LINGUIST List 17.491

Wed Feb 15 2006

Review: Socioling/Lang Planning: Ricento (2005)

Editor for this issue: Lindsay Butler <>

Directory         1.    Dafna Yitzhaki, An Introduction to Language Policy

Message 1: An Introduction to Language Policy
Date: 13-Feb-2006
From: Dafna Yitzhaki <>
Subject: An Introduction to Language Policy

EDITOR: Ricento, Thomas TITLE: An Introduction to Language Policy SUBTITLE: Theory and Method PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing YEAR: 2005 Announced at

Dafna Yitzhaki, English Department, Bar Ilan University, Ramat-Gan, Israel.


''An Introduction to Language Policy'' is an extensive collection of chapters written by prominent scholars in the field and intended for students, academicians and researchers in sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, social studies and related areas. The chapters cover a large range of topics in the field, from its inception to the present, and include both theoretical and methodological perspectives. The nineteen chapters of the book are organized into three parts, each one opening with an overview by the editor. Part 1, entitled 'Theoretical Perspectives in Language Policy' aims at defining and characterizing the field historically, through its main goals and from the point of view of several theoretical 'schools of thought,' such as Critical Theory, Postmodern thinking, economics and political theory. Methodology is the topic of part 2, which consists of contributions that present practical procedures, such as text and discourse analysis, ethnography, and psycho-sociological methods (Chapters 9, 10 and 12) and more theoretically-oriented approaches dealing with the implications of historical studies and territorial considerations (Chapters 8 and 11). Part 3 presents seven 'Topical Areas' in language policy, including traditional subjects, such as nationalism, education, and language shift (Chapters 13, 16 and 17); relatively new topics of interest such as sign languages (Chapter 18), and more theoretically controversial topics, such as language rights and linguistic imperialism (Chapters 14, 15 and 19). Each of the nineteen chapters in the book ends with an annotated bibliography and a list of discussion questions.

The first two chapters of Part 1 'Language Policy: Theory and Practice - An Introduction' by Editor Thomas Ricento and 'Frameworks and Models in Language Policy and Planning' by Nancy Hornberger begin by reviewing the history of the field. Ricento then focuses on the overall, positive influence of Critical Theory on the research in the field, which inspired ideological concepts such as 'Linguistic Imperialism' (see Chapter 19) and language rights (see Chapters 14, 15). At the same time, he points out that these 'critical' studies may not ''rise to the level of a paradigm in the traditional sense of some grand theory'' (p.17).

Hornberger goes on to describe the Integrative Framework for Language Policy and Planning (LPP), which is a synthesis of several policy models proposed by different scholars from the 60's onward. The framework presented is a summary of the one originally proposed in Hornberger (1994) and it would probably be worthwhile for readers who are less familiar with the field to look at the original description for a better understanding. Both writers end with similar observations regarding the current state of the field: Ricento claims it is still missing well-defined models for systematic evaluations of policies across settings, and Hornberger maintains that the field is still ''poised perpetually between theory and practice'' (p.35).

Each of the next four chapters revolves around a specific discipline or 'school of thought'. James Tollefson (Chapter 3) discusses Critical Language Policy (CLP) as a sub-field of LPP based on both the need for ethical and political considerations in research, and on the incorporation of ideas and concepts from Critical Theory, such as 'power', 'struggle', 'colonization' and 'hegemony'. CLP is further divided into two main approaches: the 'historical-structural approach' and the one based on Foucault's notion of 'Governmentality'.

Alastair Pennycook (Chapter 4) suggests adopting a Postmodern approach as it lends a more 'localized understanding' to notions such as knowledge, action and value. In so doing, he argues, researchers can challenge the traditional categories of ethnicity, territory or nation when planning, analyzing and evaluating language policies. Policy studies that express the 'postmodern spirit', according to the writer, are Rampton's (1995) ''Crossing study'' (in which members of dominant groups 'cross sides' and use a minority language) and Le Page and Tabouret-Keller's (1985) ''Acts of Identity''.

