Language Planning and Language Policy

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Chapter 2 Theoretical framework: Language Planning and Language Policy


The aim of this chapter is to describe and analyze various definitions of language planning and language policies by various scholars. Problems of multilingual society are complex matters. The existence of a lingua franca does not solve the problems. In a multilingual country different social groups wish to see their linguistic identities and interests maintained thus resulting in other people’s linguistic interests being violated. It is the duty of the government to react to these differences officially. The government may either reconcile them, or try to eliminate them. Many governments accordingly try to resolve their problems by engaging in conscious, principled language planning, or linguistic engineering.
When African countries achieved political independence in the nineteen fifties to nineteen seventies, they often select one of their languages to be their national language and thus to be their national symbols. These varieties are then elevated to the level of an official language by means of an official declaration and use it in the schools, the government, the media and the legal system. Unlike other African countries, South Africa opted for a more complex policy, after the 1994 democratic elections. The language policy entailed 11 (eleven) languages of which 9 (nine) of the indigenous languages has been elevated to official status. This made it impossible to choose one language to be an official language of the country that can be regarded as the national language of the country. One of the official languages selected is English and is regarded as an international language. In most cases in the former colonial countries, the former colonial language is chosen as the language of business. Normally the government imposes it as their standard and official language used in various spheres of governance.
The selection of one internal language variety and developing it as a standard language, or selection of external, fully developed language as the official language of a multilingual country are the two different approaches that governments can adopt to solve the problem of multilingualism in their countries. This selection of official languages is part of a process known as language planning. Language planning and language policy work together to enhance communication.
The general definition of language planning as formulated by Toffelson (1991:16)
The commonly accepted definition of language planning is that it refers to all conscious effort to affect the structure or function of language varieties. These efforts may involve creation of orthographies, standardization and modern programmes, or allocation of functions to particular languages within multilingual societies.
It can be said that language planning involves the creation and the implementation of an official policy about how the languages and linguistic varieties of a country are to be used.
The following are some of the definitions cited by other researchers regarding language planning:
“As I define it, the term language planning includes the normative work of language academies and committees, all forms of what is commonly known as cultivation…and all proposals for language reforms of standardization” (Huegen, 1969:701).
“[Language planning] occurs when one tries to apply the amalgamated knowledge of language to change the behavior of a group of people” (Thornburn 1971: 254).
“Language planning is deliberate language change; that is; changes in the system of language code or speaking or both that are planned by organizations that are established for such purposes or given a mandate to fulfill such purposes. As such, language planning is focused on problem-solving and is characterized by the formulation and evaluation of alternatives for solving language problems to find the best (or optimal, most efficient) decision” (Rubin and Jernudd, 1971b: xvi).
“We do not define planning as an idealistic and exclusively linguistic activity but as a political and administrative activity for solving language problems in society” (Jernudd and Das Gupta, 1971:211).
“The term language planning is most appropriately used in my view to refer to coordinated measures taken to select, codify and, in some cases, to elaborate orthographic, grammatical, lexical, or semantic features of a language and to disseminate the corpus agreed upon” (Gorman, 1973:73).
“Language planning refers to a set of deliberate activities systematically designed to organize and develop the language resources of the community in an ordered schedule of time” (Das Gupta, 1973:157).
“The term language planning refers to “the organized pursuit of solutions to language problems, typically at the national level” (Fishman, 1974b:79).
“Language planning is the methodical activity of regulating and improving existing languages or creating new common regional, national or international languages” (Tauli, 1974:56).
“The [language planning] terms reviewed refer to an activity which attempts to solve a language problem, usually on a national scale, and which focuses on either language form or language use or both” (Karam, 1974:105).
“[Language planning may be defined as] government authorized, long term sustained and conscious effort to alter a language itself or to change a language’s functions in a society for the purpose of solving communication problems” (Weinstein, 1980:55).
“Language planning refers to systematic, theory based, rational, and organized societal attention to language problems” (Neustupny 1983:2 cited by Cooper 1989:31).
“Language policy-making involves decisions concerning the teaching and use of language, and their careful formulation by those empowered to do so, for the guidance of others” (Pastor in Cooper 1989:31).
“The term language planning applies to a wide range of processes involving planned change in the structure and the status of language varieties” (Tellefson, 1981:175).
Language planning is “a problem solving activity concerned with deliberate language change for specific aims, which may be social, political or educational (or a mixture of all three)” (Kennedy, 1983:1).
“Language planning refers to deliberate efforts to influence the behavior of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of their language codes” (Cooper, 1989:45).
Noss (1994) defines language planning as a process whereby authority formulates and coordinates:

  • Policies on the use and promotion of specific language varieties in particular roles within its jurisdiction,
  • Policies on the identification and/or codification of the language varieties concerned, and subsequently implement these policies, evaluate the implementation, and if necessary, evaluate the policies later.

