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Language ideology, language attitudes: What’s the difference and does it matter?

Thursday 18 April 2019
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


Sociolinguistics is awash with studies into language ideologies and language attitudes within the broader framework of researching and understanding how people and communities engage – in sociocognitive terms – with the linguistic world around them. Dating back to the pioneering works of Hymes (1962), we now accept as a fait accompli that the social environs of language behaviour should be given as much attention as that behaviour itself. We acknowledge, for example, that a language has a greater chance of ongoing vitality if it is prized and valued by society, whether this be for social, cultural or economic reasons (May 2000, Albury 2016). We recognise that language ideologies can act as unspoken language policy in communities of practice (Spolsky 2004), and also that people evaluate each other’s languages, accents, and dialects in attitudinal terms (Baker 2011). Crucially, ideologies and attitudes become enacted such that they help to structure – for better or for worse – perceptions of the other and, therefore, relations between groups of people, social status, and even the credibility and integrity of an individual. So, what actually is the difference between language attitudes and language ideologies in theoretical terms? Surprisingly, and despite these being ubiquitous terms that are often used interchangeably, minimal work has sought to discuss or define the two concepts for conceptual clarity from each other. After giving a brief overview of the value of language ideological and attitudinal research, this paper seeks to delineate and problematise language ideologies and language attitudes in theoretical terms, and highlights the opportunities and challenges that they, as distinct (or related?) concepts, bring to sociolinguistics with reference to an international library of sociolinguistic research.


Albury, Nathan John. 2016. “Defining Māori language revitalisation: A project in folk linguistics.” Journal of Sociolinguistics 20 (3):287-311.

Baker, Colin. 2011. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Vol. 79: Multilingual matters.

Hymes, D. 1962. “The ethnography of speaking.” In Anthropology and Human Behavior, edited by T Gladwin and W C Sturtevant, 13-53. Washington D.C.: Anthropological Society of Washington.

May, Stephen. 2000. “Accommodating and resisting minority language policy: The case of Wales.” International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 3 (2):101-128.

Spolsky, Bernard. 2004. Language Policy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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