An introduction to language policy

An introduction to language policy: Theory and method. Ed. by Thomas Ricento. (Language and social change 1.) Oxford: Blackwell, 2006. Pp. 384. ISBN 9781405114981. $46.95.

Reviewed by Marián Sloboda, Charles University, Prague

People not only produce discourse but they also manipulate or manage it. This behavior-toward-language can be either conscious or unconscious (Joshua Fishman). Moreover, in their language management theory, Jernudd and Neustupný (1987) distinguish between discourse-based management, which operates on discourse here and now, and organized management, which is a metalinguistic process spread throughout (non)institutionalized social networks. This volume explores the conscious and organized type of language management.

Several volumes on language policy (LP) have recently been published. Language policy: Hidden agendas and new approaches by Elana Shohamy (New York: Routledge, 2006) is a theoretical and socially engaged work; whereas Language policy by Bernard Spolsky (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) is predominantly a data survey. In contrast to these books, Ricento’s volume brings together the work of multiple authors. Each chapter is rather short, written in an accessible style by a prominent expert, and followed by an annotated bibliography of relevant basic works, discussion questions, and a rich list of references. The book will be particularly useful to university students and others who want to acquaint themselves with LP research and issues. However, some knowledge of sociolinguistics is assumed (e.g. familiarity with the concept of language shift).

LP is a complex topic: often a change can affect the entire social system, as is made clear from the wide thematic scope of the book. Some of the authors in this book distinguish LP from the traditional concept of language planning, which is as a rather technical, speaker-centered aspect of language management. However, because they are often difficult to tease apart, many of the authors treat LP and language planning together.

The volume is broken into three parts, each prefaced by the editor. Part 1 addresses theoretical perspectives, such as models of LP, critical theory, and postmodernism as well as economical, political, and cultural factors. Part 2 presents historical, ethnographical, linguistic, geolinguistic, and psycho-sociological methodological approaches. Finally, in Part 3, individual authors discuss topical areas of LP, including national identity, minority rights, linguistic human rights, education of linguistic minorities, language shift, and linguistic imperialism. Unfortunately, it is impossible to cover every topic of LP in a volume of this size. The editor explains that the topics that were included have been the focus of recent research, can be studied in diverse contexts, and have tended to generate controversies (x). Although the focus of much of the research is that of Western (i.e. West European and North American) sociolinguistics and applied linguistics, this book is overall very informative. It covers many topics and illuminates LP from a number of perspectives, thus successfully representing the intrinsic multidimensionality of LP.


Jernudd, Björn. H. and Jiri V. Neustupný. 1987. Language planning: For whom? Actes du colloque international sur l’aménagement linguistique/Proceedings of the international colloquium on language planning, ed. by Lorne Laforge. Quebec: Les Presses de L’Université Laval, 69–84.