LINGUIST List 21.227

Thu Jan 14 2010

Review: Applied Linguistics: Spolsky (2009)

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        1.    Marian Sloboda, Language Management

Message 1: Language Management
Date: 14-Jan-2010
From: Marian Sloboda <>
Subject: Language Management
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AUTHOR: Bernard SpolskyTITLE: Language ManagementPUBLISHER: Cambridge University PressYEAR: 2009

Marian Sloboda, Charles University, Prague


The book under review can be considered a continuation of an earlier book by thesame author (Spolsky 2004), where he presented a triad of concepts which make uphis concept of ''language policy,'' namely, ''language practices,'' ''languagebeliefs,'' and ''language management''. The book under review deals with thelast one of these -- language management. The author defines language managementas: ''conscious and explicit efforts by language managers to control [language]choices'' (p. 1) and as: ''the explicit and observable effort by someone or somegroup that has or claims authority over the participants in the domain to modifytheir practices or beliefs'' (p. 4). The definitions resemble definitions of''language planning'' (cf. Cooper 1989, Kaplan and Baldauf 1997). The author ofthe book under review, however, prefers ''language management'' over ''languageplanning,'' ''because it more precisely captures the nature of the phenomenon''(p. 5).

The book can be of interest to scholars working in the field of language policyand planning, although it contains rather little theory and methodology. On theother hand, detailed information on language management from many settingsaround the world makes up most of the content and the book is not demanding interms of theoretical concepts used; therefore, it could be welcomed by secondaryschool and undergraduate students interested in how language and language useare regulated in various parts of the world.


In the first chapter, ''Towards a theory of language management,'' Spolskyintroduces several concepts which are to form his theory of language management.To the above mentioned concepts of ''language beliefs'' and ''languagepractices,'' he adds Fishman's (1972) concept of the domain which ischaracterized by its typical participants, location, and topics. The domainapproach is used to structure the rest of the book: individual chapters dealwith individual domains. Spolsky focuses especially on the question of whichparticipants (understood as ''social roles'') in language management there arein a particular domain, and pays attention to the question of the extent towhich language management is carried out or influenced by domain-internal ordomain-external forces. The author also deals with the relationship betweenlanguage management and domain-specific locations and between languagemanagement and domain-specific topics to some extent. Each chapter provides anumber of examples of language management from many settings all over the world.

Thus, Chapter 2, ''Managing language in the family,'' deals with the familydomain, and Chapter 3, ''Religious language policy,'' with language managementin Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions.

Chapter 4, ''Language management in the workplace: managing business language,''focuses on workplace language rules, language management in global(international) business, in naval and air traffic communication and, finally,in advertising.

Chapter 5, ''Managing public linguistic space,'' deals with several sub-domainsSpolsky considers closely related, in particular, public signage (or linguisticlandscape), printed media, and telecommunications. The author also touches uponthe issue of the cultivation of the public use of language.

Chapter 6, ''Language policy in schools,'' focuses especially on the schooldomain participants, types of bilingual education, other language teaching, andseveral language management tools in schools (i.e. the teachers, admissionsdecisions, and punishment).

Chapter 7, ''Managing language in legal and health institutions,'' treats thetwo (or more) domains -- including the courts, civil rights, police, healthinstitutions -- together on the basis of the same type of participant/roleconstellation (i.e. professional/lay person, plus interpreters as mediatorsbetween the two) and on the basis of the specifically self-regulating characterof these domains.

Chapter 8 focuses on ''Managing military language,'' especially on the differentlanguage management situation of members of the military hierarchy and onlanguage policy (particularly foreign language teaching) in several selected armies.

Chapter 9 deals with a number of topics pertaining to ''Local, regional, andnational governments managing languages.''

Chapter 10, ''Influencing language management: language activist groups,''supplements the preceding chapter with a special focus on minority/endangeredlanguage activist groups as a specific participant group operating in severaldomains, especially in government policy.

Chapter 11 focuses on ''Managing languages at the supranational level'' and isthe last chapter on a domain -- Chapter 12 shifts focus to ''Language managers,language management agencies and academies, and their work.''

