Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Dreams and Realities: Developing Countries and the English Language

English and development in Eritrea
Chefena Hailemariam, Sarah Ogbay and Goodith White
A number of chapters in this volume (e.g. Williams 2011, Chapter 3 this volume)
reiterate the currently held view of development as encompassing both economic
growth and human development, with economic growth as one means by which
human development can be achieved rather than an end in itself. Djité (2008)
notes that the concept of human development has become progressively wider in
statements made by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and now
includes not only education, health care and good governance, but also issues such
as empowerment, sustainability, co-operation, culture and language, together with a
recognition that human development is concerned not just with individuals but also
with how they interact in communities. Djité points out that: ‘language constitutes
the common thread that links all of these aspects together’ (2008:175). In its 1996
and 2000 reports, the UNDP warned that the imposition of a dominant language
in the name of nation-building could be seen as a culturally repressive form of
development leading to the destruction of other cultures and the favouring of an
elite, and called for a ‘three-language formula’ for multilingual states, which would
allow for mother tongue use in education and government, as well as a national
lingua franca and an international language (UNDP 1996, 2000; see also Laitin 1992).
In Eritrea, this ‘three-language formula’ can be seen in operation, but it appears to
be working in a different way to that described in a number of the other chapters
in this book, and if English is the ‘international language’ in this trilingual system,
its role in development is harder to define in the light of the particular economic
and social conditions in the country. We will argue that in addition to, and in many
cases rather than, fulfilling instrumental needs such as employability, international
collaboration, accessing information and international mobility (Coleman 2010) it
is acting in a more nebulous, less easily described fashion as a channel for global
cultural flows (with their attached values and practices), as a means of lessening
isolation and linking local and diasporic Eritrean communities, and to fulfil future
aspirations as much if not more than current needs. We will argue that the impetus
for learning English is happening more as part of an individually motivated, bottom-
up grass roots movement rather than at a macro governmental level. We will also
show that the connections made by individuals between learning English and their
own development differ from the connections they make between development
and the country of Eritrea. read more

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