From Theory to Practice- Selected papers from the 2013 ICLHE Conference
Edited By Robert Wilkinson and Mary Louise Walsh
Foreign language skills, “linguistic work” and the economic theory of value
Abstract The link-up between “language” and “economy” was usually considered far-fetched twenty years ago. However, it has progressively gained acceptance as a useful perspective on many aspects of individual and societal choices regarding linguistic diversity and multilingualism, with particularly relevant contributions to language policy. It is now quite common for encyclopaedias in applied linguistics or conferences on sociolinguistic themes to make room for this perspective.
The language-economy connection, however, raises challenging epistemological and methodological questions. They can only be addressed if the exercise is approached with a willingness to question, without relinquishing, one’s disciplinary habits, including core concepts and assumptions. This questioning can sometimes take us further than expected and in this paper, I propose to address this problem with reference to the economic theory of value.
The dominant economic theory of value is known as the “utility theory of value”; it has served us well as a general foundation for mainstream economics and for recent extensions such as the estimation of the economic value of language skills. However, the observation of language dynamics suggests that language skills matter in ways which, though amenable to treatment and evaluation through mainstream theory, may not be adequately captured by this approach. After giving a general overview of the economic theory of value and how it structures the specialization known as “economics of language” or “language economics”, I discuss the notion of “linguistic work”, and illustrate the challenges it raises for mainstream approaches using the example of...
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