Language Policy

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 351–369 | Cite as

Thinking about language: what political theorists need to know about language in the real world

  • Thomas RicentoEmail author
Original Paper


Political theorists, generally non-experts in the language sciences, whose principal aim is often to advance normative theories on desirable states of affairs within liberal democratic states, tend to deal with language as a stable nominal category, as something that one ‘has’ or ‘doesn’t have’, that can be labeled as one thing (e.g., English) or another thing (e.g., French), that may be learned for defined purposes, that has instrumental and symbolic value, that is used principally as a modality for interpersonal communication, with ‘speakers’, possibly with associated geographic territories, and with cultural affiliations and traditions ‘attached’ to named languages and varieties. The fact that situated language practices and behaviors are far more complex and messier than this description suggests is often not taken into account by political philosophers engaged in normative theory construction that involves language(s). I argue in this paper that the complexities of language acquisition, use, and ascribed values need to be seriously taken into account by political philosophers in their theorizing about languages, which will impact how they think about and evaluate extant, or prospective, language policy approaches and frameworks.


Language policy Political theory Language discrimination Language varieties 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Werklund School of EducationUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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