Language Ideology

Judith T. Irvine

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:
Language Ideology

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Language ideologies are conceptualizations about languages, speakers, and discursive practices. Like other kinds of ideologies, language ideologies are pervaded with political and moral interests and are shaped in a cultural setting. To study language ideologies, then, is to explore the nexus of language, culture, and politics. It is to examine how people construe language’s role in a social and cultural world, and how their construals are socially positioned. Those construals include the ways people conceive of language itself, as well as what they understand by the particular languages and ways of speaking that are within their purview. Language ideologies are inherently plural: because they are positioned, there is always another position—another perspective from which the world of discursive practice is differently viewed. Their positioning makes language ideologies always partial, in that they can never encompass all possible views—but also partial in that they are at play in the sphere of interested human social action. Authors writing on this topic have variously called it “linguistic ideology,” “language ideology,” or “ideology of language.” The slight differences of terminology have not signaled major differences in conception. Although the anthropological approach to language ideology is distinctive, it overlaps with research in other disciplines. Approaches rooted in disciplinary linguistics, such as Critical Discourse Analysis, are anthropology’s close kin, while political and social theorists writing on “ideology” are of obvious relevance. Because the concept of language ideology is so fertile, it connects to more disciplines and issues than can be reviewed here. However, those interdisciplinary links also entail some tensions, for example, concerning whether linguistic form or social issues take priority as subject matter, or whether analysis should focus more on texts or more on practices, or what is included in “language” itself. Works by anthropologists of differing intellectual commitments show traces of some similar debates, but within a general consensus on the value of joining ethnographic and linguistic research.

Article.  15080 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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