This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.Find sources: "Language politics" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (June 2008) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The politics of language are evident in the French/Dutch bilingual Brussels region, which is enclaved within the Flanders region of Belgium, where people typically speak Dutch. Divisive preference of either language is avoided by using both French and Dutch on nearly all signs in Brussels.

Language politics is the way language and linguistic differences between peoples are dealt with in the political arena. This could manifest as government recognition, as well as how language is treated in official capacities.

The topic covers many related issues. As such, this page serves as a central resource for multiple articles relating to the topic of language and politics. Below are some categories dealing with the overlap between language and politics, along with examples and links to other relevant pages.

Language planning and policy

Main article: Language planning

Language planning refers to concerted efforts to influence how and why languages are used in a community. It is usually associated with governmental policies which largely involve status planning, corpus planning and acquisition planning. There are often much interaction between the three areas. Status planning involves giving a language or languages a certain standing against other languages[1] and is often associated with language prestige and language function. Corpus planning often involves linguistic prescription as decisions are made in graphization, standardization and modernization of a language.[2] Acquisition planning fundamentally involves language policies to promote language learning.[3]

Status planning

Corpus planning

Corpus planning consists of three traditionally recognised forms: graphization, standardization and modernization. Graphization involves the development of written scripts and orthography of languages.[5] Standardization involves giving a selected variety of a language precedence over the other varieties as the "standard" form for others to emulate.[6] Modernization often involves expanding the lexicon of a language as a result of language shift over time.

Language is also utilised in political matters to unify, organise and criticise in order to unify a political group.

Acquisition planning (language in education)

Acquisition planning often manifests in education policies after the status and corpus planning policies have been introduced.[9] These policies can take in the form of compulsory language education programmes, enforcing a specific language of instruction in schools or development of educational materials. In some countries, mainstream education is offered in one language: English in the United States, Italian in Italy, Russian in Russia, just to name a few. In some countries, mainstream education provide education in several languages. This is especially common in countries with more than one official languages. Some countries promote multilingualism in their policies: bilingual policy in Singapore, three-language formula in India, just to name a few.

Linguistic discrimination

Main article: Linguistic discrimination

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary, Vancouver, Washington, building entrance, November, 2019

Linguistic discrimination, or linguicism, refers to unequal treatment of speakers of different languages or language varieties. It can be observed with regard to spoken language, where speakers may be discriminated against based on their regional dialect, their sociolect, their accent, or their vocabulary. In terms of language planning, linguistic discrimination can occur at different stages, such as the choice of one or more official languages, choosing the language of instruction, the availability of essential services such as health care in minority languages, and the protection or lack thereof of minority languages and dialects.

In the United States, speakers of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) often experience linguistic discrimination. A study, published in 1982, of attitudes towards AAVE at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, revealed that black students who primarily spoke AAVE received less help from their teachers in comparison to their white peers.[10] One social worker observed that these AAVE-speaking students faced a significant linguistic barrier to academic achievement and success in the predominantly White American society at that time. This is one example of a larger controversy surrounding African-American Vernacular English in education.[11]


Main article: Colonialism

Guerillas rugendas

Colonialism is a significant context in which linguistic discrimination takes place. When territories were colonized for the purpose of settlement buildling, indigenous languages became gravely endangered because the native speaker groups were either destroyed by war and disease, or had undergone a partial language shift to speak their master's language.[12] In exploitation colonies however, colonizers would usually only teach their language to a select group of locals.[13] In postcolonial states like India, it was observed that the difference in language education had widened the socioeconomic class divide.[14] Thus, access to education, social mobility, and economic opportunities were deprived of the locals who had not learnt the colonial language of before.[14]

Approximately 1.35 billion people in the world now speak English, with about 360 million native English speakers.[15] As of 2015, more than 75% of all scientific papers were published in English.[16] English is also the most commonly studied foreign language in the world.[17] This global prevalence of English can be attributed to many developments that have occurred in recent history, namely, the expansion of the British Empire, which has resulted in the establishment of English as an official language in at least 75 countries.[18] David Crystal gives a detailed explanation about the spread of English worldwide in Chapter 9 of A History of the English Language (ed. Richard M. Hogg).[19] Robert Phillipson has posited this is an example of linguistic imperialism.[20] However, this notion is contested in the field of applied linguistics.[21]

Linguistic Imperialism

Main article: Linguistic imperialism

Linguistic imperialism refers to the dominance of one language over another on a national (and sometimes international) scale as a result of language policy and planning. According to Robert Phillipson, it is a variant of linguicism and is enacted through systemic changes and language attitudes, resulting in unfair treatment of non-dominant language groups.[22] This form of discrimination works in ways similar to racism, sexism, and classism, on a national administrative scale.

