[lg policy] book review: Bernard Spolsky. Language management. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press,

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 31 14:23:57 UTC 2010

Bernard Spolsky. Language management. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge
University Press,
2009. (xi, 308)

This remarkable text begins with the declaration, “Language policy is
all about choices” (1). The
goal of a theory of language policy is “to account for the choices
made by individual speakers on
the basis of rule-governed patterns” that are recognized in the speech
communities in which they
participate (ibid.). While the greater body of literature in
sociolinguistics and discourse analysis
delineates factors that influence those choices, this book is directed
to the role played by
management, i.e., “conscious and explicit efforts by language managers
to control the choices”
(ibid.). Language management involves language practices, beliefs
about language, and policy
(4 – 6). Developed here is a model that accounts for pressures and
influences internal and
external to speech communities at various levels. This model
recognizes spheres of management
that include home and family (Ch 2), religion (Ch 3), workplace and
business (Ch 4), public
spaces (Ch 5), schools (Ch 6), legal and health professions (Ch 7),
military organizations Ch 8),
government at various levels (Ch 9), language activism (Ch 10), and
multinational bodies (Ch
11), and agencies and academics (Ch 12). This text is greatly enhanced
by the many examples
drawn from a wide range of environments that illuminate the principles
that frame the model.
While we often look to the activities of a central authority, this
model recognizes that
language management (like charity) begins in the home. Family language
practices are the atom
of community language management. A bilingual family offers a choice
that a monolingual
family does not. These choices are influenced by perceptions of
language problems on the part of
individual speakers and their efforts at self correction and
censorship (11). A long sample from a
military veteran is provided, which documents his efforts to remove
excess sauce from his
speech to make it more palatable in his new environment (12).

California Linguistic Notes Volume XXXV No. 2 Spring, 2010

Parents seek to control the language of children to prevent, for
example, their using
profanity (14), but also with an eye toward utilitarian objectives. In
the case of bilingual families,
this begins with a selection of what language(s) to speak to infants
and toddlers. These choices
result from the beliefs of the parents, i.e., the in situ language
managers (17). It should be pointed
out that during the period in Indonesia when speaking Chinese was
verboten, the primary
effective authority in enforcing state-sanctioned language practices
was the family. Family
directed language management competes with that engendered by peers,
however (19).
The theme that language management results from the perception of
language problems
is also prominent in the sphere of business and the workplace. At a
fundamental level this is
observed in the practices of sellers who use the language of their
customers when undertaking
trade, and business proprietors are often so motivated in their hiring
selections (54). Examples
cited of offices hiring bilingual clerks and a university department
replacing a bilingual student
assistant with another show that much of effective language management
is likely to be local

Public signage constitutes a fascinating sphere of language management
activities, as
each instantiation reflects a language choice. A review of results of
studies cited indicate that a
complex of factors influence language choices on the part of business
owners and agencies on
signs – community affinity, instrumental accommodation of customers,
even inertia, keeping a
sign that came with the property (70 – 71). The public language spaces
also include telephone
calls into and out of the business or agency, where language choices
are vital (84 – 85). We
could add to this the question of product packaging design and the
linguistic choices involved in
plurilingual societies such as in South Asia and South Africa.

California Linguistic Notes Volume XXXV No. 2 Spring, 2010

The role of schooling in a theory of language management is summed up
“schools are there basically to manage the language of the students,”
as it is recognized that from
the moment they arrive at school, students’ language practices are
managed as to the choice of
language and variety, and style, according to the ideologies and
preferences of the school
management and teachers (114). This involves both the language of
instruction and languages in
the curriculum. In the United States, the standard variety of English
is stressed, although not
without debate, for both English learners and dialect speakers (102).
In South Africa, although
nine other languages are officially recognized alongside English and
Afrikaans, the two major
languages dominate the landscape (103). Heritage and language
restoration movements are also
involved with school choices, as in the case of school personnel in
Israel encouraging the use of
Hebrew at home (114).

