Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I'd rather be a cunning linguist

Taro 9 (made by BBC Wales to be broadcast tonight on S4C) asks the question: Is bilingualism the way forward?

"For decades the status of the Welsh language has sharply divided opinion in Wales but in Belgium it looks like a row over language is set to tear a nation in two," says the press release, going on to describe the controversy caused by Milford Haven politician Eric Harries who dared to suggest that limited resources are being wasted by the legal requirement to publish all council documents in Welsh as well as English (you can read the rest of it here).

In Belgium, differences between the Dutch speakers in Flanders to the north of the country, and the French speakers, primarily from Wallonia in the south, are threatening to literally split the country in two, wiping Belgium clean off the map.

I'm reminded of the conversations I've had in the past with Canadian friends regarding the resentment they feel as a result of their own legal requirement, historically imposed on the entire country by the relatively small province of Quebec, to have both English and French descriptions on all packaged goods and many public signs, and to be forced to learn French in "immersion" classes. And also of recent debates in the UK about the relative merits of publishing, for instance, medical leaflets in a variety of ethnic languages (Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, etc) as opposed to insisting that settlers in this country learn to speak and read English.

We often joke about America and England being divided by a common language, but there is more uniting us (especially in our use of English) than separates us, and certainly within a single country, it seems that one of the attributes that defines a country as a country is its common tongue.

If a country like Belgium, which to once again quote from the BBC press release is referred to as being "...regarded the world over as a symbol of co-operation and European unity", can be divided by language then surely the message is clear. One country: one language.


Anonymous said...

At a time when the world is moving towards English as the universal language that everyone understands.
Even the Common Market has English as its working language, a very few Welsh people waste our money, yes the English pay for the Welsh language idiots. They cannot understand that time and money wasted on teaching and learning Welsh really doesn't help the Welsh economy. The children of Wales need English every day, they need Welsh ... for what?

Tvor said...

There are some parts in the south western US where Spanish is probably the second major language, too. Sometimes it feels like Quebec is holding the rest of the country hostage. Yet it's politicians don't mind taking the federal paycheque and pensions, do they?