Protecting Languages
Protecting Languages

Many governments around the world have attempted to protect their native cultures by imposing bans on what they declare to be foreign cultural intrusions.

France has attracted the most notoriety for attempting to protect its language from the immigration of foreign words. The French Academy routinely scours the land for invasive words from other languages, most notably English ones. Words such as “walkman,” “talk show,” and “prime time” have been declared unwelcome foreigners, and the government has attempted—with rather limited success—to replace them with French substitutes. In 2013 a debate was ignited online when the government decided to replace the word “hashtag” which is used frequently in Twitter and other social media, with the Gallic word “mot-dièse” (McPartland, 2013).

Similarly, in Canada’s French speaking province of Quebec, provincial regulations stipulate that any sign containing English posted by a business must also post the same text in French in letters at least twice the size of the English text. Even more drastic measures to promote the French language have been considered, such as obliging immigrants to receive their college educations in French, and requirements that large-sized businesses conduct all their transactions in French.

The Chinese government has also attempted to protect the purity of its language by removing the use of foreign words. Authorities in China recently scrutinized the brands and names of over 20,000 western companies, forcing them to change 2,000 to more Chinese-sounding names. Chinese scholars have also called for the removal of English words from a prominent Chinese dictionary, which includes 239 such words (“Language purity row,” 2012).

Of course, non-English speaking countries are not alone in trying to establish efforts to protect their local languages. Within the United States over the past several decades a significant political movement has sprung up, very similar to those seen in France or Quebec, aimed at preserving the use of English. The group U.S.-English, for example, was founded “to ensure that English continues to serve as an integrating force among our nation’s many ethnic groups.” Many Americans have grown concerned over the proliferation of other languages, due largely to the rapid influx of immigrants into the United States.

This movement demonstrates the extreme sensitivity of cultural issues, and the visceral reaction that many people have to what they perceive to be threats to their traditional ways of life.

Such efforts to protect the English language within the United States are a form of cultural protection. Any who doubt  the depth of concern by people around the world about the effects that globalization is having on their local cultures, might keep in mind these kinds of reactions even within the United States. In the midst of the country that is often accused of “culturally colonizing” the rest of the world, the introduction of foreign cultural elements can generate significant political pressure to protect local traditions and values.

Most Widely Spoken Languages in the World

Language

Approx. number of speakers
1. Chinese (Mandarin)

1,917,000,000

2. Spanish

406,000,000

3.English

335,000,000

4. Hindi

260,000,000

5. Arabic

223,000,000

6. Portuguese

202,000,000

7. Bengali

193,000,000

8. Russian

162,000,000

9. Japanese

122,000,000

10. Javanese

84,300,000

(Infoplease, 2012))

Map: Major languages spoken across the globe

[(2005). Theodora. (2005). Retrieved from http://www.allcountries.org/maps/world_language_maps.html]

To learn more about the globalization of languages, please click here.

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