The future of minority languages in a time of globalization

On the African continent alone, a UNESCO report established that around 30% of all the languages ​​on the planet were spoken there. And of this large number, there are more than 500 endangered languages. It is true that the economic and cultural weight of some of these languages ​​(and any other regional language whether in Asia, Europe, or Oceania) is engulfed in a new reality called globalization which adds certain factors, sometimes positive, sometimes negative to the chances of survival of these minority languages.

In a world where the English language has an economic and cultural weight of enormous magnitude, one can wonder what the future of minority languages ​​whose cultural influence is not very important. When we think of the many languages ​​of Russia or China whose future has long depended solely on the policy of their central government, how can we realistically see the future of these languages ​​whose influence rarely exceeds their own territory?

The factors that can predict the linguistic future of certain regions of the world are both numerous and complex. However, some of these elements are predictable and quantifiable. First of all, it is important to dissociate three factors in order to better understand the future of certain minority languages: first, note the factors linked to globalization, then the factors linked to laws and policies, and finally the factors of personal order. It is by distributing in this way that it is easier to understand the real future of certain languages ​​while establishing avenues of solutions serving to promote the development (at least the survival) of certain endangered languages.

This article bases its approach on a reflection on these different factors put into perspective with the new realities generated by ever increasing globalization.

Global factors: the impact of globalization

The advent of means of communication and the speed with which a piece of news goes around the world are concrete and visible effects of this globalization. Borders disappear, associations are created, friendships are forged between very distant regions of the world. The Internet is, as such, an obvious example of a tool allowing the exchange of information, ideas and knowledge on the whole planet. With this new means of communication, no territory is completely isolated. Insofar as both have this new means, a Buryat can exchange directly with an Inuit from the Canadian Far North. Under these circumstances, few things escape the citizens united in this planetary movement. While very often the language of exchange is English, the reality of a Lingua Franca (language of exchange at the global level) is far from the real issue of the future of regional languages. The influence that Anglo-Saxon culture is taking on the whole planet is very real but cannot by itself encourage the decline of certain regional languages.

Another important factor linked to globalization is the interest aroused by the increasing exchanges between communities from the four corners of the world. The current means of communication allow us really and concretely to exchange with cultures which were once isolated. Since the advent of these exchanges between regions that were once inaccessible, linguistic minorities have become less isolated (and therefore less fragile). But things are changing and if distance was a barrier, globalization is now making people around the world interested in the future of some endangered languages. Let us think of the increasingly numerous associations which seek to forge links between the various minorities (linguistic, cultural, religious) of the world. These exchanges promote the development of policies and concrete means allowing these peoples to resist the darker sides of this new wave seeking to standardize cultures and values.

Finally, this ability that we currently have to be in contact with the most distant parts of the globe, has a huge impact on the awareness of the different assimilation processes that still occur. The Tibetan culture and language are on this point an eloquent example of the beneficial effect. The situation that prevails in China with regard to Tibetan culture lets us predict the worst: assimilation, loss of identity, acculturation. But if this dark side is clearly established by the many writings and reports that are made in this part of the world, they also have the effect of forging links and associations want to promote the endangered culture: organizations are emerging , Tibetan language methods are written, research is carried out and thus contribute to the growth, development and influence of a language and a culture which, without these new means of communication, would undoubtedly be doomed to disappear . It is true that too few minority languages ​​receive global interest on such a large scale.

Mongolian is another example of a language that was once isolated but is now gaining popularity as foreigners discover the charms of this part of the world. This craze for exoticism and novelty is developing in large part thanks to the opening up of these regions of the world, which were politically isolated from each other for many decades. One may be impressed by the number of Mongolian methods and grammars that have been written in English, Russian and German. This craze is all the more present as the Mongolian culture and language are supported by a political apparatus: the Mongol state.

Political factors

The survival of a minority language is proportional to the effort of the political apparatus which serves to protect it and promote its development. Without a body for the "management" of the language, any minority language is doomed to disappear under the influence of neighboring languages ​​which are often those where trade takes place and therefore, in which young people see an opportunity to improve their condition. of life. This device is essential but difficult to set up for languages ​​whose number of speakers does not exceed a few hundred individuals.

It is the extent of the policies that a state adopts with regard to these minorities that largely guides the development of endangered languages. But the challenge is great for languages ​​without any written transcription. In these circumstances, no signage or education law can take root in the community. The regional government will therefore have to take measures to promote the use of the language in the political institutions of the region.

However, the creation of a unilingual country is not the only way for a language to survive and develop. There are many examples of bilingual and multilingual countries around the world: think of Belgium (French, Flemish), the many African countries, Spain (Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Gallego) and Canada (French and English) . Quebec, where the French language is very much alive thanks to its famous law 101 (law giving precedence to the French language) or even Catalonia in Spain are eloquent examples of the impact of the existence of a political apparatus favoring the development of a minority language in a country with another official language.

