Language Preservation: How Countries Preserve Their Language(s)
If you speak English, it may seem like a no-brainer that it has become the lingua franca, but that isn’t such a no-brainer if you live in a non-English speaking country – or are descended from those who speak other languages. Due to the combined effects of colonialization, globalization and – quite honestly – and an unfortunate lack of respect for other cultures in the economically developed world, languages across the globe are becoming extinct.
Saving indigenous languages is crucial
Indigenous languages are hardest hit since their speakers are a distinct minority – both in number and socioeconomic status. According to the United Nations, “[t]he world’s indigenous languages are under threat of disappearing, with one language dying every two weeks and many more at risk.” To this end, the UN’s Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) works diligently with linguistic and indigenous peoples experts from around the world to address how we can protect and revitalize indigenous languages.
Professor Megan Davis, Chair of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, is emphatic that saving indigenous languages is crucial, not only for the indigenous peoples who speak them but for the world at large. She states, “Saving indigenous languages is crucial to ensure the protection of the cultural identity and dignity of indigenous peoples and safeguard their traditional heritage.”
And it’s not just indigenous people and protectors of disempowered ethnic minorities who are concerned; the French government, for example, is one of the most famous “protectors of language,” considering French continues to be one of the Top 15 most widely spoken languages in the world.
The website Globalization101 cites several larger, more powerful countries dedicated to preserving their language and, yes, prohibiting English from public signage. Examples include:
- The French Academy, which routinely scours the land for invasive words from other languages, most notably English ones. “Walkman,” “talk show,” “prime time”, “chewing gum”, as well as others, have been declared unwelcome foreign words.
- Canada’s French speaking province of Quebec, where provincial regulations stipulate that any sign containing English posted by a business must also post the same text in French in letters at least twice the size of the English text.
- The Chinese government, which attempts to protect the integrity of its language by removing foreign words from dictionaries.
The most common methods used to protect language
While legally and government-enforced methods may be effective to a point, the UN and others agree there are better ways to preserve a country’s mainstream languages as well as lesser-used dialects.
Creating recorded and printed resources
Recorded and printed documentation are essential for preserving languages’ sound and context. Linguists, anthropologists, and committed citizens work to interview, record, and document languages to preserve them via durable, physical media. These resources are published and preserved in libraries, academic institutions, museums, and cultural centers.
Two world-class examples of this include:
Teaching and taking language classes
Both teaching and participating in language classes are excellent ways to keep a language alive. Typically, elders volunteer or are paid small stipends to lead classes for a community. Speaking a language—even if only in a classroom or occasional conversational setting—is enough to give stronger and greater value to its words and nuanced meanings, some of which may not translate directly in any other language.
Using digital and social media outlets
On one hand, it can seem like digital and social media outlets are major players in drowning out languages – particularly since English is these outlets’ dominant language. On the other hand, those who wish to preserve indigenous languages have realized these are major modes of information sharing. Therefore, they utilize social media channels, YouTube, and other platforms to create courses, share expressions or sayings that are fading from the repertoire, record Karaoke versions of traditional songs with printed lyrics, and to affordably maintain a preservable record—audio, video, and text—of the target language.
Insist on speaking your native language
Perhaps one of the most important things groups, families, and individuals can do is insist on speaking their native language, resisting the urge to succumb to a dominant group’s language. Professional interpreters are a fantastic tool for this – ensuring business professionals can engage equally across language divides – never sacrificing their ability to understand what’s being said.
Whether you’re interested in promoting the linguistic rights of your multinational contacts or are committed to preserving your language, the professional translators and simultaneous interpreters at Chang-Castillo and Associates are here for you. We provide platinum-standard language solutions anywhere around the globe – and in just about any language or dialect. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you preserve your native language.