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Language Diversity



David Heap, a specialist in Spanish linguistics, especially dialectology, answers the posting about the danger of Spain being balcanized. Its linguistic balcanization is willful folly". David says: "I find this equation of linguistic diversity or multilingualism with "balcanization" overly simplistic. Respecting and fostering the use of two or more languages is almost invariably a good idea, from both educational and political-cultural perspectives. People who promote unilingualism for the sake of "political unity" are either misinformed, or pursuing another agenda. Switzerland has four official languages, and enjoys a stability which most monolingual states would envy. Conversely, the use of a single language does not necessarily "unite" political units which are disinclined to be united (think of those tiny Gulf emirates, which all use similar if not identical varieties of Arabic). Vive le plurilinguisme!

Tangentially: from Ronald's use of the term, "balcanization" is presumably accepted as a bad thing. I would be curious to know what people from the Balkan region (ex-Yugoslavs, etc.) think of this usage".

RH: Let me assure David that we are neither simplistic or uninformed. We have been living in the middle of these questions for decades. The peace of the world depends on the clear use of international languages, notably English and Spanish. With the cult of dialects, English has lost its clarity, and I simply cannot understand some of the dialects we now hear on TV. The plight of Spanish is not as bad, but the proliferation of provincial variants is a step in the wrong direction. The whole field of linguistics must move away from dialectology to lexicography. I feel strongly about this. I grew up when dialectology was in vogue, and I became an expert in the dialects of French, Spanish and Catalan. I now view that part of my career as a waste of time. I should have been learning Arabic or Chinese.

Ronald Hilton - 11/6/02


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