Fran├žois Grin (Chapter 5) suggests using tools and concepts from the discipline of economics in order to investigate how economic variables affect linguistic processes and vice versa. More specific lines of inquiry include the influence of language on labor income, language as a criterion for the distribution of resources and language as a medium of international trade. Grin devotes a large portion of the chapter to presenting a systematic cost-efficiency model for language policy, starting on an individual basis and moving towards the aggregated 'social market' value for all members of society (p.85). He acknowledges the fact that such a social market value involves additional factors, such as the 'non market'/'symbolic' value of the specific policy. Unfortunately, he does not demonstrate how this kind of an analysis could be accomplished. Political Theory is the fourth discipline addressed in relation to language policy.

In chapter 6, Ronald Schmidt states that political science is a 'treasure- trove' (p.97) for people working in language policy. He illustrates this with the works of two political theorists: Bonnie Honig and Will Kymlicka. Honig explains the vast support for the 'English-only' movement in the US, showing how xenophilia and xenophobia are intertwined. In other words, while immigrants enable Americans to preserve positive myths of the American nation, such as individualism and feminism, they also embody the negative symbol of citizens who receive benefits without contributing in return. Kymlicka represents a pluralist approach to language and social equality. His main argument asserts that the state should play an active role in preserving cultural communities since they are fundamental to individuals' 'well-being'. However, only national minorities are entitled to demand the formal inclusion of their languages in the public sphere since 'nation-building processes', which are relevant for groups such as ethnic minorities, should not apply to them.

In the closing chapter of part 1 (Chapter 7), Harold Schiffman proposes the notion of 'Linguistic Culture' as a theoretical concept in order to examine language policy. Linguistic Culture, which was originally introduced in Schiffman (1996), refers to ''the sum totality of ideas, values, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, myths religious structures... speakers bring to their dealings with language from culture' (p.112). It is illustrated by two principles: diglossia and the importance of the covert aspects in a language policy. The Tamil tongue in India is used as an example of a language that became diglossic through an 'implicit policy', while France and the U.S. are characterized as societies in which mythologies about language and policy are so deeply rooted within the linguistic culture that it is unnecessary to create an actual, official policy.

In part 2, 'Methodological Perspectives in Language Policy', two types of chapters emerge. The first type includes contributions from Suresh Canagarajah, Ruth Wodak and Colin Baker (Chapters 9, 10 and 12) that describe familiar and recognized methodological paradigms. Canagarajah's chapter focuses on the methodology of ethnography. It begins with background issues, such as the nature of qualitative methodology and the distinction between Traditional and Critical Ethnography. Then it addresses the relevance of ethnography to different policy stages and policy forms (status, acquisition and corpus), using various examples of ethnographic policy studies and showing how the researchers' perceptive observations would probably not have been possible unless ethnographic investigation had been carried out.

Wodak's 'Linguistic Analyses in Language Policies' deals with text and discourse analysis. 'Text' includes oral, written and visual texts, and it is considered to be both the object of analysis and a 'representation' of the groups and the situations investigated. Wodak correlates these analyses to Critical Discourse Analysis, and she emphasizes the need to consider as many social and political contextual variables as possible. The chapter ends with an analysis of an extract from a focus group discussion. The participants come from different regions in Austria, and Wodak attempts to show how linguistic markers (such as pronouns and particles) can be used to reveal differing 'strategies of argumentation' associated with national and linguistic identities.

Baker presents the psycho-sociological methodology in language planning according to four concepts: (1) Language Attitudes (measured by attitude surveys and opinion polls as well as more qualitative methods, such as open-ended interviews and autobiographies); (2) Ethnolinguistic Vitality (measured by the ethnolinguistic vitality scale); (3) Language Use (measured by census, language-use surveys and social networks) and (4) Language Testing (measured by proficiency tests of understanding, speaking, reading and writing).

The two other chapters in Part 2 are more theoretically oriented. Authored by Terrence Wiley and Don Cartwright, chapters 8 and 11 discuss issues that are relatively unique in the LPP literature. In 'The Lessons of Historical Investigation', Wiley urges the reader to learn one principal 'lesson'. He advises language policy and planning researchers to question long-established, Western-centered paradigms that have influenced historical thinking and were once used to justify colonialism and the repression of indigenous peoples. One of the paradigms he describes is 'the colonizer's model', which is based on the assumption that 'good things' develop in the west and then spread to the periphery. Historical studies that followed this line of thinking used western standardized literacy as the model for corpus and status planning. Moreover, this led to a division between literate and non-literate populations in which western alphabetic literacy was associated with individual cognitive development and institutional advancement (the 'cognitive great-divide' theory).

