Revista de LLengua i Dret

Sociolinguistics versus language policy and language planning: field distinctions and elements of integration

Original title: Sociolingüística versus política y planificación lingüísticas: distinciones entre los campos y nociones integradoras

Albert Bastardas

Revista de Llengua i Dret , Issue  41, September 2004, ISSN: 0212-5056, ISSN web: 2013-1453, 15x21,5 cm

Section: Essays. Language planning



In the framework of the vision of the language phenomenon as a complex rather than an «object», the sociolinguistic approach focuses on language and its eco-socio-cognitive contexts. Thus, the sociolinguistic perspective is unavoidably constituted from an interdisciplinary and a transdisciplinary perspective.Clearly, it sits astride a crossroads, where it must link varying routes and perspectives. Nevertheless, even today, sociolinguistics is a fragmented area, with many lines of study that are badly linked and poorly integrated. Consequently, today’s challenge — and the challenge for the immediate future — is to construct an integrative theoretical framework of its own, where the various planes and angles of study can converge. In this search for general unifying elements there is one notion that could act, at the vary least, as a cohesive force: the notion that refers to the extragrammatical phenomenon of sociosignificance (sociosignificación in Spanish), having to do with the diversity of «how we humans say things». Thus, in societies where various languages are present, to say something using one language or another may be felt as being significant for the interlocutors, just as may occur in the case where distinct geodialectal or sociodialectal varieties, which may be valued differently by the inhabitants, converge. Furthermore, to a greater extent on the interpersonal level, the selection of adequate linguistic and paralinguistic forms is crucial if, for example, we wish to indicate anger or happiness and a festive mood. This perspective finds itself closer to the «cognitive turn» in the sociocultural sciences, since it postulates the centrality of the brain-mind in the control of human conduct, and, consequently, in language behavior.

The discipline that we have agreed to call «language policy and planning» sees to the study of decision-making processes and public intervention in the linguistic organization of society. It also studies the structures that such an organization may adopt and its evolutionary effects on sociomeanings and language behaviors, both public and private. Ideally, it would differentiate itself from sociolinguistics in the sense that sociolinguistics would project a global perspective on the phenomena being studied, while language policy and planning could be an applied, more pared down, perspective, specializing in the most political aspects of the situation. Thus, while in sociolinguistics we attempt to understand reality, making it intelligible to us, in language policy and planning we devote our efforts more to organizing, designing and changing certain parts of this reality. This is, however, a distinction among fields that dovetail, since one field is part of the other and the two are mutually interrelated.

Contrary to the predominant tradition,we must stress the need to apply a comprehensive eco-socio-significant vision in this field also. Such a view would include all the factors that contribute to the determination and development of the phenomena dealt with here, going beyond a «technocratic» conception. «Eco» — from «ecology» — to indicate an ecosystemic vision of the facts observed, in order to overcome a purely legalistic or a purely linguistic perspective. «Socio» to indicate that clearly, at the center of the phenomen of language planning and policy are human beings and their sociocultural organization. «Significant», in order to remind us, as we have already indicated for sociolinguistics, that we must not move forward with a mindless sociology, and to alert us to the great importance of processes and structures for the representation of reality in deciding human behaviors. Keeping in mind, then, the «sociosignificances», i.e., the cognitive interpretations of reality, and in particular, of linguistic forms and varieties, the emotions associated with these linguistic forms and varieties, and the biopsychological constrictions on the development of the human brain/mind, will be an indispensable task for understanding the development of the phenomena studied in both fields.