LINGUIST List 17.2394

Thu Aug 24 2006

Review: Applied Linguistics, Sociolinguistics: Ferguson (2006)

Editor for this issue: Laura Welcher <>

Directory         1.    Jean Jacques Weber, Language Planning and Education

Message 1: Language Planning and Education
Date: 21-Aug-2006
From: Jean Jacques Weber <>
Subject: Language Planning and Education

Announced at AUTHOR: Ferguson, GibsonTITLE: Language Planning and EducationSERIES: Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Edinburgh University PressYEAR: 2006

Jean Jacques Weber, Department of English, University of Luxembourg

Gibson Ferguson’s LANGUAGE PLANNING AND EDUCATION is the latest in agrowing series of textbooks on language policy published in the last coupleof years (after Wright 2004, Spolsky 2004, Ricento 2006, Shohamy 2006). Itdistinguishes itself from these competitors through its specific focus oneducational aspects of language planning. It consists of seven chapters,followed by a brief chapter with discussion questions and further readingsuggestions.


In chapter 1, Ferguson addresses the sudden resurgence of the academicdiscipline of language planning and policy at the beginning of thetwenty-first century. He provides a historical overview of developmentswithin the discipline over the last fifty years, from the confident earlystudies (e.g. Haugen’s famous discussion of language planning in Norway) tothe much more ideologically and politically aware studies in our presentera of globalization, which are often highly critical of earliernation-building efforts in language planning. According to Ferguson, theideological reorientations in the discipline include a widening scope (i.e.not only top-down policy but also bottom-up processes), a more positiveattitude to language diversity and multilingualism, a moreinterdisciplinary approach that takes into account the political, social,economic and ideological dimensions, as well as a greater awareness of thelimitations of language planning.

Chapter 2 introduces the more constructivist view of nations as ‘imaginedcommunities’ and (national standard) languages as ideological constructs.Ferguson also discusses the key concepts of the discipline, such as statenations and nation states, corpus and status planning, standardization,codification and linguistic purism. What is surprising here is the smallnumber of key concepts that he mentions, thus revealing to what extentlanguage planning is a discipline that develops through case studies.

In chapter 3 Ferguson analyses the debate concerning the schooling oflanguage minority students in the US. He is very informative on the manydifferent types of bilingual education and he illustrates very well how, inthe debate about bilingual education, educational and political aspects areinextricably intertwined. He does this by locating the debate within thewider out-of-school socio-political context. Factors such as changingdemographics and continuing ethnolinguistic inequalities are shown to havefuelled the discussion about language provision for minority students.Ferguson also debunks the assumptions underlying Proposition 227 againstbilingual education, which was adopted by California voters in 1998.Finally he identifies the underlying ideological difference between‘assimilationists’ (the US English movement) and ‘pluralists’ (EnglishPlus). He examines the major arguments based on national unity and socialjustice, and concludes that this is a debate not so much about language butabout ‘contrasting understandings of the nature of US society and itsidentity’ (63).

Chapter 4 focuses on the situation of autochthonous minority languages inEurope after the 1992 European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.Ferguson mostly deals with the topics of language endangerment andrevitalization: he lists the sociological and sociolinguistic causes oflanguage death, and critically discusses the arguments for the preservationof global linguistic diversity (especially ecology of language and identityarguments). The chapter ends with a detailed comparative study of Welsh andBreton, showing that the revival of the former and the continuing declineof the latter are mostly due to different socio-political and economicfactors.

Chapters 5 and 7 can be taken together as they both look at the causes andeffects of the global spread of English, as well as its implications forEnglish language teaching. In the part on ‘causes’, Ferguson deconstructsPhillipson’s linguistic imperialism thesis as a top-down theory of languagespread which ignores the ways in which English has been appropriated anddenies agency to speakers in the periphery. His final assessment is that itis an ‘overly simple, hence unsatisfactory, explanation for the ongoingspread of English as a global lingua franca’ (119). As an alternativeexplanatory 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 (namelyEnglish). But again he notes the limitations of this model: whereasPhillipson’s model is too top down, de Swaan’s perspective, with itsemphasis on individual preferences, is too bottom up and fails to take intoaccount the higher level units of decision-making such as nationalgovernments 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 linguisticdiversity- whether or to what extent the spread of English is a threat to culturaldiversity- whether or to what extent the spread of English leads to inequalities.

