Language is now a presence in international issues, both political and commercial. In addition to English, international and regional bodies recognize other great languages as co-official : French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic at the United Nations ; 22 languages for the European Union ; Portuguese, French, Arabic and Swahili for the African Union ;
French, Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas. These languages demand respect and equal treatment.
Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta Other languages without official status (for example, Portuguese in the UN, regional languages in the European Union, Guarani in South America) are demanding their right to be recognised as co-official.
Initiatives by various agencies (the Council of Europe, Linguapax, Unesco, and others) tend to give an increasing role to languages without national or regional official status.
This regionalization of relations renders more powerful and present the languages that lost ground decades ago, which are presently returning to education and commerce. Economic globalisation is accompanied by a proliferation of the languages used by industries. According to a well-publicised survey by the government, conducted to promote the language industries 1, 60 % of consumers in developed countries never buy a product that is not labelled in their language. Companies have been slow to follow up, but they are increasingly localising 2, while national and international administrations, suffering from bureaucratic inertia, take a bit longer to react.
The adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions 3, put forth by Unesco, was the symbol in itself of culture’s changing role in international relations. Beyond simple economic value brought about by specialized industries, culture is primarily an essential precondition for human existence, and a driving force for a mutually respectful development of the planet’s future.
This Convention addressed a gap that multilingualism activists were well aware of, because it was time to consider the scientific study of linguistics as intimately associated with free expression, self-empowerment, equal opportunity, and promotion of international understanding on a just and equal basis.
1 Report on Global Consumer Online Buying Preferences, Showing the Impact of Language, Nationality, and Brand Recognition, Common Sense Advisory, 2006. Accessed freely on 09/11/2009, but access is currently restricted :
2 See in this book : Michael Oustinoff, The Economy of Languages.
3 Adopted by Unesco 20 October 2005. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/ cultural-diversity/diversity-of-cultural-expressions/the-convention/convention-text/ Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta Language is certainly implicit in the Convention, but “implicit” does not mean “obvious” to everyone. The Millennium Development Goals 4, in neglecting to give culture its own goal, also failed to address the languages of persons. Certainly, the Convention on Intangible Heritage 5 makes careful mention, and both the Recommendation on Multilingualism in Cyberspace 6 and the Declaration of Principles of the World Summit on the Information Society 7 embody the idea of respect for linguistic diversity and multilingualism. But it is also necessary that these instruments be followed with concrete achievements. And we know that we are far from affording all individuals the opportunity to develop freely in their own language.
In the absence of international conventions on currently existing languages, and lacking reliable indicators on their place and impact in the developing world ; given the probable disappearance of nearly half of them, and the high number of injustices linked with speaking an unrecognized language, action is still needed. These actions include indicators, public policies, and the promotion of multilingualism and linguistic diversity, not to mention legal instruments.
While fewer than one in three individuals currently has internet access 8, the internet’s evolution is continuous and tends towards universalisation.
We also know that cyberspace and its associated technologies are gradually replacing our old modes of communicating, expressing ourselves, transmitting information, sharing knowledge, and connecting with others. Languages that cannot circulate such information, knowledge or dialogue, risk losing value in the eyes of their speakers. But migration and urbanization, as well as universal access to the internet and media, provoke inter-linguistic tensions, in which only those languages that are highly valued by their speakers will survive.
4 See in this book : Adama Samasskou, Multilingualism, the Millennium Development Goals, and Cyberspace.
5 Adopted by Unesco 17 October 2003.
http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.phplg=en&pg=6 Recommendation Concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace, adopted by Unesco 15 October 2003.
7 Adopted in Geneva in December 2003.
http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs/geneva/official/dop.html 8 http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta Despite some advances in the level of multilingualism on the internet, only a handful of the world’s languages enjoy a significant online presence, and English remains the language that is most commonly used, although its relative presence is shrinking and could fall to 30 % of web pages 9, matching the percentage of internet users who are comfortable in English 10. Jean-Claude Corbeil announced in 2000 that, “Very shortly, the presence of English is expected to decline to roughly 40 %, as various countries create websites, and as they connect to the net” 11.
The reality is that of all the languages in the world, only a small number will benefit from institutions ensuring their protection, development and equipment, and only five hundred 12 will have a presence in cyberspace (on the other hand, the number increases if you count audio-visual resources). A language develops not only through an institution’s willingness and capacity to ready it for use in every context, but rather, it is often the desire of individuals, faculty, or small organizations working in the field who participate in this development 13.
Whether it concerns a solid institution or lighter initiatives, there is no rule, no science, and no exemplary praxis for policy language. While many works are devoted this matter, and despite numerous conferences dedicated to it (sometimes explicitly, but more often implicitly), language policy (or language planning) has only been an object of study for a few decades, and because of the disparity of sociolinguistic situations, they cannot effectively guide practitioners, apart from the most-studied languages (mostly European and Asian languages).
So it is difficult to find two consistent models of language policy in a given country or territory. Under the heading “language policy”, we find 9 At the time of writing, the estimated figure is that 26.8 % of internet users speak English, closely followed by Chinese with 24.6 % and Spanish with 7.8 % http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm 10 See in this book : Michael Oustinoff, English Won’t Be the Internet’s Lingua Franca.
11 Jean-Claude Corbeil, “I comme informatique, industries de la langue et Internet”, In B.
Cerquiglini et al., Tu parles !, le franais dans tous ses tats, Paris, Flammarion, 2000, p.
