Language Education Policy Studies
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Social Justice and Social Practice

Some sociolinguists and others have reconceptualized language by arguing that linguists previously ignored speaking practices as connected to social practices, and thus codified and mistakenly romanticized and reified languages. Indeed many polyglossic societies have been forced to change due to colonization, loss of traditional institutions and communities, loss of a land base, and formal and increasingly standardized education; all of which often cause language shifts. However, do 21st century circumstances, the current complexity of many situations, and the multilingual reality of most places really constitute a reconceptualization of language? See Defining Language, Multilingualism, 21st Century.


 Are the practices shifting with the understandings? Have the understandings of the world and language, and the migrations and problems really changed that much? Even if the situation is complex and this affects languages, social justice and language rights cannot be. Advocates of multilingual schooling struggle for linguistic rights through education, maintaining the roots of one’s identity and culture in language. The advocates for Linguistic Human Rights and multilingual education with mother tongue instruction do not negate that languages evolve and change. Others argue that language is only social practice and does not need to be protected for social justice.


Language complexity or dynamism should not be used as a reason to explain away the losses of entire languages, structural features, and cultural rights. Furthermore, a binary between essentialization and contextualization is an unwarranted charge. Perhaps one seems to essentialize rights through multilingual education, but this includes a broader scope for education itself. The other choice only calls for ethnographies of infinite and rootless spaces. See Multilingual Education, Deep Education.


Flexible Language in Education Policies, flexible assessments, and teaching practices that respect and value the whole linguistic repertoire of a student are potential solutions to these social questions related to language.


  • Clark, T. (2006). Language as Social Capital. Applied Semiotics/Semiotique Applique (18), 30-45.
  • Jaffe, A. (2007). Context and consequences of essentializing discourses. In A. Duchene, & M. Heller (Eds.), Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages (pp. 57-75). London: Continuum.
  • McKay, S. 2005. Sociolinguistics and second language learning, 281-292. In E. Hinkel, Ed., Handbook of research in second language teaching and learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Skutnabb-Kangas, T. (2009). Multilingual Education for Global Justice: Issues, Approaches, Opportunities. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas, R. Phillipson, A. K. Mohanty, & M. Panda (Eds.), Social Justice through Multilingual Education (pp. 36-62). Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.
  • Spolsky, Bernard. (1998). Sociolinguistics. Oxford Introductions to Language Study. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 


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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). Social Justice and Practice. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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