Why linguistic pluralism is something we have to preserve for the sake of a brighter future for Europe and beyond
Language plays a crucial role in our lives since early childhood. Children as young as 2 years old use it to communicate with their parents: let them know when they are hungry or have to go to the bathroom.
Later on in life, it helps us understand the world around us with the guidance of the schoolteachers and all the strangers we get to encounter in less formal environments while going through our daily routines. Hence, the ability of humans to develop their linguistic skills is crucial to get through social situations and better understand the people we live with as well as communicate our current needs and challenges. But what about the ones who get to learn two, three or even four languages?
Multilingualism is much more than confidence during your trips abroad or a key to the job promotions. As it is portrayed by the picture above, language is an effective tool, which enables us to express ourselves freely, and, more importantly, be understood by others. But what is even more fantastic about learning a language is the fact that it replicates a learning process. Thus, it has a massive positive impact on your ability to focus and memorize new things which are essential for becoming a life-long learner.
Linguistic pluralism in regard to the regional and minority languages' phenomenon
Linguistic pluralism is relatively common in contemporary globalized societies. Among the European states, Belarus, Belgium and Switzerland have more than one official language to name a few. And the percentage of trilinguals and multilinguals seems impressive when it comes to European region.
For instance, as it can be deduced from the graphs, every fourth European speaks three languages in comparison to only 13% of the rest of the world. And when it comes to multilingualism, thus, ability to speak four and more languages fluently, Europe accounts for 10% of the population which is remarkable in relation to only 3% world average.
Nevertheless, 97% of the world’s population speaks about 4% of the world’s languages, which accounts for about 280 languages out of 7000 of them present throughout the globe. This results in the majority of those less wide-spead languages being in danger, as some of them are only spoken by hundreds or even tens of people, especially, when it comes to the indigenous tribes. And the exclusion of such languages from the states’ legislature systems leaves their speakers with no other option but a necessity to acquire a more wide-spread language in order to preserve their basic human rights for a fair treatment at the court or adequate healthcare. As a consequence, unique cultures embedded into such languages remain unprotected and, thus, they are in danger of extinction.
On one hand, Europe is in favor of protecting those cultures and languages, as they contribute to the diversity this region is famous for. Hence, at least 60 of them are recognized and protected by the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (RMLs) adopted in 1992 by the Council of Europe.
Yet, on the other hand, there are thousands of other regional and minority languages present in Europe, which surely deserve our equal attention. Italy alone has already lost five languages: Gallurese, Sassarese, Algherese, Catalane, Sardinian which made it a less inclusive community in terms of the RMLs speakers. Whereas the state as big as Russia accounts for 13 such languages. And the world as a whole has lost 228 languages according to UNESCO’s last investigation. Nevertheless, what is even more alarming is the studies which suggest that half of the current world’s languages will have become extinct by the next century if we do not unite our powers and collectively act upon the issue.
Why and how we can protect the rights of RMLs speakers
Despite their little ratio (about 0.6%), the national minorities are an essential part of our societies. They contribute to the diverse ideas we have, and the protection of their means of communication with the state authorities ensures that everyone’s voice is heard and our democracies keep to flourish. Yet, Europe accounts for 640 languages which are at danger of extinction, as children no longer learn them as their mother tongue at home, and the mature people take them to the graves. However, our responsibility to treat the RMLs speakers equally still has to be of great concern to us to ensure everyone feels included and Europe keeps flourishing by preserving its intent to maintain the vast diversity it is famous for in the rest of the world.
Hence, if RMLs speakers are not treated equally, respect for human rights and human dignity actively promoted throughout the European region won’t be preserved. If not treated equally, there won’t be any true democracies which always stand for ordinary people being put high on the pedestal of any nation. If not treated equally, there won’t be any diversity being fostered and prioritized, as it is the major feature which has enabled our divergent societies to become the way they are in 2020.
With this being said, Europe has already made a great effort to protect the rights of the RMLs speakers via its supranational European Charta adopted in 1992. Yet, we all still have a long way to go. At first, not all the European states have ratified it into their national policy, which is essential for the charter to benefit the local communities; secondly, there are still 600+ languages which have to be protected in European region alone. So, here are the main three objectives we can all set for ourselves to contribute to a greater cause:
- Protection of our cultural and historical heritage. Thus, development of the exhibitions and social campaigns: both on social media and in person by fostering linguistic diversity via informal events;
- Appropriate and unbiased schooling which teaches to embrace our regional differences;
- Human resources enhancement by free trainings provided to the essential staff members such as healthcare workers, lawyers and police officers to ensure monolinguals who only speak an RML can enjoy their basic human rights and social securities, which would enable Europe to develop sustainably by being a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone, regardless of the ethnic group the person might belong to.
