Languages, Power and Poverty: The Other Side of Multilingualism

Languages, Power and Poverty: The Other Side of Multilingualism

 Dr. Ajit Mohanty
Visiting Scholar
Jawaharlal Nehru University, India

 Monday, October 6, 2014
10:30 am
Community Room (1139)
Faculty of Education Building

All are welcome. Refreshments will be served. RSVP to

Dr.  Mohanty’s visit is generously supported by Western International


Abstract: Marginalization of minority and tribal languages along with forces for maintenance of languages in contact is a paradox of multilingual societies. This paradox is best understood by recognizing that languages are social instruments of power and exclusion; the questions of languaging and literacy are inherently tied to power and, therefore, choice of languages in education and for literacy is political. Unfortunately for many language communities this choice is their destiny since education in a dominant language is linked to capability deprivation, failure to build economic capacity for upward mobility and poverty.  This, in turn, leads to multiple forms of structural exclusion, identity negotiations reinforcing coercive relations of power, poor mental health and loss of wellbeing.
The interrelationship between language and socio-economic power springs from economic values of languages, biases in language competence-linked access to employment and language ideologies as criteria for socio-economic exclusion. The tentative language policies in many multilingual post-colonial countries (particularly in Asian and Africa) including India are divided between egalitarian ideologies favouring foregrounding of local voices and the homogenizing forces of the post-colonial nation building leading to divergent declared and de facto policies which fail to subvert the operation of the coercive relations of power in the society.
The role of language in educational failure and underachievement for the indigenous, tribal and minority groups points to the centrality of societal power relations and experiences of material and symbolic violence over generations. Cummins (2001, 2009) shows the interrelationship between social power relations and identity negotiation in determining educational achievement and capacity building. Based on our analyses of the role of mother tongues in education and interventions with early mother-tongue based education for Saora and Kond children in Odisha (India), a pedagogical framework for literacy engagement and identity affirmation will be presented.

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