September 2006
Volume 10, Number 2

Contents  |   TESL-EJ Top


An Introduction to Language Policy:
Theory and Method

Author: Thomas Ricento, Ed. (2006)
Publisher: Oxford: Blackwell
Pp. xii + 371 1-4051-1498-3 (paper) £19.99 GBP

With the global spread of English and its many ramifications, TESL/TEFL scholars and practitioners cannot afford to be ignorant about the status of English as a global language, its relationship to other languages, and language policies in different contexts, which often, directly or indirectly, involve English. Although this book does not focus on English and only marginally discusses language learning and teaching, TESL/TEFL professionals can benefit from reading this comprehensive volume by gaining an understanding of language policy issues and reflecting on their profession in light of the issues discussed.

Language policy (LP) is a growing area of scholarship and practice. Since the 1990s, the number of publications in this field has significantly risen: to name but two by authors familiar to the ELT world, Kaplan & Baldauf (1997) and Spolsky (2004). Journals specializing in LP, such as Current Issues in Language Planning and Language Policy, have also been established. Closer to the field of TEFL, a special volume of TESOL Quarterly dedicated to LP in a TESOL context was guest edited by Hornberger and Ricento in 1996.

What this volume adds to the existing body of literature on LP is a thorough and timely overview of the field from a range of angles. More precisely, the book reviews a variety of approaches within social sciences and humanities that inform or have the potential to inform LP research. The aim of the book, according to the editor, is "to position LP as an area of research within sociololinguistics and, more broadly, within the social sciences and humanities" (p. x). The book is primarily addressed to social scientists who are not necessarily specialists in LP but may have an interest in issues covered by it. The book is also suitable as course material: each article is followed by questions for discussion and an annotated bibliography of major books for further reading.

The volume features 19 articles specially commissioned for this volume, written by leading experts in a variety of LP related fields ranging from the economics of language to critical discourse analysis. The book is divided into three parts covering theoretical perspectives, methodological perspectives and topical areas in LP. Each part starts with the editor's introduction. An overview of the book's contents can be seen in the following table:

Part: chapterTitle / AuthorComments
Part ITheoretical perspectives in language policySince, as Ricento points out, there is no "overarching theory of LP and planning" (p. 10), this part presents a range of theoretical approaches that have had an important influence on LP research: seven informative chapters that paint LP as a truly multidisciplinary field.
1Language policy: theory and practice - an introduction
Thomas Ricento, University of Texas at San Antonio, USA
2Frameworks and models in language policy and planning
Nancy H. Hornberger, University of Pennsylvania, USA
3Critical theory in language policy
James W. Tollefson, International Christian University, Japan
4Postmodernism in language policy
Alastair Pennycook, University of Technology, Australia
5Economic considerations in language policy
François Grin, University of Geneva, Switzerland
6Political theory and language policy
Ronald Schmidt, Sr., California State University, USA
7Language policy and linguistic culture
Harold Schiffman, University of Pennsylvania, USA
 Part 2Methodological perspectives in LPThis part shows the diversity of methodological approaches in LP research. The five chapters discuss the potential for LP research of methodological approaches from a range of disciplines, focusing in particular on their theoretical bases and the rationale for their use in LP.
8The lessons of historical investigation: implications for the study of language policy and planning
Terrence G. Wiley, Arizona State University, USA
9Ethnographic methods in language policy
Suresh Canagarajah, Baruch College of the City University of New York, USA
10Linguistic analyses in language policies
Ruth Wodak, Lancaster University, UK
11Geolinguistic analysis in language policy
Don Cartwright, University of Western Ontario, Canada
12Psycho-sociological analysis in language policy
Colin Baker, University of Wales, UK
 Part 3Topical areas in language policyA selection of current issues in language policy. Here the reader will find discussions of the relationship between LP and issues and perspectives at the center of ongoing debates in the social sciences. As Ricento points out in the introduction to this part, these issues are all related to social identity and social change. To my mind this part of the book is the most engaging.
13Language policy and national identity
Jan Blommaert, Ghent University, Belgium
14Language policy and minority rights
Stephen May, University of Waikato, New Zealand
15Language policy and linguistic human rights
Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, Roskilde University, Denmark
16Language policies and the education of linguistic minorities
Christina Bratt Paulston and Kai Heidemann, University of Pittsburgh, USA
17Language policy and language shift
Joshua A. Fishman, Yeshiva University, USA
18Language policy and sign languages
Timothy Reagan, Roger Williams University, USA
19Language policy and linguistic imperialism
Robert Phillipson, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark

As a whole, the volume illustrates the diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches as well as topical issues in LP. Despite this heterogeneity, the chapters work as a network, with many cross-references among them. Predictably, the voices represented in this volume do not speak in unison: Pennycook, for example, reviews postmodernist critiques of grand narratives such as linguistic human rights and linguistic imperialism advocated by other contributors to this volume; Fishman critiques Phillipson's thesis on linguistic imperialism. Having such pro and con positions on LP within one collection creates a stimulating conversation in the reader's mind.

A research area influenced by such a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches promises to be dynamic, albeit possibly also confusing as the authors may speak in the different tongues of their respective disciplines. Such sometimes off-putting discourse, however, is not in evidence here: all the chapters are written in accessible language and in total provide numerous illustrative case studies from all over the globe, including discussions of the language policy conflict between the assimilationists and pluralists in the US (Schmidt), myths about French language policy (Schiffman), diglossia in Tamil (Schiffman), and the status of Welsh and Flemish (Cartwright).

Although wide in scope, the volume nevertheless lacks an important perspective: that of gender studies/feminism, a perspective that has significantly contributed to many areas in the social sciences and humanities and may offer important insights to LP research as well. That said, the volume does leave the reader with a sense of exciting possibilities when the fields included in this volume and possibly others all contribute their knowledge and perspective to the further development of LP.


Hornberger, N.N., & Ricento, T.K. (Eds). (1996). Language planning and policy (Special issue) TESOL Quarterly, 30(3).

Kaplan, R., & Baldauf, R. (1997). Language planning. From practice to theory. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Spolsky, B. D. (2004). Language policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bojana Petrić
Eötvös Loránd University,
Budapest, Hungary

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