Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Discrimination or Linguicism

Discrimination based on language is the unequal treatment of individuals on the basis of their proficiency or their way of using the language. This may include the use of the mother tongue or of a second language, as well as the way of speaking, the accent, the precision of the vocabulary and the grammar. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas highlighted the phenomena of and designated it with the term “linguicism.”  Linguicism refers to the ideologies, structures, and practices that are used to legitimate, create, regulate, and reproduce an unequal division of power and resources (both material and non-material) between groups that are defined on the basis of language (Skutnabb-Kangas & Phillipson, 1989, p.455). In contrast to linguistic prejudice, linguistic discrimination involves the actual treatment of individuals based on use of language that continues to reproduce the status quo.

Research is needed to verify the link between certain Language Education Policies and systemic linguicism in the school curricula and policies of various countries, and find ways to prevent unfair treatment of minority populations. People are ‘schooled in such a way that their own language is devalued (and) tend to reject their mother tongue that is related to prejudice and discrimination’ (Tochon, 2009). There is intense indoctrination, and young people participate in their own linguistic genocide (Bear Nicholas, 2009) (See Language Ideology)

This applies to both oral and written language alike. For example individuals who don’t speak ‘properly” or communities can be divided by who knows and who doesn’t know the heritage language and use it as a cultural basis. These oral practices are nevertheless still tied to schooling.

See Language Deficit; National Frameworks; Education, High Stakes Exams, and Inequalities.


Is it Linguicism or Language Attitude?

The following video is about Linguistic Discrimination in School - African American English: 


A few references:

  • Collins, K. & Clement, R. (2012). Language and Prejudice: Direct and Moderated Effects. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 31(4), 376-396.
  • Moscatelli, S., Albarello, F. & Rubini, M. (2008). Linguistic Discrimination in Minimal Groups: The Impact of Status Differentials. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 27(2), 140-154.
  • Roberts, C., Davies, E., & Jupp, T. (1992). Language and discrimination. A study of communication in multi-ethnic workplaces. New York: Longman.


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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 Discrimination or Linguicism. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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