Language Policy and Planning and the Sociohistorical Context

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2003

25 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Language policy research
2.1 Historical overview
2.2 Research framework: defining the key-terms
2.2.1 Language planning
2.2.2 Language policy
2.3 Research framework: policy, planning and the sociohistorical context
2.3.1 Sociohistorical context and language policy research
2.3.2 Language planning and policy and ideology
2.4 Research framework conclusion: A sociolinguistic approach to language policy research

3 Issues of language policy research on the example of the Verein Deutsche Sprache
3.1 Policy and ideology of the VDS
3.2 The VDS as institution in the sociohistorical context

4 Conclusion

5 Bibliography
5.1 Primary texts
5.2 Secondary literature

1 Introduction

Recent language policy research is subject to a lot of metascientific discussion. The definition of terms, methods, focus of interest, position of language, language policies and language planning in a sociohistorical context, role of language, the question of attitudes toward language are important issues in the discourse about language planning and language policy as a field of scientific interest as well as in the actual research that is done on language planning and language policy. Poststructuralist ideas seem to have a major influence on the treatment of the topic and generally there can be observed a shift from a strict linguistic focus to a rather sociolinguistic, even sociological approach to the field. However, language policy research is a field of sociolinguistics and of applied linguistics, thus incorporating a strong tension between practical implementation and descriptive research, as well between the description of the processes and factualities of language planning and its social implications. Thus language policy research is dependant on the “interestedness“ of the researcher or agent, as it is not only an area of research but also an area of political action and implementation. As there are few general ideas applying to all levels of language planning and language policy, and as generalisations are mostly very disputed, it is further a field of case study.

This term paper gives an overview on the topic of language planning and language policy in the focus of research as a field of sociolinguistics. Starting from a brief overview of the history of language policy research following Thomas Ricento the term paper introduces a sociolinguistic approach towards the study of language policy and language planning. Therefore it offers a description of important terms and definitions of language policy research, starting with the definition of the key terms `Language Planning’ and `Language Policy´. The focus will be on their position in the sociohistorical context and on the role of ideologies..

The last part introduces a brief example of a non-governmental German organisation concerned with language planning and the promotion of a pro-German language policy. A special interest is laid on its connection to issues of language policy research introduced in the first part of the term paper, its ideologies and its relation to other, contesting ideologies and beliefs, and their position in the sociohistorical context.

2 Language policy research

2.1 Historical overview

Language policy research[1] is a relatively new field of research. It has come to life in the 1960s, especially with the emergence of new nations in postcolonial times. The focus and the paradigms of the research have undergone major changes until now. Thus, the best source to define a framework for language policy research is an historical overview of the aims, methods, and the background of the field.

Ricento divides language policy research into three phases considering the factors macro-sociopolitical background, epistemological background (i.e. the paradigms of research, interpretation, and the focus of attention), and strategic background (i.e. the reasons for doing research).[2] Language policy research is considered historiostructural, i.e. embedded in a historical surrounding and determined by macro-sociopolitical conditions, by the aims of language policy and planning and of research, and by the position of the researcher.

Ricento divides language policy research into three phases.

The first and early phase Ricento identifies is “(1) decolonization and state formation (macro sociopolitical), (2) the predominance of structuralism in the social sciences (epistemological), and (3) the pervasive belief, at least in the West, that language problems could be solved through planning, especially within the public sector (strategic).“[3] Due to decolonization new nations emerged that needed to chose and develop official languages, either indigenous or international, like those of their former colonists. If vernacular languages or regional lingua francas were chosen for an official language, those languages often had to be developed in terms of codification, grammar, dictionary (corpus planning, see below). Thus, language planning was seen as a problem-orientated, non-political technical process. Language policy research was especially concerned with developing models and theories for language planning processes. Research was very close connected with implementation.

Language was considered abstracted from its sociohistorical context. It was treated as a planable resource for national unity and identity, modernisation, efficiency, and democratisation. Linguistic diversity was often seen as an obstacle while linguistic homogeneity was considered to favour modernisation.

Ricento characterises the second phase with “[f]ailure of modernisation, critical sociolinguistics, and access“.[4] The sociopolitical background described by Ricento is the failure of modernisation. The positivistic approach to language planning and policy was called into question. The models for language planning processes developed in the first phase, e.g. by Haugen, proved to be inadequate to describe reality or to be applied to it. Language policy research as a branch of resource management proved to be impossible as there are to many influencing factors and uncontrollable variables.[5] The notion of language as a finite and discrete entity did not hold. The assumption that linguistic homogeneity (or hegemony) is the logical, problem-orientated and politically neutral choice for language planning was questioned and identified as ideological by several scholars.[6] As Ricento puts it “linguistic behaviour was social behaviour, motivated and influenced by attitudes and beliefs of speakers and speech communities, as well by macro economic and political forces.”[7] Thus, the focus of research shifted away from the language planning process and status and corpus planning[8] to the social, economic and political effects of language contact, language planning, and language. Language policy research has emancipated itself from actual language planning. Instead of developing theories and models, there tends to be a shift to case study. Language policy research is brought nearer to social and political sciences (although Ricento mentions the potential to study the interrelationship between language and identity in the new nations as already having been recognised by sociolinguists in the first phase of language policy research).

