Language policy: informing policy debate, public understanding, and education

Submitting Institution

Queen Mary, University of London

Unit of Assessment

Modern Languages and Linguistics

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Linguistics
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

Download original


Summary of the impact

Working in complementary areas of language policy and planning, the research of Oakes (French) and Pfalzgraf (German) has had three main non-academic beneficiaries. It has been of use to a wide range of policy makers in Canada and Germany, by informing debates on language policy at the official level. It has enhanced understanding of language-policy issues amongst the general public, through media interventions and works aimed at lay audiences. It has also benefited teachers and students in higher education in a range of disciplines and countries, by shaping their grasp of language-policy issues in Canada, Germany and more generally.

Underpinning research

The underpinning research reflects the development of expertise in language policy and planning research. It relates to questions concerning both the status of the languages examined (status planning) and the form of language to be promoted (corpus planning), at both the macro level (e.g. official language planning and policy development) and the micro level (e.g. language attitudes amongst the general public). A central theme in the research is the idea of language planning as a form of identity planning.

Building on broader expertise developed in his book Language and Identity: Comparing France and Sweden (2001), Oakes' research into Quebec language policy and planning examines recent official attempts to secure the status of French in Quebec by fostering a common civic identity, with French as the key element, in an increasingly ethnically diverse population. It shows that this `top-down' language policy is often at variance with `bottom-up' language policy generated at grassroots level. On the one hand, the civic model finds no echo among many members of minority (especially indigenous) groups; on the other, promotion of an overly civic model risks alienating Quebecers of French Canadian origin by refusing to recognise officially the majority's ethnolinguistic identity. Complementing studies in sociology, political science and political philosophy, the research provides a distinctly macro-sociolinguistic contribution to language-policy debates in Quebec today. It introduces a frequently lacking comparative dimension, analysing Quebec's unique situation in the broader context of language and national identity in an increasingly globalised world and highlighting lessons that can be drawn for a more comprehensive understanding of language and identity in other contexts worldwide. Findings were published in a co-authored book [1] and a number of articles (including [2], [3]).

Complementing Oakes' work, Pfalzgraf's research on German linguistic purism and related areas focuses on corpus planning. Since Germany has no official language-planning agent such as a Language Academy or government body, Pfalzgraf examines `bottom-up' language policy at the micro level in Germany, in the form of self-appointed private language protectors that seek to combat foreign linguistic influences through active associations. His book Neopurismus in Deutschland nach der Wende [4] shows that these movements, which barely existed and had no public influence between the end of World War II and German unification, and which often have a distinctly anti-American ethos, relate closely both to German unification and to developing processes of globalisation. Their rise must be understood as expressing a widespread and more general fear of the loss of cultural identity. In this respect, linguistic criticism as practised by self-appointed purists is a form of cultural criticism and seeks to protect and foster German identity. Research was published in a monograph [4], two edited books (including [6]), and six articles (including [5]).

Researchers' employment at Queen Mary:

Oakes: Lecturer in French 2000-5; Senior Lecturer in French 2005-7; Reader in French and Linguistics 2007-

Pfalzgraf: German Language Studies Co-ordinator 2004-7; Lecturer in German Linguistics and Medieval German 2007-11; Academic Co-ordinator of the Language Centre 2011-

References to the research

1. Oakes, Leigh and Warren, Jane (2007). Language, Citizenship and Identity in Quebec. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Co-authored book; Oakes wrote ch. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6. Translation: Langue, citoyenneté et identité au Québec. Ste-Foy: Les Presses de l'Université Laval, 2009.

2. Oakes, Leigh (2006). Le défi de l'ethnicité: modèles de nation et politique linguistique au Québec et ailleurs. In P. Georgeault and M. Pagé (eds), Le français, langue de la diversité québécoise. Montréal: Québec Amérique, 107-29. Article.


3. Oakes, Leigh (2004). Le français comme " langue publique commune » au Québec. Globe: Revue internationale d'études québécoises 7(2):155-76. Article. URL:


4. Pfalzgraf, Falco (2006). Neopurismus in Deutschland nach der Wende. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang. Monograph.


5. Pfalzgraf, Falco (2008). Bestrebungen zur Einführung eines Sprachschutzgesetzes seit der Deutschen Vereinigung. German Life and Letters 61(4): 451-69. Article.


