Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Ecology and Contact: 

Diversity or Shift

Language ecology is related to language variations and language contact, and is influenced by language in education policies, particularly the last decades of standardized education. Current conditions necessitate reclamation of language and demands for language rights, particularly through education.


Previous centuries or millennia of polyglottism and language hybridity were very different. More recent historically known examples are al-Andalus and Yugoslavia and the Ottoman Empire. Geopolitical influences were more accepting of language diversity, they were multicultural or bicultural, in a broader sense of the term. Languages, cultures, and biodiversity coevolved for millennia (Smith, 2001). (See Multilingualism.) Language contact included borrowing and adaptations, and even disappearance of smaller languages, although not on the scale of today.


The constructions and formation of scientific disciplines, European nation building, categorization of languages, introduction of European languages (including English until now) into the Indigenous and local language ecologies has affected the language ecology. The notion of ecology can be seen as fluid and constantly negotiating in a way that undermines language rights or in a way that demonstrates the necessity to protect. The former definition relates to the postmodern critique that argues against reifying or claiming languages to be static constructs mostly by a tie to the building of European and colonial nation-state ideology that continues to reproduce the status quo. The latter ecology is more fragile and while still dynamic and self-organizing, recognizes that each part contributes to the whole and removing parts will damage the whole. A global language ecology includes all the local ecologies or domains. (See Domains.) Careful consideration should be made regarding the loss of structural components of the many endangered languages, tied to worldview, culture, and identity. (See World View, Culture, Identity.)


Current language in education policies usually favor the most economically advantageous without regard to cultural diversity, but linguistic diversity can naturally flourish. Each language can play its role. Language evolution and death is seen as relative and situated, and languages must adapt to survive (Tochon, 2009). English, for example, has been said to ignore its relationships with other languages (Bhatt, 2001). Yet, even English may eventually disappear (See Variations.) If there were a diversity continuum where multilingualism were the norm and monolingualism the opposite end, it would be useful to place educational systems on the continuum (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2009).


The many domains of language with their many participants—family, community, school, society, business—all interact. Besides the claim that top-down or bottom-up views are both simplistic and that complexity is the norm, the main premise of this website is that education or schooling is the main arena where language in education policies are shaping the world. Furthermore, multilingual and Deep Education is possible. (See Actors and Stakeholders, Multilingualism, Deep Education.)


Scholars in language and education have called for a coherent theory to elaborate and refine a theoretical framework to understand global and local language ecology and educational language policies (Phillipson 2009, McGroarty 2002, Tollefson 2002, Cummins 1999). An ecology of language can be inscribed into a dynamic and open systems approach Larsen-Freeman, 2008; De Boot, Lowie, Thorne & Verspoor, 2013).


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Bastardas-Boada, A. (2013). Toward a Global Model of Linguistic Ecology. Multilingualism: The Catalan Experience or Catalan International View. Available on


Bhatt, R. (2011). Language Contact and Diaspora. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Crosby, A. W. (1986). Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe,900-1900. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.


De Boot, K., Lowie, W., Thorne, S. L., & Verspoor, M. (2013).  Dynamic Systems Theory as a comprehensive theory of second language development. In M. P. Garcia Mayo, M.J. Gutierrez Mangado and M. Martinez Adrian (Eds.), Contemporary Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (pp.199-220). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


Hill, J. H. (2001). Dimensions of Attrition in Language Death. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment (pp. 175-189). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press


Kramsch, C. & Whiteside, A. (2008). Language ecology in multilingual settings: Towards a theory of symbolic competence. Applied Linguistics, 29(4): 645-671.


Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.


Maffi, L. (Ed.) (2001). On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.


McGroarty, M. (2002). Evolving influences on educational language policies. In J.W. Tollefson, Language policies in education: Critical issues, (pp. 17-36).


Muhlhausler, P. (2001). Ecolinguistics, Linguistic Diversity, Ecological Diversity. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biological Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.


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Phillipson, R. (2009). The Tension between Linguistic Diversity and Dominant English. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp. 85-102). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Posey, D.A. (2001). Biological and cultural diversity: The inextricable, linked by language and politics. In Maffi, L. (Ed.). On Biocultural Diversity: Linking Language, Knowledge, and the Environment. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, pp. 379-396.


Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove, Maffi, Luisa, & Harmon, David (2006). Sharing a world   

of difference. The earth’s linguistic, cultural and biological diversity. Terra Lingua,



Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2007). Language ecology. Pragmatics in Practice, ed. Jan-Ola Ostman. Series Handbook of Pragmatics Highlights, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, (pp. 177-198). 


Smith, E. A. (2001). On the Coevolution of Cultural, Linguistic, and Biological Diversity. In L. Maffi (Ed.), On Biocultural Diversity: linking language, knowledge, and the environment. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.


Spolsky, Bernard. (2003). Religion as a site of language contact. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 23, 81-94.


Tochon, F. V. (2009). The Key to Global Understanding: World Languages Education Why Schools Need to Adapt. Review of Educational Research , 79 (2), 650-681.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Harrison, K.  M. (2013). Language Ecology. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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