Book notice: Language Planning and Education

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Aug 25 14:34:30 UTC 2006

Forwarded from Linguist-List
AUTHOR: Ferguson, Gibson
TITLE: Language Planning and Education
SERIES: Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2006

Jean Jacques Weber, Department of English, University of Luxembourg

Gibson Fergusons LANGUAGE PLANNING AND EDUCATION is the latest in a
growing series of textbooks on language policy published in the last
couple of years (after Wright 2004, Spolsky 2004, Ricento 2006, Shohamy
2006). It distinguishes itself from these competitors through its specific
focus on educational aspects of language planning. It consists of seven
chapters, followed by a brief chapter with discussion questions and
further reading suggestions.


In chapter 1, Ferguson addresses the sudden resurgence of the academic
discipline of language planning and policy at the beginning of the
twenty-first century. He provides a historical overview of developments
within the discipline over the last fifty years, from the confident early
studies (e.g. Haugens famous discussion of language planning in Norway) to
the much more ideologically and politically aware studies in our present
era of globalization, which are often highly critical of earlier
nation-building efforts in language planning. According to Ferguson, the
ideological reorientations in the discipline include a widening scope
(i.e.  not only top-down policy but also bottom-up processes), a more
positive attitude to language diversity and multilingualism, a more
interdisciplinary approach that takes into account the political, social,
economic and ideological dimensions, as well as a greater awareness of the
limitations of language planning.

Chapter 2 introduces the more constructivist view of nations as imagined
communities and (national standard) languages as ideological constructs.
Ferguson also discusses the key concepts of the discipline, such as state
nations and nation states, corpus and status planning, standardization,
codification and linguistic purism. What is surprising here is the small
number of key concepts that he mentions, thus revealing to what extent
language planning is a discipline that develops through case studies.

In chapter 3 Ferguson analyses the debate concerning the schooling of
language minority students in the US. He is very informative on the many
different types of bilingual education and he illustrates very well how,
in the debate about bilingual education, educational and political aspects
are inextricably intertwined. He does this by locating the debate within
the wider out-of-school socio-political context. Factors such as changing
demographics and continuing ethnolinguistic inequalities are shown to have
fuelled the discussion about language provision for minority students.
Ferguson also debunks the assumptions underlying Proposition 227 against
bilingual education, which was adopted by California voters in 1998.
Finally he identifies the underlying ideological difference between
assimilationists (the US English movement) and pluralists (English Plus).
He examines the major arguments based on national unity and social
justice, and concludes that this is a debate not so much about language
but about contrasting understandings of the nature of US society and its
identity (63).

Chapter 4 focuses on the situation of autochthonous minority languages in
Europe after the 1992 European Charter for Regional and Minority
Languages.  Ferguson mostly deals with the topics of language endangerment
and revitalization: he lists the sociological and sociolinguistic causes
of language death, and critically discusses the arguments for the
preservation of global linguistic diversity (especially ecology of
language and identity arguments). The chapter ends with a detailed
comparative study of Welsh and Breton, showing that the revival of the
former and the continuing decline of the latter are mostly due to
different socio-political and economic factors.

Chapters 5 and 7 can be taken together as they both look at the causes and
effects of the global spread of English, as well as its implications for
English language teaching. In the part on causes, Ferguson deconstructs
Phillipsons linguistic imperialism thesis as a top-down theory of language
spread which ignores the ways in which English has been appropriated and
denies agency to speakers in the periphery. His final assessment is that
it is an overly simple, hence unsatisfactory, explanation for the ongoing
spread of English as a global lingua franca (119). As an alternative
explanatory framework, he investigates de Swaans global language system
model, which is based on a hierarchical organization of peripheral,
central, supercentral languages and one hypercentral language (namely
English). But again he notes the limitations of this model: whereas
Phillipsons model is too top down, de Swaans perspective, with its
emphasis on individual preferences, is too bottom up and fails to take
into account the higher level units of decision-making such as national
governments and transnational corporations.

In the part on effects, Ferguson assesses the following claims:

- whether or to what extent the spread of English is a threat to
linguistic diversity
- whether or to what extent the spread of English is a threat to cultural
- whether or to what extent the spread of English leads to inequalities.

He points out that the last question should really be about whether there
are specific socio-economic inequalities arising from the differential
access to English. He considers this question with regard to post-colonial
African countries and notes that, especially in these countries, the
important issue of access cannot be limited to English but needs to be
extended to educational resources in general. As far as implications for
English language teaching are concerned, an underlying problem in many of
these countries is the common attitude that there is a necessary
opposition between English and local languages: either it is argued that
the medium of instruction should be English or that it should be a shared
local language.  Ferguson, on the other hand, advocates a policy of
complementarity involving both an enhanced role for local languages and
democratization of access to English (145). In other words, he is in
favour of bilingual media of instruction, of course within a framework of
additive bilingualism. In chapter 7, he takes this discussion further by
focusing on socio-political and economic constraints shaping language
education policy in post-colonial Africa.

