September 22, 2021

Before there was Language Policy, there was Language Planning… 

In our last post, we introduced some examples of how language policy can manifest in everyday situations. But before we even begin to see the actual decisions that we identify as language policy, language planning occurs. “Language planning involves deliberate, although not always overt, future-oriented change in systems of language code and/or speaking in a societal context” (Kaplan & Baldauf, 1997, p. 3).  

It is important to note two key components of this description.

  • There is a deliberate (intentional, purposeful) change in systems of language
  • It is not always overt (obvious, visible)

If the goal of language planning is to intentionally change/manipulate the language(s) and systems within a society, it is important to identify who is charged with this responsibility. Ricento (2014) reminds readers that political theorists are “generally non-experts in the language sciences, whose principal aim is often to advance normative theories on desirable states of affairs within liberal democrats states” (p. 351). In other words, people in leadership positions that are charged with decisions focused on language planning and policy are unlikely to have language expertise since it is often not a requirement.

Why is this important?

If decision-makers do not have the tools/experience to understand the implications of decisions made historically in language planning and language policy, we will continue to make the same mistakes that limit language opportunities for multilinguals. Going back to the objective of language planning, the decisions made at this time will influence the language systems within a society (positively/negatively) and these decisions are often implemented with such subtlety that they go unnoticed despite the power of their influence. Further, in the interest of “simplifying” systems and processes, certain languages are amplified by policymakers, while others are at best tolerated and at worst restricted. Most often these consequences result in decisions that limit opportunity and access for multilingual communities.

What are the consequences of language planning?

The languages chosen for promotion within government agencies, education agencies, and public environments are not neutral.

The languages chosen for promotion have implicit and explicit power in influencing and “encouraging” individuals to orient towards a dominant language and potentially sacrifice the maintenance or acquisition of home languages.

If you have experience with multilingual communities or consider yourself a multilingual you likely have encountered a variation of these comments:

“I wish I spoke (home language) but when I started to go to school I started to learn English and it was just easier to use it all the time.”

“We spoke (home language) at home but my teacher recommended we only practice one language because I had a speech delay, and then I forgot a lot of my language.”

“I was learning both languages at one time and I would use a combination (ex. Spanglish) but I was criticized for “not speaking” one or the other.”

The languages that are amplified and the languages that are ignored or restricted can influence our perception of their value. Language planning has historically been conducted by leadership to influence language systems. However, if we increase our awareness around this process we can advocate for language planning and policy that value languages as a right and as a resource. We can advocate for language planning that is purposeful in influencing language systems to promote language diversity and linguistic liberation.

Why get involved?

Everyone is influenced by language planning and policy (even those who consider themselves monolinguals…in a blog to come). This is why we need to be critical of language planning and policy. “Language [planning and] policies are best understood in their relationship to broader societal policies, dominant beliefs, and power relationships among groups” (Tollefson, 2002, p. 42).

How decision-makers view linguistic diversity ➡ 

influences how they plan languages which ➡ 

influences language policies which ➡

influences how society views linguistic diversity.

This cycle 🔄 continues unless we evaluate how language planning relates to power relationships among groups. For this reason, I encourage us to engage in a critical review of language planning and its consequences. If we truly seek equitable decision making we cannot simplify the conversation to say we value multilingualism. We need to ask questions that reveal how we are planning for the promotion of languages and for whom.

What languages (language variations) are we planning for and promoting?

How are we planning for home language maintenance as well as second (additional) language acquisition?

Once we recognize that language planning decisions are overt and covert we can reframe our tools for analysis.

Once we recognize that language planning decisions result in changes we can analyze those changes and purposefully orient towards equitable decision making.

Once we recognize that language planning decisions influence access and opportunities we can advocate for explicit conversations that value language as a right and language as a resource.


Dra. Rivera Pagán


Kaplan, R. B., & Baldauf, R. B., Jr. (1997). Language planning from practice to theory. Multilingual Matters.

Ricento, T. (2014). Thinking about language: What political theorists need to know about language in the real world. Language Policy, 13, 351–369. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-014-9322-2

Tollefson, J. W. (Ed.). (2002). Language policies in education: Critical issues. Erlbaum.

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  1. […] article entitled “Before there was Language Policy, there was Language Planning”, posted in September last year, discusses the goals and consequences of language planning. […]