The last chapter, ''A theory of language management: postscript orprolegomena,'' repeats the content of the individual chapters of the book in aconcise form and adds more examples of language management. The author expressesa sceptical view on the possibility of language management to make a positivecontribution to the world society in general. He also formulates a pessimisticview of the chances for language management to be successful, especially indemocratic (and unlike in totalitarian) states. Finally, he argues that thedomain approach is useful in formulating possible future research questions.


This evaluation section deals with four topics: (1) the concept of languagemanagement the book presents, (2) the theory it contains, (3) factualdescriptions included, and (4) basic concepts of the book, particularly, thedomain, simple vs. organized language management, and linguicentrism.

(1) The Language Management ConceptThe attributes the author gives to language management are: ''explicit,''''conscious,'' and ''done by people with authority.'' The author does not makeclear why language management is limited only to this type of activity, whilethe narrow scope of the definition is contradicted in some parts of the book atthe same time. On p. 25, for example, the author writes about moving ''fromimplicit to explicit language management.'' It is unclear how languagemanagement, having been defined as explicit, can also be implicit at the sametime. Second, people do actions aimed at language not only consciously but alsounconsciously: for example, self-corrections in speech or speech accommodation,which the author lists as types of language management (p. 11), are not alwaysconscious. Third, the definition of ''language management'' presented in thebook excludes language-targeted activities done by people _without_ authority,for example, by military occupants who close down all schools teaching alanguage in the occupied territory. Spolsky's conception of language managementcan be contrasted to another conception, namely, the one by Jernudd andNeustupny (1987; cf. Nekvapil 2006, Neustupny and Nekvapil 2003), to whichSpolsky sometimes refers, but which, in contrast, deals with language managementas _any_ behaviour towards language: explicit and implicit, conscious andunconscious, carried out with or without authority.

Spolsky's definition of language management suggests that it should be a meresubstitute for the term ''language planning'' (cf. definitions in Cooper 1989,Kaplan and Baldauf 1997). Moreover, the occasional expression ''language policyand management'' (e.g. on p. 13) seems to be somewhat contradictory, as itsuggests that ''policy'' and ''management'' are _not_ to be understood as policysubsuming management, as Spolsky suggests in his model of ''language policy''elsewhere. The terms ''language management,'' ''language policy,'' and''language planning'' are used loosely and sometimes interchangeably in the book.

(2) The TheoryGiven the title of the book and the statements in the first chapter, the readermay expect that the book develops the author's concept of language management,namely, that it provides a model of language management or makes an attempt todescribe its nature. This, however, is not the case. Although the reader is ableto induce what can count as language management on the basis of individualexamples, it is a paradoxical feature of this book that it does not say muchabout the nature of language management in general terms.

This feature may be connected with the way this book is written. The authorstarts a description of individual domains by introducing the domain and/oractors in several general words. A telegraphic sequence of examples of languagemanagement follows. Little space is left for discussion and theoreticalconsiderations. At the same time, the examples are copious and very detailed,which often obscures the main lines of reasoning. The following passage frompage 120, section ''Civil rights,'' can be quoted as an example:

''Tests are administered in fourteen languages, and in 2007, twenty states hadcertification requirements. In the USA in the year 2004, the median wage for acourt interpreter was $20.54 hourly and $42,720 annually. There were 18,000employed, with a projected increase over the next ten years of 10-20 percenteach year. In 2000, Federal courts paid US$305 per day to _per diem_interpreters. Where the volume of work is greatest, courts tend to havefull-time staff positions, almost all of them for Spanish-English.''

Such amounts of detailed information, presented in telegraphic sequence, remainunused in discussions or generalizations which themselves are relatively rare inthe book. Sections usually end with the final example in the sequence. Anexemplary case is the section with the title ''The organization of thischapter'' (p. 146-7). The section begins: ''This chapter will look at all levelsof government, ranging from a nation-state to a local body, and ask about theparticular kind of management decision or activity that occurs at this level.These activities are divided into a number of categories.'' This is followed bya description of the activity categories and the section ends with a descriptionof the last of the categories. No information on the organization of the chapteris provided, despite the section's title: ''The organization of this chapter.''

