Proposal to establish a
Consortium for Language Policy and Planning

Harold Schiffman
Associate Director, Research
Penn Language Center
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104


with the help of
Joshua Fishman (Stanford),
Nancy Hornberger (Penn),
Ofelia Garcia (Long Island University),
Ricardo Otheguy and Ana-Celia Zentella (CUNY)


This program addresses the issues affecting the policies and statuses of different languages, particularly in multicultural societies. Since `Language Status Studies' is not a traditional or well-established description for the field of language studies we intend to denote, and by contrast certain other descriptions-most notably `Language Policy' and `Language Planning'--do exist and enjoy widespread currency, we will use Language Policy Studies as a cover term for language planning, sociology of language, sociolinguistics, or whatever. By identifying the notion of language policy as the foundational issue of the program, we intend to avoid delimiting the scope of inquiry that might accrue with the use of other terms current in the general disciplinary area. Those terms and subdisciplines include (besides language policy and planning): language maintenance, language death, language loss, language abandonment, language preference, language prestige, language loyalty, language switching, language shift, language spread, language suppression, language conflict, and so on. All these subdisciplines are subsumed by the general label `language policy studies'; they comprise the topics and approaches that are central to the program's interests; but no one of them is regarded as of pre-eminent theoretical significance. What further unites these subdisciplines, however, beyond their distinct ways of addressing language status, is their necessary attention to questions of choice, control, and rights. At one level or another (e.g., at that of the individual, or the ethnic community, or the nation), questions of choice (its degrees of freedom, and its exercise by the individual as distinct from the collective), and of control and of rights, are recurrently involved in each of these subdisciplines. It is for that reason that Choice, Control and Rights are singled out for emphasis in the program's subtitle.

By contrast with the abstract and synchronic linguistics which is the core concern of most contemporary university departments of Linguistics, the Consortium's attention will be directed to what Saussure called `external linguistics'. As Crowley glosses this phrase, external linguistics ``takes as its object of study the role of language in history, or more precisely of the relations between language and political history" (Crowley, 1990: 242), with the proviso that history here must be understood in its broadest sense.That Saussure, for all his posthumous association with `internal' synchronic and structuralist linguistics, was not at all hostile to external linguistic studies of the rise and fall of languages is vividly apparent in a late letter to Meillet, in which he celebrates ``the picturesque side of a language ... what makes it different from all others insofar as it belongs to a particular people with a particular origin" (cited in Crowley, 1990: 242). Reflecting the kinds of expertise available in the host university, there is further emphasis on these issues as they pertain to North and South America, South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Language policy studies has been in existence, as a field of inquiry, for a number of decades; but it did not become a sharply salient issue in North American academia until the 1960's, when sociolinguists and sociologists of language began to focus attention on the speech forms, problems, and aspirations of American linguistic minorities. Such issues as whether Black English (now referred to by some as African American Vernacular English, AAVE, or as Ebonics) was or is an autonomous dialect of English, or whether it originates to a large degree in West African languages, brought to the forefront of social attention some unresolved questions as well as some unmet needs. With a fuller linguistic understanding of AAVE came searching review of the scope of what may be termed the societal legitimacy (e.g., in education and in employment) of that variety and other dialects also (including the dialect labelled Standard English). Relatedly, the appropriateness of early education through Spanish for American children whose home and family language is Spanish continues to be a question with wide implications in terms of personal and cultural empowerment on the one hand, and in terms of social unity and cohesion on the other. The current resistance to USA linguistic diversification spearheaded by such groups as US English and English First raises other issues too, such as whether the American educational curriculum is Anglocentric and biased against other cultural backgrounds, whether individual states can expend public funds to facilitate the non-English linguistic needs of non-English speakers (or conversely can forbid the use of public funds for such purposes), and even whether the U.S. should have a constitutional amendment enshrining English as the nation's official language.The Supreme Court recently heard and then dismissed a case involving Arizona's English-Only law, and legislation (H.R. 123) in favor of officializing English (the ``Bill Emerson English Language Empowerment Act") was introduced by Rep. Randy Cunningham on the first day of the 105th Congress. In all these areas of sociopolitical development, language choice, control and rights, and the extent to which these are vested in the individual or in the collective, are again the heart of the matter.

