Politics of Language

love-1672154_1280The question of language is one that in practice is typically considered non-political, meaning that it is considered to be somehow beyond political debate. Yet human language is certainly intrinsically political considering that human politics is precisely conducted in language.

Most countries around the world have historical borders with typically limited contemporary relevance. For example the border between Sweden and Finland is based on the outcome of the 1808-1809 Finnish War between Sweden and Russia. This left the Swedish-language Åland Islands in Finland and Finnish-speaking Meänmaa (Torne Valley region) in Sweden. A 1919 petition signed by 96,4% of the population of Åland with 95% in favor of becoming part of Sweden was ignored by Finland. Sweden saidly pursued assimilatory policies towards it Finnish-speaking minorities with the intention of having them abandon Finnish in favor of Swedish.

Borders therefore need to become democratized in the sense that the people affected by borders should become significantly involved in determining borders between states and of course forming new states. The geopolitical division of Kurdistan between four different states (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey) have had tragic consequences for the economic development of Kurdistan as these antiquated borders tragically prevent trade between different parts of Kurdistan. However, no area or region should be able to attach itself to an existing state against the wishes of that very state while secession in contrast should be a fundamental democratic right. Democratic borders will be highly effective in preventing both border wars and undoing regional instability as caused by irrelevant historical borders such as the 1896 Durrand Line currently dividing Pashtunistan between Pakistan and Afghanistan and contributing to significant contemporary regional instability.

Language is also the vehicle of liberal democracy, meaning that it is difficult to have a genuinely nationwide political debate without there being a common language that is mastered at a relatively advanced level by most human citizens. The linguistic state is therefore the optimal state both economically and democratically although there should be room in the world for other types of states as well if so desired by the respective population.

Linguistic statehood also requires that many standard literary forms that are actually mere literary ethnolects (such as Catalan-Galician-Italian-Occitan-Portuguese-Sicilian-Spanish, Ndbele-Swazi-Xhosa-Zulu and the various closely related English-based Creole varieties in the Western hemipshere) are merged while in cases where distinctive languages are submerged under a different language (e.g. Chinese) that those languages (such as the South Sinitic languages) are recognized and treated as separate languages indeed. Yet, universal standards will certainly be needed for this global restructuring process.  

Current alphabets typically have religious origins in terms of historical usage yet different forms of writing (including different alphabets) are typically serious and indeed completely unnecessary obstacles to the learning of languages. Also most systems of writing are deficient in providing to varying degrees inaccurate guides to pronunciation.

What is needed therefore is a universal phonetic alphabet that will mostly supplant all other existing alphabets, indeed much like Turkey in 1928 abandoned a modified Arabic alphabet for a modified Latin alphabet. Children learning to read and write should be taught to write as they themselves pronounce and so standard spelling and nearly all grammatical rules should be abolished. Indeed, grammatical rules represent an historical snapshot of a language in historical development and so grammatical rules that contradict current usage are simply antiquated. New simplified forms of languages should be created for learners of foreign languages whereby grammar is radically simplified in the sense of both abolishing and standardizing systems of inflection and thus making languages for more intuitive to use for foreign language learners.

One reason why English has gained such worldwide prominence as the preeminent international language is the historical fact that English (which was originally a form of Old Frisian) lost most of its Germanic system of inflection in contact with the Old Norse language (still the language of Iceland and the Faeroes Islands) of Danelaw conquerors. However English grammar can be even further simplified in its international form. This is not to say that existing systems of writing and existing grammars should be abandoned, but rather that there should be room for those as well. Modern Japanese is an interesting example which uses the Latin alphabet in addition to the Chinese system of writing and two Japanese alphabets and so Japanese student have to learn all four writing systems for writing Modern Japanese.

Two problems in many official languages of nation states are linguistic classism, i.e. prescriptive rules for pronunciation, spelling and grammar and linguistic racism, i.e. intolerance of accents perceived as “foreign” or “racially different”. Some standard forms such as for example the Mainland Swedish literary ethnolect of Scandinavian is severely intolerant of deviations from standard pronunciation. “Swedish” intolerance against dialects includes historically socially shaming users into instead adopting the “standard” form.

