Language Education Policy Studies
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World View, Culture & Identity 

Language plays a role in individual and collective identity, as well as prosperity and dignity. The link between language, culture, and identity was studied by Sapir, Whorf, and Boas; who all studied Native American/Indigenous languages. The study became a debate over linguistic relativism--that all languages conceptually can be translated; and linguistic determinism--that language structures culture, although perhaps the former is less nuanced than the claim and the latter is less determining than the claim. Language-in-education policies that recognize this importance, as well as that of literacies and orality (See Literacies, Oral Languages.) would contribute to harmony, coexistence, and peaceful polyglottism. For researchers, who no longer believe in objectivity and are wary of a continued Orientalism and other-ing of non-western people and views, to understand cultures and languages and educational alternatives must immerse themselves in the worldview by at least learning the language. On the other hand, some sociolinguists claim that identity is also a fluid construct that is constantly evolving and situated and challenge the notion of ‘pure’ identities tied to language. According to this construct, the relation between identity and language is contingent, and translatable. There are “transcultural flows” (Pennycook, 2007) and English for example is mixed and adapted with local cultures in an unproblematic way.


According to Fishman (1999), language is the key to culture. Self esteem is grounded in the first language or mother tongue. The Indigenous, or non European, peoples of the world do not, or should not need western researchers to teach them this. However, unfortunately, a related problem is that sometimes to be an authentic member of a culture, one must know the language or know it properly. This problem may also polarize communities and relates to the question and struggle over ‘pure’ identities, often lost after centuries of western colonialism, assimilation efforts, discrimination, and intergenerational trauma; not to mention several generations of lost language.


A deeper understanding of in particular oral and Indigenous languages demonstrates that language, history, education, epistemology- how to know-, and identity and cultural rootedness indeed are embedded. The notion of language attrition as well threatens these notions. Some languages, in particular European languages are more linguistically-based, translatable, with a correlation of word to object and separation of subject and object. Indigenous languages, on the other hand, often have different onto-epistemological universes in tune with the natural world and a holistic and relational vision of the universe and life. On the possibility of losing languages, Tochon (2009) says:


“Languages define worldviews and conceptual universes that may differ. The disappearance of one language can mean the deletion of…an aspect of human reality, of one ‘epistemic beam’….” (p. 11).


(See also Defining Language, Language Discrimination)


Bastardas-Boada, A. (2012). Language and Identity Policies in the “Glocal’ Age. Barcelona: Institut d’Estudis Autonomics.


Bhatt, R. (2010). "Unraveling Postcolonial Identities through Language." In Handbook of Language and Globalization. Oxford: Blackwell, 2010.


Blommaert, J. (2006).  Language policy and national identity. In T. Ricento (Ed.), An introduction to language policy: Theory and method (pp.  238-254).


Fishman, J. A., & García, O. (Eds.). (2010). Handbook of language and ethnic identity: Disciplinary and regional perspectives (Vol. 1). Oxford University Press.Higgins, C. (2009). English as a local language: Post-colonial identities and multilingual practices. Multilingual Matters.


Higgins, C. (ed.) 2011. Identity formation in a globalizing world: Language learning in the new millennium. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Hill, J. H. (1988). Culture, Language, and Worldview. Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey (4). Language: The Sociocultural Context. Cambridge University Press. (Online Publication Date: June 2012).


Nisbett, R. E., Peng, K., Choi, I., & Norenzayan, A. (2001). Culture and systems of thought: holistic versus analytic cognition. Psychological review, 108(2), 291.


Pavlenko, A. & Blackledge, A. (Eds.), (2004). Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts, 266-289. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.


Schmidt, R. (2010). Language Policy & Identity In The US. Temple University Press.

Suleiman, Y. (2004). A War of Words: Language and Conflict in the Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (about the identity tie to the nation state)

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.


Waugh, L. R. (2010). Power and prejudice: their effects on the co-construction of linguistic and national identities. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 7(2-3), 112-130


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

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