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State Traditions and Language Regimes: A Historical Institutionalism Approach to Language Policy


This paper is an elaboration of a theoretical framework we developed in the introductory chapter of our co-edited volume, State Traditions and Language Regimes (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). Using a historical institutionalism approach derived from political science, we argue that language policies need to be understood in terms of their historical and institutional context. The concept of ‘state tradition’ focuses our attention on the relative autonomy of the state in terms of its normative and institutional traditions that lead to particular path dependencies of language policy choices, subject to change at critical junctures. ‘Language regime’ is the conceptual link between state traditions and language policy choices: it allows us to analytically conceptualize how and why these choices are made and how and why they change. We suggest that our framework offers a more robust analysis of language politics than other approaches found in sociolinguistics and normative theory. It also challenges political science to become more engaged with scholarly debate on language policy and linguistic diversity.