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Published Date: Apr 20, 1999

Language Acquisition and Power: A Theoretical Framework (W-45)

Tariq Rahman, SDPI
1999

Introduction

Language acquisition refers to both learning and teaching a language.  It might be argued that both learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin; that a teacher teaches a language while a learner learns it.  However, that is not how the terms are used here.  When one talks of learning one’s focus is on demand.  People are willing to learn a language; they demand it.  The process of teaching is a response to this demand.  The focus on teaching, on the other hand, looks at the supply side.  In an open-market situation public demand will create and condition supply. In other situations, however, such an equation will not hold.  One may force the teaching of a language by decree and offer no choice.  In such cases one would be justified in concentrating only on teaching and not on learning because it would no longer be possible not to appear to learn a language which is being forcibly taught though, of course, it would be possible to resist it in various ways.  In general, however, the situation of the Muslims of northern India and Pakistan falls somewhere in between these two ends though inclined more to the open-market pattern in some essential respects.  First, no language was ever imposed and then forced upon them by dictatorial fiat.  Second no kind of teaching, let alone language-teaching, was made compulsory for the whole of the population of South Asia at any period of history. And, lastly, public demand for the languages which were taught from time to time – Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English – was never absent.  Indeed, it was often considerable and increased teaching was often a response to this demand.  It is because of these factors, especially because of demand from the civil society, that I have proposed to look at language acquisition, which includes both learning and teaching i.e both demand and supply, in this paper.  One purpose of the paper is to explore a theoretical model for both learning and teaching situations.  In a sense, of course, language-learning and language-teaching are two sides of the same coin and one cannot look at one without looking at the other.  And when one has looked at both sides one discovers that the value of the coin, what is buys in the market, is power – that it is power which enters into the equation whether people demand to learn a language or whether some powerful entity, such as the state, makes policies to teach it.