New speakers of new and old languages: an investigation into the gap between language practices and language policy

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This paper explores the intersection of new speakers in conditions of globalisation led mobility and it investigates the implications the phenomena may have for language policy making. It first describes two historical phases in language policy development that are closely related to a sociolinguistics of stability. In this, it criticises how present-day language policy is attached to specific time and space constraints whose focus is a by now outdated concept of language and of speaker as its prescriptive objects—thus leading institutional language policies to not being ‘in sync’ with contemporary new speakers’ socio- and geo-political movements and developments. This proposition is illustrated in two case studies, both located in the Netherlands and dealing with the language practices and connected policies of two types of new speakers. The first case deals with the experiences of asylum seekers being engaged with ‘techno-literacies’. That is asylum seekers being part of ICT assisted classes for civic integration through the learning of Dutch (new speakers of a new language, learning through new means of language learning). The second case deals with Chinese students who are fully proficient in Dutch, attending language heritage classes for learning Mandarin through book based lessons (new speakers of an old language, learning through old means of language learning). In both cases, the observed language practices and meta-pragmatic judgements of the individual language users elect them as initiators of bottom-up sociolinguistic change that, while offering grassroots solutions for local challenges, also plays a role as local evidence for informing future top-down language policy development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)535-551
Number of pages17
JournalLanguage Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • ICT
  • practices
  • New Speaker
  • Europe
  • Migrants
  • ethnographic study
  • Language policies and practices


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