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International Journal of the Sociology of Language

Founded by Fishman, Joshua A.

Ed. by Garcia Otheguy, Ofelia / Duchêne, Alexandre / Coulmas, Florian

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1613-3668
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Volume 2018, Issue 252

Issues

Surveying languages: the art of governing speakers with numbers

Alexandre Duchêne / Philippe N. Humbert
Published Online: 2018-06-22 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0012

Abstract

In this article, we propose a historical, political, and critical framework that situates language surveys and censuses as an object of sociolinguistic inquiry. First, we provide a brief history of the production of language statistics that aims to understand why authoritative bodies “need” language statistics, and what political agendas they help fulfil. Second, we highlight the epistemological and methodological challenges that emerge from the creation of language statistics. Third, we focus on the socio-political consequences of language statistics in society, including a focus on the actors and institutions that use or contest numbers in various contexts, and how language statistics impact the (un)equal distribution of resources. We argue that censuses and surveys are always embedded in political projects and constitute a complex combination of scientific and socio-political arguments that shape the way language and speakers are conceived of. As such, we emphasize the importance of recognizing censuses and surveys as a site for sociolinguistic inquiry, while anchoring our understanding of this instrument’s inner workings within the particularities of the historical and political conditions in which they emerge.

Keywords: language census; critical sociolinguistics; governmentality; language policy; language ideologies; epistemology

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About the article

Published Online: 2018-06-22

Published in Print: 2018-06-26


Citation Information: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2018, Issue 252, Pages 1–20, ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0012.

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