In sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology, a language or linguistic ideology is a systematic construct about how languages carry or are invested with certain moral, social, and political values, giving rise to implicit assumptions that people have about a language or about language in general. A common type of language ideology are Standard Language Ideologies, the belief that language homogeneity is beneficial to society, such as that expressed by the English-only movement in the United States.
Language ideologies encompass all the explicit and implicit attitudes about language that define what is perceived as "proper" speech. Like other forms of ideology, language ideologies are often politically significant and deeply shape how speakers understand social life, as the assumptions that they involve imply a result without any necessary examination of the facts. While research in sociolinguistics generally holds that all languages are equal in their communicative and expressive abilities, language ideologies may privilege a given lect, language or even linguistic family above all others, claiming it to be intrinsically better for some or all purposes.
The study of language ideology is important to many fields of research, including anthropology, sociology, and linguistics. Especially now that anthropology rejects the idea that culture or cultures represent homogeneous isolated entities, language ideology has become a useful model for understanding how human groups are organized, despite cleavages in belief and practice. For example, multiple languages are spoken in any given human society. Therefore a theory of linguistics that regards human societies as monolingual would be of limited use. Instead, speakers of different languages or dialects may share certain beliefs, practices, or conflicts involving a language, set of languages, or language in general. That is to say, speech communities may be regarded as “organizations of diversity” (Irvine 2006) with language ideologies providing that organization.
A current example (May 2006) of language ideology in action would be the debate in the United States over Spanish speaking immigrants. The political justifications for an official language in the U.S. are entirely based on the embedded principles described by language ideology.
A similar debate concerns the validity of using Ebonics in teaching.
These assumptions are reinforced by the way that language is taught, through the use of textbooks, dictionaries and grammar lessons (Tollefson, 1999).
Standard Language Ideologies often negatively affect the ability of minority language speakers to succeed in education because the teacher's perception of what constitutes proper language, and therefore intelligence, could be biased against the language or dialect spoken by the student. One of the examples of the effect that standard language ideology has on everyday life in modern America is the "linguistic profiling."(Rice, 2006). John Baugh, the inventor of the term "linguistic profiling" has determined that many people can recognize the caller's ethnic dialect on the phone, and if the voice is identified as African-American or Mexican-American, the caller might be a subject to racial discrimination (Rice, 2006).
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