Leaving Paris soon

Just some weeks left until our adventure in Paris ends! How time flies! My last weeks here in Paris were good, there were a lot of exams, and I hope that everything went fine. On Monday we are going to Marrakesh which is going to be super exciting. I have never been to Morocco before, so I’m really curious about the country and its culture.

A lot has happened since my last entry. Austria, luckily, did not vote for a far-right candidate in the presidential elections. The former green spokesperson Alexander van der Bellen won the second round, and I’m relieved and happy. I met him the first time in 2009 at a Green Congress and talked to him for a while. I always had a lot of respect for him, and I’m sure that he is going to do a good job.

Paris has been quite rainy the last weeks, I hope that it will be better soon. I still don’t know the results of my studies, it takes quite a long time here. If everything goes right I will start with a Master in Language and Intercultural Communication in Gothenburg this year. I really look forward to it, especially because I finally decided to let go of my fear of not getting a job in the future and just do what I really love. In the beginning, I wanted to do a Master in Human Rights in Gothenburg, but after some reflection I think it’s better to focus on my real interests, sociolinguistics, language policy and so on. Maybe I could do some research one time or another?

I’m excited to come back to Sweden again. Paris has been nice, but after those months here I learned to appreciate a lot of things in Sweden I didn’t think of in the beginning. The people, the university system, the welcoming culture, nature (!)… Paris is rough. There is a tough climate at uni and some elitism in the French society I learned to dislike. I appreciate more and more living in a country where people go less after your last name or your contacts, but more after your background and skills. Maybe I am naive, but I think Sweden doesn’t have the same situation here.

Parisians have told me that it is impossible to compare countries. France and Sweden, or Germany and Austria, cannot be compared, their societies are in their eyes too different. This might well be true, but I think one might strive towards better goals, and comparison with other countries can contribute to the discussion. I don’t say that everything is better in other countries, Sweden and Austria have their problems as well. I might as well miss a few things here in Paris, for example the relaxed coffee and bar culture, going out, just having a glass of wine and so on..

Keep updated on my blog, I will try to write about a few things soon again. Stay tuned!

Long live language diversity

Whilst people all around the world gather around our streets to fight for working rights on May day, I thought it is time to say some words about why language diversity in Europe is so important today.

But what do I mean by language diversity? Does it mean that different languages should be spoken in our society? Does it mean that our children should learn more languages? Is it about protecting small, regional languages, which might be in danger to become extinct?

I would say that language diversity is a mix of all of it. Being able to communicate in different languages is not only about official languages or learning a language in school, it’s much more.

Generally, language diversity is strongly linked to language policy. What is language policy? Well, language policy is about discussing language issues on a political level. This includes one of the most important parts, legislation. A country can for example decide to impose an official language in a country. Most countries define one language as their official language, meaning that it should/must be used in administration, justice, politics, and so on.

Nevertheless, linguistic diversity is not a matter of course. Nationalistic movements have ever since fought for “their” national language. Many languages have been banished, not only since colonialism, but also recently, while building nation states. There is a strong movement on the right side of the political spectrum standing against linguistic diversity, we can see debates over all Europe where right-wing parties demand that “only the national language may be spoken during school recreation”, to give one example. Language is not only important when it comes to identity and culture, but also by forming a nation. In a multilingual and diverse society, it is even more important to fight for linguistic rights and diversity on all levels.

The European Union is one of the major players in this matter. The motto of the European Union “United in diversity” also reflects linguistic diversity. It is enshrined in Article 22 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights  (“The Union respects cultural, religious and linguistic diversity”), and in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union  (“It shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.”).

One of the most important instruments in creating legislation of European languages on an international level is the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML). The charter seeks to protect regional and minority languages in Europe on an official basis, by giving them a special status within the signing member states. The charter only includes regional or minority languages already spoken in the nation state, not languages coming from immigrant movements. While a majority of the European Union countries have signed and ratified the Charter, there are still some major countries blocking the signature or ratification of the paper, for example France, Italy and Belgium, countries with a significant number of regional languages in need of protection.

Even though regional and minority languages are important in the discussion, language diversity is not only about this. It includes beside official and widely accepted languages also immigrant languages which are often forgotten or ignored in the debate. It might seem confusing or annoying when minority languages get special coverage, while largely accepted immigrant languages, in Europe for example Arabic or Turkish, don’t get the same attention. Language diversity is about accepting and promoting all languages spoking in the society, and in my opinion much more needs to be done in this matter.

Here are some basic arguments for promoting linguistic diversity:

  • Languages define personal identities, but are also part of a shared inheritance.
  • Language can serve as a bridge to other people and open access to other countries and cultures, promoting mutual understanding.
  • A successful multilingualism policy can strengthen the life chances of citizens: it may increase their employability, facilitate access to services and rights, and contribute to solidarity through enhanced intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

What can we do to promote and increase linguistic diversity?

  • Be open for other languages, learn a new one, or try to remember some of your “Hallo, mein Name ist…”  / “Bonjour, je m’appelle… “from school, why not find a language course nearby or catch up with a language partner?
  • Speak and promote your own dialect and language variety! New research shows that speaking different varieties or dialects can have the same positive effect on your brain as different languages (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26774217)
  • Try to see the positive side of speaking different languages: Beside the fact that it’s fun, speaking different languages open new possibilities, both in private or in your potential new job. Recent surveys show that European companies are in demand of people being capable to speak more than one language, beside English!