6. Pfalzgraf, Falco (ed.) (2009). Englischer Sprachkontakt in den Varietäten des Deutschen / English Language in Contact with Varieties of German. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien: Peter Lang. Edited book.

Evidence of research quality:

Oakes: An initial research trip to Quebec was funded by Quebec's Ministry of International Relations through the Quebec Government Office in London (CAD$2000, 2001). Subsequent funding was provided through the AHRB Research Grant Scheme (`Language and Identity in Quebec', RG/14547, £16,428, 1/7/02-31/12/05) and AHRC Research Leave Scheme (`Language, Citizenship and Identity: Meeting the Pluralist Challenge in Québec', RL/111715, £15,301, 1/9-31/12/2005). The article "Le défi de l'ethnicité" [2] was commissioned by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française, and arose from a round table organised and funded by the Conseil (`Pour une approche dynamique de la situation du français dans l'espace linguistique québécois', Montreal, September 2004). The content of both articles was subsequently incorporated into Language, Citizenship and Identity [1], which was entered into the 2008 RAE and has enjoyed high esteem, winning the Pierre Savard Prize awarded by the International Council for Canadian Studies in 2008. Reviews include:

An outstanding case-study for all those interested in problems of language and majority and minority identity in the era of globalisation, Oakes' and Warren's insightful reflection on Quebec's continuing search for its modern identity as a plural, democratic, and francophone society in North America, stands as an important reference point in a debate, still ongoing in Quebec. (Rachel Killick, Journal of French Language Studies 19:1/2009, p. 146).

The book has many strengths, including the clarity of its structure and presentation, the cogency of its argumentation, the relevance of its analyses to the ongoing development of language planning as a discipline and, most important, its significant contribution to the understanding of the complex sociolinguistic reality of contemporary Quebec. (Maeve Conrick, Language and Society 37:5/2008, pp. 755-756).

Pfalzgraf: Neopurismus [4] is the only scholarly work dealing in detail with private, self-appointed language protectors in Germany since unification. Its publication was fully funded by the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Culture. A subsequent 3-year lecture series on the influence of other languages on the varieties of German, which Pfalzgraf organized in QMUL's Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations, generated the edited volume Englischer Sprachkontakt. Publication was again substantially supported by the Austrian Ministry for Education, Science and Culture.

Reviews for Neopurismus include (translated from German):

Overall, this is a well-informed and lucid study of current issues of language cultivation, with a thorough provision of material documenting the revival of purist tendencies in Germany. (Ryszard Lipczuk, Germanistik 48:3/2007, pp. 620-621).

A valuable and commendable documentation of linguistic purism, as manifested in criticism of Anglicisms, in Germany since 1990. (Göran Inghult, Studia Neuphilologica 79/2007, pp. 92-95).

Details of the impact

Contributions to policy debates

Oakes' Language, Citizenship and Identity [1] is widely considered as an important reference point for language-policy debates in Quebec. A French translation was funded jointly by the AHRC (Research Dissemination Scheme, AH/F500165/1, £10,318, 2007-8) and the Secrétariat à la politique linguistique (CAD$2150; funding application made on Oakes' behalf by the Quebec Government Office in London). It is promoted on the websites of both the Conseil supérieur de la langue française and the Secrétariat à la politique linguistique, where it is described as of interest to `all those who are passionate about questions of language and identity' ( Both versions of the book are held by the libraries of relevant Quebec government ministries and language-planning agencies. To further inform macro-level language-policy debates, copies were sent to language-planning agencies elsewhere in Canada and France. `Le français comme " langue publique commune »' [3] is cited in a 2008 report on demolinguistic predictions for Quebec commissioned by the Office québécois de la langue française (see section 5, [6]).

