LINGUIST List 12.1899

Wed Jul 25 2001

Review: Ricento, Ideology, Politics & Lg Policies

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  1. liwei gao, Review of Ricento, ed.: Ideology, Politics and Language Policies

Message 1: Review of Ricento, ed.: Ideology, Politics and Language Policies

Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2001 01:30:33 -0500 (CDT)
From: liwei gao <>
Subject: Review of Ricento, ed.: Ideology, Politics and Language Policies

Ricento, Thomas, ed. (2000) Ideology, Politics and Language
Policies: Focus on English, John Benjamins, paperback,
viii+198pp., Impact: Studies in Language and Society, 6, 
ISBN: 90-272-1837-4 (Eur.) / 1-55619-670-9 (US)

Reviewed by Liwei Gao, University of Illinois at Urbana-


This volume collects ten papers on ideology, politics, and
language policies, eight of which were presented either at
the 1998 annual convention of TESOL (Teachers of English to
Speakers of Other Languages) or AAAL (American Association
for Applied Linguistics). Both were held in Seattle,
Washington. Of the other two papers, one was previously
published in TESOL Quarterly and the other was written
especially for this collection.

In Chapter One, Ideology, Politics and Language Policies:
Introduction, editor Thomas Ricento provides a detailed
orientation to the aim of this volume and the theoretical
framework with which the ten studies were conducted. In
addition, Ricento generalizes four major themes out of the
contents of these papers: 1) Different language policies
may share the same ideology, and similar policies may be
motivated by different ideologies; 2) Language ideologies
are connected with other ideologies, which may also
influence language polices; 3) Ideologies in colonial and
post-colonial contexts do not flow in one direction from
the Center to the Periphery. Instead, the flow is bi-
directional; and 4) Certain ideology challenges or even
contests the efforts of dominant social groups to
legitimate their power.

Chapter Two, Historical and Theoretical Perspectives in
Language Policy and Planning, also by editor Thomas
Ricento, examines the evolution of language planning
and policy. In so doing he identifies three types of forces
that shape language policy formation - macro-
sociopolitical factors, epistemological factors, and
strategic factors. According to Ricento, the early
work in language planning and policy (in the early 1960s)
was heavily influenced by decolonization, structuralism,
and pragmatism. The second stage of language planning and
policy (from the early 1970s through the late 1980s) was
affected by the failure of the decolonized nations to
modernize themselves, the challenge to autonomous
linguistics by critical sociolinguistics, and the lack
of access to socioeconomic prosperity (based on education)
on the part of socially dominated individuals and
communities. As Ricento notes, the third phase (from
the mid-1980s to the present) is still in the formative
stage, although he still characterizes it as being
swayed by the new world order, postmodernism, and the
assertion of linguistic human rights (Phillipson and
Skutnabb-Kangas 1996).

In Chapter Three, Language Policies as Virtual Realities:
Two Australian Examples, Helen Moore first reviews two
language policies in Australia, the National Policy on
Languages (NPL) (1987) and the Australian Language and
Literacy Policy (ALLP) (1991). In so doing she observes
that these two policies differ radically and the principle
of plurality and equity was not respected by the 1991
policy. In her own words, "The ALLP's role was to replace a
pluralist approach with one that set narrower priorities"
(p. 33). Moore then demonstrates that Cooper's approach to
explaining language policy formation is deficient. For
instance, she problematizes Cooper's assumption that
language policy description within the framework "what
actors attempt to influence what behaviors of which people
for what ends under what conditions by what means through
what decision-making process with what effect" (p. 33) is
unproblematic. She also points out that circular arguments
are involved in the justification of Cooper's descriptive
framework. After this Moore analyses NPL and ALLP using
Dorothy Smith's insights, which include the assumption that
all descriptions of language policy formation are partial
and interested. Quoting Smith (1990a: 74), Moore notes that
for both state authorities and social scientists, factive
texts are "virtual realities" (p. 40).

Chapter Four is Alastair Pennycook's contribution,
Language, Ideology and Hindsight: Lessons from Colonial
Language Policies. In this chapter Pennycook first examines
four different but interrelating and interacting
motivations that helped to shape colonial language
policies, and then looks at their implications for current
policies. The four motivations are: 1) the development of
imperial capitalism within the British Empire; 2) Anglicism
in the name of civilizing the colonies; 3) local governance
and control; and 4) Orientalism in the name of preserving
local cultures and traditions. Based on the discussion of
these "four poles" (p. 50) Pennycook epitomizes the
nature of the colonial language policy - complexity,
contextuality, complicity, complementarity, and continuity.
For instance, by "complicity" it is meant that although
Anglicist and Orientalist adherents held different opinions
about the role of English vs. vernaculars in providing
literacy to local people, yet their ulterior motivation
was the same - domination. And Pennycook concludes this paper
by proposing a "'situated ethics of language possibilities',
a view that argues that language policy can only be
understood in the contexts of language use" (p. 64).

