Discursive approaches to language policy – challenges and opportunities
co-presented with Elisabeth Barakos, Vienna University of Economics and Business
In this paper, we aim to explore the interconnectedness of language policy and discourse by proposing a ‘discursive approach to language policy’. This approach combines insights from the fields of critical language policy (e.g. Shohamy 2006, Tollefson 2006) and critical discourse studies (e.g. the discourse-historical approach). Specifically, we argue that a discursive approach to language policy integrates a focus on close textual, contextual and socio-historical analysis of language policies, ideologies and associated practices from a critical perspective. We also add a methodological orientation: to consider what can be gained by bringing together language policy and critical discourse studies, and also what challenges this combination gives rise to.
As case studies, we critically analyse and compare language policy discourses and practices in Wales and Scotland – two partly devolved constituent countries of the United Kingdom in which the autochtonous languages Welsh, Scots and Gaelic have been integrated as a more or less salient part of debates about identity, nation and culture. Given the current heated debates about independence in Scotland and increasing autonomy for Wales, we will trace constructions of language from the pre-devolution era (before 1999) to the present. In particular, we incorporate data collected in two heterogeneous fields: education and business. We combine text analysis of ‘top-down’ language policy-related texts such as official documents, parliamentary debates and guidelines with an analysis of ‘bottom-up’ data from focus groups and interviews consisting of people affected by the policies. Through this, we examine the dialectic between policies and practices: between the linguistic and discursive power of the policy per se which construct the symbolic or material value of these languages in strategic ways and the power of social actors that construct, live and breathe policies.