The Politics of Language: Examining the Future of the Multilingual State

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Dr Les (Leslie – Leszek) Sachs/Flickr

Let’s consider some important countries’ reasons behind their language politics and how they tie in with the future of international and foreign language studies.

In June 2014, Ukraine’s President Pyotr Poroshenko declared in an address devoted to the 18th anniversary of the country’s Constitution that the Ukrainian language had been, was, and would continue to be the only language of the state.

Ukraine is one of many countries that have legislation about which languages can be spoken. There are often political implications for countries that have more than one official language, and many governments will use ‘language policy’ to favor one language over another or promote all national languages on an even scale.

Language Policies that Favor and Discourage

China

There are as many as 304 living languages in China, which include Mandarin (the most common native language, spoken by 70% of the population), Shanghainese, Cantonese, and Taishanese. China is frequently divided among languages, due to the wide variety and the rich cultures that are attached to them.

In 2010, there was a huge controversy in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou because the national Communist authorities had ordered a major local television network to start broadcasting in Mandarin instead of Cantonese.

Unlike Canada’s commissioner of official languages attempting to protect the country’s two languages, China’s ruling Communist Party is trying to squash other languages so one national identity can be forged.

Belgium

Dutch, French, and German are the three official languages in Belgium, but Dutch speakers are the majority. The use of language by the country’s public services, including the authorities, is determined regionally but the constitutional freedom of language remains in the private domain.

For example, the Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde region is an area of ongoing linguistic tension as Dutch speakers have little option but to speak in French even within public services like the police.

Language Policies that Promote and Protect

Canada

Canada’s two official languages are English and French, both of which have equal standing in Parliament and in all federal institutions, including federal courts. However, the National Post reported in 2014 how Canada’s Foreign Minister, John Baird, has come under attack about a lack of Twitter statuses in French.

Canada’s commissioner of official languages has launched an investigation to see if federal laws around bilingual communication have been broken due to the Canadian government’s responsibility of upholding both languages.

The investigation spotlighted the debate of whether ministerial social media accounts fall under the Official Languages Act. Although John Baird’s department has responded defending Baird by stating that he tweets from a personal account, the majority of his tweets are based around foreign affairs issues and are occasionally repeated in French.

Kazakhstan

The country’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has mixed opinions regarding which language policies the country should follow. Though he considered the possibility of having Kazakhstan follow Ukraine’s example and ban all other languages apart from Kazakh, especially Russian, this was finally denied. Nazarbayev is able to see that limiting other languages, including English, could potentially set them back as a nation, according to Tengri News.

He stated, ‘How can we join the club of 30 most developed nations of the world if the young don’t speak the global language?’ Nazarbayev has been able to identify that developing three languages Kazakh, Russian and English within Kazakhstan are integral to the country’s development.

Finland

Finnish and Swedish are both considered national languages in Finland and are compulsory school subjects. Debates around whether Swedish should be a national language alongside Finnish have lost prominence and the two languages are both regarded of equal importance within the nation’s identity.

Bilingual countries like Canada and Finland encourage their citizens to be able to speak several languages, which also improves their chances of finding a better job.

A study carried out by Willian & Mary University in 2014 found that 80% of businesses believed they would improve if their staff had more international skills, including knowing a foreign language. There are, indeed, at least 6,909 distinct languages spoken around the world.

With globalization and increasing bilingualism, many studies have suggested that learning two languages should be encouraged from an early age. Bilingual education can help students become part of a broader society.

With people using more than 6,000 languages worldwide, and the majority of the global population being bi- or multilingual, learning another language has never been so important. It is imperative to remember that bilingualism helps people to participate more fully in such a varied environment.

Countries that are able to meet national priorities while establishing the rights of groups to use and maintain languages will boost the future of international and foreign language studies.

Has learning about the complexities of national languages sparked an interest in the intricacies of communication? Contact Us to get more information on what more there is to learn and how to learn it.

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