Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Language Planning: General Overview


Noss (1994) defines language planning as a process whereby authority formulates and coordinates:

1.1  policies on the use and promotion of specific language varieties in particular roles within its jurisdiction,

1.2  policies on the identification and/or codification of the language varieties concerned, and subsequently implements these policies, evaluates the implementation, and if necessary, evaluates the policies later.

Ignace (1998) defines language planning as the development of goals, objectives and strategies to change the way a language is used in a community. It involves some intervention or “social engineering” of language use. The intervention and social engineering of the language use could include policies, as stated by Noss (1998), an authority or government carries out to achieve certain goals. As Rubin and Jernudd (1971, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999) summarizes it,

“Language planning is a body of ideas, laws and regulations (language policy), change rules, beliefs, and practices intended to achieve a planned change (or to stop change from happening) in the language use in one or more communities. To put it differently, language planning involves deliberate, although not always overt, future oriented change in systems of language code and/or speaking in a societal context.”

Language planning is important because it serves several purposes. Some of the aims of language planning are to achieve national unity and harmony, as a nation building tool, to strengthen communicative integration, either domestically or internationally, to revitalize a language, to modernize and standardize a language, to reverse language shift, and thus prevent language death (Asmah, 1994; Noss, 1994; Coronel-Molina, 1999; Kavanagh, 1999; and Ignace, 1998).


According to Coronel-Molina (1999), language planning involves three components, which are status planning, corpus planning and acquisition planning.

2.1  Status Planning

Basically, status planning refers to the efforts to allocate the functions of the particular language within the speech community. Usually, this involves the functional domains of the language. Stewart (1968, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999), developed a list of language functions, which includes:

2.1.1 Official – a legally appropriate language for political and cultural representation of a country. This gives the language a “statutory” official status. For example, the status of Malay as an official language in Malaysia.

2.1.2 Provincial – a language used as the official language of a province or region, but not the nation. For example, the Canadian French in Quebec, Canada.

2.1.3 International – a language used as a medium of communication internationally, such as the current status of English.

2.1.4 Group – a language used as a medium of communication among members of a single cultural or ethnic group, such as settled group of foreign immigrants. For example, Hebrew as a marker for Jews.

2.1.5 Religious – the use of a language in connection with the ritual of a particular religion, such as Latin for Roman Catholics before Vatican II, Hebrew for Judaism, and Arabic for Islam.

2.1.6 Wider communication – a language used as a medium of communication across language boundaries within a nation. This excludes languages which already serve an official or provincial function.

2.1.7 Educational – a language used as the medium of primary or secondary school. Coronel-Molina (1999) noted that this function does not include post-secondary education. The choice of a language of education also very often has strong political roots.

2.1.8 School subject – a language that is taught as a school subject at the secondary or higher education levels. This is not necessarily the medium of instruction. An example of a language being taught as a school subject is Sanskrit, which is being taught at tertiary level in India.

2.1.9 Literary – a language used primarily for literary or scholarly purposes. (Coronel-Molina, 1999)

2.2  Corpus Planning

Corpus planning is related to the language itself. Cooper (1989, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999), said that it is “the creation of new forms, the modification of old ones, or the selection from alternative forms in a spoken or written code”. Corpus planning involves several steps:

2.2.1 Graphization – for previously unwritten language, or a language without a systematic writing system. There are several aspects to consider in graphization, that are: orthographic conventions, whether to represent allophones with separate symbols, alphabets versus syllabaries, political and/or social issues which might affect acceptance of the alphabets/syllabaries, how easy the new alphabets/syllabaries are to learn, write, read and transfer between languages.

2.2.2 Standardization of the language – it is a process where a variety of a language become widely accepted by the speech community as “the best form of the language – rated above regional and social dialects,” (Ferguson 1989, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999). Standardization of a language includes codification, language rules and rules on how to use the language. Coronel-Molina (1999) added that “grammars, dictionaries etc. serve to codify language and “fix” or standardize the lexicon in a more or less permanent form.”

