Economics of language

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The economics of language is an emerging field of study concerning a range of topics such as the effect of language skills on income and trade, and the costs and benefits of language planning options, preservation of minority languages, etc.[1][2] It is relevant to analysis of language policy.

In his book 'Language and economy',[3] the German sociolinguist Florian Coulmas discusses "the many ways in which language and economy interact, how economic developments influence the emergence, expansion, or decline of languages; how linguistic conditions facilitate or obstruct the economic process; how multilingualism and social affluence are interrelated; how and why language and money fulfil similar functions in modern societies; why the availability of a standard language is an economic advantage; how the unequal distribution of languages in multilingual societies makes for economic inequality; how the economic value of languages can be assessed; why languages have an internal economy and how they adapt to the demands of the external economy. Florian Coulmas shows that language is the medium of business, an asset in itself and sometimes a barrier to trade".[3]

States shoulder language costs, because it maintains themselves by means of it, as does business which needs communication competence. Florian Coulmas discusses the language-related expenditures of government and business in Language and economy.[4] In the same book he also discusses the role of language as a commodity, because languages can behave like economic systems. That is why socio-economic ecologies are (dis)favorable to particular languages.[5] The spread of languages depends in an essential way on economic conditions.[6] Language can be an expression of symbolic power.[7] However, changes in the linguistic map of the world show that these are also powerful linked to economic developments in the world. Assigning an economic value to a certain language in the linguistic market place means vesting it with some of the privileges and power related to that language.[8] Most language communities in the world practice this policy without any concern about reciprocity in language learning investments, forgetting the pursuit of linguistic justice as parity of esteem and while linguistic regimes are sometimes very unjust.[9]

Global language and global economy[edit]

Languages are capital investments in a literal sense : language technology is the most important one. It requires substantial investments which, in the absence of profitability, only affluent countries and businesses can afford. In this respect, today English is seen as a consequence and an instrument of American imperial power, an appreciable asset for American anglophones in the twenty-first-century global contest for competitive advantage, prosperity, and power.[10] Though the best business language remains the language of the customers, meaning multilingual business practices, an "ideal' global economy presupposes a single language for the whole world. But an "ideal" global language presupposes a common acceptable and fair language burden for all business partners. See in this respect language tax to counteract linguistic inequality, as also language for purposes of trade incurs costs to most countries and private entreprises, whereas governments of countries whose language occupies a leading position on the international language market refuse to subsidize the spread of other languages for which they believe they have no need. In his report L'enseignement des langues étrangères comme politique publique, François Grin argues that 'though some languages would be more beneficial in terms of cost-benefit analysis' such as e.g. Esperanto (Esperanto business groups such as IKEF have been active for many years), the problem is that a shifting pattern in the valuation of languages is not always brought about by rationally culculable factors only. In addition to its economic potential, language is also a carrier of political, cultural and sociopsychological properties. In spite of the non-economic values attached to language, what prevails in matters of language is often that which is profitable [11] and this can lead to the superiority of a dominant language as a means of production, with a high linguistic capital value. In this respect it is evident to see that the will (or necessity) to learn English in the last decades has grown so much and its range of action has been so wide that the economic necessity and other incentives of foreign-language study are generally perceived as unimportant. For similar reasons, former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher tired to torpedo the LINGUA program of the European Community, as from her point of view, Britain was asked to pay for a program which benefited her country least. Because of the enormous imbalance on current accounts of the major European languages in favour of English, the LINGUA programme called for an expansion and diversification of foreign-language education in the Member States. For the individual speaker the unequal linguistic balances imply that the first language is an economically exploitable qualification for some who can simply marketing their mother tongue skills, whereas others can not.[12][13][14]

Selected readings[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michele Gazzola (2014). "The Evaluation of Language Regimes: Theory and Application to Multilingual Patent Organisations," [1]
  2. ^ Grin, François. 2003. "Language Planning and Economics" Current issues in language planning 4(1): 1-66
  3. ^ a b Coulmas, Florian (1992). Language and economy. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 978-0631185246. 
  4. ^ 'The constliness of the polyglot world' in : Coulmas, Florian, Language and economy, 1992, p. 55, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers
  5. ^ Salikoko S. Mufwene, Globalization and the Myth of Killer Languages: What’s Really Going on?,17 March 2015.
  6. ^ Language careers : economic determinants of language evolution, in : Coulmas, Florian, Language and economy, 1992, p. 55, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers
  7. ^ Bourdieu, Pierre (1991). Language and symbolic power. Harvard University Press. 
  8. ^ Mair, Christian. "Nkonko M. Kanwangamalu, English and the policy of language planning in a multilingual society. South Africa, in : The Politics of English as a World Language: New Horizons in Postcolonial Cultural Studies, p. 242 (language policy and planning)". Retrieved 3 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Van Parijs, Philippe (2011). Linguistic Justice for Europe & for the World. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 207–208. ISBN 978-0-19-920887-6. 
  10. ^ Paul Cohen, The Rise and Fall of American Linguistic Empire, I want you to speak English, Dissent Magazine, 2012
  11. ^ 'The costliness of the polyglot world : language-related expenditures of government and busininess' in : in : Coulmas, Florian, Language and economy, 1992, p. 152, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers
  12. ^ Value for Whom ? in : Coulmas, Florian, Language and economy, 1992, p.86, Oxford, Blackwell Publishers
  13. ^ “It is in the general interest of the United States to encourage the development of a world in which the fault lines separating nations are bridged by shared interests. And it is in the economic and political interests of the United States to ensure that if the world is moving toward a common language, it be English; that if the world is moving toward common telecommunications, safety, and quality standards, they be American; that if the world is becoming linked by television, radio, and music, the programming be American; and that if common values are being developed, they be values with which Americans are comfortable.” (David Rothkopf) in : "In Praise of Cultural Imperialism?", Foreign Policy, Nr 107, Summer 1997, p. 38-53
  14. ^ Rothkop, David (June 22, 1997). "In praise of cultural imperialism ? Effects of Globalization on Culture.". Retrieved October 25, 2016. 
  15. ^ "(eo) Gazzola kaj Wickström pri ekonomio de lingvarpolitiko (Gazzola and Wickström about economics and politics of languages)" (PDF). Informilo por Interlingvistoj. CED: 12–13. April 2016. ISSN 1385-2191. 

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