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Language politics is a term used to describe political (and sometimes social) consequences of linguistic differences between people, or on occasion the political consequences of the way a language is spoken and what words are used. It means language can express some authority. Examples include:

  • Recognition (or not) of a language as an official language. Generally this means that all official documents effecting a country or region are published in languages that are 'official', but not in those that are not. Evidence in a court of law may also be expected to be in an official language only.
  • In countries where there are more than one main language, there are often political implications in decisions that are seen to promote one group of speakers over another, and this is often referred to as language politics. An example of a country with this type of language politics is Belgium.
  • In countries where there is one main language, immigrants seeking full citizenship may be expected to have a degree of fluency in that language ('language politics' then being a reference to the debate over the appropriateness of this). This has been a feature of Australian politics.
  • At various times minority languages have either been promoted or banned in schools, as politicians have either sought to promote a minority language with a view to strengthening the cultural identity of its speakers, or banning its use (either for teaching, or on occasion an entire ban on its use), with a view to promoting a national identity based on the majority language. An example of recent promotion of a minority language are Welsh or Leonese by the Leonese City Council, an example of official discouragement of a minority language is Breton.
  • Language politics also sometimes relates to dialect, where speakers of a particular dialect are perceived as speaking a more culturally 'advanced' or 'correct' form of the language. Politicians may therefore try to use that dialect rather than their own when in the public eye. Alternatively, at times those speaking the dialect perceived as more 'correct' may try to use another dialect when in the public eye to be seen as a 'man/woman of the people'.
  • To promote national identity, what are strictly dialects of the same language may be promoted as separate languages to promote a sense of national identity (examples include Danish and Norwegian, and Serbian and Croatian - the latter two also use different scripts for what is linguistically the same language - cyrillic for Serbian and roman script for Croatian). Whether or not something is a language can also involve language politics, for instance, Macedonian.
  • The use of 'he' and other words implying the masculine in documents has been a political issue relating to women's rights.
  • The use of words which are considered by some to have negative implications to describe a group of people (e.g. Gypsies (or even more negatively, 'Gypos') instead of Romani, or indeed using the term 'Gypsies' to cover Traveller peoples as well as Romanies.
  • 'Political correctness' issues often stem from the use of words. For instance, some may object to the person in charge of an organisation being referred to as 'chairman', on the grounds that it implies a man must be in charge.
  • Co-existence of competing spelling systems for the same language, associated with different political camps. E.g.

See also



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