As an example, a case study on the usage of Irish Sign Language (ISL) in Ireland revealed unfair treatment of a deaf community in Ireland.[23] The study observed the enforcement of English over ISL in the educational system, as well as the prohibition of ISL among deaf children who were deemed capable enough to learn oral language (oralism). The study also highlighted anti-ISL language attitudes among school officials, unequal pay of ISL teachers, unequal status given to ISL in the education system, and the systemic marginalisation of ISL users. Efforts to elevate the usage of English over ISL also entailed the teaching of Manually Coded English (MCE) to deaf students, a signed language based on the grammatical structure of English. Unfortunately, MCE and other manually coded languages are often difficult and slow to use for communication among signers.[24] Despite this, such language policies have influenced members of the deaf community (especially older members) to internalise the belief that ISL is inferior to spoken language.

Names and politics

See also: Toponymy and Critical toponymy

Critical toponymies

Toponymy is the study of place names (from Ancient Greek: τόπος / tópos, 'place', and ὄνομα / onoma, 'name'). According to Lawrence D. Berg and Jani Vuolteenaho, traditional research into place names has focused more on describing their origins in an empirical way.[25]: 6  However, they note that there are 'power relations inherent in geographical naming',[25]: 1  because to have the power to name something is to have the 'power of "making places"'.[25]: 9  Their book, Critical Toponymies, is, according to them, the 'first interdisciplinary collection published in English that tackles explicitly place naming as "a political practice par excellence of power over space"', and gathers research from various scholars about the politics inherent in the naming of places.

Choice of language

Road signs in Karasjok (Kárášjohka), northern Norway. The top and bottom names are Northern Sámi; the second-from-bottom is Finnish; the rest are Norwegian.

As an example, the powers-that-were in Norway began strictly regulating Sámi place names in the 1870s, replacing them with Norwegian names in official documents,[26]: 260  even suggesting that if no Norwegian name had yet been made for a certain place, a Norwegian translation of the name ought to be used on maps.[26]: 262  This 'toponymic silence' gave the impression that Norwegians had settled in places where the Sámi historically lived;[26]: 260  and the silence lives on till the present—Norwegians may believe that Sámi place names which have not been recorded on maps etc. are not in common use (even though they are); alternatively, since Sámi names for natural features have remained but not names for settlements, Norwegians may believe that Sámi people only reside in otherwise uninhabited areas.[26]: 263  Now, even though Sámi place names can be restored to official status, they must still be proven to actually be in use among the community. This is not the case for Norwegian names, which will remain official even if few people in the locality use that name.[26]: 264  With these observations, it can be concluded that the Sámi have not received full 'decolonisation' yet - the colonisation being in the Norwegian power to rename Sámi places.[26]: 265–6 

Choice of pronunciation

In places where native names have been reclaimed in writing, there is a secondary issue of pronunciation. With reference to New Zealand, Robin Kearns and Lawrence Berg note that how a place name is pronounced also has a political meaning. Letters to the editors of New Zealand newspapers sometimes complain about newscasters' choice to pronounce place names in a more Māori-like way.[27]: 167–9  Even if Lake Taupo maintains an ostensibly Māori-derived name, some argued against a Member of Parliament telling others to read it 'toe-po' ([ˈtoʊpɔː]; see Taupo).[27]: 199  Kearns and Berg note that the written forms of Māori place names give no hints as to how they should be pronounced, and so even some Māori speakers might not know the 'true' pronunciation. These people might not be trying to make any political statement by reading the names their own way.[27]: 164  Even so, their utterance of the name becomes situated in a wider political context of 'a resurgence of Maori cultural forms, and increasing calls for self-determination', which 'presents a threatening and uncertain environment for members of the status quo'.[27]: 161–2  In this way, language in the form of place names becomes part of politics - part of the 'contest over the symbolic ownership of place' in New Zealand.[27]: 162 

