National language policy theory: exploring Spolsky’s model in the case of Iceland

Nathan John Albury

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Language policies are born amidst the complex interplay of social, cultural, religious and political forces. With this in mind, Bernard Spolsky theorises that the language policy of any independent nation is driven, at its core, by four co-occurring conditions—national ideology, English in the globalisation process, a nation’s attendant sociolinguistic situation, and the internationally growing interest in the linguistic rights of minorities. He calls for this theory to be tested (Spolsky in Language policy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004). This paper accepts the invitation by firstly considering the contributions and limitations of Spolsky’s theory vis-à-vis other contemporary research approaches and then applies the theory to the case of Iceland. Iceland is a dynamic locus for this purpose, given its remarkable monodialectism, fervent linguistic purism and protectionism, and history of overwhelming homogeneity. The study finds that all Spolsky’s factors have in some way driven Icelandic language policy, except in issues of linguistic minority rights. Instead, Icelandic language policy discourse reveals a self-reflexive interest in minority rights whereby Icelandic is discursively positioned as needing protection in the global language ecology. Accordingly, the paper examines how Spolsky’s theory may be refined to account for non-rights-based approaches to national language policies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-372
Number of pages18
JournalLanguage Policy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Language policy theory
  • Linguistic protectionism
  • Linguistic rights
  • Relative minority
  • Spolsky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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