The Consortium for Language Policy and Planning will explore these and other issues related to language and ethnicity in various cultural contexts by bringing together scholars and others whose proven interest in such questions may shed light on the rise, struggle, and decline of particular linguistic cultures. A primary focus will be educational and informational--the Consortium will sponsor workshops, summer institutes, informational and short-courses designed to bring to public discussion issues affecting schools and other multilingual sites of contention in contemporary America and other parts of the world. Scholars, language planners, journalists, legislators, and policy-makers will be brought together, not just to discuss issues and generate new knowledge, but will also be asked to participate in these workshops and make the discussion of language policy open and constructive. We intend to target in particular teacher organizations and their conferences, minority language organizations and their representatives, journalists, state legislative bodies, and any other venues where information about language policy issues can help the public to understand the problems children face, and what some possible solutions might be.

Another focus of the consortium will be on the question whether officialization of language (i.e. the imposition of `official languages' such as English in the US, or French in Qué ebec) is a necessary component of state polity or is more limitedly a reflex of western constructions of statehood, and one which has spread or been exported to non-western societies. Another theme may be contrastive studies of colonial, quasi-colonial, and multi-national systems of the past 150 years and their attendant language policiesE.g., the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro- Hungarian Empire; and more contemporarily, China, where toleration of minority languages may have been greater, and the former Soviet Union, now disintegrating into ethnolinguistic mini-states. Such systems seem to have often entailed conflict or attended language loss or annihilation (witness the fate of Irish in Ireland, Flemish in Belgium, and Welsh and Scots in Britain) as well as language expansion, protection, etc.

We also see a need for a stronger focus on humanistic and sociolinguistic aspects of language policy studies, since some social-science oriented studies in the field have often ignored qualitative issues such as the historical role of religion in the use and status of different languages, officially or informally, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Such issues as the separation of church, state, and education have often had covertly anti-linguistic group undertones, as seen in the events leading up to Meyer v. Nebraska, or the attempt in Oregon in the post World War I era to abolish parochial schools, with the covert intent of also abolishing German-language (parochial) schools.

There is a clear political dimension, too, to the changing status, even within linguistic studies, of Pidginization and Creolization. Put bluntly, such processes were regarded, by most 19th century European philologists preoccupied with national languages, as `unfit' for serious scientific study; and from that academic lead, folk- and many governmental perceptions took and continue to take their cue. But present-day linguistics has come to recognize such processes as pidginization not as aberrant but as central, the very essence of linguistic accommodation in a changed extralinguistic environment. Pidgins and creoles are potentially the source of many new insights on the nature of, and obstacles to, language acquisition, second-language learning, and inter-dialectal communication.

The revised status of pidgins and creoles reflects new developments in our understanding of the structure and dynamics of non-standard English, the interrelationship between democracy and grammar (e.g., should standard languages allow change from `below' or should language corpus planning decisions be entrusted to an `academy'?), and the role of diglossia. In all these cases, we see the influence on language policy of a complex matrix of factors, which include historical forces, economic imperatives, ethnic identifications (whether of race, national origin, religion, or language), and class and gender affiliations. But since so many of the contributory factors to shift in language policy are covert and implicit, embedded in a society's habitual or dominant discourses about its own identity and allegiances, charting those factors is not amenable to a chiefly quantitative social-scientific analytical methodology. Quantitative approaches to these matters, we believe, may yield descriptions that are valid as far as they go, but fail at the task of explaining why these outcomes occur. Hence our adoption of a broad socio-humanistic approach sympathetic to studies which are grounded in (to mention just three appropriate traditions) historical scholarship, sociolinguistics, or anthropology. Recent studies exemplary of the humanistic approach we have in mind, studies which respond to the covert evaluations and societal constructions which help confer prestige on some dialects and may go so far as to delegitimate others, include Harlan Lane's The Mask of Benevolence (1993); R.B. Le Page and A. Tabouret- Keller, Acts of Identity (1985); J. Joseph and T. Taylor, (eds.) Ideologies of Language (1990); Woolard and Schieffelin (1994), and H. Schiffman, Linguistic Culture and Language Policy (1996).

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Harold Schiffman