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Building bridges across the Oxus: language, development, and globalization at the Tajik-Afghan frontier

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In this article I set out to explore the Tajik-Afghan frontier in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan region as a “contact zone” in which different actors engage in communicative encounters. Against this backdrop I take the construction of bridges across the Tajik-Afghan border river as a point of departure to analyse how these actors envisage processes of globalization. Following Pennycook, I argue that a focus on language as local practice reveals that the Tajik-Afghan frontier is marked by a high degree of different languages, but also by multiple meanings within and beyond these languages. As a result I maintain that highlighting the locality of languages at the Tajik-Afghan frontier provides an opportunity to frame language as tied to specific communicative encounters in semiotized time and space.


This article is based on fieldwork conducted in Tajikistan from 2008 to 2013. I am indebted to the Burgergemeinde Bern and the UniBern Forschungsstiftung for generously supporting my research in Central Asia. For support and comments on previous versions of this paper I am particularly thankful to Brook Bolander, Sebastian Muth, Madeleine Reeves, and Tobias Kraudzun.


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Published Online: 2017-7-11
Published in Print: 2017-8-28

© 2017 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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