Cross-state conflicts

Even across states, agreement on a single name is difficult. This can apply to places which a state does not own: for example, see the Sea of Japan naming dispute or the Persian Gulf naming dispute. Mapmakers often acquiesce by creating two versions of the same map, but with the names of geographical features swapped out depending on which state the maps are sold in.[28]: 85  Notably, Greece objected to the use of the name 'Macedonia' by the then newly-independent Republic of Macedonia. According to Naftalie Kadmon, the Greek government was worried that '[c]laims of the South Yugoslavians to the name Macedonia might in time lead to political demands towards Greece, and finally to military aggression.' The case was escalated to the UN and it was decided that the new state would be referred to as Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).[28]: 85  The naming dispute was resolved in 2019, with the latter being renamed to North Macedonia.

A view of Piran from Savudrija. The Bay of Piran/Savudrija separates these two settlements.

These conflicts between states regarding names still nevertheless indicate a conflict over ownership or belonging. For example, the Bay of Piran between Croatia and Slovenia began being referred to by Croatian official sources as the Bay of Savudrija (Savudrijska vala) around the early 2000s.[29]: 73  In both cases, the names of the bay are taken from towns (Piran is in Slovenia, and Savudrija is in Croatia). This recent Croatian insistence on a new name linked to Croatia 'represents a transfer of the identity of the bay elsewhere - to another place far from Piran', and stakes 'Croatia's ownership of this part of the bay'.[29]: 73–4 

Recognition of importance of names

The United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) set up the United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) and the United Nations Conferences on the Standardization of Geographical Names (UNCSGN). The UNCSGN has three main objectives:

The UNCSGN occurs every five years, and the UNGEGN 'meets between the Conferences to follow up the implementation of resolutions adopted by the Conferences and to ensure continuity of activities between Conferences'.[31]

Other names

The politics applied to naming places can also applies to naming ethnic groups. For example, it is generally offensive to use words which are considered by some to have negative implications (pejorative exonyms) to describe a group of people: e.g. 'Gypsies' (or even more negatively, 'Gypos') instead of 'Romani', or indeed using the term 'Gypsies' to cover Traveller peoples as well as Romani people.

As another example, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy writes that although they have been 'called the Iroquois Confederacy by the French, and the League of Five Nations by the English, the confederacy is properly called the Haudenosaunee Confederacy meaning People of the long house.'[32] The rejection of the exonym 'Iroqouis' (which is still the name used in, for example, the Wikipedia page) is inherent in the statement that the confederacy (and the people) are properly called 'Haudenosaunee'.


