dijous, 15 d’octubre de 2009

Results of the first sessions on middle sized language communities

(versió catalana original al post anterior)

As expected, last Thurdsday and Friday took place the first round of lectures and seminars on Middle-sized language communities, which had as main foreingn guest speakers Dr. Marc Van Oostendorp (Netherlandish), Dr. Sirkku Latomaa (Finnish) and Jens Normann Jorgensen (Danish). The lectures and the discussions were highly interesting and annot be synthesised ina short space such as this. Let's limit ourselves, then, to point out a number of lines of reasoning that were shared by most of the participants. Of course, one may wonder to what extent their personal views do exactly reflect the mainstream feelings in their respective communities, but would be a totally different issue.

First, all the three speakers shared a sense of relax about the status and future of their respective languages. In act, in all three cases one could detect even more concern about the future of the respective minorities, rather than about the future of each national language. This relaxed situation ―in van Oostendorp's terms― constrasts sharply with some catastrophic views about the future of other languages, such as, for instance, French. According to the lecturers, in general terms there is no concern about the future of Dutch, Finnish or Danish, either from a demographic or a social perspective, and not even about the quality of the language -again, the French concern about la qualité de la langue. This is not to say that there are no public debates, such as the quarrels about Dutch spelling o sharp criticism against idiomatic diversity in Danish. But, in general terms, there seems to be no concern about the future sustainability of these three languages.

In second place, all three speakers confirmed that multingualism is receeding in their countries in favour of bilingualism. Thus, the mainstream repertoire is being built around the national language and English, in functional distribution. In all three communities, individual plurilingualism is on retreat: competence in German and French, and even competence in Russian in Finland is lower and lower. It is open to discussion, here, why this is so: some, like Jǿrgensen claimed that this is due to the fact that the nation state has embarked in a particular interpretation of globalization, while others, such as van Oostendorp, Bastardas and Vila suggested that things may be more complex and not only due to state action. In any case, educational language policies in favour of plurilingualism were depicted as a clamorous failure in all three cases.

A third finding shared by all speaker was that English is occupying significant functions in all three coomunities, but these functions are smaller that those imagined elsewhere. Yes, part of education may be taught via English, especially in tertiary education, and English is also the language of science -at least, the one used to publish scientific findings. Dutch-speaking societies go even further in this way. But the widespread image of these societies as generally anglicised is far from true. To put it plain, in order to work at Nokia it is necessary to master Finnish (that is, one has to learn it if one is to make progress within the company); and not only to avoid feeling miserably alone at the canteen, but also to work at ease within the company.

In fourth place, another point of consensus: it may sound ironic, but within the European Union and amidst globalization, all three language communities experience processes of isolation and may even be splitting apart. Flemish and Dutch, for instance, tend to share only higher, literary culture. For the rest, cultural exchange between both societies is regarded with little interest, to the extent that two different (para)standard languages seem to be setting apart the two communities; and it should be remembered that the Dutch language community already witnessed the emergence of Afrikaans as a distinct language. On the side of Danes, the situation is even more interesting: Danish society seems to have built a discourse about the need to remain together as a way to protect itself against their powerful neighbours, and this discourse includes a clause about language which reject linguistic internal diversity as an obstacle to national unity. As a result, traditional Danish dialects are dying out, and Danish speakers do encounter internal diversity less and less in their everyday lives. This process of unification has carried an unexpected result: Danes find more and more difficult to understand the rest of Scandinavian languages. Finally, even Finnish speakers have their record of linguistic isolation. Apparently, intercomprehnsion with Estonians has decreased during the last years. But, of course, in all these cases English is there...

A final point about ideology. While none of the lecturers seemed to be concerned about his/her language's future, they did show proof of concern about the unidirectional model of bilingualism which is being developed in their countries, based on the simple model of national language/English. Leaving aside the loss of cultural capital implied by the continuous neglecting of immigant languages, all the speakers showed concern about what the Valencian sociolinguist Lluís Vicent Aracil defined as interposition1, that is, the process whereby a linguistic community develops all its external relationships by means of one and always the same lingua franca. Indeed, if all foreign sources depend on English, at the end of the day that means that worldview will always be filtered by Anglosaxon eyes. And this fact implies, at least, a dangerous bias.

1 Aracil, Lluís Vicent. 1983. "Sobre la situació minoritària."A: Aracil.Dir la realitat, Barcelona: Edicions Països Catalans, 171-206.

1 comentari:

F. Xavier Vila i Moreno ha dit...

Norman Jorgensen asked me to post his comment:
"Regarding the causes of the decline in individual multilingualism: I am quoted as saying that this is "due to the fact that the nation state has embarked in a particular interpretation of globalization". First of all, I do not claim to know the particular causes of this development in Finland or the Netherlands. Secondly, this is just one - albeit mightily important - cause. There are other macro- and microrelationships which contribute to this development. Thirdly, insofar government decisions may have an impact on the choices made by everyday speakers, we see these choices very clearly in the statistics of educational systems, and they support this particular point."