LINGUIST List 23.3469

Mon Aug 20 2012

Review: Sociolinguistics: Norrby and Hajek (2011)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 20-Aug-2012
From: Marian Sloboda <>
Subject: Uniformity and Diversity in Language Policy
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EDITORS: Norrby, Catrin; Hajek, JohnTITLE: Uniformity and Diversity in Language PolicySUBTITLE: Global PerspectivesSERIES: Multilingual MattersPUBLISHER: Multilingual MattersYEAR: 2011

Marián Sloboda, Charles University in Prague


The book under review is a collection of sixteen chapters about languagepolicies in several countries and regions of the world. In particular, theseareas lie in Europe (10 chapters predominantly about western Europe), Australia(4 chapters) and North America (2 chapters), i.e. the volume focuses on theso-called Western countries.

It is necessary to note right at the beginning that the book's title “Uniformityand Diversity in Language Policy: Global Perspectives” may be somewhatmisleading. Uniformity and diversity in language policy is not a central topicfor most of the chapters, although it is (usually implicitly and to variousdegrees) taken into account in some of the chapters. Similarly, the mainperspective is not always global, but very often it is a national, regional orlocal one -- in a number of chapters it is the perspective of a nation, region,minority language speakers, employees of a supranational company, participantsto an online discussion, etc. This does not mean, of course, that globalperspectives are absent from the book. Most authors consider important globalphenomena, such as international migration, international trade, internationalprotection of minority languages, etc. The imprecision of the volume's title maybe due to the high diversity of the topics which the book contains and for whichit must have been difficult to find a suitable common title.

Above all the book contains analytic descriptions of various aspects of variablycomplex language policies in different locations of the Western world. Whatholds this heterogeneous collection together is the attention to the historicaldevelopment as well as synchronic context of language polices, to the(preliminary) outcomes of their implementation and to certain tensions betweenthe language policies and the existing situation in the given location.

The book puts strong emphasis on factuality and description -- an effort toelaborate on the theory of language policy is absent from the volume. This mayalso contribute to the high degree of the text's intelligibility andaccessibility to a wider rather than just specialist audience -- not only toexperts such as academics, researchers and policy-makers, but also to laypersonsnot familiar with terminology but interested in language policy in thecontemporary world.


The General Introduction opening the book describes, for the most part, thecontent of the three parts of the book into which its 16 chapters are divided.The first part, entitled “Language Policy at the Official Level,” consists offive chapters which describe aspects of language policies formulated at theofficial, usually state (national), level. The second part, “Language Policy inPractice: Indigenous and Migrant Languages in Education,” contains five chapterswhich deal in more or less detailed ways with the issue of languages ineducation. Since it seems that they are about public school education, this partcan also be considered a description of official language policies. The thirdpart bears a rather vague title “Language Policy in Real and Virtual Worlds,”where “virtual” signals that language policy in the online world would also bein focus, which, however, is the case in only two out of the six chapters inthis part of the volume. This part is more heterogeneous than the two precedingones: it includes studies of language policies not only on the Internet, butalso in the commercial sector and among persecuted political opposition. Ireturn to the organization of the book later in this review. I turn now to asummary of the content of the individual chapters in order to show thevariability of the topics and locations involved.

In Chapter 1 (“Language policy and citizenship in Quebec: French as a force forunity in diverse society?”) Jane Warren and Leigh Oakes describe the promotionof French as an element in the Québécois identity. Among other issues, theypoint to the fact that, although it is not directly applied to the Aboriginalpeoples of this part of Canada, this language policy nevertheless has asignificant impact on this population as well.

In Chapter 2 (“Do national languages need support and protection in legislation?The case of Swedish as the ‘principal language’ of Sweden”) Sally Boydinvestigates the development of national language policy and legislation inSweden, where Swedish language use is losing some of its domains in favour ofEnglish. A goal of the national policy is to support Swedish both at thenational and international levels in the domains in which English prevails. Theauthor points out that the argumentation employed for this national languagepolicy is inconsistent: certain principles are applied to the speakers ofSwedish as L1, but different ones to the speakers of other languages spoken inSweden as L1. She argues in favour of solving the issues of linguistic diversityby way of more sensitive local language policy measures, rather than by nationallegislation.

