LINGUIST List 24.31

Tue Jan 08 2013

Review: Applied Linguistics; Sociolinguistics: Spolsky (2012)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

Date: 08-Jan-2013
From: Meghan Moran <>
Subject: The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Bernard SpolskyTITLE: The Cambridge Handbook of Language PolicySERIES TITLE: Cambridge Handbooks in Language and LinguisticsPUBLISHER: Cambridge University PressYEAR: 2012

Meghan Kerry Moran, Department of English, Applied Linguistics Program,Northern Arizona University


“The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy” aims to provide a comprehensiveoverview of the subject, to be used as a resource in academia. It consists offive major parts: Definition and principles, Language policy at themacrolevel, Non-governmental domains, Globalization and modernization, andRegional and thematic issues. Each of these sections is subdivided intomultiple chapters, each elicited from respected scholars in the field oflanguage policy.

Beginning with an introduction and overview by Bernard Spolsky (editor), PartI (Definition and principles) continues with Björn Jernudd and Jiří Nekvapil’s‘History of the field: a sketch,’ which explains the gradual emergence oflanguage policy both as a phenomenon and as a researched field within the lastcentury. Denise Réaume and Meital Pinto discuss language policy in anabstract (decontextualized) manner in ‘Philosophy of Language Policy,’examining arguments in favor of unilingualism and multilingualism, and showingthe complexity of arguments surrounding the idea of language rights. Inchapter 4, ‘Language policy, the nation and nationalism,’ Sue Wright explainsthe idea of the nation-state and the formerly prevalent policy of one-nation,one-language. She then describes how this policy is quickly disappearing inthe context of globalization and post-colonialism. Ofelia García then takesover with ‘Ethnic identity and language policy,’ in which she compares fourcases (Luxembourgish; Maori; Tseltal and Tsotsil; and Gallo) with regard totheir strength of ethnic language identity and focus on language policy. Shehighlights the link between language and ethnic identity but also thehybridity of ethnic identities and language practices. Julia Sallabankdescribes the way in which nationalism, globalization, and modernismnegatively affect the vitality of smaller languages; her chapter, ‘Diversityand language policy for endangered languages’ fits into this section becauseof its coverage of the terms ‘endangerment,’ ‘moribundity,’ ‘attrition,’‘obsolescence,’ and ‘loss.’ To conclude Part I, David Robichaud and Helder DeSchutter note the importance of arguments in support of the dominant languageas opposed to small or minority languages in ‘Language is just a tool! On theinstrumentalist approach to language.’

Part II (Language policy at the macrolevel) consists of eight chapters.‘Language policy at the supra-national level,’ by Fernand de Varennes, followsnicely from the previous chapter in that it looks at the notion of languagerights in the face of a practical issue, namely ease of communication, ininternational organizations such as the United Nations. Colin H. Williamscontextualizes language policy even further with the description of how somenations deal with heterogeneous states, i.e., Spain, the United Kingdom, andCanada, in ‘Language policy, territorialism and regional autonomy.’ Nodiscussion of language policy could take place without the mention ofimperialism, which Robert Phillipson does in ‘Imperialism and colonialism.’Imperialism has led to a surge in language debates and policies in the formercolonies, with the colonial languages often being seen as symbols of colonialoppression while at the same time serving as a link to communication in anincreasingly capitalist society. However, language policy functions as muchon small scales, such as municipalities, as it does at the national level. In‘Language policy at the municipal level,’ Peter Backhaus examines a number ofdifferent municipality-level policies, such as those in Tokyo, Ottawa, UpperNazareth, and cities in Kosovo, the United States and South Africa. Chapter12, ‘Language policy and management in service domains: Brokeringcommunication for linguistic minorities in the community,’ by Claudia V.Angelelli, considers the even narrower context of service domains in the threesettings of health, police, and the legal system, which often lack thenecessary professional interpreters to facilitate communication and grantequal rights to citizens. Richard D. Brecht and William P. Rivers further thediscussion of language in specific domains with their argument detailing ‘USlanguage policy in defence and attack.’ The last two chapters in Part IIfocus on language policy in a globalized educational context, coming at itfrom two different, but related perspectives: ‘Language policy and medium ofinstruction in formal education,’ by Stephen L. Walter and Carol Benson, and‘Language policy in education: additional languages,’ by Jasone Cenoz and DurkGorter.

