Book review: Ricento (ed.): An Introduction to Language Policy

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Feb 16 14:17:27 UTC 2006

Forwarded from LINGUIST List 17.491
Wed Feb 15 2006

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

Reviewed by Dafna Yitzhaki, English Department, Bar Ilan University,
Ramat-Gan, Israel.


''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

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''.

Francois 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

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'

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 literacy.

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 experience).

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' (p.322-3).

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 example).

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.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list