Language and Globalization
HerveDelhumeau, July 22, 2011
“Globalization” is a social process “characterized by the existence of global economic, political, cultural, linguistic and environmental interconnections and flows that make the many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant”. Steger’s book Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (publ. date: 2003) Oxford University Press. Globalization is not as recent a phenomenon as economists have generally led us to believe, although it has undoubtedly operated in faster and more complex ways since the late 1980s
Globalization is readily increasing in today’s world. This increase in globalization has many effects on language, both positive and negative. These effects on language in turn affect the culture of the language in many ways.
However, with globalization allowing languages and their cultures to spread and dominate on a global scale, it also leads to the extinction of other languages and cultures.
Language contributes to the formation of culture, such as through vocabulary, greetings or humor. Language is in a sense the substance of culture. Languages serve as important symbols of group belonging, enabling different groups of people to know what ethnic groups they belong to, and what common heritages they share. Without a language, people would lose their cultural identity.
Languages are the essential medium in which the ability to communicate across culture develops. Knowledge of one or several languages enables us to perceive new horizons, to think globally, and to increase our understanding of ourselves and of our neighbors. Languages are, then, the very lifeline of globalization: without language, there would be no globalization; and vice versa, without globalization, there would be no world languages.
“Cross-cultural contact, therefore, is often viewed as a potential source of unmanageable, or at least undesirable, culture change and of language shift, given that power differentials are to be expected between ethnic groups in interaction” (Fishman, 1989).
Today there are about 6,500 different natural languages. Eleven of them account for the speech of more than half the world’s population. Those eleven are Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, French, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, German, Japanese, Arabic, and English. According to Garrick Bailey and James People in their book Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology, estimates for extinct languages range from 4,000 to 9,000 since the 15th century. Other estimates for the future predict that only 10 percent of the present languages will continue into the 22nd century.
The global language system is very much interconnected, linked by multilingual persons who hold the various linguistic groups together. The hierarchical pattern of these connections closely corresponds to other dimensions of the world system, such as the global economy and the worldwide constellation of states.
English is distinguished from the other languages by having very significant numbers of non-native speakers, I think it’s going to be the one most affected by globalization.
At the opposite end of the scale there are languages teetering on the brink of extinction. More than half the world’s languages have fewer than 5,000 speakers, and there are many hundreds that have as few as a dozen. Languages are disappearing all the time — it’s estimated that a language becomes extinct roughly every two weeks.
We can say that almost everywhere language is used as an identity to be part of the “world system” now, and the thing about any system that integrates people is that it benefits its architects. Imported cultures are going to push out indigenous ones.
It’s clear that globalization is making English especially important not just in universities, but in areas such as computing, diplomacy, medicine, shipping, and entertainment. No language is currently being learned by more people — there may soon be 2 billion actively doing so — and the desire to learn it reflects a desire to be plugged into a kind of “world brain.”
To many people, then, the spread of English seems a positive thing, symbolizing employment, education, modernity, and technology. But to plenty of others it seems ominous. They hold it responsible for grinding down or homogenizing their identities and interests. It tends to equalize values and desires, without doing the same for opportunities.
So far, so unsurprising, you might say; but globalization may well have a kind of revenge effect. There’s a distinct chance, I think, that it will actually undermine the position of the very native speaker who, by virtue of having a mastery of this obviously valuable language, thinks he or she is in a strong position.
Why? Because one of the intriguing consequences of globalization is that English’s center of gravity is moving. Its future is going to be defined not in America or Britain, but by the new economies of places like Bangalore, Chongqing or Bratislava.
“The great difficulty is thus considering the unity of the many and the multiplicity of the unity. Those who see the diversity of cultures tend to overlook the unity of mankind; those who see the unity of mankind tend to dismiss the diversity of cultures”. Edgar Morin, L’identitéhumaine.
This endangerment of languages can have a drastic effect on the cultures that loses there identity. Effects on language loss on cultures might include: dismay at the realization that the native language is lost; anti-social behavior as minority will desperately try to preserve their language; loss of self-esteem. Therefore, it is important for cultures to preserve their language. Despite the increase in globalization, this is possible in many ways, such as language classes, promoting the native language in homes, schools, art, promoting though a strong national identity.
The most problematic issue is how to make these two seemingly contradictory facts compatible: continuity of the linguistic diversity created by humanity through its Diaspora all over the world, and the need for intercommunication between these groups of linguistically-diverse individuals in the new – ‘glocal’ – era of positive re-unification of the species
Actions and representations and discourses on language diversity (cultural identity), integration and intercommunication are therefore primordial, promoting the search for new principles and ways of looking at situations of language contact.
Capra therefore suggests dealing with the columns of the table below complementarily, in order to rectify, particularly in Western culture, the predominance of assertive thought and values at the expense of integrative ones:
Self-assertive – Integrative Self-assertive – Integrative
Rational – Intuitive Expansion – Conservation
Analysis – Synthesis Competition – Cooperation
Reductionist – Holistic Quantity – Quality
Linear – Nonlinear Domination- Partnership
This change in paradigm does seem urgent because it is clearly coherent with the main problems of modern societies. Now that we are getting to know ourselves better genetically too and that we are sure that human are a unique species and that the genome of other species is not so different, perhaps we can enter another planetary era with more solidarity between the diverse cultural groups and the other species with which we share the biosphere. Biologically and linguistically, as Edward O. Wilson says, “soon we must look deep within ourselves and decide what we wish to become” !!!
If we have a deep look inside us we will come to the conclusion that Art can be the bridge that can make compatible Language and Globalization.