The chapter 'Geolinguistic Analysis in Language Policy' by Don Cartwright refers to the territorial considerations relevant in LPP research. The writer identifies two types of communities - geographically-peripheral and contiguous - and discusses the main distinctions between them. For example, while fragmented communities usually settle for exclusive minority language use in minority language domains (i.e., the educational system), contiguous communities demand minority language use in all domains within a certain territory (where the minority language is dominant). Additionally, Cartwright claims that speakers of a minority language in fragmented communities are at risk for subtractive bilingualism, whereas such speakers in contiguous communities are likely to develop additive bilingualism.

In the third part of the volume, 'Topical Areas in Language Policy', Nationalism (Jan Blommaert, chapter 13), educational language policies (Christian Paulston and Kai Heidemann, Chapter 16) and Language Shift (Joshua Fishman, Chapter 17) represent the more prevalent areas in the field. Blommaert's principal claim throughout chapter 13 is that the relationship between language and nationality can no longer be seen as a simple, one-to-one correlation. Rather, it should consider more specific domains, activities and norms of language use. Blommaert uses Tanzania in East Africa to demonstrate how policy-makers were trying to create one national identity, that of the Socialist African, through the use of Swahili. He believes this was problematic because it ignored the different layers of identity people manifested through the use of other languages (English and the other indigenous languages).

Paulston and Heidemann make a similar claim. According to them, state-level educational policy can only succeed if it considers the socio-cultural context of the specific environment. They also address other key principles, such as the idea that the best teaching medium is the mother tongue, and the notion that children easily perceive the 'standard'/'correct' form of language. Because the writers are more interested in how language policies are 'represented' in the classrooms than in the policies themselves, they envision the programs as intervening variables rather than as the independent or causal variables that most other researchers employ.

Fishman also discusses the educational system, emphasizing its role as a powerful language-shift mechanism. He highlights the fact that language shifts may occur without explicit policies (i.e., Spanish speakers in the US) and that 'no-policy policy' (p.318) usually benefits the stronger group. Interestingly, he observes the significance of corpus planning, and asserts that it (and not merely status planning) may also be 'political' and result in a shift.

Chapters 14, 15 and 19 address more controversial notions that are largely influenced by critical theory: Stephen May covers Minority Rights, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas deals with Linguistic Human Rights and Phillipson tackles 'Linguistic Imperialism'. May begins by criticizing the 'old' school of LPP for accepting the processes that have led to the creation of hierarchy between languages. The majority of the chapter is devoted to arguments advocating minority language rights: (1) the minority-majority language hierarchy is neither a natural nor a linguistic process. Rather, it is the result of power relations and political events; (2) The expected losses of minority languages are predicted to cause social, economic and political displacements of their speakers; (3) language loss for linguistic minorities does not result in better social mobility.

Skutnabb-Kangas presents an even more inclusive and severe approach to linguistic human rights (LHR). She claims that LHR should be both negative, (by protecting individuals from discrimination), and positive, (by maintaining and promoting one's identity); it should be both individual and collective; it should consider both territorial and personal factors (see Chapter 11); and it must be based on both 'hard laws' (such as covenants and charts) and 'soft laws' (such as declarations and supreme court decisions). The educational system, according to the writer, is an important agent of 'linguistic and cultural genocide' (definitions of 'genocide' from a UN convention are used to justify this term), and submersion education, which is perceived to cause 'serious mental harm' (p.278) such as impaired fluency and literacy.

The intentional element is also crucial to Phillipson's theory. The term 'Linguistic Imperialism' (LI) was coined in Phillipson's 1992 book and refers to the dominant role of English in international relations and how language pedagogy has created a hierarchy of languages with English at the top. In this chapter, Phillipson concentrates on global developments and language policy trends in Europe. He points out, for example, that English has been 'uncritically' accepted as the lingua franca of Europe (p.357), and that Sweden and Denmark are exceptional examples of European countries that realize the threat to cultural vitality and diversity posed by a shift to English norms. Phillipson questions the EU's ability to resist the English-only pressure, and attempts to answer this inquiry via a historical analysis (i.e., the influence of the Marshall Plan on European economy, and the reluctance of Germany to promote its language after the Nazi experience).

