Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

English as a Lingua Franca or the New Global Latin. Sociolinguistic Considerations from the Conference Interpreter's Standpoint

Academic journal article Cognitie, Creier, Comportament

English as a Lingua Franca or the New Global Latin. Sociolinguistic Considerations from the Conference Interpreter's Standpoint

Article excerpt


In our globalized world English has become not only factually the most widely used, but also the most socially acknowledged tool of communication. As language always vehiculates a particular worldview, this has consequences on the way we think and picture the world. This consequences are felt even when the interpreting profession is concerned, especially in the case of EU institutions, where the inexorable advance of this language at the expense of the others is quite manifest. The present article explores the multiple facets of this phenomenon and especially its drawbacks, ending in a plea for multilingualism.

KEYWORDS: sociolinguistics, lingua franca, English, interpreting, Europe

BACKGROUND: DEFINITIONS AND CONTEXT It is essential for the flow of the argument to present a few linguistic concepts and introductory ideas. Sociolinguistics is the linguistic study of the interaction between languages and society. For example, sociolinguistics consists of subjects such as multilingualism, code switching, group languages, inter-lingual contact and conflict etc.

A dialect is the version of a language spoken in a certain area, while group language is the general term for the versions used by ethnic, religious or age groups or professional categories. Where there is a specific manner in which a certain social group or class speaks, this is called a sociolect. These phenomena (ethnolects, genderlects, sociolects or professional jargon - for instance medical or even linguistic jargon) all have something in common: language is an important identity marker. An unshared group language strengthens the feeling of belonging to a group, thereby excluding non-members.

Generally speaking, group language remains the version of a language, but in some cases, it may be a completely different language (for example: the Flemish bourgeoisie spoke French until the end of the Second World War; people belonging to the upper classes in Northern Italy speak Friulan, Milanese or Venetian and so on rather than Italian).

If, in a region, two or more languages are spoken and most or all of the speakers know these languages, we have an inter-lingual contact. This contact is not always non-problematic. If the languages have different statuses, one can become dominant and may cast the other one out or dislocate it, or may contaminate it through calques (Lehneinflüsse). In this case, we have an inter-lingual conflict.

We have bilingualism or multilingualism when a person or a group of people speak several languages. The motivation behind learning a third language may be instrumental (that is, someone learns another language for practical reasons, to improve their ability to express him or herself and communicate) or integrative (if someone wishes to be proficient in another language in order to integrate into a certain society or social group).

The levels at which these languages are mastered can lead to symmetrical bilingualism or multilingualism; this means language skills vary according to active and passive abilities (speaking and understanding). Another difference lies in the function languages have in society: if they do not all have the same status (if the language cannot be freely chosen for any given communication situation), then we have diglossia and not neutral multilingualism.

Charles Ferguson (1959) defines diglossia as the linguistic situation in which one language version (either a dialect or a language) is used for daily, private (that is, less prestigious) communication and another version (the national language - Hochsprache or another language) is used as a more prestigious means of communication (in school, literature, the media, publications, administration or courts). Joshua Fishman places diglossia (as opposed to bilingualism) within sociolinguistics, because, in his opinion, diglossia is a characteristic of the linguistic construct at a socio-cultural level. …

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