LINGUIST List 13.881

Sat Mar 30 2002

Disc: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Mario Saraceni, Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity
  2. Ivan A Derzhanski, Re: 13.878, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity
  3. Patrick-Andr� Mather, 13.878, Disc: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

Message 1: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: 30 Mar 2002 09:47:04 +0700
From: Mario Saraceni <>
Subject: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

I would like to contribute a brief comment on this discussion. I'm not
entirely clear what one means by "linguistic monoculture". Does the
expansion of English as a world language result in cultural
impoverishment? I don't think so. Quite the opposite, having a global
language promotes cultural enrichment. In Malaysia, for example, about
half the population speaks English besides Malay, Chinese languages or
Tamil, but the presence of English guarantees intercultural
communication and, at the same time, makes it possible for Malaysian
culture(s) to be better known outside the boundaries of that country.
I'm now reading a book, in English, by a Malaysian writer about
Malaysia. If the book had been written in Malay I wouldn't have been
able to read it. The same applies for the noels by Chinua Achebe, Ben
Okri, Amitav Ghosh, Sam Selvon, K.S. Maniam and countless other authors
who have chosen to write in English rather than in their national
language. It is thanks to these writers that I am able to know about
Nigerian culture, Indian culture, Malaysian culture etc. If everyone
only spoke their national or local language, then we would really have
monolingual and monocultural societies.

Mario Saraceni

Dr. Mario Saraceni
Assumption University
Ramkhamhaeng soi 24
Huamark, Bangkapi
Bangkok, 10240
Tel.: +66 (0)2 300 4139 ext. 4402
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Message 2: Re: 13.878, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 08:35:45 +0200
From: Ivan A Derzhanski <>
Subject: Re: 13.878, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Quoth Geoffrey Sampson <>:
> English is taking over everywhere because people are choosing
> to let it take over, and they are doing that because it pays
> to go down that route.
> when I visited Russia in the 1970s, if you went into a museum or art
> gallery and couldn't read the Russian labels, you were out of luck.
> Recently, a wealthy American visited that or a comparable leading
> Russian gallery and was shocked that exhibits were not labelled
> in English; the authorities agreed that it was a problem, and
> were glad to accept funds from him to bilingualize the labelling.

Oh well, at least they asked him to sponsor the bilingualising.
Most of the time it is taken for granted that if you want foreign
tourists, you have to invest into having things written in scripts
and languages accessible to them. If you don't, you'll keep your
linguistic sovereignty, but you'll lose the business. Perhaps
Russia in the 1970s could afford to make that choice, but in
Bulgarian resorts at the same time just about everything was
written in German, and often in two or three other foreign lgs
as well. That, incidentally, pleased me to no end, being a chance
to get in touch with a variety of lgs without leaving the country.

> [...] I was quite shocked to hear three or four years ago
> that the law has now been modified so that English is
> no longer ranked as a foreign language in France.

Yes, people's notions of what is or is not foreign can be very
inadequate. I've heard of some who think that Gagarin's flight
into space (the first such feat ever accomplished by an Earth-
dweller) and the day on which it is commemorated (12 April) are
of local (Soviet, or as they'd rather say, Russian) significance
only, and I've also heard of some who consider Thanksgiving an
international holiday.

> Even if the day comes when English is the native language of every
> human on the planet, that doesn't mean that there won't be thousands
> of bits and pieces of other languages embedded in English vocabulary
> -- but that won't stop the situation being a linguistic monoculture.

True, true. None the less one does see that would-be consolation
in books on Irish, say. You see, Irish isn't doing very well,
but don't worry, Irish names, words and devices live on in English,
whether as nearly unrecognisable loans or as calques.

> Could [...] we in Britain tell our [...] Gaelic-speaking compatriots,
> "You may be inclined to switch to English, but you mustn't -- you must
> keep up your ancestral tongue [...], in case one day there's another
> world war where it could come in handy for security purposes"?

"... or so that we can borrow a word meaning `son', a component
of last names, and use it as a derogatory way of addressing people
whose surnames are likely to contain it, and then as a shortcut
for brand names of such things as computers and sandwiches"?

> Here in Britain the generations younger than mine seem to be junking
> all distinctive features of British culture wholesale, without even
> debating whether some of them might be preferable to what replaces them.
> These trends are happening mainly through individual choices in a free
> market; which makes it very hard to argue that they should not be happening.

Does it really? I mean, are they really? With all the aggressive
(not to mention permanent) advertising verging on brainwashing,
there appears to be very little room for free individual choices.

Ivan A Derzhanski <>
(who always, and everywhere, prefers the local cuisine to a Big Mac)
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Message 3: 13.878, Disc: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 11:31:00 -0500
From: Patrick-Andr� Mather <>
Subject: 13.878, Disc: Econonmic Value of Lang Diversity

I am responding to Geoffrey Sampson's message concerning the value of
language diversity and the increasing encroachment of English on national

I must say that although I agree that the prospect of a world mono-culture
is very depressing, I do not share the author's pessimism concerning the
fate of major national languages such as French, German or Russian.

For one thing, although it is true that French (for instance) has lost much
of its prestige over the past few decades, it is not true that it has become
"a subordinate system of local relevance only". The number of (L1 and L2)
French-speakers has in fact increased dramatically since the 1960s, with the
improvement of schooling in African countries where French has official
status. French is still a major lingua franca not only in West and Central
Africa, but also in North Africa and some areas of the Middle East, not to
mention Western Europe. Similarly, I don't think Arab leaders at the recent
Beyrouth summit would share Mr. Sampson's pessimism concerning the future of
their language, as I am certain the number of Arabic speakers has also
increased dramatically over the past few years, and Arab remains a major
international language.

Furthermore, English is not the sole culprit in the disappearance of smaller
languages. Many languages are losing ground not to English, but to Arabic,
Bahasa Indonesia, French, German, and other languages that are expanding at
the expense of minority languages. These major languages are alive and well,
and their decline is only in relative terms, in comparison with English.
Although Anglo-American culture is "taking over" in some sense, I think it
is in fact being superimposed on other languages, rather than replacing
them. I agree with Mr. Sampson that some people seem to welcome the new
hegemony of World English, but many others are reacting to what they
perceive as an excessive encroachment of English, and are putting in place
incentives and legislation to promote their own languages. Quebec is a case
in point, but there are many other examples of language planning, for
instance Basque or Catalan in Spain.

Language diversity is certainly important, and it is indeed very sad that
many of today's 6,000 languages may die out within the next century, but the
threat of English becoming the sole World language, and the demise of major
national (and, yes, international) languages like French, Spanish or Arabic,
have been greatly exaggerated.

Dr Patrick-Andr� Mather
English and French Language Centre
Faculty of Arts, McGill University
688 Sherbrooke St. West, #274
Montreal, Canada
H3A 3R1
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