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Teoria i metodologia
Summer 2002

World Language Policy in the Era of
Globalization: Diversity and Intercommunication from the Perspective of 'Complexity', by Albert Bastardas i Boada

"The great difficulty is thus considering the unity of the many and the multiplicity of the unity. Those who see the diversity of cultures tend to overlook the unity of mankind; those who see the unity of mankind tend to dismiss the diversity of cultures."

Edgar Morin, L’identité humaine.

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1. Introduction

2. Diversity and intercommunication: addressing language contact using the 'complexity' perspective

3. Language contact, equilibrium and shift

4. New principles for a new historical era

5. Immediate priorities for the general maintenance of linguistic diversity

6. Synthesis and conclusion: some principles and values for peace and linguistic justice throughout the planet

1. Introduction (1)

The group of processes referred to as 'globalization' or 'internationalization', are constructing a new sociolinguistic situation, at least for the most economically - and technologically - advanced areas of the planet, that we need to explore and understand fully if we want to be able to control its effects and shape its development.

The linguistic consequences of this phenomenon are caused mainly by the sharp increase in the transnationalization of economies (with a trend towards global free trade and the foundation of large corporations through mergers and take-overs), and by developments in communication technologies.

In the first instance, we see how extending traditional market boundaries produces the need to learn new languages to enable negotiations with new suppliers and potential buyers. Furthermore, as national firms are taken over by multi-national corporations and factories belonging to the latter are set up in new territories, the need arises for staff (especially highly-qualified staff and those holding intermediate and management positions) to know and possess everyday usage of languages other than those of their traditional communities. This series of economic factors then, tends to produce changes in the linguistic competences required professionally and, hence, in the 'language of work' factor which can, as we know, have a profound influence, in specific contexts, on the stability or abandonment of the languages of human groups.

In the second instance – developments in communication technologies – the Internet phenomenon, particularly in the ‘First World’, has enabled people to access to web contents and contact with each other on a daily basis over long distances, thus breaking the limits of physical proximity. Nowadays, large numbers of people communicate electronically with others who live many kilometres away and whose first language can be one of a range of different codes. Moreover, communication satellites make it increasingly possible to receive broadcasts produced at great distances from the point of reception and, hence, in languages other than those of the traditional community.

We are also seeing a number of actions, largely in response to these changes, in the political organization of significant parts of mankind, particularly on a continental level. In Europe then, a process of financial, political and cultural integration is underway. This process requires solutions to problems caused by the creation of a large area of fluid interrelation between a large number of human groups that speak different languages.

The traditional areas of human communication and interrelations are therefore undergoing a substantial growth. Up until now, these areas had guaranteed the preservation of a certain historical status quo which, at least for those groups able to retain their political autonomy, had been able to keep individuals and societies in a certain functional monolingualism.

The expansion in areas of human interrelation (mainly economic and technological), is giving rise to an important phenomenon of the bilingualization or functional polyglottization of many individuals. This is due to the linguistic demands of the new situation and the fact that more and more people see advantages in possessing multiple linguistic competences. A novelty of this process is that the knowledge of more than one language or having to use these with different interlocutors or for different functions (an issue previously affecting only elite groups or minoritized or small linguistic groups) is now an increasingly everyday phenomenon for many individuals from larger and/or majority linguistic groups within their states.

This extended language contact and the polyglottal needs of more and more members of human groups that were, up until now, non-minority (in the traditional sense of the word), are generating feelings of cultural threat and defensive reactions, previously only experienced by groups habitually minoritized through political integration without official and public recognition. Although these feelings of linguistic insecurity and threat may be exaggerated in most cases, this effect of globalization could be a good starting point for a serious review of the foundations of the linguistic organization of mankind as a whole. Now that this sense of feeling threatened is not exclusive to politically-subordinated groups, now that it encompasses those that are beginning to suffer from the (inter)dependence of economies, technology and the mass media, it should be used to increase understanding of the classical situation of minoritization by larger, minoritizing groups. We may well be on the threshold of a new era in history where linguistic fraternity and intercomprehension between the different human groups can progress and give rise to new, fairer principles of political and linguistic organisation than those in place previously.

One extremely important issue that arises from increased contact and interrelations is how we humans can come to understand each other, regardless of the linguistic group that we come from. Since the scale of normal communication is expanding from being merely state and regional to become continental and even planetwide, is it not about time that mankind started to think about how to resolve the issue of communication between the species as a whole?

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