When a language opposes cultural diversity


Whenever you have to reach an international public, it is nowadays obvious to use the English language. That’s because English is easy to learn, taught in many countries’ schools as secondary language, self-established in the academic circles… So English has been naturally designated to be the universal language, and those who can’t speak it must learn for the world to happily communicate without any borders. It looks so nice. Is it?

This situation is problematic, first of all because not everybody speaks English and you can not expect everybody to speak it. But the major problem is that language is a main cultural vector. It is deeply bound to a culture: popular writers, a way of living, some aspiration and ideology, a political orientation… Thus, to consecrate English as the universal language not only means that we set a common denominator for us to communicate, but also that we push the spread of one particular ideology in the world at the expense of the others.

Do we want to all end up talking English to each other, and maybe the differences between Usanian and Austrian culture to fit on a restaurant menu?  Usanian? The fact is that when we talk about the English language, we most often refer to the U.S. English and not the British English. Exactly the same way that we say “America” and “Americans” instead of “USA” and “Usanians”. Examples abound in this direction, for instance most of the people who are not English native speakers will think that organisation is wrong but organization is right.

It’s fascinating to see how often an English word is used instead of its (Austrian) German equivalent. Look for them the next time you will watch an advertisement or read an educational book (especially business books). There are some people in Austria who don’t study Unternehmensführung but Entrepreneurship, and those who teach about Führung von Vielfalt name their lesson Diversity Management. But for me the most choking was in Lille, France. I was visiting the campus and saw that the main building in the center of the campus, which was called Bibliothèque Universitaire (university library) for long, was being rebuilt. The new name they chose for it was Learning Center. I remember from my studying years that “BU” was a very used acronym. Now for all these students it will be “LC”.

So what is it now? A virulent text against the anglophone world and USA? Don’t get me wrong. This is just pointing out a very problematic situation, whatever which language or country we are talking about. It is important to preserve the cultures of the world. I don’t mean to isolate them – let them live and evolve together, let them mix! But not like that… What we are currently seeing is not less than a cultural colonisation. We need to find practical solutions.

One solution has been implemented for long in a hospitality network called BeWelcome. Users can define their language preferences and also they can write their messages in several languages. When you visit a page from this website, the messages will be displayed in your favourite language if it is available, otherwise it will fallback to what is left. A good initiative for sure, I would like to see it more often in our communication tools.

I hope that this article will let you think the next time you will hear or use an English term instead of the (Austrian) German one. (Adrien, dieKulturvermittlung, 12.10.2015)

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