Language Policy

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 179–197 | Cite as

Scaling value: transnationalism and the Aga Khan’s English as a “second language” policy

  • Brook Bolander
Original Paper


Against the backdrop of growing sociolinguistic interest in transnationalism, this paper uses the notion of “scale” as an “ideological project” (Irvine in Scale. Discourse and dimensions of social life, University of California Press, California, 2016: 214) to study situated discursive performances of transnationalism amongst Shia Ismaili Muslims in a village in Hunza, Northern Pakistan and the city of Khorog, Eastern Tajikistan. By virtue of the ideological importance granted to English by the Ismaili community’s spiritual leader, the Aga Khan IV, transnational scaling is studied through the window of discourse on English. Specifically, the paper analyses how Ismailis in these two localities appropriate the Aga Khan’s English as a “second language” policy. Drawing on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork, the paper demonstrates how Ismailis make English into an economic and symbolic resource, which is simultaneously used to underscore community-internal sameness and index Ismaili progress. In bringing together an analysis of the discursive construction of local policy appropriation with reflections on transnational scaling practices, the paper makes a novel contribution to both current debates on the spatialisation of language policy discourse (Canagarajah in Reclaming the local in language policy and practice (xiii–xxx), Routledge, London and New York, 2005; Hult in Int J Sociol Lang 202:7–24, Hult 2010; Mortimer and Wortham in Annu Rev Appl Linguist 35:160–172, 2015) and language commodification and value (Heller in J Sociolinguist 7(4):473–492, 2003, Heller in Annu Rev Anthropol 39:101–114, 2010; Tan and Rubdy in Language as commodity: global structures, local market places, Continuum, London, 2008; Duchêne and Heller in Language in late capitalism: pride and profit, Routledge, London and New York, 2012; Park and Wee in Markets of English. Linguistic capital and language policy in a globalizing world, Routledge, London and New York, 2012).


English Scale Transnationalism Value Ismaili community Northern Pakistan Eastern Tajikistan 



The research leading to these results has received funding from the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under REA Grant agreement no [609305], as well as from the Forschungskredit of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Special thanks goes to Till Mostowlansky and three anonymous reviewers for their critical feedback and comments on an earlier version of this paper. I would also like to extend a warm thank you to my research assistant, and to all the people from Hunza and Khorog who took the time to speak with me and to share their thoughts, ideas, and experiences. Any omissions and inconsistencies remain my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Hong KongHong KongChina
  2. 2.Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS)University of FreiburgFreiburgGermany

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