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Review of  An Introduction to Language Policy

Reviewer: Dafna Yitzhaki
Book Title: An Introduction to Language Policy
Book Author: Thomas Ricento
Publisher: Wiley
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 17.491

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Date: Sun, 12 Feb 2006 17:58:01 +0200
From: Dafna Yitzhaki
Subject: An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method

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

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


''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''.

François 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

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

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'

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

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

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.

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