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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


In practice, because there are no effective structures for planetwide political organization to discuss this general problem, each individual and organization resolves its communicative needs with the outside world in the manner most convenient to them. Due to the economic and technological importance of English-speaking countries and to their political supremacy over the last two centuries, this language is considered to be capable of resolving the present and future intercommunication needs of contemporary societies most adequately. It is thus being gradually adopted by more and more people and organizations. English is, without a doubt, the most frequently-learned second language at the moment. It is the language used most often as a code for relations between different linguistic groups and the most habitual in international, scientific and commercial communication.

This exponential extension of competence in and use of English, sometimes used unnecessarily through snobbery or as a sign of 'modernity', is causing an equally dangerous polarisation in many areas. On the one hand, groups are rallying against the learning and use of this language due to its condition as an 'imperialist language' (particularly associating it with current North-American hegemony) while, on the other, elites are adopting it as their habitual language and/or passing it on to their children, thinking of the financial and symbolic advantages that will benefit them. This may spark processes of language shift within certain social layers, whose behaviour could then be copied by larger groups of society. As we know, this could lead to the progressive general abandonment of use of the community’s own language.

However, new language contact may extend beyond English (clearly, the language with the widest L2 extension) particularly in non-Western areas, to languages of regional hegemony, within the context of processes of economic integration on this level. In Africa, for example, languages such as Swahili are extending beyond their traditional borders while, in Latin America, Spanish is putting the finishing touches to its penetration into indigenous linguistic groups. Arabic is also consolidating itself over a vast area and similar phenomena could also take place in Asia. Language contact, therefore, is clearly on the increase for more and more human groups. The great challenge is how to control this contact and how to organise state, regional and planetwide intercommunication harmoniously on the basis of existing linguistic diversity.

On top of all these changes, the current globalization process is also party to economic desperation and a quest for progress. These latter are causing an increase in the movement of significant groups of people from one linguistic area to another. The potential consequences of such a movement are significant, depending on the circumstances, for both the migrants and the receiving societies, particularly if the latter are politically-minoritized groups or use languages in a small demographic area. Some sociocultural ecosystems that were already unstable and had a poor equilibrium before the arrival of new groups of immigrants may be affected by the linguistic evolution of the displaced individuals. New immigrants may think that they should gear their linguistic behaviour towards the dominant, majority language, rather than towards the code of the subordinated receiver group or the group with minority status in that state. It goes without saying that this behaviour can help increase the demolinguistic minoritization of this group and cause intergroup tension.(2)

However, migration can also cause the abandonment and loss of a significant degree of linguistic diversity in cases where the vast majority of its members leave the historical territory and integrate themselves individually into other societies where they have few possibilities of continuing to use their code of origin.

There is, therefore, a clear need for all levels of public authorities, from planetwide to local, to address the contemporary needs and linguistic problems of mankind. The issue is no longer one of scorned 'minorities', but rather of a culturally-diverse species that wants to live in harmony and solidarity, dealing with any potential problematic situations that could arise.

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

In all likelihood, the most problematic issue raised in the above introduction is how to make two seemingly contradictory facts compatible: continuity of the linguistic diversity created by humanity through its diaspora all over the world, and the need for intercommunication between these groups of linguistically-diverse individuals in the new – ‘glocal’ – era of positive re-unification of the species. It seems clear that we should shy away from a dichotomous view that would force us to resolve the antinomy by opting for one side or the other of the balance.

Mankind is linguistically diverse, and human groups understand this and support the continuity of this diversity. These same human groups also realise that they are destined to live together in solidarity on this planet called 'Earth'. The problem may be the way that we perceive reality, rather than in reality itself. The difficulty lies in thought and conceptual change, rather than in the notion that it would be impossible to carry out.

The extraordinary tendency of human beings to think in terms of dichotomies could be the root of the problem. In the past, and even nowadays, this tendency to think in terms of dichotomies seems to have dominated the view of language contact, thus making it impossible for all groups concerned to live in more harmonious contentment. The vast majority of States seem to find it impossible or very difficult to structure themselves politically in a way that would permit both the continuity of the linguistic life of their constituent groups and the intercommunication necessary for common living between these groups. The great majority seem to choose one over without recognizing the diversity (and often explicitly against this), or the existing linguistic groups are recognised but the matter of intercommunication is not resolved satisfactorily. It is hard to believe that either option can have a future in the current era of mankind: against the background of positive growth of the democratic and egalitarian conscience of human groups and the dignity of each and every one of these, historical groups that have been thus far subordinated will not sit back and allow the introduction of solutions condemning them to a reduced linguistic existence when this could be full and normal. Moreover, a political and linguistic organization that does not consider the forms of intercommunication between its components in the best possible way is not sustainable.

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