Between public perception and government intent in national language policy

Nathan John Albury

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


This paper analyses divergence between national language policy on the one hand, and perceptions of it on the other. In ethnocratic Malaysia, language policy codifies the supremacy of Bahasa Malaysia as part of a broader ethnonationalist policy agenda that pedestalises the ethnic Malays and curtails the rights of Chinese and Indian-Malaysians. A series of 25 folk linguistic group discussions was held with Malay, Chinese, and Indian youth who defined and constructed Malaysia’s national language policy in their own epistemic terms. In a political culture that suppresses public debate about ethnic affairs, their constructions were sooner informed by personal experiences, observations, assumptions, and ideologies mistaken for policy, rather than the content and rationale of language policy established by the state. Malay and Chinese youth appeared the least critically aware of language policy, for ethnonationalist and socioeconomic reasons, respectively, whereas Indian youth attributed policy to Malay hegemony. The findings have broader relevance for language policy researchers. In the face of gaps between policy and perception, analysing whether and how governments communicate language policies with the public – especially in societies where democracy and transparency are not assured – will improve our analyses of language policy as a dynamic societal process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalCurrent Issues in Language Planning
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 May 2018


  • folk linguistics
  • language policy promulgation
  • Malaysia
  • multilingualism
  • National language policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language

Cite this