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LANGUAGE: Chaos



Rick Shweder takes up the case of India and says that religion is a more divisive force than language. Yes, alas. He describes India as a vibrant democracy but overestimates its unity, although this is hard to assess. Separatist movements exist in Kashmir and Northeast. The people in the South hate Hindi, but the political implications of this are not yet clear. As for the conquerors and the conquered, English is the common language of India and many young writers prefer to write in English.

Rick Shweder writes "As for English, it is neither the official language nor 'the common language of India'. [Both Hindi and English are official national languages. Some 200 languages are spoken in India, of which 14 are recognized in the constitution. Attempts to make Hindi the generally accepted national language have met with limited success.RH]. English is spoken by a very small percent of the population. [Yes, but it is growing rapidly, since young people realize that it is necessary for success in the modern world.RH].

Indian has been far more expert at managing diversity without succumbing to disunity than many other places in the world, which shows that national unity if possible without forcing everyone to be alike (or speak the same language)"

My comment:[ Countries like the USSR and Yugoslavia show the contrary, and linguistic diversity can have surprising effects. When I lived in France (I started out as a professor of French) present developments were inconceivable.

The conquered have a sentimental attachment to their original language. Mexicans have it toward nahuatl, but it is a cause of the strain between the Aztecs and the Maya, and Mexicans are proud of their Spanish. Attempts to revivify the languages hide a political agenda.

Christine Bennett forwards a posting on the chaotic situation caused by the proliferation of regional languages. It is entitled "Is Spanglish killing Spanish," referring to the mixture of English with some form of Spanish in the United States. There are different varieties; Cuban Spanglish varies from Mexican Spanglish. It is widely used among US "Latinos," but the article points out that a speaker would be ridiculed in a place where standard Spanish is spoken. Chicanos are generally despised in Mexico. Indeed, inability to speak correct English and/or Spanish is a serious impediment to getting a decent job.

Ian Hilton, who taught German at the University of Wales and was dean there, writes: "'Europe of regions': Regions are encouraged to promote their separate languages and cultures of course not least because of the considerable EU financial inducements to minority language cultures (the Welsh, Breton, Basque, Irish etc). In the Welsh state school system students are obliged virtually throughout the country (ie also now in South Wales, as against, in earlier years, just mainly in the nationalist heartlands of North and mid-Wales)to learn Welsh up to the age of 16. Inevitably, because of the pressures of the overall school syllabus, another subject has to suffer accordingly in the timetabling. Teaching of other (mainstream) European languages often falls victim to this system. The irony is that so many academically bright students leave school and Wales to pursue their studies outside the country of their birth. In Wales (as indeed other parts of the UK), downgrading of universities does occur and is attributable to several factors. The linguistic factor is but one element. The encouragement by successive British governments through their funding policies towards higher education, for universities to become independent ("go private") will undoubtedly hasten "status divisions" (up/downgrading).

The bilingual policy is officially recognized in Wales. So anyone caught defacing the English part on roadsigns (and that is a popular pastime; fortunately, acts of vandalism - burning of English-owned second-homes - and threats of terror on the scale of the 1970s have long receded) has the right to have his case heard in Welsh in the courts. Public costs spiral because of the need for providing translating/interpreting facilities. Public appointment jobs in Wales must be advertised bilingually. Sometimes it has led to accusations of "positive discrimination" (pro-Welsh) and, in consequence, a few high-profile court cases with corresponding media coverage. The National Health Service in Wales has not been immune. In the current cultural context, Welsh-speaking operatic singers of international standing (like Bryn Terfel) are, unfortunately, not thick on the ground to carry the flag. And oh, these suspect "Anglo-Welsh" writers! (OK, I put my hand up: mea culpa. I have German and Spanish translations of "Under Milk Wood", and no Welsh version!). Even R.S.Thomas's supposed anti-English poetic sentiments are chiseled mostly in the English language.[The subsidizing not only of regions but of regional languages by the EC sounds like a deliberate attempt to diminish national sovereignty and thus strengthen the EC. RH] English as the lingua franca of Europe is progressing, I suspect, more rapidly than slowly, to the intense irritation of France. The internet developments (with its business potential) will continue to accelerate that trend, as will the future enlargement of the EU with countries from Eastern Europe. Arguably, for that latter reason alone, German will not prosper on the linguistic front in the near future."

Ronald Hilton - 9/12/00


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