Personal factors

Language is above all an instrument of communication between individuals sharing the same culture and the same reality. The way of expressing ideas, concepts or actions is directly linked to the daily life and environment of the speakers. But our language is also the ground of our emotionality. For all human beings, the mother tongue is loaded with meaning and emotion. Every word, every sentence, every concept is recorded with an emotion and a second language cannot be loaded with the same meaning as its own mother tongue.

The notion of identity is a primordial personal factor that gives us a glimpse of the chances of survival of a minority language. Indeed, the identity of a nation is always organized around a unifying pole (sharing of a religion, the same territory or a common language). If an ethnic minority does not have an identity whose basis of its uniqueness is language, the chances of survival of its linguistic heritage are very low. The situation of French in Canada is an interesting example where language is the basic factor of national identity. Even within Canada, few Quebeckers (living in the French part of Canada) will describe themselves as Canadians but will rather say that they are either “Québécois” (from the province of Quebec) or “French Canadians”. In this case, language is the foundation of the notion of identity and the survival and development of French in Canada are ensured by this very strong feeling. But in certain regions of the world, when the language of a linguistic minority is no longer perceived as being the determining factor of their identity, there is then a real danger of loss of the language. This is what happened for countries where the government's effort to create an identity linked only to the territory (you live in China therefore you are Chinese; you live in Russia therefore you are Russian, you live in Yugoslavia therefore you are Yugoslav).

The complexity of identity is particularly real in certain regions of the world which have experienced (or are still living) armed conflicts. Let us take the case of Lebanon, where 17 religious denominations coexist in the same territory. Under these circumstances, what does it mean to “be Lebanese”? The question of national identity is also at the heart of most civil wars. Let us also think of Yugoslavia, Rwanda or, at the moment, Iraq. In Lebanon, this same notion of identity was the central element of the Taif accords ending the civil war and it is still a subject of perpetual negotiations between the different factions in power. But while religion or ethnicity is often the foundation of identity, so often is language.

The same example could have been taken with the Catalan people in Spain. The Catalan language being the vector of national identity, its survival is ensured by this strong feeling of belonging that the Franco government tried to assimilate during the 1960s. The need for identity is a very important personal factor. that all the inhabitants of the planet feel (Maslow,…). It is this psychological factor which explains the reason why immigrants group together in ghettos in their new host country. This need to share common values ​​(values ​​conveyed by a vision of the world and therefore by language) is present within each of us and is an element promoting the sustainability of certain endangered languages.

No identity without equality

Personal and identity factors as well as those linked to globalization and politics are factors that can be used to predict the future of some minority languages. It is true that in order to survive a language needs a favorable socio-political context in which respect for its uniqueness is the basis of government policies. But other factors, less easy to measure (but yet equally important) may explain the challenges faced by isolated linguistic communities.

On a global scale, there are two apparently opposite movements: the first wants to forge links, create associations, partnerships, establish exchanges and strengthen. The second sees the emergence of an awareness of its own national identity in the face of the rise in values ​​conveyed by globalization. It is important that state policies (unilingual or plurilingual) promote respect for linguistic identities with the founding value of equality for all citizens of the country. Without this value at the base of the laws and the policy of a government for its own territory, any minority language is doomed to be assimilated by that of the majority.

The problem of the disappearance of certain languages ​​is therefore a reality for those which have only an oral tradition and whose number of speakers is so small that they will never be able to attract the general interest of the international community. Think of the many Siberian languages ​​such as Aleutians (40 speakers), Kerek (3 speakers), Orok (60 speakers) or African languages ​​like Ahlo or Logba which are endangered.

Plurilingualism affirmed and valued

Even if the reality regarding the future of more regional languages ​​depends on very complex and sometimes unpredictable factors, it is realistic to believe that the advent of globalization may have some beneficial effects for some languages ​​and others more negative for the others.

To promote the survival and development of languages ​​in the world, it is essential that the various governments, under the aegis of an organization endowed with legal mechanisms, speak out loudly to affirm and promote plurilingualism. The principle of equality must absolutely be the basis of all government policies, especially in regions of the world with a high density of linguistically different peoples. The promotion of regional identities in no way prevents the advent of a second pan-national identity. Just as a Quebecer is proud of his language, he also feels this pride in being “Canadian” when he travels to other continents. Nothing prevents a Tibetan by his language, his culture and his religion also calling himself Chinese. Because if his language and his religion are different, he can share common values ​​with all the inhabitants of this vast territory.

One thing is certain, any linguistic community absolutely must have clear policies and laws concerning the development and use of its national language. Without these policies, it is reasonable to believe that small linguistic communities will be buried under the influence of languages ​​whose economic weight will attract new generations.

But as long as national governments perceive cultural difference as a threat to their integrity and to their existence, these policies will be difficult to pursue. It is therefore essential that models for taking charge of plurilingualism be developed and studied in order to safeguard the extraordinary richness of the linguistic heritage of the planet.

These examples of plurilingual societies exist and countries where many autonomous entities coexist can draw inspiration from these models in the search for a balance, an essential element for the survival of the world's linguistic heritage.

But real progress will be made when the words identity and equality no longer oppose each other, but succeed in uniting their discourse.