In Continuity and Change in the Function of Language
Ideologies in the United States (Chapter Five), Terrence
Wiley first reexamines the language tolerance hypothesis
proposed by Kloss and pinpoints the limitations in this
hypothesis: 1) Kloss confined his focus to only formal
policies; 2) Kloss was concerned with only voluntary
immigrants; and 3) Kloss didn't explore the unofficial
pressures at work. Then after the discussion of non-formal
language policies, Wiley scrutinizes the US policies
toward respectively native Indians and European immigrants.
Regarding the Indians, the US policy went through
appeasement, removal, and coercive domestication. And the
aim of its language policy was deculturation through
behavioral assimilation, but not structural integration.
In contrast, the emphasis on the use of English in the US
policy toward European immigrants was motivated by "both
behavioral assimilation and structural incorporation of
peoples that were deemed worthy of amalgamation" (p. 80).
The paper concludes that throughout the US history there
has always been the pressure of linguistic
assimilation, be it explicit or implicit. Furthermore,
language has always been exploited as a means of social

Robert Phillipson's contribution to this volume, English in
the New World Order: Variations on a Theme of Linguistic
Imperialism and "World" English (Chapter Six), mostly
revolves its discussion round three books - David Crystal's
English as a Global Language, Post-imperial English:
Status Change in Former British and American Colonies
edited by Fishman et al., and David Graddol's The
Future of English?. His comments on these books are that
"Crystal regards English as a panacea, for Fishman et al
it is a more or less mixed blessing, and Graddol tells the
jury to go away and think - but one suspects that the jury
is predominantly white, western and male" (p. 104).
In this paper Phillipson also discusses some other issues,
for instance, in Section Two he problematizes some commonly
used concepts, such as "world language", and "language
spread". Phillipson also talks about English linguistic
imperialism and the inequality in communication created
by the use of English on international occasions. In
relation to the latter issue Phillipson holds that
Esperanto serves better than English for the purpose of
international communication. And the paper concludes by
calling for the inclusion of "a linguistic human rights
approach" in the formation of language policy (p. 106).

Chapter Seven, English, Politics, Ideology: From Colonial
Celebration to Postcolonial Performativity, is again
contributed by Alastair Pennycook. In this chapter Pennycook
first discusses the dual interpretations of the ideological
implications of the spread of English. According to
Pennycook, "ideological" means "political" on the one hand,
and on the other, it implies that "English is the purveyor
of thoughts, cultures and ideologies that affect the ways
in which people think and behave" (p. 108). Next Pennycook
examines these two interpretations in relation to six
different frameworks for understanding the global position
of English, viz., colonial celebration, laissez-faire
liberalism, language ecology, linguistic imperialism,
linguistic human rights, and postcolonial performativity.
For instance, "colonial celebration" views the spread of
English as intrinsically beneficial to the world. Regarding
the ideological implication of the spread, this understanding
does not acknowledge the existence of political significance,
but it does recognize the "discursive effects" of English
and deems these effects to be good. Another instance is
about "postcolonial performativity", which explores
how English is applied for the purpose of, e.g., resistance
and appropriation. Concerning the ideological implication
of the spread of English, this perspective provides "a political
standpoint both on the structure of linguistic imperialism
and on the agency of resistance" (p. 118). It also suggests
that although English may exert cultural influence, yet there
is no absolute or necessary effect.

In Chapter Eight, Negotiating Ideologies though English:
Strategies from the Periphery", A. Suresh Canagarajah first
tells a story to illustrate the point that local people can
adopt strategies to negotiate ideologies through English.
Canagarajah then demonstrates how people from the Periphery
used different strategies in different historical contexts
to achieve their ends. In the period of colonization,
English was used to represent a local discourse, which is
termed the "strategy of discursive appropriation" (p. 125).
This strategy echoes the distinguishing of medium from
message (Kachru 1998). In the decolonization stage, new
meaning was provided for the dominant English discourse to
suit the local interests and ideologies, which is called the
"strategy of reinterpretation" (p. 125). After independence,
English was used by the new elite to strengthen their power,
which is termed the "strategy of accommodation" (p. 127).
And in the present day Sri Lanka, people have
mingled the vernacular with English to form a system of
hybrid codes to achieve symbolic purposes. In this case not
only the English discourse, but also its sign system has
been contextualized, so it is termed the "strategy of
linguistic appropriation" (p. 128).

