Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Applied Linguistics and English as a Second Language

First Advisor

Diane Belcher

Second Advisor

Gayle Nelson

Third Advisor

Viviana Cortes

Fourth Advisor

Eric Friginal

Fifth Advisor

David Cassels Johnson


In the two decades since the 1994 Genocide, Rwanda has experienced pervasive societal change, due in large part to ambitious policymaking in sectors ranging from business to public health to education. Extensive language policies have also been enacted, including a 2008 Cabinet resolution shifting the medium of instruction (MOI) in all public schools from Kinyarwanda and French to English (Republic of Rwanda, 2008). The promotion of English in a formerly francophone nation inspired the present study seeking a closer look at the current state of language planning and policy (LPP) in Rwanda. Toward that end, ethnography of language policy (Hornberger & Johnson, 2007) fieldwork, consisting primarily of linguistic landscape analysis, teacher interviews, and classroom observations, was carried out in Southern Province, Rwanda throughout the 2011-2012 academic year. Four research questions addressing various aspects of the 2008 Cabinet resolution are answered herein through three distinct but interrelated research articles.

The first article investigates the current linguistic ecology of Rwanda, utilizing linguistic landscape analysis methodology to explore language use in public spaces. Diachronic comparative analysis uncovers language shift trends (e.g., major English gain, major French loss, negligible Kinyarwanda shift) that converge with national policy initiatives – the language ecological implications of which (e.g. language loss, linguistic diversity) are discussed. The second article reports mainly on the ethnographic interview data. The interviews, conducted with teachers (n = 8) in two public primary schools and two public secondary schools, illuminate (a) the layers and spaces in Rwandan MOI policy and practice, as well as (b) the local realities associated with implementing national language-in-education policy without an articulated plan. The third article, informed predominantly by classroom observation at the four research sites, examines issues related to MOI policy implementation in Rwanda (e.g., classroom language use; English medium instruction vs. mother tongue instruction) as well as its impacts on education (e.g., disparate student access to content and language) through discourse analysis of classroom language use by teachers and students. Taken together, these three “snapshots” form a panorama of the LPP situation of contemporary Rwanda, exposing the shifts occurring across the past five-year period in the Rwandan linguistic and educational landscape.


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