. Switzerland, Canada and Belgium are historically the countries that have used the experience of simultaneous and equal education of several languages. Another interesting experience in this field is India, which has 22 languages of instruction.
Sociological research shows that the multilingual policy in education has positive effects on the preservation and expansion of indigenous cultures or the cultural heritage of a country and helps to make formal education more attractive and understandable for minorities. Lack of attention to the mother tongue can also lead to many personal, psychological and identity problems. At the same time, multilingual countries must be careful so that the relationship with language does not lead to the intensification of new forms of social inequality in obtaining opportunities for minorities.
Paying attention to the native language of the country’s residents and the linguistic-cultural diversity of a nation can take various forms. In recent years, we can mention the formation of a new consciousness about the importance of mother tongues, which is a sign of the importance of finding local and ethnic identities. Looking at language policies in different countries, at least two important approaches can be pointed out. The first approach is education in the mother tongue, based on which children learn different subjects in their mother tongue from the beginning, the national or national language is taught alongside the mother tongue, and the education will gradually become bilingual, and in the final years of the middle school period, the national language is increased in the curriculum. The second trend is the education in one’s mother tongue. This means that the national or national language will be the main language of education and students will learn their mother tongue along with the first official language. In this approach, various course materials will be taught in the official or national language.
Despite the quantitative dimension of minorities, native dialects or languages of large minorities in Iran such as Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Baluchs, have no place in Iran’s educational system. Many languages and native dialects in Iran could have been revived if they had entered the educational system, schools and universities and would have restored and cared for the cultural heritage that dates back to thousands of years. These languages and dialects are not just a simple means of communication between people, in the heart of each of these languages and dialects lies the history, traditions, culture and life of a region and a community.
Statistical studies show that the level of access to education in the minority areas of Iran is noticeably lower than in the areas that speak Persian. For example, while in the 2017 census, access to education in many central provinces of Iran (Persian-speaking provinces) such as Tehran, Isfahan, Semnan, Yazd is on average 15 to 20 percent higher than in provinces such as Sistan and Baluchistan, Kurdistan, or West Azerbaijan. And this gap increases in higher levels of education. Rural areas and remote cities of the marginal provinces of Iran, that do not speak Farsi. are the most deprived educational areas of Iran. For example, the probability of access to higher education for a village girl in Sistan and Baluchistan is eight times lower than that of a girl in Tehran.
Although these inequalities are due to language difficulties and the presence of the mother tongue, poverty and underdevelopment are also influential factors. As it can be seen in sociological research, the imposition of the majority language as a factor of cultural domination in the symbolic and actual dimension leaves many negative effects on the social and educational development of minority areas.
Language policies in Iran’s education, since the beginning of the formation of the new school, have never paid attention to native languages and dialects. While there is no contradiction between universal learning of Persian language as the national and official language of all Iranians and learning local languages and dialects.
Currently, in Iranian schools, a lot of effort is being made to teach Classical Arabic (the religious language and the language of the Qur’an, and not the language of the Arab minority) from the very first year of primary school, while about a third of Iranian students do not have the opportunity to learn their mother tongue even at the elementary and basic level. And sometimes they have to learn to read and write in a language they don’t know at school. This policy is a real example of symbolic violence against children who live a permanent identity and cultural humiliation.
Source: End of Monolingualism