Monthly Archives: July 2008

Conference paper: Language about a language: a discursive approach to a minority language


There have been a number of recent publications entitled ‘The discursive construction of …’. While several of these have discussed language as part of e.g. national identity construction (e.g. Wodak et al. 1999; Blackledge 2002), few have dealt explicitly with how a minority language itself is talked and written about, and what implications this has both for the language itself and its speakers. Conversely, publications on (minority) language policy, even if they are critical in orientation (e.g May 2001; Phillipson 2003), do not sufficiently account for the way people talk and write about languages, but rather focus on what they say, i.e. the content of texts.
In this paper, I discuss the theoretical and methodological implications of using discourse analysis, and more specifically the discourse-historical approach (following e.g. Wodak 2001), to examine the sociolinguistic environment surrounding the Scots language in Scotland. I will attempt to explain how I used qualitative, context-sensitive analysis of focus group data and written texts to contribute to existing knowledge about Scots, and also to test new methods for the study of language policy.
My findings indicate that taking account of the discursive dimension of minority language policy and practices can provide rich detail which is not accessible through purely quantitative methods. Furthermore, it can lay bare hitherto concealed or generally accepted power imbalances, thus providing language activists with additional resources. These may help activists to challenge hegemonic structures within which the suppression of a minority language is perpetuated.


BLACKLEDGE, A. (2002) ‘The Discursive Construction of National Identity in Multilingual Britain’. Journal of Language, Identity & Education 1(1), 67-87.
MAY, S. (2001) Language and minority rights : ethnicity, nationalism and the politics of language, Harlow, Longman.
PHILLIPSON, R. (2003) English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy, London, Routledge.
WODAK, R. (2001) ‘The discourse-historical approach’. IN WODAK, R. & MEYER, M. (Eds.) Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. London, Sage Publications.
WODAK, R., DE CILLIA, R., REISIGL, M. & LIEBHART, K. (1999) The discursive construction of national identity, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.