A framework for analysing the role of Language in Ethnic Group relations in SriLanka

Language is one of the most salient components in determining an individual’s or a communuity’s perception of Ethnicity. The relationship between language and ethnicity however is often very complex and dynamic and each context has its own unique combination of interacting factors. Describing and analysing this relationship within one ehnic group is daunting enough. But Ethnic groups do not exist in isolation. They continuously interact with other groups who share the same or adjecent geographic, political, economic or social space. The really important  challenge is to understand the role that language plays in shaping the outcome of these inter-ethnic interactions. In this post, I wish to make a start towards tackling this challenge by outlining two overlapping theoretical frameworks to help us systematise the description and analysis of the role of language in any given context or example of inter-ethnic group interaction.
The first framework deals with the relevance of language to ethnicity, and the second with the factors which determine the relative ‘vitality’ of a language within a community and across interacting communities. A paper which outlines these two frameworks and illustrates their utility in a very specific context in the Negambo area of Sri Lanka from the early and middle decades of the last century was my initial foray into this area, and can be accessed here (opens in new window). In the posts that will follow, I will try to abridge and update this paper: less of the theoretical stuff, more about some of the  better known and perhaps more important and interesting  examples of inter-ethnic contexts/ competition/ conflict/ ethnic shift etc.

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