2 The Broader View: Language and Policy

2.1. Language and identity

Why are people so sensitive about language? Language is related to identity, culture, and memory. Loss of language could mean loss of valuable culture and irreplaceable knowledge. Therefore diversity of languages has value in itself, similar to biodiversity. It should be protected like endangered species. Many languages are disappearing while others are threatened. On the other hand, languages evolve, transform and spread in ways difficult to predict. English itself evolves in regional variations. International meetings and increasing trans-national co-operation led to the adoption of the so-called 'conference English', a basic vocabulary that is easier to learn.

During the 19th century, national languages were part of the liberation movement and the creation of new nations and states. Sometimes there was a political need to invent a literary language as a factor of national unity and later disseminate and impose it through the elementary school system. National languages were introduced in church, science and culture. Regional dialects and languages of the minority groups living in the same territory were sidelined. A unique national language of the state was strongly promoted. Many generations grew up in this new nationalistic linguistic environment. But the last part of the 20th century has experienced large movements of population and opposing tendencies in the use of languages, swinging between linguistic standardisation and pluralism.


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