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Language planning

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Language planning refers to deliberate efforts to influence the behaviour of others with respect to the acquisition, structure, or functional allocation of language. Typically it will involve the development of goals, objectives and strategies to change the way language is used. At a governmental level, language planning takes the form of language policy. Many nations have language regulatory bodies which are specifically charged with formulating and implementing language planning policies.



The term language planning has often been identified with a third world context, being seen as a tool for the establishment of standardised national languages as a part of modernisation and nation building. In fact, language planning is neither a modern phenomenon nor is it confined to the third world.

Language planning is not necessarily conducted at the national level. It can also be carried out by ethnic, religious or occupational groups. In the case of language communities that are divided by borders, language planning may also involve more than one country (on the governmental or non-governmental level) or international or regional bodies and conferences.

One international organization (based in the U.S.) that is involved in considerable amount of language planning around the world, especially for people with unwritten languages, is SIL International.

Language planning can also go from the bottom up, such as the movement for non-sexist language in the U.S., which originated with grass-roots feminist groups, or the N'Ko movement in West Africa.


Language planning can be divided into three sub-dimensions:

Corpus planning

Corpus planning refers to prescriptive intervention in the forms of a language. This may be achieved by creating new words or expressions, modifying old ones, or selecting among alternative forms. Corpus planning aims to develop the resources of a language so that it becomes an appropriate medium of communication for modern topics and forms of discourse, equipped with the terminology needed for use in administration, education, etc. Corpus planning is often related to the standardisation of a language, involving the preparation of a normative orthography, grammar, and dictionary for the guidance of writers and speakers in a speech community. Efforts at linguistic purism and the exclusion of foreign words (see linguistic protectionism) also belong to corpus planning, as do spelling reform and the introduction of new writing systems (e.g. that of the Turkish language). For a previously unwritten language, the first step in corpus planning is the development of a writing system.

Status planning

Status planning refers to deliberate efforts to allocate the functions of languages and literacies within a speech community. It involves status choices, making a particular language or variety an 'official language', 'national language', etc. Often it will involve elevating a language or dialect into a prestige variety, which may be at the expense of competing dialects. Status planning is often part and parcel of creating a new writing system. Status planning tends to be the most controversial aspect of language planning (see article on Language policy).

Acquisition planning

Acquisition planning concerns the teaching and learning of languages, whether national languages or second and foreign languages. It involves efforts to influence the number of users and the distribution of languages and literacies, achieved by creating opportunities or incentives to learn them. Such efforts may be based on policies of assimilation or pluralism. Acquisition planning is directly related to language spread. While acquisition planning is normally the province of national, regional, or local governments, bodies such as the British Council, Alliance française, Instituto Cervantes, Goethe-Institut, Società Dante Alighieri, Instituto Camões, and latterly the Confucius Institute are also very active internationally promoting education in their respective languages.

Further reading

  • BASTARDAS-BOADA, Albert (2007) "Linguistic sustainability for a multilingual humanity", Glossa. An Interdiscipinary Journal, vol. 2, n. 2.
  • BASTARDAS-BOADA, Albert (2002) "World language policy in the era of globalization: Diversity and Intercommunication from the perspective of 'complexity'", Noves SL. Revista de Sociolingüística.
  • BASTARDAS-BOADA, Albert (2002), “The Ecological perspective: Benefits and risks for Sociolinguistics and Language Policy and Planning”, in: Fill, Alwin, Hermine Penz, & W. Trampe (eds.), Colourful Green Ideas. Berna: Peter Lang, pp. 77-88.
  • TAULI, V. (1968) Introduction to a theory of language planning, Uppsala.
  • CALVET, L.J. (1987) La guerre des langues et des politiques linguistiques. Payot, Paris.
  • COBARRUBIAS Juan, & FISHMAN Joshua (1982) (ed.) Progress in language planning: international perspectives, coll. Contributions to the sociology of language n° 31, Berlin/New York/Amsterdam: Mouton
  • COOPER, R. L. (1989) Language planning and social change, Cambridge University Press, New-York.
  • FISHMAN Joshua (1974) (ed.) Advances in Language Planning, The Hague: Mouton

See also


Published - December 2008

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