Language Policy

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 45–63 | Cite as

Languaging for life: African youth talk back to HIV/AIDS research

  • Bonny NortonEmail author
  • Harriet Mutonyi
Original Paper


In this article, we present a case study, undertaken in Uganda, in which 12 young people debated and critiqued four research articles on HIV/AIDS relevant to Ugandan youth. The rationale for the study was to provide students with the opportunity to respond to health research that had a direct bearing on their lives. It also complements applied linguistics research that has been undertaken in resource-rich countries with adult participants. In our study, we were particularly interested in the extent to which languaging (Swain in Advanced language learning: the contributions of Halliday and Vygotsky. Continuum, London, 2006) was productive for African youth engagement in policy. We argue that this research has relevance for language policy, in the sense that language policy references not only top-down policies such as the medium of instruction in schools, but also language and linguistic practices at grassroots level that have policy implications. Insights from the students, which are supported by a broad range of literature, suggest that the devastating effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa have led many communities to rethink traditional customs and social relationships, some of which have exacerbated the spread of the disease. At a more systemic level, the students recognized that gender inequities made both females and males more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, but in significantly different ways; that poverty undermines freedom of choice; and that beliefs and practices perceived to be “western” should be negotiated with care. These insights have important implications for policy with respect to language, health, and education.


Language policy HIV/AIDS research Youth Africa 


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The authors would like to express great appreciation to the participants in our study, who brought much energy and enthusiasm to the project. We also thank Vaidehi Ramanathan, as well as other reviewers, for their insightful comments and suggestions. Financial support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Language & Literacy EducationUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Uganda Martyrs UniversityNkoziUganda

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