Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Lexical Domination

18 months ago the international media picked up on President Chirac’s outburst at an EU’s conference on business and subsequently ran biased, sycophantic, and expectedly liberalistic stories about the global spread of English. 

Needless to say, my own article falls into one of those three categories. I am, as a native speaker, subject to the grammatical law of my language as each person is to their own. I am also privileged because I can communicate almost anywhere in the world and be understood, but my language is at the forefront of ‘linguicide’, along with Chinese, Spanish, French and Arabic, destroying minority languages, along with culture and customs in many cases.

Chirac’s concern was not at someone speaking English but at one of his own countrymen doing so. The French government has laws in place, concerning the cultural value of French that protects that value from the influence of foreign languages, principally Anglo-Saxon, and rightly so.

Other countries such as Bhutan, Iran, or semi-autonomous regions like Basque [and Tibet] adopt similar methods, of varying degrees, of protecting their cultures from outside influences; or recently the newly elected President of Bolivia promised to decrease the predominance of Spanish in favour of local indigenous tongues. In Italy, I must watch a foreign TV programme in dubbed Italian, but in Portugal I can hear the original language, perhaps because the Portuguese government is less sensitive as there are a 150 million speakers of Portuguese in Brazil. 

In India, a sub-continent with hundreds of dialects, its parliament speaks in English, an alien language, otherwise each speech community would never be able to agree on whose dialect to use. This was the reason for the creation of Esperanto in the EU because it was not indigenous to any state; a wonderful idea in principle except that it failed, not for any innate error but for lack of native speakers and cooperation.

Yet, in the UN’s General Assembly every member country speaks in its own language, appropriately but not without problems. There are numerous positive arguments for global languages, we all know the benefits but English marginalises populations whose first language is not a global language, then it can and does lead to cultural and economic domination of the populations speaking English as a first language.

It would appear attempts like ‘Esperanto’ at this stage of our history are the roads forward. Is EngSpanAraFrenEse feasible (Spanglish exists)? If we all put our heads together to make such a language would it succeed, or be the exclusive language of those in power?