In Chapter 3 (“Language policy and smaller national languages: The Baltic statesin the new millennium”), Uldis Ozolins returns to the intensive and emotionaldebates over national language policies in the Baltic countries, which aremarked by a conflict between the promotion of the native national languages(Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian), which were retreating from use in the Sovietera on the one hand and the maintenance of Russian, the dominant language in theSoviet period, on the other hand. On the basis of the data from nationalsurveys, the author argues that, in contrast to these debates, mutual toleranceprevails among the population in general and the level of its multilingualism isincreasing.

In Chapter 4 (“Language policy in Australia: What goes up must come down?”)Paulin G. Djité traces the development of the national language policy ofAustralia, which has been moving from support for multilingualism to support formonolingual English literacy. The making of Australian language policies has notalways been based on actual communicative needs of the population, but also onpresumed economic advantages and ideologically motivated political interests.

In Chapter 5 (“Regional languages, the European Charter and republican values inFrance today”) Leigh Oakes describes how the European Charter for Regional orMinority Languages (an international treaty of the Council of Europe) and awider shift in thinking about minority languages influences the language policyof France, especially the values of the French Republic. It becomes moreinteresting to observe this influence when we realize that France, as a rarecase among the Council of Europe's members, has not ratified the Charter yet.

Chapter 6 opens the second part of the volume, which focuses on education. Inthis chapter (“Breton language maintenance and regeneration in regionaleducation policy”), Tadgh Ó hIfearnáin addresses the efforts in the regenerationof Breton in France. He investigates life experiences and opinions of Bretonactivists and concludes that the minority Breton language policy relies verymuch on school education, but needs to be accompanied by other languagemanagement supporting Breton language use also in the life period aftergraduation from Breton-medium schools.

In Chapter 7 ('Language policy in Spain: The coexistence of small and biglanguages') David Lasagabaster describes the situation in language education inSpain, especially in the Basque Country. He deals with the question ofsuccessful teaching of traditional 'small' (minority) languages in the situationin which this is challenged by increasing immigration and globalization (by theimmigrants' usual preference for the 'big' national language and a preferencefor learning the 'big' English language as foreign). He arrives at theconclusion that it is not efforts to promote monolingualism in the minoritylanguage, but on the contrary, support for multilingualism that would be usefulfor maintaining the traditional minority languages.

In Chapter 8 (“Language policy and language contact in New Mexico: The case ofSpanish”) Catherine E. Travis and Daniel J. Villa describe the development ofthe situation of Spanish in New Mexico. They point out that the Spanish varietywhich has traditionally been spoken in this state of the USA is vanishing, whilethe position of another variety of Spanish, the one spoken by current migrantsfrom Mexico, is becoming stronger.

In Chapter 9 (“Indigenous languages, bilingual education and English inAustralia”), Gillian Wigglesworth and David Lasagabaster describe thedevelopment of education policy for the indigenous language speakers inAustralia. This policy is currently heading towards monolingual teaching inEnglish. Among other conclusions, the authors point to the discrepancy betweenthe official espousing of the notion of 'knowledge society' on the one hand andthe situation in which official decisions are in contradiction to the newestresearch findings concerning language education for minorities (i.e. to educatethem also in their home languages).

In Chapter 10 (“Bringing Asia to the home front: The Australian experience ofAsian language education through national policy”), Yvette Slaughter draws ourattention to another topic in Australian language policy, namely, the teachingof Asian languages. She points to the strong economic motivation behind thepolicy of teaching selected Asian languages which are important for Australia'sinternational business as foreign, and to the ensuing problem of languagelearning continuity in the educational process and the inadequacy of the adoptedconception of Asian language teaching for those children in Australia who speakthese languages in their homes.

