chapter  7
Language Ideologies: Emergence, Elaboration, and Application
ByPaul V. Kroskrity
Pages 14

Simply stated, “language ideologies” are the “beliefs, feelings, and conceptions about language structure and use, which often index the political economic interests of individual speakers, ethnic and other interest groups, and nation-states” (Kroskrity 2010: 192). While this recent definition suggests the dual focus on the linguistic awareness of speakers and on their positionality within socioeconomic systems that display various kinds of social inequality, it does not reveal the contested emergence of this orientation in the late twentieth century. As used by linguistic anthropologists today, the concept of language ideologies first emerges in the work of Michael Silverstein, who defined what he called “linguistic ideologies” as “sets of beliefs about language articulated by users as a rationalization or justification of perceived language structure and use” (1979: 193). Silverstein argued that linguists needed to recognize the role of speakers’ partial awareness of their language in order to understand such historical linguistic changes as the development of the Javanese honorific system or the loss of second-person pronouns like “thee” and “thou” in English. He argued persuasively that these and many other linguistic developments could not be accounted for by explanations based solely on linguistic structures. Adequate explanations could only be effected by appealing to speakers’ awareness of linguistic form and their necessarily social interpretations of those forms. This claim does not seem so controversial today but at the time Silverstein made the case for including linguistic ideologies as an additional linguistic level to which linguists must attend, it refuted the theory and practice of most linguistic and anthropological linguistic models of the day. The founder of American anthropology, Franz Boas (1911: 69), had categorically dismissed what he regarded as the “misleading and disturbing factors of secondary explanations” of members of a language community. Preferring his “direct method” of analyzing linguistic categories and bypassing native interpretation, Boas ignored the social context of language in favor of reading linguistic forms as direct evidence of cultural cognition. In twentieth-century linguistics, under the influence of either Bloomfield or Chomsky, an emphasis on linguistic structures, whether surface or “deep,” provided no room for considering speakers, their metalinguistic awareness, or their social worlds.