2.2.3 Modernization or elaboration of the language – which refers to the constant and permanent cultivation and development of the language. It is the “process whereby a language becomes an appropriate medium of communication for modern topics and forms of discourse (Cooper 1989, cited in Coronel-Molina, 1999). The process mainly includes the development of the language at lexical level, such as creating and developing new terms/words for new items or new concepts.

2.2.4 Renovation, which is similar to modernization, is an effort to change a developed code to make it efficient, aesthetic or to serve political ideology. For example, the purification of the French language in an attempt to eliminate foreign loan-words, and the feminist campaign for find gender-neutral terms, such as “chairperson” as oppose to “chairman” (Ignace, 1998 and Coronel-Molina, 1999).

2.3 Acquisition planning

Acquisition planning involves efforts to influence users and the number of users of the language, and the distribution of language and literacy by creating or improving opportunities or incentives to learn them. Coronel-Molina (1999) says that there are several goals of acquisition planning of a language, which are:

2.3.1 the acquisition of the language as a second or foreign language,

2.3.2 the reacquisition of the language by populations for whom it was either a vernacular, such as revitalizing Maori in New Zealand, or a language of specialized function, such as written Chinese in Taiwan,

2.3.3 language maintenance, such as attempts to prevent language death of Irish Gaelic in the Gaeltacht.

In order to reach these goals, Coronel-Molina (1999) stated that three types of methods are designed, that are methods designed to create or improve the opportunity to learn the language, to create or improve the incentive to learn the language, and to create or improve both the opportunity and incentive to learn the language.


3.1  Hebrew in Israel

According to Ignace (1998), Hebrew, the language of the Jews, is often named as a language that has been successfully revived. Being suppressed in their religion and culture, Jews scattered throughout Europe and America during the World War I and World War II. Before the establishment of the State of Israel, the speaking of Hebrew had been kept alive, often in secret, religious ceremonies and was confined to religious texts. The Jews who moved to Israel after the establishment of the State of Israel were from many different language backgrounds (Russian, English, French, German, etc.), and needed a common language to communicate in. The reviving Hebrew was symbolic as well as practical communicative functions. It was selected for its symbolic function of common religion and nationhood. It was enforced as the national language in all public institutions in Israel after 1948.

By 1961, Hebrew was spoken as the primary or only language of 75 % of the population of Israel. Some strategies utilized for its revival included:

3.1.1 Berlitz type teaching in schools, and in evening and weekend classes,

3.1.2 the establishment of Hebrew speaking societies, where people gathered to practice speaking the language,

3.1.3 the coining of new words and terms to modernize the language,

3.1.4 developing official terminology through the Hebrew Academy (Ignace 1998).

3.2  Maori in New Zealand

Maori has been called a “language that has risen from its deathbed” (AFN 1990, in Ignace, 1998). The Maori Language Bill of 1987 declared Maori an official language of New Zealand. It also established the Maori Language Commission, which issue certificates of competency to interpreters and translators. Since 1960 and continues till 1980s, there was increased pressure on the New Zealand government to establish immersion and bilingual schools. Schools, home and social institutions work hand-in-hand in order to revive Maori.

Maori revival is successful due to the creation of a popular movement in the context of towards cultural and political autonomy, and flexible boundaries of ethnicity whereby there is no predetermined “Indian status”. Thus, anyone who professes to Maori identity and cultural roots can be incorporated into the community. As a result, Maori has been revived and now spoken widely in New Zealand (Ignace, 1998).

3.3  Mohawk in Kahnawake

During the 1970s, the Mohawk people of Kahnawake in Quebec were experiencing language shift, which had been replaced by French and English. According to Ignace (1998), in 1978, Quebec enacted Bill 101, the French language charter, which reduced education and services in languages other than French. 

