Other Discussions on Language

The Divisiveness of Languages

It should be clear to all that language is an important factor in national unity. However, the idea, promoted by many anthropologists, that it must be a non-international language, is silly and dangerous. Ecuador and Peru, bitter enemies, are very nationalistic even though they both speak Spanish. If they spoke different languages, reconciliation would be even more difficult. The idea that the Surinam should have taki-taki as the national language is on the level of promoting ebonics as a language. As he convenes a conference on race, President Clinton is walking on a tense tight-rope, between trying as usual to get minority votes for the Democratic Party and preserving national unity.

We wish to call attention to two articles. The magazine WORLD PRESS is extremely important because it helps Americans become informed about world opinion. The October 1997 issue features "Winning the language wars: English." Chinese, spoken by 1,123 million, is not a global language. English, a poor second with half a billion, is. German, French and Japanese weigh in with less than 200 million. Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese, all international languages, are spoken by more people. Welshism is counterproductive. In a Welsh village called Hebron (!?), a journal with the French (!) name Observatoire Linguistique has published a 1,000-page report with a "comprehensive" classification on the world's languages, with the clear intent of promoting them, Welsh-style. This is creating a dangerous parochialism in Wales and elsewhere. Welsh students stage protests demanding that professors speak Welsh, which might be good for aspiring natives but leading others to shun Wales. The University of Aberystwith was one an important center for international studies; no more.

The Economist (9/27/97) has an article which about the recent plebiscite concerning a Welsh assembly. The yes vote won by a small majority, but, since only about half of the population voted, it was really a minority. An accompanying map shows a dividing running north and south, dividing the country into two roughly equal parts: the English-speaking east and the mountainous west where Welsh survives. Spain provides an excellent example of the divisive effect of language differences. Catalan and Basque nationalists are not content that their languages have received official recognition. They are now demanding that all government officials (including professors) speak their language. Except for the natives (and not all of them), few Spaniards speak Catalan, and virtually none speak that strange language, Basque. Such a move would purge the regions of a majority of national officials. This week a Spanish princess is marrying a Basque basketball player in the cathedral of Barcelona. As a public relations gesture, the ceremony will be conducted in Spanish, Catalan, and Basque. Despite this, the couple will surely spend their lives speaking mostly in Spanish, which is a lingua franca. What lesson does this have for the United States?

Ronald Hilton, 10-2-97