Only some sections conclude with generalizations. These are, however, rather toosimple: ''The choice among [school language] patterns depends on the goals orbeliefs of whoever controls school language policy'' (p. 101). The conclusion ofChapter 2 is similarly simple: ''The domain-internal pressures are challenged byexternal pressures, making clear that while it is valuable to analyze domainsseparately, they are regularly open to influences of the wider sociolinguisticecology. No man is an island, nor a family a closed sociolinguistic unit'' (p.30). Such conclusions do not seem to bring new knowledge.

(3) Factual InformationThe book contains high amount of detailed information from various places allover the world. However, the information on the settings and events I happen tobe familiar with contain many factual errors. To illustrate this, we can quotethe following passage:

''The breakup of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia also produced similar linguisticdiversification, usually following political and violent struggle andaccompanied by 'ethnic cleansing'. Just as independence in India and thedivision from Pakistan had led to the splitting of Hindustani into Hindi andUrdu, so did the splitting of Czechoslovakia produce a renewal of separateidentities for Czech and Slovak ... The Czech Republic, set up in 1993 with thebreakup of the Soviet Union, restored a division that had been blurred whenCzechoslovakia was created in 1918. In the interwar period, attempts were madeto blend Czech and Slovak, mutually intelligible languages, into a nationallanguage.'' (p. 164)

First, not a single person died as a result of the break-up of Czechoslovakia,so classification of the situation as ''ethnic cleansing'' is false. Second, theidentification of the split of Hindustani into Hindi and Urdu as similar to a''renewal'' of the identities of Czech and Slovak is equally inadequate. Thesimple logic ''split of the country => split of the language'' does not workeverywhere and certainly not in the case of Czechoslovakia, where Czech andSlovak were used as separate languages both in speech and in writing for thewhole period of Czechoslovakia (for details, see, for example, Berger 2003,Nabelkova 2007, Neustupny and Nekvapil 2003, Zeman 1997). Third, the CzechRepublic was not set up with the break-up of the Soviet Union (1991): to seekother than a very indirect connection would be mistaken. The Czech Republic wasset up as a culmination of the internal disagreements between the Czech and theSlovak political elites in Czechoslovakia since its creation. Only after thefall of the communist regime and, therefore, of heavily centralized state powerin Czechoslovakia (in 1989), did the split of this already federal state becomepossible (in 1993). Fourth, the identity of Czech and Slovak was not blurred.Although a 1920 constitutional law of the new-born Czechoslovak state (1918)established that ''the Czechoslovak language is the state, official language ofthe Republic,'' this was a juridical term for the purposes of Czechoslovakia'sinternational recognition as a nation-state. The same law added that in theCzech lands ''the administration should, as a rule, take place in Czech, and inSlovakia, as a rule, in Slovak'' (Law No. 122/1920). At the end of the SecondWorld War, the Czech and Slovak political elites decided to restoreCzechoslovakia as a state of two nations -- the 1948 Constitution declared:''The Czechoslovak Republic is a unitary state of two equal Slavonic nations,the Czechs and the Slovaks'' (Article II, Paragraph 1). Later, in 1968, thisstate transformed into a federation of two national republics (Czech andSlovak), which lasted until 1992. The fate of the expression ''Czechoslovaklanguage'' was the same: it denoted two languages (two literary standards) andthe term went almost completely out of use as early as the Second World War. Thesplit of Czechoslovakia in 1993 did not bring about anything new with respect tothe identities of the two languages. Spolsky's claims that there were attemptsin interwar Czechoslovakia to create a single national language by ''blending''Czech and Slovak and that the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993 ''produced arenewal of separate identities'' are thus false.

Further, on page 86, ''the Czech reversed cedilla for nasalization'' ismentioned. However, the author must have confused Czech with Polish, where,unlike in Czech, this diacritic sign and nasalized vowels exist. These and otherpieces of incorrect information show that the author of the book has not treatedhis data and sources carefully.

