Vernacularization, globalization, and language economics in non-English-speaking countries in Africa
Research into language policy in Africa has addressed the impact of colonial language policies on efforts to formulate and implement post-colonial language policies aimed at vernacularization, defined as the use of indigenous African languages in higher domains such as education. What seems to have received very little attention to date, however, is the effect of globalization, through the medium of English, on vernacularization not only in Anglophone but also in non-English-speaking countries in the African continent. Focusing on the latter territories, this paper explores this issue from the perspective of recent theoretical developments in the field of language economics, an area of study whose focus is on the theoretical and empirical ways in which linguistic and economic variables influence one another. It argues that the spread of English to these historically non-English-speaking territories in Africa represents the second challenge to largely symbolic language policies aimed at promoting vernacularization, the first one being other western languages (e.g. French, Portuguese, Spanish). Drawing on language economics, the paper argues that the prospects for the indigenous languages will continue to be bleak, especially in the era of globalization, unless these languages are viewed as a commodity rather than as a token for cultural preservation, and are associated with some of the advantages and material gains that have for decades been the preserve of western languages. Resistance against, and successful case studies of, vernacularization informed by language economics in various parts of the world are presented in support of the proposed argument for the promotion of Africa’s indigenous languages in education.