WP200 At the nexus of vulnerability: Multilingualism in development

Hyltenstam & Stroud


The majority of the world?s nations are multilingual, although many of the languages spoken have little or no official recognition in the conduct of everyday affairs of State, nor do they figure in any major way in development discourses. For example, although UNESCO and other World and regional organizations frequently underscore the desirability and importance of multilingualism, it is often in the context of education and cultural heritage rather than development more generally. Lack of recognition, however, does not mean that multilingualism does not play an essential role in the public and private lives of citizens. In this short text, we hope to drive home the point that local linguistic resources also directly bear upon democracy, economy, and health. And this is not just by proxy through the known beneficial effects of educating in local languages. We will suggest that more attention be paid to the various ways in which development can benefit from the use of local multilingualisms.
Language is important in development precisely because it is at the nexus of vulnerability. Poverty stricken groups in developing contexts are not only the least resourced. They
? are also the least visible
? lack political and cultural recognition on official arenas
? frequently suffer stigma and ambivalence with respect to their cultural heritage
? have a paucity of educational capital
? experience poor health.
One major factor contributing to this cycle of vulnerability ? and for which solutions are within easy reach ? is that the linguistic and cultural systems these groups have ready access to are not officially recognized. Non-recognition of the languages in which groups organize their everyday life and socialize their children means that they are denied the tools to make their voices heard or to find empowerment through political agency. They also have few opportunities to influence their day-to-day material conditions. The ultimate consequence of this situation is extreme vulnerability to political, economic and ecological (including health) developments.
In this document, we shall argue, by way of illustration, that issues of language in general and multilingualism specifically need to be seen as core facets of such diverse areas as democracy, economy, health, and education.