Following that, the Kahnawake Mohawk established the Kanien’kehaka Raotitiohkwa Cultural Center to preserve their language and cultural heritage. In addition, in 1980 they established a Mohawk immersion program modelled on French immersion programs in Quebec, in order to reintroduce the use of the language to younger generation in the community. It was the first Aboriginal language immersion programme in Canada, and it has become a model for other Aboriginal communities in North America.

According to Hoover (1992, cited in Ignace, 1998), recent research has shown that the immersion programme has had a positive effect on the knowledge and use of Mohawk in the community. The Mohawk immersion program for elementary school children has proven to be successful because there is a rise in the ability to speak Mohawk, especially in the younger generation, an increase in the mixing of Mohawk with English and an increase in the private speaking of Mohawk among the new generation.

3.4  Malay in Malaysia

In Malaysia, according to Asiah Abu Samah (1994), Malay was given the status of national language in The Razak Report in 1956, and backed by The Rahman Talib Report in 1960. Both reports became the basis of the Education Act 1961, which states that the national language (Malay) is the main medium of instruction, phasing out English in the education system. By the end of 1980, the conversion from English to Malay-medium in secondary schools was completed.

Malay is given the status as the national language for several reasons. Other than a language to unite all the ethnic groups in Malaysia and to strengthen communicative integration, one of the reasons is to give Malaysia a national identity. In the aim to make Malay an esteem national language, Language Institute was set up in 1957 to improve the quality of teaching of Malay. Another agency, the Language and Literary Agency was established for the purpose of planning, development and publishing in Malay. Asiah Abu Samah (1994) stated that we can see language planning in Malaysia as successful due to the fact that the development of Malay has been impressive, linguistically, pedagogically and stylistically. All academic disciplines at tertiary level are now conducted in Malay. It has become the language of communication at all levels, both in formal or informal settings.


The government or authority is one of the most important key players in any language planning programmes. This is because all the policies and decisions which determine the future of the language are in their hands. However, family, the community and social institutions also play a vital role in promoting the use of the language in their circle. In short, everyone is the community must work hand-in-hand to ensure the success of the revival and/or revitalization of the language.

Many countries and provinces have carried out language planning for various reasons, politically or socially driven. Careful language planning which take into account various variables in the society and the users of the language is many a times proven to be successful and has achieved their goals. The revival of Hebrew, Maori and Mohawk, and revitalization of Malay are some examples of successful language planning in the world.


Asiah Abu Samah. (1994). Language Education Policy Planning in Malaysia: Concern for unity, reality and rationality. In Language Planning in Southeast Asia. Abdullah Hassan (Ed.) Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka: Kuala Lumpur

Asmah Omar. (1994). Nationism and Exoglossia: The case of English in Malaysia. In Language Planning in Southeast Asia. Abdullah Hassan (Ed.) Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka: Kuala Lumpur

Coronel-Molina, S.M. (1999). Language and Literacy Planning. In Summer Literacy Training Program 1999. International Literacy Institute. <http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~scoronel/SLTP-1999-presenta-index.html&gt; Viewed: 19th Aug. 2003

Doshi, A. (2003). Language Planning. In Analysis of Lexical Transfer between Languages. University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

Ignace, M.B. (1998). A Handbook for Aboriginal Language Program Planning in British Columbia. First Nations Education Steering Committee: British Columbia <http://www.schoolnet.ca/aboriginal/fnesc/inex-e.html&gt; Viewed: 19th Aug. 2003

Kavanagh, B. (1999). The Aboriginal Language Program Planning Workbook. First Nations Education Steering Committee: British Columbia <http://www.fnesc.bc.ca/publications/pdf/language%workbook2.pdf&gt; Viewed: 19th Aug. 2003

Noss, R.B. The Unique Context of Language Planning in Southest Asia. In Language Planning in Southeast Asia. Abdullah Hassan (Ed.) Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka: Kuala Lumpur


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