Pfalzgraf's work has informed debate within the German Parliament. The day before the Bundestag's petition committee discussed a petition seeking to define German as the national language in the constitution, he was interviewed by Anatol Stefanowitsch, the representative opposing the petition. The interview was published in the academic blog SprachLog — Spektrum der Wissenschaften SciLogs (5 November 2011), average 25,000 weekly hits ( The petition committee's discussion can be viewed at

Pfalzgraf's research also led the GfdS (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache, Association for the German Language), Germany's most important government-sponsored language society, to invite him to chair its UK branch. The GfdS advises individuals, companies, authorities and institutions on contemporary German spelling, grammar and style. Its editorial panel of the parliament (Redaktionsstab der Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache beim Deutschen Bundestag) gives linguistic advice to both the Federal Council (Bundesrat) and the Federal parliament (Bundestag). Its most important task is to revise the language of draft legislation, by-laws and orders whose legal terminology must be formulated clearly and concisely. As chair, Pfalzgraf promotes the German language by organizing public events such as lectures.

Informing public attitudes to language

More generally, Pfalzgraf's findings have contributed to greater public understanding of linguistic change and its implications for cultural identity. German media, and sometimes also foreign media, regularly report on German linguistic purism, in particular the anti-anglicism movement on which Pfalzgraf's research concentrates. Various UK and German newspapers and journals have therefore contacted Pfalzgraf to provide expert views on the perceived `decay of German'. Publications are of different kinds, and cumulatively reach a wide audience. In some cases, readers' responses to online versions of the articles indicate their direct engagement with the issues. For details see

Oakes' "Le français comme " langue publique commune » au Québec" was selected along with three other articles from Globe: Revue internationale d'études québécoises to be translated to make the language situation in Quebec better known to a lay English-speaking audience in a book series on Quebec Studies: French as the Common Language in Québec: History, Debates and Positions (New Perspectives in Québec Studies 2) (with Ian Lockerbie, Ines Molinaro and Karim Larose). Montréal: Éditions Nota bene, 2005.

Contributions to education

Oakes was awarded a grant (CAN$2500) by the Association internationale des études québécoises enabling 50 copies of Language, Citizenship and Identity to be bought and distributed to Quebec and Canadian Studies centres worldwide; the books were purchased in late 2007, and distribution began in 2008. Both the English and French versions are used in university teaching in various fields in Canada and beyond - e.g. Sherbrooke and Laval (Linguistics), Simon Fraser University (French), Montreal and Ottawa (Politics, Anthropology, Sociology), and Washington (Slavic studies) - thereby helping to shape understanding of language and identity in Canada amongst teaching staff and students.

Pfalzgraf's publications are also used in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching internationally, shaping teachers' and students' understanding of linguistic purism (not solely in Germany). Neopurismus has been a core text for a Slavonic Studies course at Greifswald (, thereby influencing the design and delivery of a syllabus. His work also appears on reading lists at the universities of Cambridge (German), Leeds (German), Munich (Linguistics), and Mashhad University, Iran (Linguistics).

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Deputy minister responsible for the application of language policy, Secrétariat à la politique linguistique (can corroborate Oakes's contributions to policy debates)
  2. Former Deputy minister responsible for the application of language policy, Secrétariat à la politique linguistique (can corroborate Oakes's contributions to policy debates)
  3. Director General, Association internationale des études québécoises (can corroborate Oakes's contributions to informing public attitudes to language and to education)
  4. Full Professor of German Linguistics, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (can corroborate Pfalzgraf's contributions to policy debates, education, and informing public attitudes to language)
  5. Full Professor of German Linguistics, Ernst-Moritz-Arndt Universität Greifswald (can corroborate Pfalzgraf's contributions to policy debates, education, and informing public attitudes to language)
  6. Citation of `Le français comme " langue publique commune »' in report commissioned by the Office québécois de la langue française: M. Termotte (2008). Nouvelles perspectives démolinguistiques du Québec et de la région de Montréal 2001-2051 (Suivi de la situation linguistique: étude 8). Quebec: Government of Quebec:
  7. Review of Langue, citoyenneté et identité au Québec: D. Georgescu, Le français à l'université 15/3 (2010), 14: (Quarterly journal of the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, for French teachers in HE; can corroborate Oakes's contributions to education)
  8. Article in The Economist (27 May 2010, circulation 1.6 million): (can corroborate Pfalzgraf's contributions to informing public attitudes to language)
  9. Article in Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (31 August 2009, circulation 580,000): (can corroborate Pfalzgraf's contributions to informing public attitudes to language)
  10. Article in Weltzeit, magazine of the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle (06/2009, circulation 12,000; 568 views online as of 8/5/12): (can corroborate Pfalzgraf's contributions to informing public attitudes to language)