‘In many regions across the globe, a citizen’s ability to speak multiple languages is ‘normal and quite unremarkable’ and is ‘an instrumental response to mundane needs’ in the life of the considerable percentage of people.
As we shall see, our ancestors utilized it [multilingualism]: first to help them survive, then to barter and prosper. They leaned and created languages as they traded across distances. All the time their business and language practices went hand in hand.
👑 Trading and language (historical outline)
- Language needs were always closely connected with the trade and industry needs:
- Use of non-verbal signals + Silent trade (described by Herodotus)
- The most extensive commercial networks for transporting goods in the Old World were waterways (the Euphrates, the Ganges, The Mekong, the Yellow River, etc) = The cultural exchanges through long-distance trade kindled a taste for foreign luxury products among the wealthy = merchants started to use camels, but it was slower and more costly than by sea = only durable and valuable products were carried on camels to justify the journey.
- About 200 BC, the Silk Route extended over 10000 km. Chinese, Persian, Somalis, Greeks, Syrians, Romans, Armenians were among the major groups of the travellers. + Nomadic tribes (Uighur and Mongolians) known for their horsemanship were offering a paid protection to the merchants on the dangerous routes. Speakers of related languages would use similar words (Uighur and Kazakh); others adopted widely understood elements of languages. Major languages: Greek, then Latin, Arabic, Persian.
- Apart from the goods the knowledge was shared (religion, novel ideas – gunpowder, paper money, etc.).
- Early colonisation process (e.g. Greeks in Turkey) + major trade settlements (e.g. Babylon) where bilingual foreign traders were used as cross-cultural brokers. Several rulers developed language skills to address their populace and army directly.
- Bilingual (and even trilingual)scribes, including famous [Rosetta Stone](https://www.history.com/news/what-is-the-rosetta-stone#:~:text=In the 19th century%2C the,town of Rashid (Rosetta).)
- Cuneiform and hieroglyphics as the early form of writing but cumbersome to execute = lighter materials and tools introduced. In the 10th century BC Aramaic traders introduced the alphabet. Two millennia later (Hindu-) Arabic numerals were introduced.
- Cases of ‘industrial espionage’ to steal the silk manufacturing secrets; the Mongol Empire on the Silk Route allowed relatively safe and open trade. Marco Polo ‘mastered four languages and their modes of writing’. Marco Polo and his travels – Who was Marco Polo? – Silk-Road.com Marco Polo’s discoveries inspired Christopher Columbus who was at the start of the Age of Discovery.
- Use of blended language Infused with (mainly) Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and some Greek, Arabic and Turkish loan words, this adaptable language mixture served as a vehicular means of communication. […] This Mediterraneans auxiliary language came to be known as lingua franca.
- With imperial expansion from the mid-1500s, other languages began propagating across the globe (English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.
- Pidgins and creoles = they became associated with labour-intensive economies, trade, agriculture and mining // were restricted language forms and had a low prestige
- XVI century Printing: helped to establish standard forms of the language or played role in the language survival (translation of the Bible into Welsh)
- XIX century – a growing sense of national identity + capitalism + technology = people started adopting the official language of the countryIn today’s world, with its fast social, cultural and material changes, the challenge lies in keeping up the momentum of innovatively embracing language diversity to meet societal and market needs.
- Esperanto as an international language (still used at the Academy of Sciences in San Marino, offered as a foreign language in Hungarian schools, is presented in Google Translate.
🏢 Governmental policies
Governments may formally promote one or several languages.
Most language policies require finance for implementation and, as a result, the decisions are often made on the basis of cost-benefit calculations.
For governments and businesses, supporting forms of language training can be seen as a means of obtaining an economic advantage. BUT: an adherence to purely economic motives is leading to the extinction of many lesser-used languages.
There is an optimal number of languages an organisation or a country can support in practice.
Hosting the migrants from all over the world entails providing them with schools, healthcare, housing and access to information.
French-speaking Quebec since 1977. A costly decision: C$20 million per annum for implementing objectives; C$5.5 billion per annum for language training for civil servants; C$90 million per annum for translation of official documents, and other spending during the first five years of the policy. Aims: to safeguard the language + support the economic opportunities of French Canadians. Outcomes: the income gap between English and French speakers has dramatically decreased. Nevertheless, the situation may change in the future as a result of low birth rate and the fact that many migrants to Canada choose English. Quebec to tighten language law, force retailers to add French descriptions to names | CBC News
- 🏔 Switzerland
Four territorial languages adopted in 26 cantons in different ways + many citizens are proficient in English. Preferences for the second languages also differ a lot across the country (e.g. German Zurich prefers English, but Italian Lugano looks for German skills).
- The USA
- 1.7% wage premium for Spanish (native speakers/bilingual citizens are in abundance); 2.7% for French; 4% for mandarin, German, Italian and Russian.
- Despite the language-rich immigrant settings (in the USA and Australia) a monolingual route has been officially chosen. But there is a linguistic Pandora’s Box lying buried under the veneer of this apparent language uniformity. It can be a negative feature that leads to ghettoization and exclusion. If properly managed through education and in the workplace, this may well serve economic interests as well as strategic and security needs.
🌍 International organisations
- The UN – 6 languages (Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish)
- The WTO (World Trade Organisation) – 3 – English, French and Spanish.
- The World Bank – English (with conferences offering translations to 5 more languages of the UN).
