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International Journal of the Sociology of Language

Founded by Fishman, Joshua A.

Ed. by Garcia Otheguy, Ofelia / Duchêne, Alexandre / Coulmas, Florian

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Volume 2018, Issue 253


Muslims in Sri Lankan language politics: A study of Tamil- and English-medium education

Christina P. Davis
Published Online: 2018-08-19 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0026


Sri Lanka is a conflict-ridden postcolonial nation-state that was ravaged by a civil war. Largely excluded from mainstream representations of the ethnic conflict, Muslims constitute the country’s second largest minority group. In contrast to Sinhalas and Tamils, they define their ethnic identities on the basis of religion rather than language. In this article, I draw on research at a multilingual government school to explore how Muslim teachers and students made sense of Tamil- and English-medium education in relation to ethnic, religious, and class differences. I investigate how Tamil-medium Muslim teachers responded to critiques of their speech by asserting that their heterogeneous linguistic practices were inextricably connected to their distinct ethno-religious identities. Muslim students’ lack of fit with the ethnolinguistic affiliations presupposed by the school enabled them to embrace English-medium education. However, the English bilingual program complicated Muslims’ narratives of identity by underscoring the relevance of English to class dispositions. I argue that English impacts the fraught relations of Tamil and Sinhala to ethnopolitical identities and mediates everyday social relations.

Keywords: language; education; ethnicity; Muslims; Sri Lanka


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About the article

Published Online: 2018-08-19

Published in Print: 2018-08-28

Citation Information: International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Volume 2018, Issue 253, Pages 125–147, ISSN (Online) 1613-3668, ISSN (Print) 0165-2516, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ijsl-2018-0026.

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