- The role of RMLs speakers in our contemporary diverse societies cannot be overestimated. As they are the ones who make up our cultural and historical heritage as well as ensure we can all benefit from Europe being such a vibrant region to live in by protecting the fundamental human rights of people regardless of the language they speak and including everyone into the decision-making bodies of the states.
The RMLs speakrers from their own perspective on linguistic pluralism since early in life
To back up my arguments, I collaborated with Lili Guguchia, an RML speaker from Georgia (country), who kindly shared her own opinion on how linguistic pluralism affects their speakers, present within contemporary societies both in Georgia and beyond.
How does diversity link to language from your point of view?
Lili: Our world is extremely diverse that it makes it perfectly unique. Diversity is found everywhere in everything. This helps us to have regular exposure to an environment that is different from our own. In such a diverse environment people tend to make more observations. Especially, when it comes to linguistic diversity. Understanding the importance of multilingualism is very important. Multilingualism is becoming a social phenomenon, driven by the needs of globalization and cultural openness. As we conclude, language unites people, their culture and they are related to certain values, which their culture carries.
How does the place you originally come from relate to RMLs?
Lili: I am from Georgia, a country that is most ethnically diverse in the South Caucasus. According to the 2007-2008 National Integration and Tolerance Assessment Survey in Georgia conducted by the United Nations Association of Georgia and supported by USAID, the following ethnic groups live in Georgia: Abkhazians, Ossetians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians Ukrainians, Russians, Greeks, Abkhazians, Ossetians, Kists, Assyrians and Yazidis. In such ethnically populated countries, it is important for minorities to be able to speak the language of the majority in order to integrate into society and to be able to participate in decision-making and political processes at the same time; states should promote the culture of minorities, which is a good solution for the development of multiculturalism and tolerance. Except having such diversity in the form of different nationalities it is even more fascinating that there is more than one Georgian language spoken in Georgia such as Megrelian, Svan, and Laz. Georgian which is the state language is spoken by almost the entire population of the region and most ethnic minorities.
How does your life experience enable you to shape your own perspective on RMLs?
Lili: I come from one of the west Parts of Georgia which is called Samegrelo. Except for the Georgian language, people in Samegrelo also speak the Megrelian Language. It is interesting to note that the existence of different languages between members of the same nation creates cultural differences. In addition to this having a few languages in a small area makes it easier to grasp that having a common language connects people more emotionally and language becomes a key element of group identity. For me, As I person who speaks more than one Georgian Language, I can say that I am absolutely grateful that I have the honor to represent the culture that Megrelian culture reserves which is reinforced by the existence of its own language. I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that when people in several countries speak several languages, there is alienation between them. People often think that the existence of a separate language significantly separates them from each other. It is important for them to understand that the existence of a separate language or additional language and culture positively emphasizes the beauty of cultural diversity in the nation. The difference should not allow them to divide but instead, they should maintain unity.
What are the greatest challenges the RML speakers face?
Lili: One of the biggest problems is that most of these languages are endangered since it is spoken by a minority of the group and we need to find ways to keep them from becoming extinct. Creating recorded and printed sources are vital to language survival. In the world of technology, it is easier to document language resources in different ways by recording the sound of the language, creating vocabulary etc. In addition, creating online websites and language teaching videos will help people to access language materials easier and faster. The popularization of the language by the state also has great importance.
Hence, if you are fortunate to inherit one of those ‘outdated’ or ‘untrendy’ languages, please, EMBRACE it, SPEAK it, and pass it on to your children. So, we keep all those untold stories alive and make the world a place where everyone can proudly say, ‘I feel that I belong here! I feel that I matter!’.
Written by: Alina Melnikava
Sources and further readings:
- Martinez, Marta Rodriguez. “Which European Languages Are Endangered?” Euronews, 21 Feb. 2018.
- “Multilingual People - Are You a Polyglot?” Ilanguages.org, 2018.
- Pasikowska-Schnass, Magdalena. Regional and Minority Languages in the European Union. 2016.
- Piller, Ingrid. “Multilingual Europe.” Language on the Move, 18 July 2012.
- Vince, Gaia. “The Amazing Benefits of Being Bilingual.” Bbc.com, BBC Future, 2016.