- The European Union – operates in English, French and German. Will English remain an official EU language after Brexit? The problem of translation: all the verbal communications at the meetings require 24 languages = 276 language pairs = 552 individual acts of interpreting. A possible admission of Turkey will require an additional 24 language-pair translations.
- Trade blocs with growing influence: BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China); CIVETS (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa) ASEAN Speaking in tongues: why Asean members stick to English The likely greater interaction between these clusters will produce complex language dynamics.
For individuals learning another language implies using personal resources in anticipation of future benefits.
- Most educational systems in the world start teaching a foreign language at an early age.
- Second language choice: an economic incentive propelled the introduction of Asian languages in Australian schools; The USA traditionally offers Spanish with Arabic and Mandarin as new popular languages. The majority of countries choose English.
British Council report identified 10 languages of the future (not counting English):
Arabic – petroleum industry; German – engineering and pharmaceutical industry, a key language in the EU; Spanish – fast-growing economies; French – presented on all continents, market in Sub-Saharan Africa, wine export tradition, an official language of many international institutions (inc. The International Olympic Committee); Mandarin and Portuguese – rapidly growing BRIC economies; Russian – firmly set on the global market; Mandarin and Japanese – hi-tech industry; Turkish – geopolitical reasons, developing market; Italian.
The National Security Language Initiative (the USA) handpicks promising graduates with merit-based scholarships to learn less commonly taught languages a.k.a. ‘critical need languages’. The British Army’s Language strategy includes a requirement for all officers to demonstrate a survival level in another language. Although no specific languages are prescribed, Russian and Arabic are recommended for defence interests.
Some American schools started accepting credits for programming languages to fulfil the state’s language graduation requirements.
– Do the languages of programming fall into the same category with other foreign languages if they lack actual two-way communication?
– Commonly monolingual Americans rely on English as a lingua franca
Language as the means of instruction: a global, neighbouring or a minority language. Apart from the recognised cognitive benefits, bilingual education can open up social and career benefits.
Opportunism and economic incentives dictate the shift toward global languages, so that people in the local communities choose for their children schools in national or global languages. At the same time, in some UK cities migrant communities get supplementary classes in their own languages.
- Internationalisation of the tertiary education: seen as a market opportunity to attract foreign students with higher cost of education. Joint degree courses (e.g. French with business) with the language component marked as a commodity. Unis settle the campuses overseas or change the language of instruction to English. Socrates-Erasmus programme: mobility scheme creates a network with developed language and soft skills.
- MOOCs give global access to learning, though they are mostly available in English (80%), Spanish, French and Chinese. Germany, Italy, France and Finland introduced courses with a more regional focus. Now, Language-specific MOOCs are becoming available.
In the education business, students as customers have incomplete knowledge of the product they are setting out to purchase, often as a one-off transaction. What makes a difference to them, and possibly also their sponsors, is the prospect of employability.
- People can derive cognitive benefits from learning a second language:
- reduced decision-making biases,
- improved ability to make better financial choices
- emotional benefits (pure pleasure of using a language or be close to its culture)
It almost seems that we can learn a new language by osmosis nowadays.
- There is an optimal number of languages an organisation or a country can support in practice.
- Errors in communication or lack of understanding caused by language barriers have led to many types of failures = ‘Language Tax’
– aviation catastrophes due to the lack of language skills: 70-80% of accidents are due to the language. Worldwide the focus on the language training for pilots, inc. understanding accents for native-speaking pilots.
– maritime transportation with multinational crews, inc. understanding of written safety instructions. Backup option: the International Code of Signals (flags), + visual support for the instructions.
– industry: labelling parts and goods in multinational companies; safety measures at the workplace, flawless communication between the member of a multilingual team.
– healthcare frontline, esp. for the travellers (doctors have to ‘go veterinary’ or find an interpreter which is not always possible within the timeframes of the emergency situation)
Multiple language needs are especially marked in the case of the patients who are refugees or asylum seekers, some of whom have complex, serious and frequently stigmatising conditions such as TB, HIV, or mental health problems.
Possible solutions: bilingual staff, visuals, applying a single-language policy within the company
- Mark Zuckerberg learns Chinese for personal reasons (his wife, curiosity and challenge) + the business interest = ability to address potential customers in their language. “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen sie Deutsch sprechen.” This quote was famously stated by former West German chancellor Willy Brandt.
- Language skills go hand in hand with soft skills, esp. the ability to handle cultural differences = be not just ‘book-smart’ but also ‘street-smart’.
- Clearly, knowledge of English is implicitly assumed nowadays for anyone in business, research or tourism.
- Multilingual collaboration as a source of creativity.
- The language services industry:
– needs specialists with advanced software skills aside with the language proficiency;
– quality assurance (in search of balance between a high-quality translation and short time limits) = crucial in some areas, e.g. medicine, as a mistake can cost lives.
– concerns over confidentiality
- Heritage marketing = less used languages are employed to convey traditional culture that feeds the nostalgia of tourists; supplying local people with employment opportunities. + language travel tourism with group-based learning, entertaining, cultural exchange, volunteering, etc.
⚠ Minority languages and Language death
- School can play a crucial role in the revival of threatened languages by encouraging their use as a medium of instruction.
- Local empowerment, enterpreneurial activities (worked with Welsh, Catalan). Websites, social media can draw in people more widely.
- Minority languages suffer an image problem and their speakers may experience existential challenge.
BBC Alba = Scottish Gaelic with about 80000 speakers the channel has a small audience, but its Twitter attracted about 2000 followers who are interested in the language.
European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/rms/0900001680695175