Chapter 6 on the New Englishes tackles the difficult question of norms and
models for English language teaching in the age of global English: should
British and American English continue to be the sole teaching models or do
we need to recognize other models? Ferguson addresses the issues of
intelligibility, identity, practicality and acceptability, and reaches the
following conclusion:

What is needed, then, is a more nuanced position, one that attempts to
reconcile, if this is possible, the complex sociolinguistic realities of
variation and change with the need for pedagogical clarity, and the
demands of international intelligibility with the pull of local
identities. (172)

He also foregrounds the distinction between spoken and written language:
while there is a reasonably uniform standard written print English, there
is far greater variability in speech. Hence, alternative teaching models
are more necessary for spoken English and they could include both local
educated (acrolectal) varieties and the lingua franca phonological core
model of Jenkins (2000).


Ferguson introduces the reader to the current language policy debates in
the area of education. He identifies and assesses the main arguments for
and against the different positions, and this is undoubtedly the strength
of his book. On the downside, I need to mention that the author sometimes
takes a somewhat conservative line, both from the perspective of the
social sciences in general and sociolinguistics in particular. As far as
more general comments of this nature are concerned, here is an example
where he seems to look upon globalization processes and their effects on
marginalized communities through rose-coloured glasses:

Their demise [of indigenous languages] can be linked to globalization in
so far as they have been hitherto sustained by geographical isolation,
socio-economic marginalization and the perceived absence of opportunities
for joining the mainstream, all of which traits tend to be undone by the
increased interconnectedness, urbanization and time-space compression
associated with globalization. (7) Another example occurs on page 78,
where the author notes that Fishmans essentialist stance linking language
and identity has been criticized by many scholars. He defends Fishmans
position, arguing that it is ''subtler'' in that it ''concedes that an
ethnies culture and identity may 'long outlast language maintenance'
(1991: 17), just as an Irish identity has outlasted the decline of Irish
as a language of regular spoken communication, or a Tlingit identity the
loss of the Tlingit language [...], but insists that the culture and
identity that endures is nonetheless changed.'' The final comment here
shows how hard it is to get out of the trap of essentialism, as it seems
to suggest that when an ethnies language is not lost culture and identity
are fixed, whereas from a more constructivist perspective culture and
identity are never fixed but always in a process of becoming.

The final two quotations belong more directly to the domain of
sociolinguistics. Here is the first one:

Relatively clear though this sociolinguistic specification may be, labels
for New Englishes Singapore English, Nigerian English, Indian English and
so forth can mislead if they are taken to refer to homogenous, clear-cut
and clearly individuated entities, for in fact the labels shelter
considerable heterogeneity. (152)

The same of course also applies to the label British English, and it might
be important to specify this in a textbook, as otherwise the above
statement could be misleading for students. A few pages later, Ferguson
ponders the nature of these New Englishes: are they acceptable deviations
from British English or just errors, the product of imperfect learning?
(157). The New Englishes are thus seen in a negative light, as either
errors or, at best, deviations. And who decides what an acceptable
deviation is? The reasoning relies upon Eurocentric terminology and,
following in the same logic, we could probably ask whether in that case
American English is also a deviation from British English, and British
English would then be a deviation from some Germanic norm.

However, such comments are few and far between in what is otherwise an
excellent textbook and hence do not substantially detract from its overall
value. All in all, I highly recommend this book as an ideal introduction
for everybody who is interested in finding out more about current debates
in language planning and policy with specific reference to education.


Fishman, Joshua (1991) Reversing Language Shift. Clevedon: Multilingual

Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The Phonology of English as an International
Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ricento, Thomas (2006) An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and
Method. Oxford: Blackwell.

Shohamy, Elena (2006) Language Policy: Hidden Agendas and New Approaches.
Abingdon: Routledge.

Spolsky, Bernard (2004) Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University

Wright, Sue (2004) Language Policy and Language Planning: From Nationalism
to Globalization. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Jean Jacques Weber is Professor of English at the
University of Luxembourg. He received his Ph.D. in English from the
University of Leuven. He is interested in socio-cultural approaches to
language and education, and is at present working on an overview of
language planning and policy in Luxembourg (together with Dr. Kristine
Horner). He has also published extensively on stylistics and discourse


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