Part III (Non-governmental domains) covers ‘Language policy in the workplace’(Alexandre Duchêne and Monica Heller), ‘Language policy and religion’(Christina Bratt Paulston and Jonathan M. Watt), and ‘Language policy in thefamily’ (Stephen J. Caldas). An increasingly mobile workforce as well as thechange from a more mechanized workplace in which talk is not encouraged to onein which linguistic encounters are common, unique, and encouraged makes thefirst of these chapters necessary. Paulston and Watt explain languagemanagement in two case studies (Islam and Quranic Arabic and missionaries’spread of language) using Dell Hymes’ framework of ethnography ofcommunication. Caldas lays out the decisions that families make, whetherconsciously or subconsciously, that determine which languages will continue tothrive and which will not, including if and how to raise children bilingually.Part III ends with a topic that may not normally receive its due in languagepolicy scholarship, i.e., ‘Language policies and the Deaf community,’ bySherman E. Wilcox, Verena Krausneker and David F. Armstrong.

The theme for Part IV (Globalization and modernization), although threadedthroughout the Handbook, receives its own set of chapters here. Kendall A.King and Adam C. Rambow’s ‘Transnationalism, migration and language educationpolicy’ revisits language policy in the classroom as it struggles to deal withglobalization and the growth of technological literacies. John Edwards’‘Language management agencies’ details the tension between descriptivists andprescriptivists and the role of language agencies in this debate. Theagencies’ activities tend to focus on status planning (also called prestigeplanning) and corpus planning, which includes purism, spelling and writingreform, and the development of terminology that reflects the modernizingworld. Zooming in on one of these aspects, specifically the writing system,Florian Coulmas and Federica Guerini (‘Literacy and writing reform’)acknowledge the current growth and favorability of using the Roman alphabetwhile understanding the difficulty involved in undertaking a mass writingreform. Mary Carol Combs and Susan D. Penfield, in their chapter ‘Languageactivism and language policy,’ describe how activism can occur both centrallyand at the grass roots level. Theirs is not only an overview of languageactivism, but also a call to action. Lastly for this section is ‘English inlanguage policy and management.’ Here, Gibson Ferguson recognizes the massiveexpansion of English and explains that this is occurring not only due tolanguage diffusion from English-speaking nations, but also because ofEnglish’s inherent value in the realm of academia as well as its necessity incross-cultural communication.

The final section of the Handbook, Part V, focuses its attention on ‘Regionaland thematic issues.’ Joseph Lo Bianco begins by describing the ‘Nationallanguage revival movements: reflections from India, Israel, Indonesia andIreland,’ considering them all ‘classic cases’ while maintaining theimportance of context in any discussions regarding language policy. SinfreeMakoni, Busi Makoni, Ashraf Abdelhay, and Padzisai Mashiri then cover selectAfrican countries, briefly explaining different language policies in thecolonial and post-colonial period (‘Colonial and post-colonial languagepolicies in Africa: historical and emerging landscapes’). In chapter 27,‘Indigenous language planning and policy in the Americas,’ Teresa L. McCartydetails the narratives of language loss in the native populations of North andSouth America and the resulting language policies aimed to slow or stop thisdecline. Ulrich Ammon discusses ‘Language policy in the European Union (EU)’and the advantages and disadvantages of the strong views the EU has onlanguage protection and maintenance. In ‘Language policy management in theformer Soviet sphere,’ Gabrielle Hogan-Brun and Svitlana Melnyk examine theroles that Russian and national (‘titular’) languages have played in thenation rebuilding of the last two decades. To round out the geographicalsphere, and the Handbook as a whole, Richard B. Baldauf Jr. and Hoa Thi MaiNguyen explain the variety of contexts and factors that come to play indeveloping ‘Language policy in Asia and the Pacific.’


“The Cambridge Handbook of Language Policy” claims to be the first handbook togive a comprehensive view of the field as a whole. Surely it is the mostextensive text published on the subject to date, a resource that all languageplanning and policy scholars should own, and a clear textbook option for acourse in language policy.

Spolsky’s introduction to and overview of the remaining 29 chapters in thehandbook do an excellent job of orienting the reader. The chaptersundoubtedly cover many of the most important aspects of language policy, fromthe one-nation, one-language idea, to the tensions between language rights andpracticality, post-colonialism, globalization, language endangerment, andlanguage activism, among others. All parts of the globe are covered, and lesscommonly researched populations such as Deaf and illiterate communitiesreceive justified attention. Many of the most prominent scholars in the fieldhave contributed their thoughts and research.