Phase three is characterised by “new world order, postmodernism, linguistic human rights“.[9] This phase depicts recent tendencies in language policy research. Sociopolitically it is influenced by the end of the Soviet Republic, and thus the re-emergence of states and national identities, the forge of coalitional entities like the EU, in which regional languages compete on a supranational level, and the important and much discussed issue of globalisation, which is associated with the issue of the dominance of multinational corporations (economical as well as in culture), the Westernisation of the world, the hegemony of the USA over the world, e.g. in culture, economy, policy and military issues, the dominance of the English language, especially in economy, science and popular culture.[10]

In this regard research on linguistic imperialism and language loss as part of an asymmetrical global North/South relation has become part of language policy research, especially from a Neo-Marxist and discourse analytical point of view locating language policies and planning processes in such a frame and analysing it. The study of ideologies is often a subject of language policy research as well as attitudes toward language.[11] Additionally, a discussion between scholars has started about the need for linguistic diversity. While one fraction claims language loss to be a `natural´ phenomena, many argue for linguistic diversity. The issue of linguistic human rights, meaning the protection of language rights and the right to freely choose a language, efforts for the protection and promotion of indigenous languages, and language preservation have become part of language policies and planning processes as well as of language policy research.

All this illustrates that language planning and policy is not a technical, neutral process, but that it is rather driven by and done on the basis of assumptions and attitudes towards language or it is embedded in a greater political scheme, like the attempt of modernisation, or on the other end used to control the access to economic and political power. Still, as case studies suggest, the relation between ideologies and means in the form of language planning and policy is not trivial and not easy to explore. Obviously, same ideologies lead to different policies while same policies can be driven by different ideologies.

This overview of language policy research certainly is simplified (and the summary of it even more so), and the division into three phases could be argued to be arbitrary. Still, it provides an idea of important issues and tendencies in the field that can be found in literature and discourse. It illustrates some of the main problems and therefore is the best starting point for creating a framework for language policy research and case studies.

To summarise one has to say that language policy research has become emancipated from language planning and policy itself. It can not be understood as a problem-orientated field of research providing models and theories for practical and actual implementation. Instead it has drawn closer to the social sciences and history, still with an orientation towards linguistics and political sciences. Language planning and policy are to be located in their historiostructural[12] environment, as an aspect of society and political activities, often in the form of institutionalised language contact. Not the actual variables, conditions and possibilities of implementation are in the foreground, but rather the implications, social and political, and the underlying attitudes and ideas, ideologies, as it is. Language policy research is therefore especially powerful in its function as a critical science, not so much in a positivistic role. The complexity of the relationship between language planning and policies and its sociocultural context simply seems to allow nothing more than case studies. Even the most basic question for language planning, namely if it is always possible, has not found a trivial answer yet.

2.2 Research framework: defining the key-terms

So far this term paper has spared out a concrete definition of language planning and of language policy. As the focus of research has changed, the definitions have been broadly discussed and have changed. While earlier research often used both terms as synonyms[13], they actually depict two distinct concepts, as most newer definitions agree or rather prefer. I will start with a definition of language planning. Although it is often defined on the basis of language policy, as its actual implementation, it is useful to start with a consideration of language planning as it was the original object of interest for language policy research.


[1] The term `language policy research´ is used to describe the field of sociolinguistics concerned with language planning and language policy as a field of research. For a final definition of the terms language planning and language policy see below.

[2] The description of the three phases follows Thomas Ricento: “Historical and Theoretical Perspectives in Language Policy and Planning“. Ideology, Politics and Language Policies (Studies in Language and Society 6). Thomas Ricento (ed.). Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2000 p. 9 – 25

[3] Ibid. p. 10

[4] Ideology, Politics and Language Policies p. 13.

[5] Ibid. p. 14.

[6] On ideology see below.

[7] Ideology, Politics and Language Policies p. 16.

[8] On status and corpus planning see below.

[9] Perspectives in language policy and planning p. 16.

[10] Cp. ibid.

[11] Cf. Roger Phillipson: “English in the New World Order: Variations on a Theme of Linguistic Imperialism and “World“ English“. Ideology, Politics and Language Policies (Studies in Language and Society 6). Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2000. P. 87 – 107.

[12] Tollefson.

[13] Cp. Tollefson, James W. Planning Language, Planning Inequality. (Language in social life series). New York 1991. P. 16.

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Language Policy and Planning and the Sociohistorical Context
University of Stuttgart  (Institute for Anglo Linguistics)
Language Contact
1,0 (A)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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569 KB
Language, Policy, Planning, Sociohistorical, Context, Contact
Quote paper
Marc Regler (Author), 2003, Language Policy and Planning and the Sociohistorical Context, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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