Language Policy and Human Development

american_political-science-reviewLanguage Policy and Human Development

David D. Laitin, Stanford University
Rajesh Ramachandran, Goethe University Frankfurt

This article explores how language policy affects the socioeconomic development of nation states through two channels: the individual’s exposure to and (in reference to an individual’s mother tongue) linguistic distance from the official language. In a cross-country framework the article first establishes a robust and sizeable negative relationship between an official language that is distant from the local indigenous languages and proxies for human capital and health. To establish this relationship as causal, we instrument language choice with a measure of geographic distance from the origins of writing. Next, using individual level data from India and a set of 11 African countries, we provide microempirical support on the two channels—distance from and exposure to the official language—and their implications for educational, health, occupational and wealth outcomes. Finally, we suggest policy implications based on our findings. Read more.

American Political Science Review / Volume 110, Issue 3 August 2016, pp. 457-480

1 Comment

  1. Many contemporary scholars today consider language distance as a construct of European comparative historical philology, produced in the context of colonial technologies and modalities of power and subordination. Accordingly, it would be problematic to take language distance as a verifiable measurement/independent variable. Sociolinguists who study Africa have noted that most Africans are plurilingual, often across putative African language families. Hence language distance as a proxy for a language policy choice of a former colonial language as official language is problematic. In another words, the authors’ conclusion that adoption of a former colonial language as official language has detrimental effects on human development is most likely valid, although not because of language distance.

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