Ignacio (1998) defines language planning as the development of goals, objectives and strategies to change the way a language is used in a community. It involves some intervention or “social engineering” of language use. The intervention and social engineering of the language use could include policies, as stated by Noss (1998), an authority or government carries out to achieve certain goals. As Rubin and Jernudd (1971, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999) summarizes it, “Language planning is a body of ideas, laws and regulations (language policy), change rules, beliefs, and practices intended to achieve a planned change (or to stop change from happening) in the language use in one or more communities. To put it differently, language planning involves deliberate, although not always overt, future oriented change in systems of language code and/or speaking in a societal context.”
Language planning is important because it serves several purposes. Some of the aims of language planning are to achieve national unity and harmony, as a nation building tool, to strengthen communicative integration, either domestically or internationally, to revitalize a language, to modernize and standardize a language, to reverse language shift, and thus prevent language death (Asmah, 1994; Noss, 1994; Coronel-Molina, 1999; Kavanagh, 1999; and Ignace, 1998).
Language policy on the other hand is what a government does either officially through legislation, court decisions or policy to determine how languages are used, cultivate language skills needed to meet national priorities or to establish the rights of individuals or groups to use and maintain languages (Wikipedia, 2009). The term language policy sometimes appears as synonym for language planning but more often it refers to the goals of language planning (Cooper, 1989:29 as cited by Mutasa, 2004:16).
Language policy can be regarded as “one mechanism for locating language within a social structure so that language determines who has access to political power and economic resources” Tollefson, 1991:16). This also establishes control in language use. Tollefson (1991:211) continues to argue that only when language policy engages fully with a larger process of establishing structural equality, ‘a system for making decisions in which individuals who are affected by policies have a major role making policies’, is it likely to serve the interests of equity significantly. Es’kia Mphahlele is skeptical about the assertion of claims of policy under any circumstances:
Political programming of public usage in matters of language is, in the long term, irrelevant to the dynamics of social and cultural determinations and choices. People will speak and write the language that they perceive to be fulfilling their contemporary needs and their historical destiny (1994:160).
From the above quotation, one is able to understand the complexity that is involved in language use and language choice respectively. Some people may have different opinions regarding the choice of languages for the purpose of education, economy, media and legal system. The political struggle played an important role in the resistance of certain languages and also in the acceptance of the others.
Tollefson (1991) and Mphahlele (1994) concur that the pure vision of the policy cannot be imposed on a complex socio-political reality without damage to democracy. However, none of them offers an unproblematic solution as major difficulties arise in articulating the policy from a democratic base of the kind envisaged by Tollefson.
From the definitions by various researchers on language planning above, the main focus has been on identifying and resolving language problems. The issue of communication problems as conceded by Karam (1974:108) that, “Theoretically, whenever is a communication problem concerning language, language planning is possible”. The Department of Correctional Services in general and also in particular with reference to Pretoria Central Prison, is faced with issues of communication problems. The prison community is multilingual and multicultural; therefore, there is linguistic diversity.
Cooper (1989: 45) refers indirectly that his definition regarding language planning activity focuses on language attitudes, the behavior towards language and towards language users. Cooper argues that the purpose of language planning is to influence those who are in power to contribute to socio-political and economic development of the society concerned.
Language planning does not take place in isolation. There are factors that contribute to its development such as its language dynamics, attitudes and technological dynamics. This is reiterated by Eastman‘s (1992:97) view that “certain situations simply evolve.”
The relationship between language policy and democracy in South Africa may seem obvious, but democracy on the other hand demands full access to political and economic life for all citizens. This is impossible to many citizens because they are unable to participate –or participate fully because language is not used in the public domain (Ridge in Makoni and Kamwangamalu, 2000:45).
Kamwangamalu (2000:51) argues in his article when he examines the new language policy of South Africa in the light of current language practices in some of the country’s institutions like government administration such as various government departments including the Department of Correctional Services (DCS). He argues that irrespective of the ‘constitutional principles of language equity, which stipulate that all official languages must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably’ (The Constitution, 1996, Section 6(2)), language practices in almost all the institutions in the country show a different reality. In reality, the old language practices have remained to a large extent unaffected. This means, official languages are unofficially given high status and this constitutes a three-tier, triglossic system; one in which English is ranked first, Afrikaans second and the African languages third. Mutasa (2007) concurs with Kamwangamalu (2000) about the dominance of English and Afrikaans especially when all the languages should have equal status at national and provincial levels. Despite the new language policy, English and Afrikaans remain on top of the other languages in language practices in post-apartheid South Africa.
The definitions bring about the three concepts; status planning which is a selection of particular language for certain functions; corpus planning which is the development of a language and acquisition planning which deals with users of a language. Below will be a detailed discussion on each of the three concepts as types and approaches of Language Planning.


Types and Approaches to Language Planning

The types of language planning answer the question, what is to be planned about the language, its function or its structure? Approaches to language planning refer to the level at which planning takes place (Mutasa, 2004:20).
According to Bamgbose (1991:109) “The basis for language planning is the perception of language problems requiring a solution”. These language problems might be grounded in status planning, corpus planning and acquisition planning. These three aspects will be discussed below.

Status Planning

Deals mainly with the decisions that governments make regarding language policy and its implementation. This also includes the selection of languages used for official purposes and education. It is a deliberate effort to allocate the functions of languages and literacy within a speech community. Usually it involves elevating a language variety into a prestige variety, which may be at the expense of other competing dialects (Encyclopedia, 2010). Status planning in most cases is the most controversial aspect of language planning.
According to Erasmus (2002:6, cited in Mutasa, 2004:22) “status planning mainly focuses on the creation of language policies, putting legislative measures into place to give a language or languages their official status and at the same time monitoring these regulations as well as their implementation”.
Muthwii (2004:34) says, “Language planning also implies making certain choices and giving priorities to particular aspects of corpus planning and acquisition planning”. She also concurs with other linguists mainly who are involved in researches of language planning in Africa that most African countries base their main argument on costs when other African languages are supposed to be developed.


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