HomeResearch and policyPublicationsThe relationship between language and neo-colonialism in the aid industry

This article analyses the use of language as a tool of power within the aid industry.

Based both on research and on direct field experience, it underlines the deep relation between languages and cultures (or subcultures), then presents historic examples on how language was purposefully used by colonisers to achieve dominance and, at times, to destroy pre-existing local practices.

It then discusses more recent cases of language use by dominant groups, that stem from patriarchal and post-colonial relations.

As of today, United Nations and international non-governmental organisations’ offices, as well as bilateral governmental offices, are places where the language of the country where these organisations work finds little space (and in many cases no space at all).

Finally, it analyses some of the practices related to language within the aid industry, showing how they mirror colonial and patriarchal beliefs, and suggests possible alternatives.

Photo credit: Nityananda, 5, uses slate and chalk to write words using the alphabet card form the Magic Bag in Nepal. Save the Children

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