The last contribution to mention in Part 3 is from Timothy Reagan on sign languages (Chapter 18), an unusual topic in LPP literature. The significance of the chapter lies in its clarification of basic 'sign language terms' (such as the distinction between 'natural sign languages' and 'contact languages') and in its analysis of the emerging, policy-related issues in the field. For example, when sign language is recognized in a certain state, it does not gain an 'official language' status. In the educational system, a debate rages about whether to teach an 'oral language' or sign language. Reagan also shows how language rights terminology has penetrated policy discussions on sign languages: sign language users are demanding recognition as 'indigenous minorities', and scholars are cautioning that a burgeoning hierarchy between sign languages could result in one dominant sign language.


The book certainly succeeds in moving the field forward - not only by providing a varied range of topics (some of which are uncommon in the language policy literature, such as Geolinguistics, historical investigations and sign languages), but also by exposing the reader to 'controversies' in the field. For instance, the concept of Language Rights is presented as fundamental to the field (May, Chapter 14; Skutnabb-Kangas Chapter 15) and at the same time as a 'grand narrative' rooted within a 'modernity discourse' that prevents language policy researchers from understanding underlying and complex contextual processes (Pennycook, Chapter 4). In chapter 6, Schmidt describes the ideas of political theorist Will Kymlicka at length (In Chapter 14, May also refers to them), emphasizing their power to develop fair citizenship and social equality. Skutnabb-Kangas however, sees them as dangerous prejudices against 'true' linguistic diversity (p.280). Another example of intense debate is Linguistic Imperialism, presented by Phillipson in chapter 19 and referred to throughout the book as a strong 'critical notion'. Nevertheless, Fishman recommends looking at Phillipson's characterization of the spread of English as a shift process rather than as a 'conspiracy act' (p.322-3).

This 'dialogue' between chapters far exceeds mere criticism. Postmodern theory, for example, is the topic of chapter 4, but it also categorizes the ideological perspective of other chapters, such as Wiley's research on historical investigation (Chapter 8). This is also true of critical theory, which is presented in chapter 3 and has a direct influence on many of the authors, such as in Wodak's description of linguistic analysis (Chapter 10). Furthermore, although methodology is the topic of part 2, numerous descriptions of case studies appear throughout part 3, along with the methodological approaches and practices taken by the researchers (the acquisition and revitalization studies described by Paulston and Heidemann in Chapter 16, for example).

The annotated bibliographies in each chapter are highly recommended as a starting point for both students and scholars who wish to extend their knowledge of the specific topic discussed by the author. The usefulness of the discussion questions, however, is less apparent. They might assist students in further understanding the topics addressed in each chapter.

Another point of weakness is the 'non-homogeneity' in part 2. Chapters 8 and 11 contribute important observations (the bias of historical investigations and the relevancy of territorial considerations), however, it is not clear why they were included in the methodological section, especially when the other chapters focus on clear methodological paradigms, such as textual analysis and ethnography.

Overall, the volume is well-written, well-edited and provides a wealth of information for linguists and non-linguists alike.


Hornberger, N. H. (1994). Literacy and Language Planning. Language and Education, 8, 75-86.

Le Page R. & Tabouret-Keller A. (1985). Acts of Identity: Creole-based approaches to language and ethnicity. Cambridge University Press.

Patten, A. & Kymlicka, W. (2003). Introduction. Language rights and political theory: Context, issues, and approaches. In A. Patten & W. Kymlicka (eds.), Language Rights and Political Theory (pp. 1-10). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Phillipson, R. (1992) Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rampton, B. (1995). Crossing: Language and ethnicity among adolescents. London: Longman.

Schiffman, H. F. (1996). Linguistic Culture and Language Policy. London/New York: Routledge.


I am currently working toward my Ph.D. in Linguistics at Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel. My dissertation analyzes institutional- level language policy and practice in Israel with respect to Arabic in three domains: the legal, the educational and the media. I also work as an instructor teaching English as a Foreign Language for the Hearing Impaired, and as an assistant in a graduate course on Bilingualism at Bar Ilan University. My research interests include societal bilingualism, language policy and Language Rights.