The political economy of code choice in a “revolutionary society”: Tamil-English bilingualism in Jaffna, Sri Lanka

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This article explores the persistence of Tamil-English bilingualism in the Marxist/Nationalist de-facto separate state of Jaffna (Sri Lanka) through an integrated macro- and micro-sociolinguistic analysis of code choice in the community. While Tamil is dominant at present, the international hegemony of English is nevertheless subtly felt. There are now few L2 dominant or balanced bilinguals; grammatical competence in “standard English” is declining; Tamil has taken over many conventionally English domains; extensive use of unmixed English is reduced to a few formal contexts; and political pressure proscribes English. However, through code-switching activity, English continues to be used in a more pervasive form than ever before, in conventional and unconventional contexts, with complex communicative competence. Code-switching helps reconcile the socio-psychological conflicts of the community and assures the continuity of bilingualism (defying prophecies of English death), with the possibility of an Englishized Tamil becoming an independent code. (Bilingualism, code-switching, English, language choice).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)187-212
Number of pages26
JournalLanguage in Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1995


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

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

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