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Sustainable language policy: Why and how?


The article takes stock of the sustainability of the present language policy in Estonia, asking how capable the ongoing language management is in face of the future challenges of a modern nation state in a globalizing world. The authors offer a critical analysis of the existing technocratic understanding of language policy as a top-down mechanism where political aims are transferred unchanged from decision makers through implementers to passive receivers (language users). Inspired by the writings of some critical sociolinguists and ethnolinguists, the authors propose an understanding of the language policy as a designing tool of the language environment, which is based on the rationale of the language users’ everyday practices, including their options for social mobility, economic well-being, political participation, access to education and for becoming self-supportive. In an ethnographic approach to language policy, the possibilities for local appropriations in policy implementation and for solving local problems through local initiatives are seen as „free spaces”. Comparing the language political tools used for integrating the ethno-linguistic minority population in the labour markets of Denmark and Estonia, the authors conclude that Estonia’s language political design is relatively top-down and symbolic as in Estonia, less free space is left for solving language problems locally, or for meeting the contextual needs of language users than in Denmark. The Danish language political design is more flexible (despite being even more demanding in regard to Danish language acquisition) as there the policy-making is left to the actors of lower levels (local government, organizations) and thereby the local contextual solutions are not perceived as socially unjust. If, however, the role of state is central in both defining language problems and finding solutions, it is difficult to find ad hoc solutions to local or contextual language problems. Considering the complexity of language policy as an object of study, the authors call for a more interdisciplinary approach to language political issues, with an involvement of specialists from politics, social sciences, economy, law and linguistics.