129. My translation.
12 This is the number of languages identified by Unicode as having online representation http://unicode.org/repos/cldr-tmp/trunk/diff/supplemental/languages_and_scripts.html Of those, an estimated 300 are actually used in cyberspace. By far, the most multilingual application is Wikipedia, with 269 different languages as of 2011.
13 See in this book : Evgeny Kuzmin, Linguistic Policies to Counter Languages Marginalization.
Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta a number of fairly heterogeneous measures, ranging from policies that promote, protect or help regenerate one or more languages, to policies for eradicating them! We find very elaborate and explicit policies aimed at reviving a minority or rarely used language (Quebec, Catalonia, Israel), and we find policies valorising indigenous languages (Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay, Mali, Benin, and others), as well as Equity Policies for citizens vis--vis their government (Switzerland, Luxembourg, Aruba, and so on).
There are also, unfortunately, much less laudable policies for linguistic hegemony, giving absolute priority to the state language and banning the use of others.
A language policy 14, for example, could impose itself in the adoption of a writing system, or grammar and spelling rules and vocabulary development, by determining the status of one or more languages (granting official status, judicial and administrative use, status as a teaching language, a regional or national language, and so on), or teaching it at the international level.
For every language policy, whether it advocates linguistic hegemony, or conversely, promotes equal rights of citizens by allowing them to participate fully in society through the use of their first language, indicators are a fundamental orientation tool. They can objectively diagnose a situation, measure trends, and evaluate the effects of policies.
However, although many national or international bodies (Unesco, oif, Union Latine, sil, University of Laval, British Council, cplp, and others) provide statistics, follow-up studies, surveys and studies, and seek to establish more or less stable parameters for the observation of one or more languages, the indicators derived from them differ according to the home institute, showing glaring inconsistencies and allowing for media hype that at times just feeds uncertainty rather than clarifying the situation.
From the simple question of how many languages exist in the world (which raises the thorniest of borders between dialects), what methods to use for measuring the number of speakers (in terms of their ability or proficiency level in the language), other questions are emerging around the development of indicators, such as the size of the available corpus, 14 On this topic, see Leclerc’s page (CIRAL) on language policy.
http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/monde/index_politique-lng.htm Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta use in everyday life, and in education, administration, health, media, and scientific and technical information.
New parameters have emerged, strengthening a rationale that allows more room for one language over others, or balancing the presence of different languages : namely, how much a language “weighs” or how much a language is “worth”. Various studies by Grin 15, Graddol 16, Lopez Delgado 17, Hope 18, and others on language value (specifically, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese), as well as research conducted by Calvet 19 and others 20 on language weight, attempt to provide verifiable parameters to decide whether to learn or teach a language, the need to promote the presence of a language in sectors of society where it is less present, or simply to help it position itself in the labour market or sell a better product.
However, only the languages of people who are aware of this opportunity or challenge will flourish, while others may attend their own inevitable death in a globalized world where digitisation is imposing itself.
In proposing readjustments that respect linguistic diversity, we show our lack of real vision for the language situation. The statistics are incomplete, the indicators distorted, the studies biased, and above all, the metric studies on language are in their infancy.
The observation of a linguistic evolution in cyberspace is no exception to this general rule ; on the contrary, it rather highlights the existing gaps 15 Grin, F., Comptences et rcompenses. La valeur des langues en Suisse, Fribourg, ditions Universitaires Fribourg, 1999.
Grin, F., « English as economic value : facts and fallacies », World Englishes, n°20, 2001.
16 Graddol, D. English Next. Why Global English may Mean the End of “English as a Foreign Language”. The British Council & The British Company (UK) Ltd. 2006 (nvlle d.. 2007).
http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-research-english-next.pdf 17 Garca Delgado, JL et al, Economa del espaol. Una introduccin (2 edicin Ampliada), Madrid, Editorial Ariel, 2008.
18 Esperanca, Jose Paulo. O Valor Econmico Lngua Portuguesa da Pode Ser Potentiado.
http://www.portalingua.info/fr/actualites/article/valor-economica-portugues/ 19 Calvet, Louis-Jean (2002). The Language Market (Le march aux langues). Pars : Plon.
We can also use the same author’s language weighting assessment tool, based on several criteria that can be weighted :
Alain Calvet and Louis-Jean Calvet, The Calvet World Language Barometer.
http://www.portalingua.info/fr/poids-des-langues/ 20 Maurais, Jacques and Morris, Michael A. (eds.) (2003). Languages in a globalising world.
Cambridge : Cambridge University Press ; Wallraf, Barbara. “What global language”. The Atlantic Monthly 286 : 5 (2.000) : pp. 52-66. ; Weber, George. “Top Languages”. Language Today. December (1997) : 12-18.
Daniel Prado & Daniel Pimienta in the material. It is precisely the emergence of the internet that poses the new question of “opportunity” and “challenge” to languages. Indeed, cyberspace is a challenge for every language that faces new competition for providing access to a wealth of information, failing which its own speakers abandon it gradually, preferring a language that in their eyes is more “prestigious”, or at least provides more information in a given domain. But it is also an opportunity because as a medium, it provides easier and less expensive expressive capabilities than traditional media (including paper publishing and terrestrial broadcasting), and therefore can become an ideal way for linguistic resurgence.
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