Language Planning & Policy

You probably are not aware of the amount of language planning that is going on around you.  This posting is simply a list of the questions which language planners try to resolve. The policies are devised out of your view, unless there is reason for activism or intervention in the discussion.

What languages will be taught in your school district?  What classes will be offered to students whose native language is not English? How much support will they be given? What courses will be available to new immigrants?   What language will ballots be printed in? What translation and interpretive services will be offered at courthouses?  At hospitals? At the police station? At school? Will road signs and signs at bus stops and other centers of public transportation be in any languages other than English? Should we have an “official language?”

Are there any endangered languages in our community, and if so, should they be supported or ignored?  (Sometimes they are even suppressed.)  According to the website Ethnologue, “The number of individual languages listed for United States is 245. Of those, 176 are living languages, 4 are second languages without mother-tongue speakers, and 65 have no known speakers.” One of these languages may be spoken or well remembered in your community. A local university may provide special support for a local language.

Should there be services provided for the deaf?  Where are the nearest sign language facilities? Should there be a deaf interpreter at town meetings?  At cultural events? In schools?

Public funds are spent to plan efficient and respectful language policies on the local, state, national level.  There are international treaties governing language use, agreements among countries to provide university-level instruction in certain languages, and laws which govern the international use of various languages.  The European Union has been particularly strong in its efforts to support minority and endangered languages.

One of the purposes of this blog is to raise the level of awareness of the various ways in which language impacts the lives of ourselves, our communities, our governments, and our institutions.  As you read the news and chat with neighbors, you may become increasingly aware of the behind-the-scenes activity that takes place in order to use language well. (Sometimes not so well, but that would be a matter of opinion.)

Exercise: Ask students what the language policy of their own school district or town is. This would include services for people who are not native speakers, sign language resources, interpreting and translating facilities at hospitals, courts, and other public places, and signage policy.  Are there communities which speak an endangered language in their community?

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