Linguistics meet Politics


When language meets politics, we call that language policies. Language policy is what a government does to determine how languages are used in the society, workplace, government, official records, and the language of instruction in schools. These decisions influence the right to use and maintain languages, affect language status, and determine which languages are nurtured. According to Paulston (1973), he characterizes language policy as a  “a deliberate attempt at social change in language behavior by a decision making administrative structure”. Politics in multilinguistic societies seek the management of ethnicity through the management of language activities. However, language management is not about linguistic issues but more of power dynamics and controlling the people’s access to resources.

Deliberate intervention by authorities even through efficient methods may not always yield the initial envisioned outcome. Language policy and planning decisions have a major impact on language vitality and, ultimately, on the rights of the individual. Most of the time, these policies are at the expense of other languages. Elitism between language festers as the ‘national’ or ‘official’ language used in the government or the working world takes on the role as the “language of progress”.

The underlying role of language policies vary from nation to nation. Countries with a diverse group of citizens would adopt multiple language policies, like Bosnia & Herzegovina or Singapore, for multiple reasons. Some to maintain the equality of each language or to placate the communities using these languages. While others craft their language policies to build nationalism and unite the people, like Indonesia. Ultimately though, language policies in most nations would serve to propagate an agenda in hopes of a more efficient society or for social cohesion.

Paulston, C. B. (1973). Linguistics: Telling Tongues: Language Policy in Mexico, Colony to Nation. SHIRLEY BRICE HEATH. American Anthropologist, 75(6), 1921-1924.




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