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Abstract

When a development worker faces the decision of which language to use, the choice often depends on the belief that English is the natural and most efficient medium for international communication. This paper argues that cost-benefit analyses of language choices which tend to favor English ignore the hidden costs of English use. In order to fully appreciate the effect of choosing English, the linguistic ecology and the indexical field of the host community, as well as the limits of field interpretation, must be taken into account. Language policies for development organizations support fieldworkers to learn and use host languages when English use is not the optimal choice. Based on a study of one organization’s language policy, and a sociolinguistic understanding of language choice, this paper also proposes design principles for effective organizational language policies.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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