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!


The unexpected I

Some of you might know that one of my major interests lie in Austrian politics, giving my background in the Green Party and their youth organisation. That said, I need to comment on the yesterday’s presidential elections.

For those of you not familiar with Austrian politics, here comes a brief explanation of the political system: As a federal republic with its nine Bundesländer (states), Austria is since the country’s independence in 1955 governed by two parties, the social-democrats (SPÖ) and the central-right peoples party (ÖVP). The Austrian federal president is elected every 6 years, having mainly a representative role within the political landscape, but he (there has never been a female president in Austria) also signs laws and is the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

Six candidates ran for the election which is now going for its second turn, as none of the candidates received more than 50%.

The presidential elections of April 24th gave a shocking result: Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right, if not extreme-right FPÖ won the election with around 35% of the votes. These elections have been different, in a way that the Republic has not seen before. Alexander van der Bellen from the Greens came second, followed by an independent candidate. Both candidates from SPÖ and ÖVP, the parties being in the government, are far from victory and hold together about 22% of the votes, nothing similar has ever happened in the history of the second republic.

Alexander van der Bellen in 2008 (Photo by Christian Jansky)

What Austria faces today is a completely new situation and a challenge for the entire country. The political system based on two parties has collapsed. The major topic for the elections, the refugee situation in Europe and Austria, has been the victim of this important election. Will Austria be represented by a extreme-right politician who, being anxious about refugees, carries a weapon regularly?

We will see what the second turn brings, it will definitely be very difficult for the green Van der Bellen to catch up with Hofer, considering that many voters from the social-democrats and the people’s party voted for the far-right Hofer. The second turn will be held on the 22nd of May, and Austria will have its new president by then.

I deeply hope that the green candidate will win, not only because he is the best candidate, but also because we need a person standing and fighting against racism and nationalism.

The title of this entry is “the unexpected”. Yesterday, when I at 5pm saw the first results flashing over my screen, I could barely believe what I saw. Once again, there is this feeling of powerlessness, of disbelief. I was as surprised in 2013, when the FPÖ got more than 20% of the national votes, or in 2015, when they got 30% in Vienna. Now, in 2016, their candidate got 35% and leads the elections.

This is dangerous. Austria’s history showed us what nationalism, racism and fascism made to this country. We can not let this happen again. The FPÖ want to get out of the European Union, get rid of migrants and close the borders. Homophobia, antisemitism and islamophobia are common within and around the party.

But was it really unexpected? Is this a European, maybe even international trend of radicalisation? Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, and now Hofer and the FPÖ?

How will the Austrian government react? SPÖ-ÖVP need to rethink and change. The right wing actions from the government concerning the refugee situation (border fence to Slovenia, defined limits of the number of refugees accepted per year) could apparently not convince conservative voters.

What will happen next? Are the rest of the democratic parties from the center-left going to support the green candidate in order to prevent a far-right president who is most likely going to lead Austria into a democratic crisis never seen before?



#1 My new blog – Green Paris?

So I’ve started a blog. In the beginning, I didn’t really know what to focus on here, but I’ll try to do my best writing about topics I really care about. As the title of my blog says, I’m into politics and language, and I thought – why not combine those vast themes in a blog? I always liked writing, so let’s start with something completely new.

Since January this year, I am in Paris for my exchange studies and I have quite some mixed feelings about it. I really like the city, Paris is a metropole with everything you can dream of when it comes to culture, but there are still some things I’m really missing. Me and my boyfriend were in Lyon and Montpellier lately, two beautiful and charming cities with plenty of trees, parks and so on. In Paris, at least in my arrondissement (18th, Montmartre), there are nearly no trees or parks. Walking from Place de Clichy up to the apartment has the not so positive side effect of bad air from all the traffic, Paris is after all still the city of cars and mopeds.

In addition, there are nearly no pedestrian zones in the city, most of the central city is stuffed with traffic and there is few space for pedestrians or bikes. In my opinion, the city of Paris should start with some kind of a tree-planting-program. It would make the city look much greener, bring the people to parks, giving a place to birds and other animals and help reduce air pollution. Some of the metro lines are overcrowded already, but there need to be less cars in the central part of the city, that is for sure.

The funny thing is that it seems that the Parisians themselves are not really into change, at least not the few people I’ve talked to: Cars are a natural part of the city, and pedestrian zones are nice in Bordeaux or Lyon, but not possible in Paris. – That’s the credo, more or less. I think they are on the right way though, considering the excellent public transport and the bike-rental services provided by the city. It will just take some time.

My thoughts about my stay in Paris are numerous, and I wanna share a lot with you. In the following weeks, I will try to write about my way of dealing with the university system here, the Austrian presidential elections and much more.

Stay tuned! 🙂