Language Policy and Planning

This course offers participants an introduction to the public policy perspective on language and multilingualism.

This requires several clarifications.

First, what do we mean by “policy” and what’s the difference between “policy” and “politics”? The issues at hand are eminently political, in the sense that language is directly connected with issues of power, and can be used as a tool of power. However, the course will emphasize the selection, design, implementation and evaluation of policies by states and their surrogates, including international organizations. Policies can be seen as the actions that are selected, designed and implemented after essential orientations have been decided on through debate taking place in the arena of politics. (Over)-simplifying things, we might say that the study the politics of language implies an emphasis on ideological aspects, while the study of language policy focuses relatively more on technical aspects. For example, suppose that as a result of political debate in a national parliament, a decision is made to protect and promote a given minority language in the country. Protecting it will require active intervention in various ways. Language policy and planning (hereafter: LPP) is the term increasingly used to subsume this range of interventions, looking in particular at “what works” more or less effectively in different contexts. This does not mean that politics and the associated issues of power are ignored, but simply that, contrary to what tends to be the case in courses offered as a part of curricula in sociolinguistics or – more rarely – political science, these issues are not the forefront of this LPP course.

Second, why mention both “policy” and “planning”? The difference between both terms is not systematic, but since they do not always cover the exact same type of intervention, keeping both terms makes it clear that this course covers the discipline in an extensive fashion.

This course is intended to make students aware of the importance of public policies regarding language and multilingualism, not only as a key influence on the extent of multilingualism that characterizes a given linguistic environment, but also as a major (possibly the single most important) determinant of the demand for translation and interpretation. This is particularly relevant because, as we shall see, governments cannot not have a language policy.

Familiarity with LPP will provide students with a deeper understanding of the context in which the language professions, particularly translation and interpretation, but also language engineering and language teaching, have to operate. The course will help students become aware of the social and political role of language and multilingualism, identify the material and symbolic dimensions of multilingual communication, and understand contemporary language policy debates surrounding norms and practices in different countries, regions and organizations. This converges with skills listed as goals in the description of the “European Master’s in Translation” (http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/translation/programmes/emt) in particular awareness of the social role of the translator, the capacity to remain aware of the developments in demand for language services, knowing how to clarify the requirements, objectives and purposes of the client, recipients of translation and other stakeholders, and developing a spirit of curiosity, analysis, and summary.