Language Education Policy Studies
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Linguistic Ideology: 

Language Status, Hierarchy of Languages

Language has symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1999). Language ideologies rule over language status. The status of a language is associated to its prestige and its function. There is a local to global language hierarchy. Kloss and Stewart analyzed how status is determined by certain key characteristics:  the origin of the language; if it is an official language in a specific country; its juridical status as regional or national, and whether it is promoted, tolerated or proscribed; and finally its vitality in terms of the number of speakers and their percentage in a specific population. Nonetheless there is much arbitrariness in such social evaluations, and these are very sensitive to trends, propaganda and manipulation. Fundamentally, language status has an ideological basis.

Furthermore, Language ideologies represent statements of identity,” notes Jim Cummins in his forward to Dueñas González, R. & Melis, I. (2000, ix), “They express who belongs and who does not belong; who is an insider and who is on the outside looking in. They set the rules for entry and the conditions for staying. They make clear who are the landlords and who are the tenants. They communicate clearly an absence of rights to those who do not conform to the codes of belonging.”  (see Language Discrimination) Such ideologies are often at the root of cultural and linguistic wars.

Over particularly the last few centuries, polyglottism transformed into a situation where languages have struggled against other languages for the power of dictating the cultural norms of conduct in their locations. Present day schools are among the most powerful places for the enactment of the dominant language ideologies. Their systemic lack of concern for linguistic variety suggests that school systems currently have social control rather than personal and social emancipation as their major goal. Schools create hierarchies of language by valuing the dominant language. This explains LANGUAGE SHIFT.

People are taught to believe that English language learning, for example, has inherent value that will bring about social changes. 

A disciplinary unity could reshape ideologies and principles that inform policies. More research and deeper thinking is required regarding the factors involved in and results of language contact, shift and ecologies or systems.


Language ideology in school:


Māori Language Commission calls for equal language status:



Language Ideology, Language Status and Teacher Education:


Language on the Move:

A few references:


  • Blackledge, A. 2005. Chapter 2: Language ideologies in multilingual contexts. In Discourse and power in a multilingual world, 31-58. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins 
  • Bourdieu, P. (1999). Language and symbolic power (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Donahue, T. (2002). Language Planning and the Perils of Ideological Solipsism. In J. Tollefson (Ed.), Language Policies in Education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.
  • Duchene, A., & and Heller, M. H. (2006). Discourses of Endangerment: Ideology and Interest in the Defence of Languages. London: Continuum.
  • Dueñas González, R. & Melis, I. (2000). Language ideologies. Critical perspectives on the Official English Movement. Volume 1: Education and the Social Implications of Official Language. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Dueñas González, R. & Melis, I. (2001). Language ideologies. Critical perspectives on the Official English Movement. Volume 2: History, Theory, and Policy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Edwards, J. (1996). Language, Prestige, and Stigma. Contact Linguistics. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Fishman, J. (1999/2009). Handbook of Language and Ethnicity. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Moran, R. (1987). Bilingual education as a status conflict. California Law Review, 75, 321-362.
  • 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.
  • Spolsky, B. (2004). Language practices, ideology and beliefs, and management and planning. In B. Spolsky, Language policy (pp. 1-15). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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

Tochon, F. V. (2013). Linguistic Ideology: Language Status, Hierarchy of Languages. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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