However, there are some aspects of the Handbook that could be improved upon.For instance, although Spolsky provides a solid introduction and overview, aconclusion that tied everything back together is conspicuously missing. Thiscould perhaps be due to the fact that the Handbook is not necessarily meant tobe read cover to cover; however, some sort of wrapping up and connecting ofthe various chapters written by multiple authors would have lent morecoherence to the text as a whole. Although the citations were held to the endin order to create an inclusive bibliography, the similar placement of theNotes did not have the same effect. Also placed at the end of the book,readers are less likely to pay attention to them than if they were footnotesor endnotes. Additionally, considering that the Handbook is likely to be usedas a textbook or resource for language policy and/or sociolinguistics-orientedclasses, it would be very beneficial to have incorporated discussion questionsat the end of each chapter to promote reflection, discussion, and analysis.Furthermore, additional visuals (specifically graphs, charts, and maps) wouldhave served to present arguments in multimodalities, thus breaking up the, attimes, dense text.

The one component missing from Spolsky’s introduction and overview is hisrationale for dividing the Handbook as he did. More justification could havebeen given for the categories into which the Handbook was divided, as they andtheir constituent chapters seemed, at times, less than obvious. Thirtychapters are divided into five main parts: ‘Definition and principles,’‘Language policy at the macrolevel,’ ‘Non-governmental domains,’‘Globalization and modernization,’ and ‘Regional and thematic issues.’ Part Ismoothly initiates the reader into terminology and theory of language policy,with chapters ranging from the more abstract and theoretical to the morecontextualized and concrete. ‘Language policy at the macrolevel’ includeseverything from supranational organizations to policy in the spheres ofpolice, health and the legal system, prompting the reader to question wheremacro leaves off and micro begins. Part III, ‘Non-governmental domains,’ mostlikely serves to contrast with the previous part and discusses a few ofSpolsky’s ‘domains’ of language management/policy, namely workplace, religion,and family. Oddly, however, ‘Language policies and the Deaf community’ is thelast chapter of this part and seems to be a strange addition. The fourthpart, ‘Globalization and Modernization,’ is certainly an important enoughissue to receive its own section, although some chapters, like ‘Languagemanagement agencies’ and ‘Literacy and writing reform’, only looselycorrespond to the theme. Lastly, an appropriate selection of chapters waschosen to represent all areas of the world in Part V.

While the Handbook covers an impressive amount of relevant material in its 638pages, there is a slight degree of overlap and a few items that are noticeablymissing. The overlap occurs in the realm of language education policy; itreceives two chapters in Part II and is then returned to in Part IV with aperceptible gap between the two. Likewise, language policy of the EuropeanUnion receives attention in Part II and then again in Part V, mostly becauseit falls under the dual domains of ‘Language policy at the supranationallevel’ as well as ‘Regional and thematic issues.’ These matters are small,however, and most likely would not be noticed by the reader. What is slightlymore concerning is what is missing. First, there is no chapter on, nor evenmention of, linguistic landscape, the burgeoning subfield of language planningand policy research. Refugee populations are largely ignored, as are languagepolicies in refugee camps. Similarly, pidginization and creolization onlyreceive brief attention in Part V. Language education policy, thoughdiscussed in at least part of three chapters, could have received its ownsection due to its importance in the field. This, then, could have included achapter on phenomena in the mainstream United States educational context suchas No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and recent Arizona languageeducational policies.

Despite these suggestions, however, the Cambridge Handbook of Language Policyis a commendable overview of the field of language policy, and one that willserve as an excellent resource for scholars as well as a textbook forstudents. It fills a gap in the language policy canon, and will fill anyindividual gaps one might have in their knowledge of the field. Attempting tohighlight relevant items from a growing field and summarize them into a30-chapter text would be a daunting and difficult task, but Spolsky and thecontributors have managed to do so with great success and eloquence.


Meghan Moran is a second year doctoral student in the program of AppliedLinguistics at Northern Arizona University. She received a Master’s Degreefrom The Pennsylvania State University in Teaching English as a SecondLanguage in 2008, after which she taught ESOL in a public school in westernNew York for two years. Her interests include language planning and policy,pronunciation, and the intersection between the two. Upon graduation, shehopes to teach in a university setting.

Page Updated: 08-Jan-2013