Language Policy Ethnography

David Cassels Johnson

Texas A&M University, US


While various macro-level frameworks have been proposed to account for national language planning and other research has addressed language planning and policy from the bottom up, Ricento (2000) points out that language policy research has tended to fall short of fully accounting for precisely how micro-level interaction relates to the macro-levels of social organization. Davis (1999) argues that ethnographic research can capture how local actors interpret and implement language policies and Hornberger and Johnson (2007) propose the “ethnography of language policy” as a research method that examines the relationships between micro and macro language policy processes.

While theories of language policy have become increasingly rich, clearly delineated methodologies of language policy are still scant. Therefore, the purpose of this paper is to further articulate what is meant by an ethnography of language policy – the goals and methodology associated with this research design. Drawing on data collected in a 3-year ethnographic study in the School District of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) that examined the creation, interpretation, and implementation of language policy across multiple levels and contexts, this paper will highlight data collection and analysis methods associated with the ethnography of language policy.

I propose that multi-sited ethnographic data collection combined with Critical Discourse Analysis can intertextually link various macro-level language policy texts with localized processes of language policy creation, interpretation, and implementation. Specifically, this paper illuminates how bilingual educators in the School District of Philadelphia interpreted and implemented Title III of the No Child Let Behind Act in varied ways while creating their own language policies. I argue that, even though macro-level language policies like Title III can set boundaries on what is allowed and/or what is considered “normal” language education, local educators can pry open implementational spaces in Title III while fostering local ideological spaces which cultivate the growth of developmental bilingual programs in a school district. On the other hand, if bilingual educators interpret Title III as a monolithic educational doctrine – instead of the ideologically inconsistent document that it is – they can shut down implementational and ideological spaces for bilingual education. The hope is that ethnographies of language policies can help provide a foundation for multilingual language education practice and policy development around the world.

Davis, K.A. (1999). The sociopolitical dynamics of indigenous language

Maintenance and loss: A framework for language policy and planning. In T. Huebner and K.A. Davis (Eds.), Sociopolitical perspectives on language policy and planning in the USA (pp. 67-97). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John

Benjamins Publishing Company.

Hornberger, N.H. & Johnson, D.C. (in press). Slicing the onion ethnographically:

Layers and spaces in multilingual language education policy and practice. In

V. Ramanathan & B. Morgan (Eds.), special issue on Language Policies and

TESOL: Perspectives from Practice. TESOL Quarterly.

Ricento, T. (2000). Historical and theoretical perspectives in language policy and

Planning. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(2), 196-213.

Session: Paper session
Planning/Policy 3
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 14