Chapter Nine, Ideology and Policy in the Politics of the
English Language in North India, is contributed by Selma
Sonntag. In this chapter Sonntag demonstrates how different
language policies can be motivated by analogous ideologies.
Specifically, both pro-English and anti-English leftist
advocates in North India are attempting "to re-appropriate
vernaculars as part of an anti-elite project" (p. 134).
On the other hand, the ideologies of the left and right
are fundamentally different even if they formed temporary
alliances on certain language policies. In so doing Sonntag
argues that while ideologies inform language policies,
they do not decide them. Sonntag also remarks that
language polices, which are applications of ideologies, are
dependent on the changing social contexts. In other words,
they are more adapting. In contrast, "Ideologies, although
not necessarily consistent, are more persistent" (p. 134).

In the last chapter in this collection, which is titled
Mixed Motives: Ideological Elements in the Support for
English in South Africa, Stanley Ridge shows how "both an
emphasis on English and an emphasis on African languages
can be racist and dehumanizing. By the same token, both
can be liberatory and affirmative" (p. 164). This once
again echoes the theme that different language policies
may share the same underlying ideology. Ridge also notes
that English was associated with earlier segregationist
social policies, but it is today linked with the people's
aspiration to a common society. He further points out
that although the Constitution has named eleven
languages as official languages, such policies by
themselves cannot change people's linguistic behavior
within a short period of time. Many other factors will
also help to determine the role of English and other
national languages in South Africa.


This volume makes an invaluable contribution to the field
of language planning and policy in particular, and language
in society in general. Each of the ten papers in this
collection presents fascinating and complex discussions
of the interaction among ideologies, politics, and language
policies. The collection also boasts its breadth in terms of
both theoretical and geographical representation. In the
latter case, areas and countries investigated include
Africa, North America, Asia, Australia, and Europe. In
addition, a variety of research methodologies are employed,
ranging from macro-sociopolitical and structural
examination to postmodern approaches. In a word, this
collection will make an excellent reading to students of
language policy studies and sociolinguistics.

It is understandable that this volume collects studies that
almost exclusively deal with language policies regarding
English in the Inner Circle and Outer Circle countries or
regions (Kachru 1985), given that English is predominantly
used in these areas. Even so, it might be advantageous if
this volume also collects studies that focus on the
English language policy in the Expanding Circle countries
(ibid.), which are still scant at present, as far as I know,
but promise to be a fruitful sub-field in language policy
studies in light of the increasing use of English in these

Certain standpoints expressed in this volume might also be
open to further discussions. For instance, on the basis
that only a small fraction of the population actually
speaks English in the world, Phillipson argues that "terms
like 'English as a world language' grossly misrepresent the
reality of the communication experience of most of the
world's population" (P. 89). I suspect that when the author
first used this term, what he or she had in mind is
something like the important role that English plays in
international communication or the enormous number of
countries in the world where English is used, rather than
the absolute number of people that use English.

Phillipson also hints that Esperanto, rather than English,
may be a "more efficient and equitable solution to some
problems of international communication or to making
foreign language learning in schools more effective"
(p. 97). "Efficient" it might be, given the simple, and
regular grammar of Esperanto. But it may not be a more
equitable solution. For one thing, Esperanto is not a
language that draws its element from every language in
the world. For instance, its vocabulary consists of roots
common to the chief EUROPEAN languages. Consequently,
certain people are still in disadvantages in using this
language. And Esperanto is not a "democratic" language
as the author claims (p. 98).


Kachru, Braj. (1985). "Standards, codification and
sociolinguistic realism: the English Language in the outer
circle." In R. Quirk et al., eds. English in the World:
Teaching and Learning the Language and Literatures. London:
Cambridge University Press. 11-30.

Kachru, Braj. (1998). World Englishes and culture wars.
Paper presented at the Sir Edward Youde Memorial Fund
Lecture. The University of Hong Kong: Hong Kong.

Phillipson, R and T. Skutnabb-Kangas. (1996). "English only
worldwide or language ecology?" TESOL Quarterly 30(3):


Liwei Gao is currently working toward his Ph.D. in
Linguistics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
His research interests are sociolinguistics and Chinese
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