  1. ^ Edwards, John. "Language, Prestige, and Stigma," in Contact Linguistics. Ed. Hans Goebel. New York: de Gruyter, 1996.
  2. ^ Ferguson, Gibson. (2006). Language Planning and Education. Edinburgh University Press.
  3. ^ Cooper, Robert L. (1989). Language planning and social change. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. ^ Alan Patten (October 2011). "Political Theory and Language Policy" (PDF). Political Theory. 29 (5). Princeton: 691–715. doi:10.1177/0090591701029005005. S2CID 143178621. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  5. ^ Liddicoat, Anthony J. (2005). "Corpus Planning: Syllabus and Materials Development," in Eli Hinkel, Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning, Routledge, pp 993-1012.
  6. ^ Christian, Donna (1988). "Language Planning: the view from linguistics", in Frederick J. Newmeyer, Language: the socio-cultural context, Cambridge University Press, pp 193-211.
  7. ^ Chen, Ping (1999), Modern Chinese: History and Sociolinguistics, New York: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-64572-0
  8. ^ a b Ramsey, S. Robert (1987), The languages of China, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-01468-5
  9. ^ Ferguson, Charles A. "Sociolinguistic Settings of Language Planning." Language Planning Processes. Ed. Rubin, Joan, Björn H. Jernudd, Jyotirindra Das Gupta, Joshua A. Fishman and Charles A. Ferguson. The Hague: Mouton Publishers, 1977
  10. ^ Freeman, E. B. (1982). The Ann Arbor decision: The importance of teachers' attitudes toward language. The Elementary School Journal, 83(1), 41–47.
  11. ^ BOUNTRESS, NICHOLAS G. (1982). "Educational implications of the Ann Arbor decision". Educational Horizons. 60 (2): 79–82. ISSN 0013-175X.
  12. ^ Hamel, Rainer Enrique (1995), "Indigenous education in Latin America: policies and legal frameworks", Linguistic Human Rights, De Gruyter Mouton, doi:10.1515/9783110866391.271, ISBN 978-3-11-086639-1
  13. ^ Parameswaran, Radhika E. (February 1997). "Colonial Interventions and the Postcolonial Situation in India". Gazette (Leiden, Netherlands). 59 (1): 21–41. doi:10.1177/0016549297059001003. ISSN 0016-5492. S2CID 145358972.
  14. ^ a b Mufwene, Salikoko (2002). "Colonisation, globalisation, and the future of languages in the twenty-first century". International Journal on Multicultural Societies. 4 (2): 162–193. CiteSeerX
  15. ^ "English | Ethnologue".
  16. ^ Billings, Linda. (2015). Does Science Need a Global Language? English and the Future of Research. by Scott L. Montgomery. Technology and Culture. 56. 261-263. 10.1353/tech.2015.0013.
  17. ^ "The world's languages, in 7 maps and charts". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  18. ^ Hammond, Alex (2014-03-06). "How did English become the world's most spoken language? | ESL". ESL language studies abroad. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  19. ^ Crystal, D. (2006). English worldwide. In R. Hogg & D. Denison (Eds.), A History of the English Language (pp. 420-439). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511791154.010
  20. ^ Phillipson, Robert (2008). "Lingua franca or lingua frankensteinia? English in European integration and globalisation1". World Englishes. 27 (2): 250–267. doi:10.1111/j.1467-971X.2008.00555.x. ISSN 1467-971X
  21. ^ Davies, Alan. 1996. “Review Article: Ironising the myth of Linguicism.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 17:6, 485-596.
  22. ^ Phillipson, Robert. 1992. Linguistic imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  23. ^ Rose, Heath; Conama, John Bosco (2018-08-01). "Linguistic imperialism: still a valid construct in relation to language policy for Irish Sign Language". Language Policy. 17 (3): 385–404. doi:10.1007/s10993-017-9446-2. ISSN 1573-1863.
  24. ^ Reagan, T. (2006). Language policy and sign languages. In T. Ricento (Ed.), An introduction to language policy. Theory and method (pp. 329–345). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
  25. ^ a b c Vuolteenahi, Jani; Berg, Lawrence D. (2009). "Towards critical toponymies". In Berg, Lawrence D.; Vuolteenaho, Jani (eds.). Critical toponymies: The contested politics of place naming. Ashgate.
  26. ^ a b c d e f Helander, Kaisa Rautio (2009). "Toponymic silence and Sámi place names during the growth of the Norwegian nation state". In Berg, Lawrence D.; Vuolteenaho, Jani (eds.). Critical toponymies: The contested politics of place naming. Ashgate.
  27. ^ a b c d e Kearns, Robin; Berg, Lawrence D. (2009). "Proclaiming place: Towards a geography of place name pronunciation". In Berg, Lawrence D.; Vuolteenaho, Jani (eds.). Critical toponymies: The contested politics of place naming. Ashgate.
  28. ^ a b Kadmon, Naftalie (2004). "Toponymy and geopolitics: The political use — and misuse — of geographical names". The Cartographic Journal. 41 (2): 85–87. doi:10.1179/000870404X12897. S2CID 128707537.
  29. ^ a b Kladnik, Drago; Pipan, Primož (2008). "Bay of Piran or Bay of Savudrija? An example of problematic treatment of geographical names". Acta Geographica Slovenica. 48 (1): 57–91. doi:10.3986/AGS48103.
  30. ^ United Nations Statistics Division (n.d.). "UNGEGN Mandate". Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  31. ^ United Nations Statistics Division (n.d.). "United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)". Retrieved 28 March 2021.
  32. ^ Haudenosaunee Confederacy (n.d.). "Who We Are". Retrieved 9 Apr 2021.

See also