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What Is Language Planning?

By Laura Metz
Updated May 23, 2024
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Language planning is any attempt to change a language. Various language planners are motivated by linguistic assimilation, linguistic pluralism, vernacularization, and internationalization philosophies. Language planning can be accomplished through status, corpus, or acquisition planning.

Linguistic assimilation is the philosophy which states that every person within a society should be fluent in that society’s dominant language. In the United States, the English-only movement maintains that everyone should speak English well, regardless of their first language. Additionally, the Gaelic League in Ireland believes that citizens should speak Irish Gaelic as their primary language instead of English.

The opposite is known as linguistic pluralism. This philosophy teaches that it is best to have multiple languages within one society. With four official languages each, Switzerland and Singapore both operate on this principle. Switzerland speaks French, German, Italian, and Romansh, and Singapore has English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese.

Vernacularization is the philosophy that wants to restore a native language to a commonly spoken language. Many officials in Peru have been attempting to revive the original Quechua since the 1970s. This linguistic revitalization has had limited success, but Quechua is still officially a provincial language. In Israel, the Hebrew language was revived with great success.

The fourth philosophy of language planning is internationalization, which promotes adopting a non-indigenous language in order to communicate easier with other nations. Throughout the twentieth century, many schools worldwide taught children English as the language of international trade and business. In much of Africa, Swahili is taught as a second language and the lingua franca of the region.

Status planning is the type of language planning executed primarily by government officials. Politicians may wish to elevate a local language by making it an official language, or demoralize a group of people by discouraging its use. In Quebec, politicians have raised the status of French by ordering that signs in both English and French must give the French prominence.

Acquisition planning is carried out by government officials or private organizations that control textbook and dictionary publications. When the minister or secretary of education issues a statement requiring all public schools to teach a language or teachers to teach in a specific language, that is acquisition planning. In 1922, Irish officials ordered that Irish Gaelic must be used for at least one hour of school every day.

Linguists, not politicians, perform corpus planning by changing the body, or corpus, of a language. Corpus planning can be divided into three separate areas. Graphitization deals with changing the written form, while modernization adds vocabulary, typically for new technologies. Standardization is the language planning that chooses one dialect as correct and standardizes the language for a region.

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