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The Sociolinguistics of Language Education in International Contexts

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Edited By Edith Esch and Martin Solly

In many parts of the world the language education scenario is increasingly dynamic, as demographic, economic and social changes powerfully influence socio-political agendas in the sphere of language education. These in turn impact on complex issues such as linguistic pluralism, multiculturalism, and marginalization. This is especially so in the sphere of second language education where local, national and regional concerns often dominate the objectives underpinning policy choice and prioritisation.
This volume brings together scholars and researchers from a wide range of different educational contexts and turns a sociolinguistic lens on some of the key areas of concern for researchers in language education: critical awareness of power and identity issues; competence in dealing with new sociolinguistic repertoires, modalities and literacies; ethical concerns for all who are involved. The ‘case study’ approach enables the reader to reflect on and critically engage with these issues in a rich variety of contextual situations, and the volume as a whole provides a useful overview of (second) language education in the world today.

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REBECCA A. MITCHELL Language, Education and Identity in Gabon 123

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REBECCA A. MITCHELL Language, Education and Identity in Gabon 1. Introduction For some years the central African nation of Gabon has witnessed a rural exodus which draws speakers of some fifty local languages from the provinces to the cities, and, together with the increasing incidence of interethnic marriages, has created favourable conditions for the expan- sion of French into domains formerly reserved for the local languages. The lack of a national lingua franca, the current education system and government attitudes to language policy have also contributed to this situation and encouraged the growth of French, which benefits from international status in addition to being ethnically neutral. This state of affairs has potentially deleterious consequences for the local languages and for speakers’ perceptions of their own identity. This chapter will examine the sociolinguistic context of Gabon and focus on the role of language in education, the current social posi- tion of French, speaker identity issues and attitudes, and prospects for language planning in Gabon. The topics discussed will be illustrated with data drawn from interviews with urban Gabonese informants collected on the basis of the primary variables of ethnic group and current education level. The sample, which was collected for a doc- toral thesis on syntactic usage (Mitchell 2009), comprises 109 speak- ers who underwent an interview involving open questions relating to the Gabonese education system which elicited both syntactic and atti- tudinal data, of which the latter will be referred to in this chapter. The three ethnic groups concerned, Fang,...

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