What is language policy?

Dans le document Complexity Theory: Applications to Language Policy and Planning (Page 68-71)

1.6 The multilingual challenge: a complex issue?

1.6.1 What is language policy?

What is language policy? This question is rather simple and might pop up spontaneously in the mind of those who are not technically involved in it.

However, language policy is something that affects everyone, passively and actively. It is fundamental to understand that almost anything involving communication and language use is the result (at least in part) of different combinations of language policy measures, from the choice of providing cer-tain services in a given language to the drafting of school curricula. Some-times, even the linguistic identity that an individual assigns to herself and her community might be influenced by policy measures. Besides, language policies have repercussions on society which might affect people’s life so pro-foundly that it is often very hard to isolate them. Suffice it to say that numer-ous researchers in the social sciences (and not only) often find themselves fac-ing language issues in their daily work and have a hard time managfac-ing them.

The non-negligible impact of language policies on people calls for sustained research efforts completely focusing on them. Furthermore, it is impossible to deny the importance of language policy and its very existence, as there is no reality involving communication between humans with “no language policy” – as a matter of fact, the simple fact of declining to take decisions con-cerning language issueisa form of language policy (which is being, anyway, communicated in a certain language). Following this line of reasoning, it is important to note that language policy is in no way a “new thing”. For exam-ple, education curricula in Ancient Rome were made thoroughly bilingual (Latin and Greek) as a clear policy choice. For socio-cultural and homoge-nization reasons, pupils were expected to read and express themselves in the two major languages of the time throughout Roman territories (Pacal,1984).

Furthermore, those in charge of education policy were well aware of the fact that Greek gave access to the highest level of education, i.e. philosophical studies (Hornblower and Spawforth,1996).

However, providing an answer to the questions concerning the very ex-istence of this field of research (such as: Why is it necessary? What are the objectives? What are the material results of this research?) has proved, over the last few decades, somewhat difficult. The cause of this is the lack of a

generally accepted comprehensive theory of language policy. However, this is not the consequence of superficial research, but rather the opposite. Lan-guage policies are so entrenched in everyday life that they are acknowledged and practiced in all societal domains. As Ricento puts it,

“[w]hile [language policy (LP)] as an organized field of study is a relatively recent development, the themes explored today in LP research have been treated in a wide range of scholarly disci-plines in the social sciences and humanities over the years.” (Ri-cento,2006, p. 19)

Several academic disciplines can have a say in the study and application of language policies. As several other fields of study related to languages, lan-guage policy remains hitherto a rather fragmented discipline, deeply rooted in specific sciences such as, to mention but a few, linguistics, sociology, law, political sciences, geography, economics, and many of their sub-fields.

It is worth recalling here that economic theory, far from being limited to dynamics involving monetary transactions, attempts to describe actions and interactions of individuals and institutions, paying special attention to the fact that resources (of any sort) are limited and that their use needs to be op-timized. Language is, among other things, a mechanism of communication and, as a basic function of social interaction, the study of its optimization falls in the domain of economic analysis (Rubinstein, 2000). It might be interest-ing also to look at the relationship between economics and language in the other direction. We could say that no science, including economics, would exist without language. There would be no way to produce and accumu-late knowledge, and scholars would lack the basic means to perform critical thinking. Language is so deeply enmeshed in people’s life that a “language-less” world is a cognitive reality that goes well beyond the reasoning possi-bilities of most people.29

As mentioned, economics plays an important role in the study of lan-guage policy. The economics of lanlan-guage is a relatively recent field of re-search which lacks a universally shared definition (as it was the case for lan-guage policy). However, Grin attempts to provide a definition of this disci-pline, trying to strike a balance between its wide reach and the rigour that academic norms require:

29In this context, however, it is worth mentioning an extremely fascinating stream of re-search across linguistics and anthropology studying cases of individuals who have grown up learning no language of any sort (see, for example, Schaller1991; Downey2010).

“The economics of language refers to the paradigm of main-stream theoretical economics and uses the concepts and tools of economics in the study of relationships featuring linguistic vari-ables. It focuses principally, but not exclusively, on those relation-ships in which economic variables also play a part.” (Grin, 1996, p. 6)30

In other words, scholars of language economics apply the traditional (mostly mathematical) methods of economics to provide an explanation to specific socio-economic dynamics by putting them in relation with linguistic vari-ables, which can, on a case-by-case basis, be exogenous or endogenous to the model. Generally speaking and looking at the relevant literature, economics can contribute to the discourse on language studies in various ways, includ-ing:

• studying the relationship between language and labour income;

• defining language dynamics of spread and decline;

• identifying the role of language in economic activities;

• supporting language policy decisions and analysing their impact (Grin, 2010).31

These four orientations are often intertwined. Language policy decisions are not meant to happen in a vacuum. They are always made to address spe-cific societal dimensions relating to languages. Canada’s well-established academic tradition of studying earning differentials between Anglophones and Francophones is a good example of this.32 Canadian scholars involved in this kind of research deal with issues that go well beyond the simple state-ment that speaking English offers an advantage over speaking French (as an L1 or L2). They deal with one language being dominant and another being dominated. They shed light on the prominence of certain languages in eco-nomic contexts. They provide a handle on ethical issues, such as fairness and equality of opportunities for minorities.

30It is worth noting that this definition is not strictly limited to languages. It aims to include the concept of “ethnicity” within its reach, and it does so by referring simply to language as much of the literature on ethnicity uses the former as a marker of the latter.

31Recently a new stream of research has come to the fore as an application within the field of behavioural economics, which tries to identify the effects of language characteristics on economic behaviour (see, for example, Chen2013).

32See Vaillancourt (1996) for an overview.

Why is language an object of public policy in the first place? Public pol-icy can be defined as “an intentional course of action followed by a government institution or official for resolving an issue of public concern. Such a course of action must be manifested in laws, public statements, official regulations, or widely accepted and publicly visible patterns of behaviour” (Cochran et al., 2009, pp. 1-2, emphasis in original). The expression “of public concern” re-veals the collective nature of the issue at stake. As noted above, language is the natural means of communication, which is an inevitable part of mod-ern (as well as ancient) societies.33 As a consequence, language issues and all their social, political, and economic implications deserve the attention of public policy practitioners and scholars. The role played by policy analysis in the field of language policy has been evident to scholars (in particular to sociolinguists) since the 1970s (Jernudd,1971; Rubin,1971; Thorburn,1971).

Nevertheless, it received greater attention only starting from the 1990s, when a number of scholars from political science and economics started to apply policy analysis models to language policy (Grin and Vaillancourt,1999; Grin and Gazzola,2010; Gazzola,2014).

In the following section I discuss how policy analysis is applied to lan-guage issues. In particular, I explore the case of European multilingualism, a theme that is discussed in greater detail in Chapter4.

Dans le document Complexity Theory: Applications to Language Policy and Planning (Page 68-71)