Chapter 11 opens the third and last part of the volume. It is devoted tolanguage policies adopted at other than the official levels and to theinteraction between official language policies and language policies in otherplaces and social structures. Chapter 11 itself (“Testing identity: Languagetests and Australian citizenship”) is an exception to this focus to some extent,as its authors, Kerry Ryan and Tim McNamara, analyze the national language andknowledge tests for obtaining Australian citizenship. This is a very importantissue nowadays if we consider the current changes in national identities in thecontext of intensive international migration. The authors describe the originand development of such tests in Australia. They conclude that, in the currenttest conception, the role of the tested language as a symbol (of nationalidentity, social cohesion or the like) predominates over the practicalimplications of the required standard of language skills.

In Chapter 12 (“Language as political emblem in the new culture war in NorthernIreland”), Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost investigates language management(including small-scale informal language policies) in a totally different typeof setting than the previous chapters, describing Irish language acquisition andefforts at its use in a community of prisoners who had fought against theBritish rule in Northern Ireland. The author traces the politicization of theirlocal variety of Irish in the struggle between the Republicans and the Unionistsin the course of the second half of the 20th century and the penetration of thislocal language management into Northern Ireland's public, including cultural,policy.

In Chapter 13 (“Language policy and reality in South Tyrol”), Claudia MariaRiehl and John Hajek describe the regional language policy and some of itsconsequences in South Tyrol which has a regional German majority, but belongs toItaly today. This language policy is interesting for its emphasis on theseparation of the two ethnolinguistic communities (the German one and theItalian one) who, however, live together and inevitably come into contact andintermingle.

In Chapter 14 (“Addressing policy in the Web: Netiquettes and emerging policiesof language use in German Internet forums”), Heinz L. Kretzenbacher investigatesthe negotiation of local policy of formal/informal personal reference (du vs.Sie, or T vs. V forms of pronouns and verbs) among the users of German Internetforums. Noticeable is the trend towards more informality on the Web and aperceived difference between the norms of online communication as opposed thecommunicative norms in the offline world.

In Chapter 15 (“Language policy in practice: What happens when Swedish IKEA andH&M take ‘you’ on?”), Catrin Norrby and John Hajek also investigate the use andmanagement of the informal pronouns and second person singular verb forms (Tforms), but in various languages and as part of the policy of two Swedishsupranational companies. The chapter focuses on which countries and which typesof communication with customers the informal address/reference was accepted inand how local personnel in countries other than Sweden cope with this top-downpolicy based on Swedish communicative norms.

In the last chapter, Chapter 16 (“Regulating language in the global serviceindustry”), Deborah Cameron analyzes company language policy as well. Shedescribes various forms of language management in service-providing companiesbased mostly in the UK. She notes that the relationships between the ordinaryemployees and managers and between the companies and their clients/customers areprominent objects of language management in this sector. This languagemanagement includes, e.g., the scripting of interactions to personalizecommunication between the employees and the clients/customers or the promotionof informal forms of address to evoke the impression of collegiality betweenemployees from various positions in the company's hierarchy. This chapter drawsattention to the variety of particular ways language management isinterconnected with economic and organizational management.


The quality of the studies in this volume testifies to the fact the authors areexperts with deep insight into the issues and locations they describe. Althoughthe chapters are very diverse in geography and focus, they concern a number oftopics of general interest, such as citizenship, nation building, the situationof indigenous populations, minority language education, economic interests inlanguage policy, efforts to change communicative norms, etc. If the readerfocuses on these general topics, it becomes possible to compare the otherwisediverse studies with each other or with another situation the reader is familiarwith.

Out of the set of the general topics covered by the book, I would like first tohighlight the question of the ways in which the management of language isinterconnected with economic and sociocultural management. Particularlyinteresting in this respect is the problem of identification of connectionsbetween, on the one hand, the adoption and implementation of a language policyand, on the other hand, the factors we are not used to relating to languagepolicy, such as politeness, real property market, transport infrastructure, etc.

The chapters about Australia suggest another interesting general issue, namely,the question of the difference between language policy implementation infederations and in unitary states and, more generally, the question ofinteraction between various levels of governance, some of which often alter orblock the policy implementation process.

