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The development of English into an international lingua franca is not an inevitable result of globalizing forces. Instead, the “triumph” of the English language and the consequent decline of the world’s linguistic diversity cannot be viewed in isolation of its parallel history of conquest, violence, power and exploitation. Today, the languages privileged by the powerful—not only English, but also other dominant languages or standard varieties of those languages—determine access to social, economic and political mobility. This fact renders any discussion of language “choice” irrelevant—when a choice yields the sacrifice of basic human capabilities on one hand and the denial of cultural liberty on the other, the issue becomes one not of choice, but of coercion. Both Amartya Sen and the UNDP Human Development Report (2004) argue that the expansion of freedoms and choices is a prerequisite to human-centered development. Additionally, the UNDP claims that protection of cultural diversity is essential to peacekeeping. Drawing on these premises, this paper explores the notion of linguistic choice by analyzing the personal narratives of multilingual individuals, with the ultimate conclusion that the ability to choose ones language must be understood as an essential resource for human development and conflict prevention.


Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | First and Second Language Acquisition | Inequality and Stratification | International and Area Studies | Politics and Social Change | Sociology of Culture | Typological Linguistics and Linguistic Diversity