AUTHOR: Ferguson, Gibson
TITLE: Language Planning and Education
SERIES: Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
Jean Jacques Weber, Department of English, University of Luxembourg
Gibson Ferguson’s LANGUAGE PLANNING AND EDUCATION is the latest in a
growing series of textbooks on language policy published in the last couple
of years (after Wright 2004, Spolsky 2004, Ricento 2006, Shohamy 2006). It
distinguishes itself from these competitors through its specific focus on
educational aspects of language planning. It consists of seven chapters,
followed by a brief chapter with discussion questions and further reading
In chapter 1, Ferguson addresses the sudden resurgence of the academic
discipline of language planning and policy at the beginning of the
twenty-first century. He provides a historical overview of developments
within the discipline over the last fifty years, from the confident early
studies (e.g. Haugen’s famous discussion of language planning in Norway) to
the much more ideologically and politically aware studies in our present
era of globalization, which are often highly critical of earlier
nation-building efforts in language planning. According to Ferguson, the
ideological reorientations in the discipline include a widening scope (i.e.
not only top-down policy but also bottom-up processes), a more positive
attitude to language diversity and multilingualism, a more
interdisciplinary approach that takes into account the political, social,
economic and ideological dimensions, as well as a greater awareness of the
limitations of language planning.
Chapter 2 introduces the more constructivist view of nations as ‘imagined
communities’ and (national standard) languages as ideological constructs.
Ferguson also discusses the key concepts of the discipline, such as state
nations and nation states, corpus and status planning, standardization,
codification and linguistic purism. What is surprising here is the small
number of key concepts that he mentions, thus revealing to what extent
language planning is a discipline that develops through case studies.
In chapter 3 Ferguson analyses the debate concerning the schooling of
language minority students in the US. He is very informative on the many
different types of bilingual education and he illustrates very well how, in
the debate about bilingual education, educational and political aspects are
inextricably intertwined. He does this by locating the debate within the
wider out-of-school socio-political context. Factors such as changing
demographics and continuing ethnolinguistic inequalities are shown to have
fuelled the discussion about language provision for minority students.
Ferguson also debunks the assumptions underlying Proposition 227 against
bilingual education, which was adopted by California voters in 1998.
Finally he identifies the underlying ideological difference between
‘assimilationists’ (the US English movement) and ‘pluralists’ (English
Plus). He examines the major arguments based on national unity and social
justice, and concludes that this is a debate not so much about language but
about ‘contrasting understandings of the nature of US society and its
Chapter 4 focuses on the situation of autochthonous minority languages in
Europe after the 1992 European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.
Ferguson mostly deals with the topics of language endangerment and
revitalization: he lists the sociological and sociolinguistic causes of
language death, and critically discusses the arguments for the preservation
of global linguistic diversity (especially ecology of language and identity
arguments). The chapter ends with a detailed comparative study of Welsh and
Breton, showing that the revival of the former and the continuing decline
of the latter are mostly due to different socio-political and economic
Chapters 5 and 7 can be taken together as they both look at the causes and
effects of the global spread of English, as well as its implications for
English language teaching. In the part on ‘causes’, Ferguson deconstructs
Phillipson’s linguistic imperialism thesis as a top-down theory of language
spread which ignores the ways in which English has been appropriated and
denies agency to speakers in the periphery. His final assessment is that it
is an ‘overly simple, hence unsatisfactory, explanation for the ongoing
spread of English as a global lingua franca’ (119). As an alternative
explanatory framework, he investigates de Swaan’s ‘global language system’
model, which is based on a hierarchical organization of peripheral,
central, supercentral languages and one hypercentral language (namely
English). But again he notes the limitations of this model: whereas
Phillipson’s model is too top down, de Swaan’s perspective, with its
emphasis on individual preferences, is too bottom up and fails to take into
account the higher level units of decision-making such as national
governments and transnational corporations.
In the part on ‘effects’, Ferguson assesses the following claims:
- whether or to what extent the spread of English is a threat to linguistic
- whether or to what extent the spread of English is a threat to cultural
- whether or to what extent the spread of English leads to inequalities.
He points out that the last question should really be about whether there
are specific socio-economic inequalities arising from the differential
access to English. He considers this question with regard to post-colonial
African countries and notes that, especially in these countries, the
important issue of access cannot be limited to English but needs to be
extended to educational resources in general. As far as implications for
English language teaching are concerned, an underlying problem in many of
these countries is the common attitude that there is a necessary opposition
between English and local languages: either it is argued that the medium of
instruction should be English or that it should be a shared local language.
