Language Policy and Planning

Language policy and planning (LPP) refers to deliberate efforts to influence or change the language behaviour of individuals or social groups (Kaplan & Baldauf, 1997).  LPP is at its most easily identifiable when operating in the form of government laws, rules and regulations designed to bring about these desired changes. However, more recently, scholars have recognised that other levels are important: LPP is done not only by governments but also by different social groups, institutions, families and single individuals. Personal and community agency are now acknowledged as important drivers in LPP and it can therefore be perceived as operating along a continuum from macro through meso to micro, and being done not only in international, national, and regional settings but also in local and domestic ones. As a recently independent nation, East Timor provides a rich opportunity to study the range of influences on LPP development in multilingual, post-colonial developing contexts.  The country’s colonial experiences, first as a Portuguese colony and then as an annexed province of Indonesia, followed by what might be labelled a neo-colonial period under UN Transitional administration have all left their mark on the richly diverse indigenous language ecology.

Cooper’s (1989, p. 98) accounting scheme for LPP provides a practical way of understanding its processes. The scheme consists of eight components: (i) what actors, (ii) attempt to influence what behaviours, (iii) of which people, (iv) for what ends, (v) under what conditions, (vi) by what means, (vii) through what decision-making process, and (viii) with what effect? When we apply this scheme to Timor-Leste since 2001, we get a useful bird’s-eye view of LPP initiatives since independence and the main actors and agents involved. For an overview of the language situation, and its past, present and possible future, see Taylor-Leech, 2009.

Medium of instruction (MOI) policy is a particularly contested site, which highlights the tensions between conflicting language ideologies, both global and local, in this young nation. In the thirteen years since independence MOI policy has shifted from a focus on monolingual, submersion schooling in Portuguese towards a more bilingual view, accommodating the use of Tetun in the classroom. Recent policy documents have allowed for instruction in the vernacular languages and a mother-tongue pilot has now been running for two years; however, controversy over MOI and, in particular, the notion of mother-tongue based multilingual education continues to this day. For an analysis of LPP development since 2002, see Taylor-Leech, 2011.

For sociolinguists, the case of Timor-Leste offers a window on LPP formation in the 21st century world order, and how actors enact, negotiate and resist LPP. It offers insights into the web of relationships between language, education and nation-building in a postcolonial, global age. For a detailed discussion of these issues, see Taylor-Leech, 2013.

Kerry Taylor-Leech

Cooper, R. (1989). Language planning and social change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kaplan, R & R Baldauf Jr. (1997). Language Planning from practice to theory. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.