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The hidden face of public language policy: a case study from the UK

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In which domains and for which language types does language legislation occur and how easy is it to identify it? The United Kingdom (UK) affords a good test bed to answers these questions since it is often considered to be lacking in strong public language policy due to, amongst other things, a lack of a coherent language policy across the UK and the devolved administration and a perceived societal disinterest in languages. This has led to the (mistaken) idea that there is a lack of active or explicit policy-making and hence little to no language policy or legislation on language(s) in the UK (Ayres-Bennett, 2018). This is compounded by the belief that the legislation that does exist relates only to indigenous languages and modern (foreign) languages education. Through analysis of a corpus of primary and secondary legislation from the UK and constituent nations which contain stipulations about language(s), this article shows that the portfolio of UK language legislation spans multiple domains, including public health and safety, law and crime, transport and the media. Whilst some of the legislation, such as the Welsh Language Acts, explicitly deals with language(s), analysis of our corpus demonstrates that the vast majority of the UK’s legislation which contains provisions concerning language(s) is hidden in legislation which primarily concerns another domain. Although hidden, at times these language stipulations represent important landmarks in the status of languages. This has consequences for the UK language policy landscape, first, potentially diminishing the perceived importance of languages in and to government and, second, affecting policymakers’ ability to collaborate across government in a coherent way.



Language legislation, United Kingdom, explicit vs hidden, language type, domain

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Current Issues in Language Planning

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Informa UK Limited
AHRC (AH/V004182/1)