There is an urban dialect natively spoken by second generation immigrants in project suburbs across Sweden. This dialect is known as Rinkeby Swedish and its speakers despite being native speakers of Swedish face severe informal, yet structural discrimination in all fields of life. Rinkeby Swedish occupies a social position highly similar to that of African American English (a.k.a. “Ebonics”) in the United States in that it is unintelligible to majority society and is looked down upon in the sense as cultural expression of white structural racism.

Rather, dialects, ethnolects and sociolects need to be embraced, including with regard to distinguishing syntax and distinctive vocabularies. There should furthermore be tolerance and acceptance for accents which are perceived as “foreign” (i.e. ethnic), geographic or pertaining to social classes, professions or subcultures. Richness in synonyms need to be embraced as synonyms are seldom identical in usage but rather each have distinctive nuances. Authors, journalists, and students should thus be encouraged to use synonyms, including especially so called “dialect words”. The merging of current standardized literary ethnolects will certainly also contribute to the richness in vocabularies. Indeed, most attempts at policing language usage is simply expressive of prejudice whether on the basis of age, citizenship, class, ethnicity, geography, race or other similar shibboleths.

Rather than standardizing language usage should linguistic diversity be cherished as richness in functional and aesthetic expression of language. Dialect barriers such as between the various standardized literary varieties of the Romani language can certainly be overcome with the new universal phonetic alphabet for spelling all languages and so students should be taught how to tune-in in much better understanding other distinctive spoken varieties of the shared language. The Rinkeby Swedish dialect and African American English ethnolect are important urban varieties that simply everyone in those countries should learn to at least understand.

Neologisms, loanwords, dialect words and informal word usage (often derogatively described as “slang”) need be to embraced with the goal of making languages as rich and diverse in vocabulary as possible. Indeed, language policy needs to be reconceived from being an authoritarian “policing” operation into respectfully embracing linguistic diversity more generally.

There is no need for any other spoken international language besides English and that should include a new even further grammatically simplified form of English that would be completely inclusive e.g. African American English. Academia should only have one language worldwide whether with respect to teaching or writing academic discourse. Furthermore should everything published by scholars affiliated with academic institutions or otherwise made public in an academic context become completely free of copyright so as to facilitate unhindered global access acroos the Internet. Academia is severely antiquated in academics typically policing both students and each other into adhering to genre, paradigm, disposition and prescribed language usage. Language policing therefore needs to be recognized as a form of intolerance and indeed harmful oppression on the basis of citizenship, class, ethnicity, geography, taxon etc.

There are multilinguistic regions in historically so called “remote” parts of the world where many languages have survived in typically small linguistic territories. Most of the world’s languages are indeed concentrated in a number of multilinguistic regions worldwide and those regions should be federated into cantonal unions with usually only one linguistic canton for each language. A linguistic canton in a cantonal union would automatically gain independence upon reaching the demographic threshold of half a million human permanent inhabitants.

Indeed, self-determination is expressed through language and the vast majority of contemporary Africans natively speak languages with at least half a million speaker and so their respective regions should therefore become absolutely eligible indeed for independence. The notion that wars should be necessary for the purpose of attaining independence of linguistic statehood is simply preposterous and gravely antiquated indeed.

Yet it is also important that language communities should not be forced to live with each and officially legally bilingual states comprised of two rival linguistic communities are typically profoundly unhappy enterprises with regard to bilateral communal coexistence. This is true in Belgium, Canada, Finland and Israel which are all officially bilingual states and characterized by significant and permanent tension between the two main involuntarily cohabiting linguistic communities.

In the case of the Palestinians however is this due to Palestinian hamulas (clans/tribes) not having been welcomed to return to the Jewish people and Judaism of their ancestors and so language is not the main issue although Palestinians natively speak the major Semitic language of Amiyyah yet learn the dead liturgic Arabic language in school which is co-official with Hebrew in Israel. Amiyyah is written with Latin characters in Lebanon and numbers are used to denote Semitic phonemes. The interesting result however in Israel is that Palestinian-Israeli students do not know Arabic better than they know Hebrew (according to Israeli standardized testing) for the simple reason that Arabic is not their native language and so it’s important to value and cherish both languages and language varieties (ethnolects, dialects and sociolects) as natively spoken by children as this very much helps them to easier learn further languages.

