Grassroots attitudes to the positioning of English as a language for international development

Erling, Elizabeth. J.; Hamid, M. Obaidul and Seargeant, Philip (2010). Grassroots attitudes to the positioning of English as a language for international development. In: Sociolinguistics Symposium 18: Negotiating Transnational Space and Multilingual Encounters, 1-4 Sep 2010, Southampton, UK.



A recent consequence of the positioning of English as the pre-eminent language of international communication has been a trend for language education policies in developmental contexts to promote English as a vital element in the skill-set necessary for successful participation in twenty-first century society. This trend has resulted in an emergent discourse of ‘English as a language for international development’, which is evident both in the objectives of and rationales for large-scale development programmes such as ‘English in Action’ (Bangladesh) and ‘Project English’ (India and Sri Lanka), and in the rhetoric of the official language policies which direct these projects (Seargeant and Erling, forthcoming). Taking this discourse as its context of investigation, the presentation considers the extent to which the assumptions about English that are articulated in such ‘official’ language policies (i.e. those produced by governmental organisations, funding bodies, and academic institutions) relates to the grassroots discourse on English that is constructed by those people at whom the development initiatives are aimed (i.e. teachers, parents, and students). This grassroots discourse comprises what Kachru (1991) has termed “invisible language policies”, and is likely to have a significant bearing on the manner in which official policy initiatives are adopted by the local community. Drawing on data collected from the ‘English in Action’ project, the presentation explores these local language ideologies and juxtaposes them with the discourse of ‘English as a language for international development’ that is articulated at the policy level. The analysis is used as a means of addressing the question of what sort of contribution English language education can productively make to development agendas.

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