Edinburgh University: Language in Context seminar

Invited Paper: Discursive approaches to language policy – challenges and opportunities

Prezi: https://prezi.com/clyir1oeaqmy/


In this talk, I argue that language policy and discourse are interconnected and outline the ‘discursive approach to language policy’ proposed by Elisabeth Barakos and myself (Barakos and Unger 2016). 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 developed by Reisigl and Wodak 2016, among others). Specifically, I outline how the discursive approach to language policy incorporates a focus on close textual, contextual and socio-historical analysis of language policies, ideologies and associated practices from a critical perspective. I 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.

I will use examples from a critical analysis of discourse on language and language policy in Scotland – specifically relating to Scots, which has been a more or less salient part of debates about identity, nation and culture for some time. I will trace constructions of language from the pre-devolution era to this decade. I 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, I examine the dialectic between policies and practices: between the linguistic and discursive power of the policy per se, which values languages in strategic material and symbolic ways, and the power of social actors that construct, live and breathe policies.


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