Group for bilingualism and multiculturalism in education and society

The third issue of Polydromo is published in a particularly complex sociopolitical context, where all of us in Greece, due to the economic conditions, question the foreseeable and distant future of our country. This new social order requires us to redefine some concepts such as ‘immigration’, ‘difference’, ‘exclusion’, ‘education’, and ‘identity’.

We believe that through such internal processes each one of us may eventually manage to construct a better relationship with the person next to us, since in times of “crisis” cooperation among people becomes even more vital. We are required, now more than ever, to become wiser and inspired in order to find ways to make our everyday life more creative and collective. “Polydromo” attempted to take such an initiative on 7th -9th May at Kodra Camp, by organizing “Three days of Words and Art for Multiculturalism and Against Racism” in cooperation with the Department of Pre-School Education of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Praxis and the Municipality of Kalamaria. The speeches, discussions, art exhibitions of children and artists, language seminars (Albanian, Russian and Arabic) and the live Afghan music concert made it possible for all of us who were present to prove our respect towards diversity, multiculturalism and the bilingual/multilingual people around us. We warmly thank all of you who honored us with your presence and active participation in our events.

Travelling recently to Lebanon, a small but complex country, with a particularly tough and unjust history, stigmatized by a long civil war and continuous conflicts among different religious and political groups, I had the opportunity to comprehend even better some of the political dimensions of language contact and multiculturalism. Lebanon is a country, which due to its complexity, challenges you to constantly explore it while the diverse forms of its multilingualism and multiculturalism are present in all manifestations of life. Coming from a monolingual society and a monolingual educational system I could not but admire that in the Lebanese society and schools the Lebanese colloquial language, as the language of communication, coexists with the official Arabic, as the language of education, as well as with French, as the language of school terminology for sciences and as a widespread and particularly important language to the country and, lastly, with English, a very significant foreign language.

What however is also evident is that in the evaluative hierarchy of the Lebanese education, where different languages are positioned consciously or unconsciously, officially or unofficially, the spoken Lebanese variety, although it dominates the communication of native speakers of the country, is placed in a low position and definitely below the French language, which has particular status. In order for us to actually comprehend and interpret such language attitudes and policies, we would need to analyze in depth the historical and political context of the country, which could be a topic of interest in one of our next issues. What impressed me perhaps most of all from my recent experience in multicultural Lebanon is the “Signal” which is used to this day in many school classrooms of Lebanon. The “Signal” is an object which is held by the child who uses the colloquial Lebanese language during the lesson as a ‘punishment’. In other words the child’s natural linguistic variety is considered ‘wrong‘ in class.

Returning to the context of the Greek school, it dawns on me that the “Signal” is not monopolized exclusively by the linguistically peculiar Lebanon but it exists in the classrooms of many Greek schools too, if not as an object,definitely as a dominant ideology, attitude and practice. The natural language use, whichever it may be, for each child not only does not have the position it deserves but it is also often ‘forbidden‘. The brief and concise statement of ten- year- old Stelios attests to this: In second grade a girl called Maria didn’t know Greek but the teachers didn’t let her speak Russian. So the little girl was often left alone (Polydromo, 1: 59).

Roula Tsokalidou


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