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Innovation Research:
Language - Gender - Sustainability

The role of language in development and social change is largely underestimated. However, verbal communication is the central instrument with which knowledge is transferred and innovation takes place. According to the different levels of interaction, the relevant processes are complex and multi-layered: between development organizations and experts, between experts and local people, and, more importantly, within local groups themselves. It is they who talk, argue, and act within their own institutions and organizations. Social, cultural and linguistic differences and hierarchies give structure to such processes, as well as the different types of organization of local groups, or their degree of organizedness in that regard. Within such a frame, specific strategies of control and appropriation of innovation are at work.

The prevailing linguistic fragmentation of the so-called Third World is usually perceived as a hindrance for development. We turn the tables: innovation takes primarily place on a local level and in local languages, not in the dominant official languages, which are usually mastered only by a minority of the community concerned. Consequently, local languages must be considered as indispensable media for development processes.

The interdisciplinary research project investigates into these complex relationships of knowledge, innovation and language in 4 subprojects, viz. case studies in Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Uganda, and in Namibia. The aim is to establish indicators of linguistic sustainability which is meant to influence the practice of grassroots-oriented development cooperation.

A Project of 
Volkswagen Foundation