Maarja Siiner

Maarja Siiner

  • University of Tartu
Participant in 2009

Phd Projects


Is language endangerment discourse really about language? The overt and covert mechanisms of language policy making. A comparative study of language management in Estonia, France and Denmark

The ideological roots of control-oriented language policies are in the majority of modern nation states planted deeply in the discourse of language endangerment (Siiner, 2006). But as indicated by recent research into Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Heller et al., 2007; Blommaert, 2005), the language endangerment discourse is not really about endangered languages. Language policy issues are in the deepest sense political issues and are always about more than language (Ricento, 2005). Language specialists appealing for help is not sufficient to activate language endangerment discourse, which is only activated when it fits in the overall political agenda, as the central players on the language policy scene are not language specialists, but politicians. Even in countries where the linguistic situation is close to hegemony, like Denmark, changes in political discourse can start a language ideological debate about the need to draw up a language act (Milani, 2008; Siiner, in press). The problem is that in countries with a substantial and active language policy, like France and Estonia, the topic of language (endangerment) is overwhelmingly present in every-day media, shaping the minds of the general public. As the representation of an issue for a mass audience has implications for the way it is understood (Cameron, 2007), the constant focus on the topic makes people think language really is in trouble. The discourse aligns the audience with the postmodern conceptualisation as reductive mechanisms: by highlighting some aspects of reality, while placing others in the background (Blommaert, 1999). The aim of the present PhD project is to uncover both the overt and covert mechanisms of language policy making in order to understand who benefits by activating the language endangerment discourse and with what aim. The research will be conducted by analysing the language political discourse in media and political texts using CDA. The comparative approach is chosen in order to uncover both the reasons for substantial and superficial language policies and to look at the various stages of language policy making. Both Estonia and France are known for rather active language regulating activities. France has a long tradition of language management, while Estonia’s is short. Denmark on the other hand is known for a laissez-faire language policy, which views sanctioning and controlling the use of language as discriminatory. A comparative approach will also enable the research to determine whether there are any common traits in the process in spite of cultural differences.

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