The domains of public safety, law, and health, are fraught with perils
in language
selection and management. The Language Line in San Diego, California,
was staffed with
bilingual volunteers who helped police respond to participants from
Southeast Asia (115 – 16),
which amplifies the problem of a plurilingual population of
participants interacting with mainly
monolingual police officers in often highly charged and potential
emergency situations. Courts
of law must accommodate speakers of a variety of languages, often
requiring the services of
qualified interpreters, which often introduces new perils. This is
further complicated by the legal
requirement in many jurisdictions to record the transactions (116 – 17).
In the domain of health services, the problem of language choice
involves diagnosis and
communication about treatment options, along with the availability of
information material about
health issues. A commercial telephone service in the United States
offers support 24 hours a day,
every day of the year, in 150 languages (127). This type of language
support comes with a cost.
California Linguistic Notes Volume XXXV No. 2 Spring, 2010


Denver Health reported it spent more than $1 million in December,
2005, to provide
interpretation services in 160 languages. It appears that health care
and health management
increasingly involve language management in pluriligual societies.
Ch 8, “Managing Military Language,” provides an excellent review of numerous
examples that demonstrate the breadth of language management issues
that face a military force.
Bilingualism in the Roman army officer class is thought to be a major
factor in the army
becoming such a potent force in its time (130 – 31). In contrast the
French Foreign Legion
depended on recruits eventually acquiring enough French to receive
orders (ibid.). In the modern
era of multinational alliances and cooperative engagement, language
management takes on new

While it remains the case that any government effort at language
management requires
the active support of local participants and local resources for
implementation, governments at
various levels exert significant authority in language management. A
virtue of this approach,
which examines language management in various domains, permits us to
distinguish internal
from superior level domains and the pressures they exert on language
policy (145). It is
recognized that governments may delegate authority to specific
participants, as under the
Ottoman millet system and the British Mandate of Palestine (146),
confer language status, as in
the Māori Language Act (148), and/or cultivate a favored language or
variety, through the
agency of various reforms, modernization programs, and academies (147).
The emergence of national varieties has been a fruitful field for
cultivation and the
promulgation of language policies; France offers an excellent example
of organized
centralization (153). In India, in the Sprachbund that is South Asia,
three impulses influenced

California Linguistic Notes Volume XXXV No. 2 Spring, 2010

national policy: the importance of indigenous languages, the value of
education in mother tongue,
and the need for a national language (157).

A curiosity emerges in that except for in certain totalitarian states,
very few regulatory
bodies have exercised actual authority over language choice. These are
the “marked cases.”
More commonly, language policy arises “by consensual language
practices and beliefs” (234). It
is often the case that the territorial solution dominates (154), and
emerges as a solution for
multilingual nation-states (173). But as appealing as regional
autonomy in language management
appears, the approach is not without perils, as the case of Yugoslavia
demonstrates; territorial
division is more often based on political, ethnic, or religious
factors, which language tends to
follow as a reflex (165), and more often it produces, rather than
solves, language diversity (256)

The role of activism in language management during the last century,
especially in
instances of language preservation and restoration, has been potent.
In Chapter 10, “Influencing
Language Management: Language Activist Groups,” activism in the case
of Hebrew in Israel is
surveyed in detail, along with Gaelic in Ireland, Māori in New
Zealand, and numerous examples
in other countries. Typically three classes of participants appear:
activists, who would manage
language if they had authority, speakers of the target language who
activists seek to persuade,
and the established authority the activists seek to influence (185).

The role of activists is closely associated with concepts termed
“language rights,” in
many instances seen as civil or human rights (217). These rights are
in many cases seen as
individual in nature, e.g., the right to use, learn, or teach the
language of one’s choice, and in
other instances as collective rights inhering in a group of speakers.
Language activists, as

California Linguistic Notes Volume XXXV No. 2 Spring, 2010

representative of groups and ideologies that support given language
policies, are significant
factors in language management (204).

It is pointed out that supranational organizations that advocate for
human and language
rights can recommend policies which they will not be called upon to
implement, and whose
practical consequences they will not be called upon to face (224). A
cost benefits perspective can
be gained from the experience of the European Union, which in 1999
expended £325 million,
nearly one third of its internal budget, on interpreting and
translation services to accommodate its
multilingual assembly (211).

The model of language management developed in this work is approached domain by
domain, identifying participants and their practices and beliefs, and
the policies they apply.
Accounting for languages choices made by individuals, the goal of the
theory of language policy
mentioned earlier, is achieved by applying the practices, beliefs, and
policies of language
management participants in the many examples discussed. The approach
is successful, and the
text that results is high informative and engaging, and contributes
much to our understanding of
the field.

Robert D. Angus
California State University, Fullerton

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