The illegible state in Cape Verde: language policy and the quality of democracy
Amado, Abel Djassi
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To what extent does language policy affect or have an impact on the quality of democracy? In third wave democracies of sub-Saharan Africa, a diglossic language policy--the type of policy that organizes the languages of the community in an asymmetrical manner, in which the language of the former colonial power assumes political and social predominance--constitutes a powerful hindrance to engaging citizenship. Such a policy perpetuates the linguistic divide between the state and society. Subsequently, ordinary citizens' political departicipation ensues, with serious consequences on the quality of democracy. Deriving from the data gathered in Praia, Cape Verde, through a combination of archival research, informed direct and focus groups interviews, during summers of 2010 and 2011, I argue that diglossic language policy limits the quality of democracy by way of lower classes' diminished surveillatory and initiatory political participation. Diglossic language policy creates and reinforces a state that is linguistically detached from society. The state, as such, is illegible to the non-high language speakers, who may find it very difficult to follow its operations, procedures, and processes. Ultimately, state illegibility breeds low levels of surveillatory participation on the part of non-high language speakers. Inability to "read" the state translates into failure to properly supervise it. At the same time, initiatory political participation, the entering and engaging in political discussion and deliberation with peers or state agents, is also constrained. This state of affairs derives from: a) inaudibility, the notion that political communication in the vernacular is of less value; and b) ridicule, the idea that to speak the high language incorrectly is to succumb to public derision, a condition that invalidates the message. In the final analysis, diglossic language policy preserves the divide between elite and masses, whereby the latter participation in politics is limited to voting. While it creates the conditions for political effervescence at the top, through elite pluralism and competition, the Schumpeterian elite democracy freezes the bottom. Given the limited forms of political participation of ordinary citizens, states with diglossic language policy, such as Cape Verde, should not be considered quality democracies.