Ferguson, on the other hand, advocates a ‘policy of complementarity
involving both an enhanced role for local languages and democratization of
access to English’ (145). In other words, he is in favour of bilingual
media of instruction, of course within a framework of additive
bilingualism. In chapter 7, he takes this discussion further by focusing on
socio-political and economic constraints shaping language education policy
in post-colonial Africa.
Chapter 6 on the New Englishes tackles the difficult question of norms and
models for English language teaching in the age of global English: should
British and American English continue to be the sole teaching models or do
we need to recognize other models? Ferguson addresses the issues of
intelligibility, identity, practicality and acceptability, and reaches the
What is needed, then, is a more nuanced position, one that attempts to
reconcile, if this is possible, the complex sociolinguistic realities of
variation and change with the need for pedagogical clarity, and the demands
of international intelligibility with the pull of local identities. (172)
He also foregrounds the distinction between spoken and written language:
while there is a reasonably uniform standard written print English, there
is far greater variability in speech. Hence, alternative teaching models
are more necessary for spoken English and they could include both local
educated (acrolectal) varieties and the ‘lingua franca phonological core’
model of Jenkins (2000).
Ferguson introduces the reader to the current language policy debates in
the area of education. He identifies and assesses the main arguments for
and against the different positions, and this is undoubtedly the strength
of his book. On the downside, I need to mention that the author sometimes
takes a somewhat conservative line, both from the perspective of the social
sciences in general and sociolinguistics in particular. As far as more
general comments of this nature are concerned, here is an example where he
seems to look upon globalization processes and their effects on
marginalized communities through rose-coloured glasses:
Their demise [of indigenous languages] can be linked to globalization in so
far as they have been hitherto sustained by geographical isolation,
socio-economic marginalization and the perceived absence of opportunities
for joining the mainstream, all of which traits tend to be undone by the
increased interconnectedness, urbanization and time-space compression
associated with globalization. (7)
Another example occurs on page 78, where the author notes that Fishman’s
essentialist stance linking language and identity has been criticized by
many scholars. He defends Fishman’s position, arguing that it is ''subtler''
in that it ''concedes that an ethnie’s culture and identity may 'long
outlast language maintenance' (1991: 17), just as an Irish identity has
outlasted the decline of Irish as a language of regular spoken
communication, or a Tlingit identity the loss of the Tlingit language
[...], but insists that the culture and identity that endures is
nonetheless changed.'' The final comment here shows how hard it is to get
out of the trap of essentialism, as it seems to suggest that when an
ethnie’s language is not lost culture and identity are fixed, whereas from
a more constructivist perspective culture and identity are never fixed but
always in a process of becoming.
The final two quotations belong more directly to the domain of
sociolinguistics. Here is the first one:
Relatively clear though this sociolinguistic specification may be, labels
for New Englishes – ‘Singapore English’, ‘Nigerian English’, ‘Indian
English’ and so forth – can mislead if they are taken to refer to
homogenous, clear-cut and clearly individuated entities, for in fact the
labels shelter considerable heterogeneity. (152)
The same of course also applies to the label ‘British English’, and it
might be important to specify this in a textbook, as otherwise the above
statement could be misleading for students. A few pages later, Ferguson
ponders the nature of these New Englishes: ‘are they acceptable deviations
from British English or just errors, the product of imperfect learning?’
(157). The New Englishes are thus seen in a negative light, as either
‘errors’ or, at best, ‘deviations’. And who decides what an ‘acceptable’
deviation is? The reasoning relies upon Eurocentric terminology and,
following in the same logic, we could probably ask whether in that case
American English is also a ‘deviation’ from British English, and British
English would then be a ‘deviation’ from some Germanic norm.
However, such comments are few and far between in what is otherwise an
excellent textbook and hence do not substantially detract from its overall
value. All in all, I highly recommend this book as an ideal introduction
for everybody who is interested in finding out more about current debates
in language planning and policy with specific reference to education.
Fishman, Joshua (1991) Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual
Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The Phonology of English as an International
Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ricento, Thomas (2006) An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and
Method. Oxford: Blackwell.
Shohamy, Elena (2006) Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches.
Spolsky, Bernard (2004) Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wright, Sue (2004) Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalism
to Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave.