Research Articles

Language documentation and language policy

  • Julia Sallabank


Language policy is any decision that is made about language. Policies may be conscious or unconscious, explicit or implicit: for example, state education policy may not mention language at all, but may assume that the medium of education is the national language. Language policy can be planned or unplanned, but is no less a policy for being unthinking ... Language policy can be formulated and implemented at any level: for example, some language decisions might relate only to punctuation, whereas a broader national policy might focus on which language(s) are officially recognised for use in national or political life. Because language contact situations are often not equal, languages are in dominant and subordinate positions. As linguists we ... may have more effect on language policy at grass-roots level because that is the level that we are working at. As we have external contacts and knowledge of other contexts, we can form a bridge between communities. We may be called on to advise on language policy, or to mediate between local groups and government authorities. For all these reasons, it is essential for linguists to gain an awareness of issues involved in language policy-making, in order to be prepared.

Keywords: language documentation, language policy, policy-making, politics, endangered languages, advocacy

How to Cite:

Sallabank, J., (2010) “Language documentation and language policy”, Language Documentation and Description 7, 144-171. doi:

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Published on
31 Jul 2010
Peer Reviewed