Saturday, 13 February 2010

My language is best, my way is best ...

Nick Baines has been writing about the not so slow death of foreign language learning in the UK, also noting the fact that there is a growing lack of English mother tongue interpreters at the EU. Every day in my job I hear people saying how expensive it is to translate and how everything would be much cheaper if we did it in English. I've written before about how I don't believe that one size fits all where language is concerned. I strongly believe that the risk for English speakers is never going beyond their own way of thinking, expressing things, doing things.

As a result of Nick's article I've also discovered that the issue of Ecumenical Review on language issues which I guest edited at the end of 2008 is now available online. Here's an excerpt from my editorial:

Language is a central element of human identity and essential to communication. Language has been a part of religious history: issues of whether the Bible or liturgy should be translated into the vernacular also play an important role in religion, public worship and prayer.

The issue of language is also central to an ecumenical movement whose scope encompasses the "whole inhabited world". Speaking at the World Council of Churches' most recent assembly in Porto Alegre in 2006, the Korean theologian Namsoon Kang reflected on how at ecumenical gatherings, ranks are established not by money but by language, with the first class passengers being those who speak English as their native language, and those travelling economy being those whose native language belongs to none of the WCC's four working languages. The choice of language is absolutely the issue of power, she stated: "Language is not just a means of communication. It is about standardization of thinking, worldview, value-system, culture and even one's attitude to other people around. The choice of language is about power: power of decision-making, power of knowledge-production, power to express oneself. Language is power to express who one is, power to persuade; it is power to convey one's values and opinion."

The global dominance of English often leads to the lack of recognition even of the existence of the worldviews, spiritual expression and philosophical viewpoint represented by other languages.

As we lose the ability or even the opportunity to learn other languages we are also losing the ability to see the world and life in different ways and that means we are cutting ourselves off from potential solutions to all sorts of things. Sadly, we don't even realise it. We might also always believe we are right and that our way is the only way. After all we don't listen to people who don't speak the same language we do ...