What Does Language Planning Mean?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The term language planning refers to measures taken by official agencies to influence the use of one or more languages in a particular speech community.

American linguist Joshua Fishman has defined language planning as "the authoritative allocation of resources to the attainment of language status and corpus goals, whether in connection with new functions that are aspired to or in connection with old functions that need to be discharged more adequately" (1987).

Four major types of language planning are status planning (about the social standing of a language), corpus planning (the structure of a language), language-in-education planning (learning), and prestige planning (image).

Language planning may occur at the macro-level (the state) or the micro-level (the community).

See Examples and Observations below.

Examples and Observations

  • "Language planning and policy arise out of sociopolitical situations where, for example, speakers of various languages compete for resources or where a particular linguistic minority is denied access to basic rights. One example is the U.S. Court Interpreters Act of 1978, which provides an interpreter to any victim, witness, or a defendant whose native language is not English. Another is the Voting Rights Act of 1975, which provides for bilingual ballots in areas where more than 5 percent of the population speak a language other than English..."
  • The French Academy
    "The classical example of language planning in the context of state-into-nationality processes is that of the French Academy. Founded in 1635--i.e., at a time well in advance of the major impact of industrialization and urbanization--the Academy, nevertheless, came after the political frontiers of France had long since approximated their current limits. Nevertheless, sociocultural integration was still far from attained at that time, as witnessed by the facts that in 1644 the ladies of Marseilles Society were unable to communicate with Mlle. de Scudéry in French; that in 1660 Racine had to use Spanish and Italian to make himself understood in Uzès; and that even as late as 1789 half of the population of the South did not understand French."
  • Contemporary Language Planning
    "A good deal of language planning after the Second World War was undertaken by emerging nations that arose out of the end of colonial empires. These nations faced decisions as to what language(s) to designate as an official for use in the political and social arena. Such language planning was often closely aligned with the desire of new nations to symbolize their newfound identity by giving official status to the indigenous language(s) (Kaplan, 1990, p. 4). Today, however, language planning has a somewhat different function. A global economy, growing poverty in some nations of the world, and wars with their resulting refugee population have resulted in great linguistic diversity in many countries. Thus, language planning issues today often revolve around attempts to balance the language diversity that exists within a nation's borders caused by immigration rather than by colonization."
  • Language Planning and Linguistic Imperialism
    "British policies in Africa and Asia have aimed at strengthening English rather than promoting multilingualism, which is the social reality. Underlying British ELT has been key tenets--monolingualism, the native speaker as the ideal teacher, the earlier the better etc.--which [are] fundamentally false. They underpin linguistic imperialism."


Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction. Wadsworth, 2010

Joshua A. Fishman, "The Impact of Nationalism on Language Planning," 1971. Rpt. in Language in Sociocultural Change: Essays by Joshua A. Fishman. Stanford University Press, 1972

Sandra Lee McKay, Agendas For Second Language Literacy. Cambridge University Press, 1993

Robert Phillipson, "Linguistic Imperialism Alive and Kicking." The Guardian, March 13, 2012

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Nordquist, Richard. "What Does Language Planning Mean?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-language-planning-1691098. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). What Does Language Planning Mean? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-language-planning-1691098 Nordquist, Richard. "What Does Language Planning Mean?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-language-planning-1691098 (accessed June 10, 2023).