He points out that the last question should really be about whether thereare specific socio-economic inequalities arising from the differentialaccess to English. He considers this question with regard to post-colonialAfrican countries and notes that, especially in these countries, theimportant issue of access cannot be limited to English but needs to beextended to educational resources in general. As far as implications forEnglish language teaching are concerned, an underlying problem in many ofthese countries is the common attitude that there is a necessary oppositionbetween English and local languages: either it is argued that the medium ofinstruction should be English or that it should be a shared local language.Ferguson, on the other hand, advocates a ‘policy of complementarityinvolving both an enhanced role for local languages and democratization ofaccess to English’ (145). In other words, he is in favour of bilingualmedia of instruction, of course within a framework of additivebilingualism. In chapter 7, he takes this discussion further by focusing onsocio-political and economic constraints shaping language education policyin post-colonial Africa.

Chapter 6 on the New Englishes tackles the difficult question of norms andmodels for English language teaching in the age of global English: shouldBritish and American English continue to be the sole teaching models or dowe need to recognize other models? Ferguson addresses the issues ofintelligibility, identity, practicality and acceptability, and reaches thefollowing conclusion:

What is needed, then, is a more nuanced position, one that attempts toreconcile, if this is possible, the complex sociolinguistic realities ofvariation and change with the need for pedagogical clarity, and the demandsof 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, thereis far greater variability in speech. Hence, alternative teaching modelsare more necessary for spoken English and they could include both localeducated (acrolectal) varieties and the ‘lingua franca phonological core’model of Jenkins (2000).


Ferguson introduces the reader to the current language policy debates inthe area of education. He identifies and assesses the main arguments forand against the different positions, and this is undoubtedly the strengthof his book. On the downside, I need to mention that the author sometimestakes a somewhat conservative line, both from the perspective of the socialsciences in general and sociolinguistics in particular. As far as moregeneral comments of this nature are concerned, here is an example where heseems to look upon globalization processes and their effects onmarginalized communities through rose-coloured glasses:

Their demise [of indigenous languages] can be linked to globalization in sofar as they have been hitherto sustained by geographical isolation,socio-economic marginalization and the perceived absence of opportunitiesfor joining the mainstream, all of which traits tend to be undone by theincreased interconnectedness, urbanization and time-space compressionassociated with globalization. (7)

Another example occurs on page 78, where the author notes that Fishman’sessentialist stance linking language and identity has been criticized bymany scholars. He defends Fishman’s position, arguing that it is ''subtler''in that it ''concedes that an ethnie’s culture and identity may 'longoutlast language maintenance' (1991: 17), just as an Irish identity hasoutlasted the decline of Irish as a language of regular spokencommunication, or a Tlingit identity the loss of the Tlingit language[...], but insists that the culture and identity that endures isnonetheless changed.'' The final comment here shows how hard it is to getout of the trap of essentialism, as it seems to suggest that when anethnie’s language is not lost culture and identity are fixed, whereas froma more constructivist perspective culture and identity are never fixed butalways in a process of becoming.

The final two quotations belong more directly to the domain ofsociolinguistics. Here is the first one:

Relatively clear though this sociolinguistic specification may be, labelsfor New Englishes – ‘Singapore English’, ‘Nigerian English’, ‘IndianEnglish’ and so forth – can mislead if they are taken to refer tohomogenous, clear-cut and clearly individuated entities, for in fact thelabels shelter considerable heterogeneity. (152)

The same of course also applies to the label ‘British English’, and itmight be important to specify this in a textbook, as otherwise the abovestatement could be misleading for students. A few pages later, Fergusonponders the nature of these New Englishes: ‘are they acceptable deviationsfrom 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 caseAmerican English is also a ‘deviation’ from British English, and BritishEnglish would then be a ‘deviation’ from some Germanic norm.

However, such comments are few and far between in what is otherwise anexcellent textbook and hence do not substantially detract from its overallvalue. All in all, I highly recommend this book as an ideal introductionfor everybody who is interested in finding out more about current debatesin language planning and policy with specific reference to education.


Fishman, Joshua (1991) Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: MultilingualMatters.

Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The Phonology of English as an InternationalLanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ricento, Thomas (2006) An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory andMethod. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shohamy, Elena (2006) Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches.Abingdon: Routledge.

Spolsky, Bernard (2004) Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wright, Sue (2004) Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalismto Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave.


Jean Jacques Weber is Professor of English at the University of Luxembourg.He received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Leuven. He isinterested in socio-cultural approaches to language and education, and isat present working on an overview of language planning and policy inLuxembourg (together with Dr. Kristine Horner). He has also publishedextensively on stylistics and discourse analysis.