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Teoria i metodologia

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


Thus, there is no alternative but to explore imaginatively other forms of political and linguistic organisation that could make the two objectives above compatible: preserving the linguistic diversity and dignity of all historical linguistic groups, while ensuring fluent intercommunication and a feeling of solidarity among our species.

I believe that we might be able to reach some sort of solution if we explore the ideas that arise from the perspective of 'complexity’, which uses the basic contributions of cognitive, systemic, ecological, chaological, and/or holistic approximations. In a name, the author I consider best suited to conceptualizing 'complexity' as applied to human affairs, is French anthropologist, sociologist and thinker, Edgar Morin. It is through this paradigm that we learn to recognise the limits of our representations of reality and to become aware of the revision of the categories through which we see the world and our existence.(3)  Our representations are dominated by conceptualizations that tend to come basically from the material world and not from our own mental world. Representations lie and are produced in the brain/mind, but this does not mean that these representations are automatically conscious and aware of where they are produced and how.

The representations that have dominated – and still dominate - Western thinking (which later spread to many other parts of the world) are based on the properties of material, physical elements using Aristotelian logic, which is founded on the principle of identity and exclusion of the third. (4) For example, if a place is taken by something, it cannot be occupied by anything else. This view, when automatically applied to the field of human relations (as is often the case), means that if a state or group already has a language, it cannot have another. Secondly, if individuals see themselves as belonging to an 'identity’, they cannot consider themselves to be members of any other. This is not necessarily the case in the sociocognitive, mental world. An individual can know several languages and distribute uses of the languages that they know, and form part of different categories of identity, within human societies. The logic of complexity, therefore, "escapes, in its most fundamental points, from the binary logic of ‘all or nothing’".(5) This vision of things, with more ‘water-type’ or flexible instead of ‘rock-type’ or rigid categories,(6) can therefore encourage a reformulation of situations, resulting in new possibilities that need to be explored – along with the difficulties that this will no doubt entail – with imagination, creativity and rigour.

In all probability, the world and societies would be much simpler if there were only one language or identity. This would no doubt please the supporters of simplist and simplifying thought - whom we would all probably be if we could. However, the fact is that our world, our societies, and our individuals are not simple; on the contrary, we can actually be highly complex. To aid understanding of these non-simple phenomena, Morin attempts to develop the paradigm of complexity. Complex thought is understood to be "the union of simplicity and complexity; it is the union of the simplification processes which are selection, hierarchization, separation, and reduction, with other contra-processes of communication and articulation of whatever is dissociated and distinguished; and it shies away from having to choose the alternative between either reductionist thought, which sees only elements, or globalist thought, which sees only the whole".(7) I believe that these postulates for the reform of thought should form the basis of attempts to think of principles of the linguistic organisation of mankind that go beyond traditional dichotomies. We must now think in terms of ‘and’, instead of ‘or’. After years of thinking in terms of ‘or’, we now need to explore the linguistic organization of mankind in terms of ‘and’, i.e. from the point of view of complexity – without excluding either objective. We must ask ourselves about how precisely we can make both possible: the maintenance and development of the various languages and, at the same time, the necessary intercommunication.

However, as Morin himself says, ‘complexity’ is a problem word, not a solution word: "complexity for me is the challenge, not the answer. I am searching for a way of thinking through complication (that is, through the countless inter-retroactions), through uncertainty and through contradictions".(8) Given that "any objectives we reach will take us down a new path, and that any solution will give rise to a new problem",(9) we now need to put our critical imagination and intellectual creativity into action, using this new perspective, to design the future, accepting initially contradictory positions and working out how we can fit them all together in the best and most practical way. The challenge, therefore, lies in making the effort "not to sacrifice the whole for a single part, or a single part for the whole, but rather to understand the difficult problem of organization".(10)

3. Language contact, equilibrium and shift

When looking at the issue of language, it would seem much simpler to think in terms of ‘and’ (and not ‘or’) in individual competence. Many of us have the experience of knowing – and using – more than one language. We are therefore aware that the phenomenon is possible, with certain costs such as borrowings or mixtures between the codes we dominate; these are, in any case, not very important and do not challenge the possibility of personal polyglottism. The perspective of complexity does become problematic, as we know, at group and sociopolitical levels. There is a widely-held belief in certain geocultural areas that generalised social bilingualism usually – or even inevitably - leads to a process of language shift, i.e. the ‘weaker’ language gradually loses functions whereas the ‘stronger’ language gains functions, and the process ends with the abandonment of the group’s own code, i. e. language death.

Although history reveals a number of cases of this nature that seem to corroborate the above statement, the evolution is not always as above. As Norbert Elias says, what we may need to do is at the same time "investigate the nature of this range of possible transformations and the configuration of factors responsible for the fact that, of all of the possibilities, only this one is materialized".(11) In other words, we need to know more precisely why the situation evolves in this way and not in any other (such as maintenance of the language, for example). Once we have a clear idea of the factors and mechanisms, we then need to find out whether we can intervene in these cases to prevent them from being affected by shift, ensuring that the recessive languages are maintained and that they progress. We urgently need to identify the variables and dynamics of processes of shift, and to create models that will enable us to design effective possibilities for intervening in different types of situation, different stages of development, and the unequal contexts in which these can occur.

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