4

LANGUAGES IN CONFLICT

As language communities come into contact in a multilingual world, the need arises for bilingualism, translation and the use of lingua francas. Proximity, necessity and convenience also lead to borrowing and inter-penetration among languages. Also, however, it is quite apparent that languages in contact can become languages in conflict. The force of circumstance—‘natural’ or contrived—can cause a group to abandon its original language for another; ‘big’ languages like English or French or Spanish can push smaller ones around and can contribute to their demise, and competition can exist among smaller varieties as they jostle for position, sometimes in the shade of an acknowledged and seemingly unassailable giant. If we are to study the contact, competition and conflict among languages and language varieties, and if we are, further, to consider the reasons behind these phenomena—and their relationships with, and influences upon, social life and group identity—it might be useful to begin by looking at evaluative reactions of a rather more decontextualized nature.


LINGUISTIC HIERARCHIES

In the introduction I noted that members of the élite have historically never shied away from saying which languages were the ‘best’ or the most appropriate in given circumstances; in so doing, I suggested, they were usually reflecting dominant linguistic attitudes derived from preferences and prejudices attaching to the speakers of various languages. When Richard Carew (1555-1620), for example, saw English as ‘excellent’, Italian ‘without sinews’, French ‘delicate’ and Dutch ‘manlike’, he was, in effect, giving us a picture of foreigners painted by an educated Englishman of the sixteenth century. When Antoine de Rivarol (1753-1801) observed that French was synonymous with clarity, and that English, Greek, Latin and Italian were mediums of ambiguity, he gave us the same picture, redrawn by a Frenchman two centuries later. 1 Language attitudes, then, are better understood as attitudes towards the members of language communities

-89-

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Multilingualism
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • A Brief Note on References xiii
  • Acknowledgements xv
  • 1 - An Introductory Overview 1
  • 2 - Languages in the World 15
  • 3 - Bilingualism 55
  • 4 - Languages in Conflict 89
  • 5 - Languages and Identities 125
  • 6 - The Prescriptive Urge 146
  • 7 - Languages, Cultures and Education 175
  • 8 - Conclusions 204
  • Notes and References 211
  • Index of Names 243
  • Index of Subjects 251
  • Index of Languages and Language Families 254
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