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World Politics

Vol. 64, No. 3

July 2012

Coalitions and Language Politics: Policy Shifts in Southeast Asia

By Amy H. Liu and Jacob I. RIcks 

Why is it that some governments recognize only one language while others espouse multilingualism? Related, why are some governments able to shift language policies, and if there is a shift, what explains the direction? In this article, the authors argue that these choices are the product of coalitional constraints facing the government during critical junctures in history. During times of political change in the state-building process, the effective threat of an alternate linguistic group determines the emergent language policy. If the threat is low, the government moves toward monolingual policies. As the threat increases, however, the government is forced to co-opt the alternate linguistic group by shifting the policy toward a greater degree of multilingualism. The authors test this argument by examining the language policies for government services and the education system in three Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand).

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