“An introduction to language policy: Theory and method”

Ricento, T. (Ed.). (2006). An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method. London: Blackwell.
Laura Villa
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Thomas Ricento’s An Introduction to Language Policy: Theory and Method (2006, Blackwell) is an excellent introduction to a wide range of issues on language policy and planning (LPP). The book is divided into three major sections: the first one, devoted to the discussion of different theoretical perspectives; the second one, to the presentation of broadly used methodologies in LPP studies; and the last one, dedicated to several specific topics that have retained the attention of researchers in LPP. Ricento has managed to gather together some of the most salient scholars in the areas that this volume covers. With no doubt, the book fulfills the editor’s objectives, namely “to provide the reader with a thorough introduction to the principal theories and methods which are used in current research in language policy” and “to be accessible for non-specialists from a variety of fields in the social sciences” (p. x).

The first part, “Theoretical Perspectives in Language Policy”, offers a review of the theoretical dimension of LPP studies. In the introductory pages of this section, on the one hand, the author claims that political, economic and social theory offer valuable multidisciplinary tools to LPP studies. On the other hand, he asserts that the theoretical perspective adopted by researchers affects their analysis and at the same time has effects on the language policies and practices (pp. 8-9). Ricento, in the opening chapter, briefly summarizes the history of the study on LPP since the 1950’s, and discusses the relevance of both theory and practice in LPP as a field of study within the social sciences and the humanities (pp. 10-23). Hornberger proposes an integrative framework based on the previous work of scholars such as Cooper, Ferguson, Haugen, Kloss among others, from whom she borrows terminology such as status, corpus, acquisition planning; policy and cultivation planning;  language selection, codification, elaboration, implementation.

The other authors in this first part present how different theoretical perspectives have influenced the studies of LPP. Critical language policy (CLP, defined as a field within critical applied linguistics) adopted two key assumptions from critical theory: first, categories such as class, race and gender are central to explain social life; and second, “a critical examination of epistemology and research methodology is inseparable from ethical standards and political commitments to social justice” (p. 44). Pennycook argues that a postmodern approach “suggests a number of significant concerns for language policy and planning” (p. 64), for instance rethinking key concepts such as language or establishing “how governance is achieved through language” (p. 64). Grin establishes different lines of research in language economics and concludes that the economic approach in LPP makes it possible “to help social actors assess the pros and cons of different avenues open to them, and make principled and transparent choices” (p. 89). Schmidt asserts that political theory – concerned with questions of meaning and significance – can be fruitfully used by LPP in the study of identity politics and equality. Finally, Schiffman emphasizes the relevance for LPP studies of the concept of linguistic culture, understood as “the sum totality of ideas, values, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices, myths, religious strictures, and all the other cultural ‘baggage’ that speakers bring to their dealings with language and culture.” (p. 112).

The second part of this volume is devoted to “Methodological Perspectives in Language Policy”. Willey critiques Eurocentric historical models and their repercussion in LPP. Canagarajah studies how ethnographic methods, mainly participant observation, contribute to language planning, providing information about attitudes toward languages or measuring the success of a specific policy, for instance. Wodak focuses on explaining the principles of her discourse-historical approach – one among several within critical discourse analysis – although she claims for a multi-methodical approach “to issues related to language policies/politics that integrates the analysis of different genres, different public spaces, different methods, and different perspectives” (p. 171). Cartwright presents two geolinguistic analyses, one of Welsh in United Kingdom, and the other of Flemish and Wallons in Belgium. Finally, Baker summarizes the most important methods, qualitative and quantitative, used in psycho-sociological analysis: Matched Guise in language attitudes measurement; language-use surveys; and so forth.

The third part of the book is dedicated to “Topical Areas in Language Policy”. Following a discussion of terms such as nation, state, national identity, andlanguage ideology, Blommaert uses the example of Tanzania’s language policy in order to demonstrate “how the language-political process was primarily an ideological process” (p. 246). Two chapters in this section discuss linguistic rights. May advocates for minority linguistic rights (MLR) for four reasons: language shift and loss; the creation of a majority-minority language hierarchy; the linkage between social mobility and language replacement; and mainly the legal protection of minority-language speakers. In the second chapter of this section, Stuktnabb-Kangas stands for Linguistic Human Rights (LHR), i.e. linguistic rights that are essential and thus considered human rights for example, mother tongue education. Bratt Paulston and Heidemann study in depth the issue of the education of linguistic minorities, offering several examples “to contextualize the relations of power and inequality that characterize the landscape of language  planning within education, in order to (re)emphasize that a language policy is never simply and only about language” (p. 305).

Fishman presents a different type of LPP. That in which LPP efforts focus not on protecting a minority language but on accelerating shift, as some English policies that Fishman calls Pro-English ‘Conspiracy’. Reagan’s chapter presents LPP work on sign languages. Regarding status planning, he discusses policies such as language selection and implementation, and a rising sensibility towards sign-language users’ rights. Corpus planning efforts have been made in the following areas: “lexicography, lexical creation and expansion, textbook production, the creation of manual sign codes, and the development of orthographic systems for representing sign languages” (p. 334). Finally, Phillipson argues that the expansion of English is a kind of linguistic imperialism promoted by globalization. Phillipson claims that language policies at the supranational level are triggered by the recognition of English as a threat to other languages, in particular in the EU.

In conclusion, this volume covers a wide range of theoretical and methodological perspectives and presents some illuminating practical work in core areas of LPP research. Besides the comprehensive and updated general bibliography, the editor decided to include a selective annotated one, which increases its utility to the diverse and thriving field of LPP. Furthermore, the discussion questions accompanying each chapter turn the volume into a helpful tool that can be used as a manual and to facilitate debate in class.

'“An introduction to language policy: Theory and method”' have 2 comments

  1. January 18, 2023 @ 5:05 pm Salome Les.

    A well devised theoretical and methodological article. It is very helpful especially when one is looking for theoretical framework on LPP.

  2. September 6, 2020 @ 9:01 am John Peter Adupa

    Nice journal . I’m doing research in language policy in Uganda.
    Thanks for the publication

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