(4) Basic ConceptsThis insufficiently careful way of treating the sources also concernstheoretical concepts. For example, the author suggests, without providingarguments, that corpus planning be ''perhaps better labelled with the PragueSchool term 'cultivation' (Prague School 1973)'' (p. 103). However, after acomparison of what specifically the Prague School understood by ''languagecultivation'' (jazykova kultura) and what has been widely understood by ''corpusplanning,'' it becomes clear that language cultivation in the Prague Schoolsense is a special case of corpus planning. For example, language cultivation intheir understanding does not include the selection of script, which is alsoconsidered corpus planning (e.g., Kaplan and Baldauf 1997, Hornberger 2006).Some instances of corpus planning can even have different goals and motivationthan language cultivation -- an example of such corpus planning is the change inorthography that makes one language less similar to another without the aim tomake it a more efficient tool for communication.

Spolsky's rendering of the distinction between ''simple'' and ''organized''language management, which he has borrowed from Jernudd and Neustupny's (1987)language management theory, also shows misinterpretation of sources. Referringto Nekvapil (2006), Spolsky describes _simple_ language management as languagemanagement carried out by an individual and operating on his/her own discourse(e.g., self-correction in one's own speech). He then understands _organized_language management as any language management with more than one participant(p. 12). However, in the work of Jernudd, Neustupny and Nekvapil, thedistinction is understood in a different way: simple language managementoperates in an individual communicative act on an element of the act itself(i.e. the element is managed ''on-line''), whereas organized language managementoperates on an aspect of discourse that has been abstracted from thecommunicative event where it had originally appeared and becomes debated andtreated elsewhere (i.e. it is managed ''off-line''). From this follows thatsimple language management can include not only self-correction but alsocorrection by others (cf. Nekvapil 2006: 96).

This also means that simple language management can take place in any domain,however complex the domain may be (Spolsky excludes simple language managementfrom his description of domains). For example, in a military domain, an armyofficer may correct a novice private who addressed him without mentioning hisrank (e.g. ''captain''), or, in another domain, an air traffic control operatormay ask a pilot to repeat his/her previous message which was unintelligible dueto transmission noise. Although pre-interaction management (i.e., anotherlanguage management act preceding these interactions) could have been quiteorganized (such as setting up general rules of address in the army or generalrules for radio communication in air traffic), these are examples of simplelanguage management in highly organized systems of social interaction. Spolsky,however, does not go into these nuances of social interaction, as he does nottreat or describe language management as social interaction in general.

Spolsky explicitly refrains from including simple language management in histheorizing because, as he claims, ''one must either guess the implicitmotivation of the surface behaviour or carry out a post-event interview [...] orrely on self-conscious accounts'' and because, here, ''as one would expect in aPrague School approach, the concentration is on issues of language cultivation(how well can I perform in the standard variety?) rather than choosing onevariety over another, which is my [Spolsky's] main focus'' (p. 13). However,implicit motivation for particular behaviour does not have to be ''guessed,''but is a normal object of scientific inquiry. Secondly, the author does not makeclear why simple language management should concentrate on issues of languagecultivation, when self-corrections, including replacement of an item fromlanguage A for an item from language B in bilingual speech, or a decision totake a course in a foreign language are also instances of simple languagemanagement and involve language variety choice. Despite the fact that the authordecided to ''pass over'' the topic of simple language management, henevertheless includes it in the final chapter. He thus refers to Jernudd's andNeustupny's language management theory, but leaves the relationship of hisconception to theirs unclarified. It is typical of the book as a whole that therelationship of the author's conception to others mentioned in the book is notclarified. As a result, the distinctive features of the author's conception oflanguage management are not easy to identify.

Concerning the domain concept which is fundamental for the book, the authortreats the domains he selected as universal. Although he deals with situationsin places all over the world, he does not propose any theoretical formulationsof the differences between them in this respect. This may relate to the factthat he has not identified the domains empirically, as Fishman (1972) required,but has simply postulated them. Therefore, there might be a gap betweenempirical facts and the author's selection and delimitation of the domains. Thiswould shed doubt on the reliability of his conclusions about mutual influencesbetween the domains. In addition, Spolsky argues that language management,beliefs and practices influence each other within individual domains and acrossdomains. How exactly this influence takes place can only be seen in particularexamples of language management, but is not theoretically modelled or describedin general terms.

