Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Take the Talking Cure: Gloria Origgi on Why a Second Language Is the Best Antidote to Intolerance

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Take the Talking Cure: Gloria Origgi on Why a Second Language Is the Best Antidote to Intolerance

Article excerpt

By rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland's voters may have thrown the European Union into crisis, but in a more profound way I am optimistic about Europe. A while ago, I took the train from Paris to Brussels for a meeting at the headquarters of the European Commission. The train was full of people my age--the late thirties--going to Brussels to participate in various EU projects.

I started chatting with my neighbours. Most of the people I spoke with came from more than one cultural background, with two or more nationalities in the family. All of us were at least bilingual, many trilingual or more. My neighbours epitomised the deep cultural change now taking place in Europe. A new generation has grown up, of people born more than a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War and now moving around Europe to study and work--meeting, dating, marrying and having children with people from other European countries and doing so as a matter of course.

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More and more European children are growing up multilingual. They are unlike immigrants born in one culture and having to grow up in another. They are unlike children growing up in a monolingual, monocultural family that happens to be located in a wider multicultural environment. For these children, cultural and linguistic diversity is not just a part of the society at large, it is a part of themselves, a novel kind of identity. Multilingualism is becoming an existential condition in Europe, good news for a continent in which national identities have been so powerful and have caused so much tragedy and pain in the past. …

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