Another general topic mentioned in the book is the question of binding privatesubjects to a language policy adopted by public administration. This is animportant topic considering the current transfer of a number of services frompublic to private organizations, which we can witness in today's Europe, forinstance.

An open question is the influence of international migration on the situation oftraditional minority languages. Some of the 'European' chapters in the volumeshow that the linguistic situation in officially bilingual regions evolves tothe detriment of these minority languages. Political practice supportingtraditional minority languages has been more or less stabilized already.However, the current increase in immigration presents a challenge whenimmigrants generally prefer the majority language or when the present minoritylanguage policy orients to parallel bilingualism and is monolingualist. Suchpolicy ceases to be sustainable in this situation.

A classical topic, which, however, is becoming more and more pressing withregard to the intensity of international migration, is the methods of teachingin schools of the so-called 'foreign' languages which are, however, used bymigrant children in their homes. How can we ensure the teaching of suchlanguages as foreign to one part of the child population and educationdeveloping the already existing language skills in the other part?

Interestingly, the chapters on education in this volume constrain themselves toschool education. Therefore, the logical next step is to ask how it is withextra-curricular forms of language teaching and learning, such as with varioustypes of language courses, tutoring and 'language tandems' or language exchangepartnerships (cf. Masuda, 2009). What role do these forms of language teachingand learning play in the linguistic situation in a given location and how dothey interact with language education in schools? These were some of theinteresting questions the volume under review raises.

Characteristic of the book as a whole is the absence of theoretical ambitions orefforts to elaborate on the theory of language policy, which, interestingly, islikewise not very strong in recent publications on language policy (e.g.Shohamy, 2006; Spolsky, 2004 and 2012). Methodological questions are also notelaborated on and even not much described in the volume. The book is thus rather'factographic' or documentary, although it does not lack interesting insightscoming from the authors' work with their data and experience.

The content summary above has shown a high level of the book's heterogeneity.How can we read it, then? First of all, it is necessary to appreciate theevidently large amount of editorial work spent on putting this volume together.It is apparent that it was composed in such a way that the chapters follow eachother in a logical order. With respect to the heterogeneity of the volume,however, selective reading may be more useful than reading the book as acontinuous text. For example, readers with rudimentary knowledge of languagepolicy in Australia, and possibly with a stereotypical idea of its successfulpolicy of multilingualism, will find it very useful to select the four chapterson Australia (chapters 4, 9, 10 and 11). Those interested in 'small' nationallanguages, regional minority languages, national identity, supranationalcompanies or other topics may want to proceed in a similar way.

The volume's heterogeneity is underlined by the absence of a concluding chapterwith a discussion, summary or comparison across the chapters. The introductionwas not used for a general discussion on uniformity and diversity in languagepolicy but describes, instead, the content of each chapter, and the same thingis repeated in the forewords to each part of the book. A discussion orcomparative concluding chapter could have lent more coherence to the book andcould have added another dimension to the chapters.

The book under review is a useful contribution to our understanding of thehistorical development and present contexts of language policy creation andimplementation at various levels, from supranational to local, in the Westernworld. Readers will very likely find in it something which will complement theirknowledge of the locations or aspects of language policy they are interested in.Thanks to the book's relatively wide geographical coverage and its attention tothe outcomes of language policies cast against historical and present-daybackgrounds, persons working in language policy can find here inspiration fortheir work on language issues in their own countries. Those seeking theoreticalinnovations or methodological inspiration will most likely be disappointed --however, this was not the editors' or authors' explicit ambition.


Masuda, Yuko. 2009. Negotiation of language selection in Japanese-Englishexchange partnerships. In J. Nekvapil and T. Sherman (eds.), Language Managementin Contact Situations: Perspectives from Three Continents (pp. 185-205).Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Shohamy, Elana. 2006. Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches.London: Routledge.

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

Spolsky, Bernard (ed.). 2012. The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Marián Sloboda currently works as Assistant Professor at the Department of Central European Studies, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. He is interested in the theory and practice of language management and in the issues of multilingualism and minority language support. He is a member of an advisory body to the Czech government on these issues.

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