To sum up, although the book presents many issues relevant to a given problemarea, it does not deal theoretically with their nature and, what is mostimportant, with how and why various phenomena relate to each other. Moreover,the domain approach is not new in the study of language management, policy andplanning. For example, Neustupny and Nekvapil (2003) used the domain concept intheir model of language management and the importance of actors, emphasized bythe book under review, has been regularly stressed in the study of languageplanning (since Cooper 1989 at the latest).

Finally, the author criticizes what he calls ''linguicentrism,'' i.e. ''theassumption that language is a central cause of human behavior'' (p. 7).Nevertheless, his model of language policy includes only _language_ management,_language_ practices and _language_ beliefs (pp. 4 and 249). There are, however,for example, language-unrelated beliefs that can heavily influence languagepractices, for example, when government officials believe that economic crisismay be alleviated by reducing the budget for minority language publications(among other cost items). Many examples in the book itself show how economicfactors are important and, in many cases, crucial for language management.Nevertheless, the model of language policy proposed by Spolsky lacks any suchprimarily non-linguistic components.

The evaluation of the book can be summarized as follows:

- the treatment of data and concepts is very loose and unreliable; virtually anymention of the situations which I am familiar with contains incorrect information;

- the book contains very little theory (even explanation) despite beingpresented as theoretical;

- excessive amounts of factual details remain unused in theoreticalconsiderations and obscure the lines of reasoning;

- the critical component or discussion that would make the author's theoreticalposition clear is minimal; almost no explanation is given for the preference ofparticular terms over others and for their use;

- ''linguicentrism'' is characteristic of the author's concept of language policy;

- surface formulations correspond to current trends in applied linguistics andsociolinguistics, but an out-of-date social theory underlies the overallconception (especially the concept of domains, including roles, as rigid anduniversal social structures and the total absence of social interaction).

The book concludes with the chapter ''A theory of language management:postscript or prolegomena.'' It is disappointing that even after 260 pages theauthor -- writing about the building of a theory of language management from thebeginning -- has not gone farther than to prolegomena of a theory. He does notprovide any reason for the need to build just prolegomena, while, at the sametime, a much more elaborated theory of language management already exists (seeJernudd and Neustupny 1987, Nekvapil 2006, Nekvapil and Sherman 2009, Neustupnyand Nekvapil 2003) as well as elaborated theories of language policy andlanguage planning (see Cooper 1989, Kaplan and Baldauf 1997, Ricento 2006, amongothers).


Berger, T. (2003) Slovaks in Czechia -- Czechs in Slovakia. InternationalJournal of the Sociology of Language 162, 19-39.

Cooper, R. L. (1989) Language Planning and Social Change. Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press.

Fishman, J. A. (1972) Domains and the relationship between micro- andmacrosociolinguistics. In J. J. Gumperz and D. Hymes (eds.), Directions inSociolinguistics. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 435-453.

Hornberger, N. (2006) Frameworks and models in language policy and planning. InRicento (ed.), An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method. Malden,Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell, 24-41.

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Nekvapil, J. (2006) From language planning to language management.Sociolinguistica 20, 92-104.

Nekvapil, J. and Sherman, T. (eds.) (2009) Language Management in ContactSituations: Perspectives from Three Continents. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Neustupny, J. V. and Nekvapil, J. (2003) Language management in the CzechRepublic. Current Issues in Language Planning 4 (3&4), 181-366. (Reprinted in R.B. Baldauf and R. B. Kaplan (eds.) (2006), Language Planning and Policy inEurope, Vol. 2. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 16-201.)

Prague School (1973) General principles for the cultivation of good language(translated by P. L. Garvin; appendix to Garvin, P. L., Some comments onlanguage planning). In J. Rubin and R. Shuy (eds.), Language Planning: CurrentIssues and Research. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 102-111.(Reprinted in J. A. Fishman (ed.) (1974) Advances in Language Planning. TheHague, Paris: Mouton, 417-426.)

Ricento, T. (ed.) (2006) An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method.Malden, Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell.

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

Zeman, J. (1997) Czech-Slovak. In H. Goebl, P. H. Nelde, Z. Stary and W. Woelck(eds.), Contact Linguistics: An International Handbook of Contemporary Research.Vol. 2. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1650-1655.


Marian Sloboda currently works as Researcher in the Institute of Linguistics and Finno-Ugric Studies at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. He specializes in sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and Slavonic languages.

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