Dilemmas in planning English/vernacular relations in post-colonial communities

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Abstract

In the context of globalization and post-modern discourses, the debate about the relative status of local and dominant languages poses serious policy problems for post-colonial communities. Critics of minority language rights (MLR) generally point out that engineering a language shift on behalf of a vernacular language - motivated by the preservationist interests, collective rights and sentimental associations of an ethnic group - is futile, as the economic and social mobilities of individuals are bound to work against this enterprise. Proponents of MLR have gone to the other extreme of essentializing the linguistic identity of minority communities, generalizing their language attitudes, and treating local language rights as non-negotiable. This article addresses this debate in the context of the attempts to promote Tamil by the military leadership in the North and East of Sri Lanka. The paper brings together data gathered in sociolinguistic studies for four years in the Jaffna society in order to understand the reception of the language policy in everyday life. The leadership recognizes that language policy is a symbolic statement for political purposes and tolerates certain inconsistencies in policy and practice. While the community assures itself of ethnic pride and linguistic autonomy with the stated policies, it negotiates divergent interests in the gaps between the policy/practice divide. Scholars should recognize the agency of subaltern communities to negotiate language politics in creative and critical ways that transcend the limited constructs formulated to either cynically sweep aside or unduly romanticize language rights.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)418-447
Number of pages30
JournalJournal of Sociolinguistics
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Philosophy
  • Linguistics and Language
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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