It is however also vital that dead, dying and even extinct national heritage languages are revived. E.g. should schools in Mexico cease teaching children in Spanish but should rather educate children in each part of Mexico in the language that predominated in an area as prior to Spanish colonialism as most contemporary Mexicans are partly or entirely descended from indigenous Mexicans who were forcibly assimilated into Hispanic culture.

Linguistic kindergartens are an important tool in early making children natively multilingual and all children should learn at least one sign language. While there is no need for any other international spoken language besides English, knowing multiple languages is cognitively useful since it helps the speaker understand and appreciate cultural diversity and seeing things simultaneously from different perspectives. Linguistic kindergartens are also one essential tool in reviving dead, dying and extinct national heritage languages. Other essential factors include making the revived language the main language of communal social interaction and creating a local labor market that socially and economically values the revived language. A linguistic kindergarten for language revival is typically monolingual in exclusively focusing on the often low-status national heritage language being revived. However, a linguistic kindergarten can also be bilingual or multilingual in encouraging the simultaneous use of two or more languages.

Extinct languages should be revived provided that there is a cultural/ethnic connection with contemporary human communities. There is for example no longer an Etruscan people although it is possible that the descendants of the Etruscan people may in the future wish to revive both Etruscan language and Etruscan culture and so should certainly be encouraged to do so even in the absence of contemporary cultural/ethnic ties with the ancient Etruscan people. The Etruscan language would under this hypothetical scenario therefore be taught in schools in the Etruscan region which would subsequently become an independent state.

Egypt is an interesting case where most Egyptians natively speak Amiyyah yet learn the dead liturgic language of Arabic in school. While Arabic is the language of broadcasting and publishing, there is also a thriving culture of popular television shows in Amiyyah in Egypt. Modern Egyptian is unlike Arabic not a dead language as Modern Egyptian has thousands of native speakers in Egypt and around the world while Arabic as a dead language has none whomsoever. Amiyyah in Egypt, Sudan, Chad and West Asia is one of the two main North Arabian modern languages, the other being Dariyyah which emerged in contact between Tamazight (“Berber”) and colonial Arabic. Maltese and the so called Judeo-Arabic language are independent contemporary natively spoken North Arabian languages as well. Just as Egypt should be officially bilingual in Egyptian and Amiyyah, so should Tamazgha (“Maghreb”) become officially bilingual in Tamazight and Dariyyah.

There is much prejudice and oppression surrounding human language usage and so removing such prejudice and oppression is indeed essential in working towards more successful human coexistence. There is no doubt that non-human Animal taxa use languages and apparently communicate through what is usually described as “telepathy”. While scientists have been relatively unsuccessful in deciphering or even detecting non-human languages, humans still subconsciously use telepathy and famously so when humans fall in love with each which involves experiencing the emotions of the other person as one’s own emotions. The universal phonetic alphabet should therefore be devised so as to be capable of accurately writing languages of non-human persons, whether those are Earthlings or do live elsewhere in space.

Language policy should thus certainly be about cherishing diversity in linguistic expression everywhere. Linguistic prejudice and linguistic oppression must be discredited everywhere as it is typically complicit in other structural forms of oppression. The notion that certain languages and certain linguistic varieties (dialects, ethnolects and sociolects) are less valuable due to a community of speakers having relatively “lower” communal social status is completely and absolutely despicable and indigenous languages in many post-colonial countries are unfortunately typically severely devalued. Not only are small indigenous languages dying in e.g. Australia but educated elites in Africa in the style of their racist European predecessors typically do not esteem African languages and consider them to have essentially no value and therefore favor European languages over African languages. Indeed, languages are carriers of culture and so anyone concerned with cherishing cultural diversity need to begin to appreciate linguistic diversity as well. Revival of dying, dead and extinct languages worldwide is an essential task and linguistic statehood in Africa will become highly conducive to economic development in those new independent states.

The intersection of democracy and language is an essential one in exposing prejudice and countering oppression, yet also in cherishing and ensuring linguistic diversity everywhere.