Language Diversity: Minority Languages vs. Majority Languages

Language is interconnected with culture, power and identity. Through these different aspects, there are positive and negative attitudes towards language diversity. Many negative perspectives are to due to factors such as colonialism, globalization, imperialism, and white supremacy. The effects of colonialism correlate strongly with the creation of endangered languages and these endangered languages must be preserved. Language diversity is a positive attribute to society and should not be degraded. Therefore, the preservation of language is vital.

Language diversity is achievable. To begin, language diversity can exist, just as biological diversity in our ecosystems correspond to the existence of mankind. In chapter three of Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, Colin Baker examines how cultural and biological diversity are inseparable: “All living organisms, plants, animals, bacteria and humans survive and prosper through a network of complex and delicate relationships”(Baker, 44). Just as a rich ecosystem can exist it is quite reasonable that linguistic and cultural diversity can also exist. Therefore, without language, there is no culture! Clearly, culture creates the society, with language being the frontier. If a language loses speakers, a culture is at risk of dying. Languages represent one’s culture because through language, intelligence and insight from multiple generations are being passed down. “Languages provide a link to the past, a means to reach an archive of knowledge, ideas and beliefs from our heritage. ‘Every language is a living museum, a monument to every culture it has been vehicle to’”(Baker, 24). This is why achievements are recorded and documented through language. Often classic literature and works are translated to reach larger audiences. In addition, if one does not know their past, they are likely to repeat mistakes that have been made before. Diversity of languages in our society creates a rich culture and opportunities to become well rounded individuals. Knowledge is passed on through written and oral dialogues, therefore history aids in creating a platform of awareness and education to future generations. Future generations of all languages even minority languages are entitled to becoming more knowledgeable in their first language, but majority languages can make this a difficult task.

It is essential to discuss the negative effects of linguistic imperialism. Scholars are working adamantly to fix this. Linguistic imperialism of languages English, Spanish and French have plagued our earth for quite some time now, thanks to colonialism. To illustrate, the country Haiti was colonized by the French. The French language was imposed on the natives of Hispaniola and the slaves brought from Africa. A creole was created and became the common language in homes and villages throughout Haiti. The French language became the language of the elite, the educated and Haitian Creole was heavily looked down upon. Haitian Creole was only used in the home, socially with friends, and specifically not in schools. Today Haiti an independent country, yet, Haitian Creole still carries a negative stigma and is not commonly taught in schools. The belief that French is superior to Creole is so powerful, that many Haitians do not get an opportunity to achieve at their highest because of the imposed French language. Michel Degraff, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been actively changing the deficit theories of Haitian Creole. Degraff notices, “In a desperate attempt to pass their exams, the students were reciting sentences in French…trying to memorize them phonetically…it was clear that most of the kids had no idea of what they were saying”(Neyfakh, 2). These children were struggling to learn in a language they have little familiarity with. Haitian Creole is the identity of these children and they are not even allowed to express and learn in their own language. Their own identity should not be an existence of shame. From their language comes a rich history of being the only country to become independent through a slave revolt!

Fortunately, Degraff works with a school in Haiti where Creole is taught in all academic subjects. He sees the positive, powerful transformation of the children being taught in the language they use with their families, the language they use every day(Neyfakh, 2). In order for the children to properly aquire French as a second language, they should become better literate in Creole to transfer over their skills to French. The children should not be expected to learn French to be deemed “civilized,” when they can be taught in their home language. The students should be allowed to become emergent bilinguals. Degraff supports the critical point that the students must become literate in their first language enabling them to reach great heights in academia. Instead of losing their chance of being the next scientist or genius because another language is imposed on them (Neyfakh, 3.) Creole should be taught and French taught, but not because French is superior. Learning both languages efficiently is extremely resourceful in evolving diglossias. Combining different languages, different identities in one geographic location can prove beneficial. In all diglossias, children of the future should be excited to learn in both their home language and the majority language. They will be adept to critically think and enjoy learning because their minority language is not frowned upon. Certainly maintaining language diversity is crucial in continuing a progressive society.

Colonialism attempts to make minority languages obsolete. In the documentary film, The Linguists, in Siberia a language called Chulym was overpowered by the Russian language. As a result of colonialism, Chulym became a language of shame and forbidden to speak at school. Children of Chulym speakers quickly began to hide and use less of their mother tongue in order to not be teased by peers or scorned by authoritative figures. This exemplifies how colonialism creates endangered languages. Colonialism often wipes out minority languages by imposing a language that is proclaimed to be superior. Through military power, they force the people to use the “superior” language in schools and for federal documents. How superior are these languages, when the history of these imperialist English, French and Spaniard nations have annihilated and taken advantage of other nations? The history of these nations are shameful and full of malpractices such as slavery, but imposed so that the nations can gain or keep world power, and high economic wealth. These “world powers” go into these countries to steal the countries natural resources often and have produced billions of dollars off slave and cheap labor. Rather than realizing the value of becoming bilingual and learning from other cultures, these world powers are carnivorous thieves. There is so much we can learn from other languages. In the documentary The Linguists, an example of this potential learning ability, is the Kallawaya language in Bolivia. Despite the colonization of Bolivia from Spain, this minority language has been around for centuries. This language is known for it’s healing practices and familiar with many plants western science has not documented. Yet, the Kallawaya language is endangered! Many minority languages should be preserved because one’s culture should not be discarded, but appreciated. Revitalizing these languages create roads to create a society where people can prosper and enjoy the beauties of a fruitful life. Revitalizing these languages should prove that their languages are not shameful, but unique and have power to change problems we have not yet overcome.

Culture, power and identity are all important parts of language. Cultures are cultivated through language which has the power to inspire, enlighten and change mankind. Each language should be cherished because of it’s special identity that can help the world we live in. An awareness of endangered languages is necessary in order to help revitalize these languages. Language diversity creates a society where one can accept a helping hand rather than a harming one. Language diversity enables power passed on to children, future leaders and educators to help improve society in all areas of life.

Works Cited

Baker, Colin. Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters, 2011. Print.

Neyfakh, Leon. “The Power of Creole [Correction 8/3/11] ; Beneath Haiti’s Problems Lies a Deep Conflict with Its Own Language. An MIT Professor Has a Bold Plan to Change That.” The Boston Globe (Boston, MA). N.p., 24 July 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.

The Linguists. Dir. Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, and Jeremy Newberger. 2008. Documentary.