Friday, 1 April 2016

Some Thoughts on Language Politics and Regional Integration

Michael A. Morris, emeritus professor at Clemson University (South Carolina), has recently published Language Politics of Regional Integration: Cases from the Americas (Palgrave Macmillan US, 2016).

In a world globalising across boundaries and cultures, where economic interdependence increases dramatically, languages may come to be seen as non-tariff barriers to free-trade flow. Assessments need to be made of the measures taken by various states and/or implemented through particular free-trade treaties to manage (be it implicitly or covertly) the relationships between the de facto imperial lingua franca and various national languages not to mention aboriginal languages. Economic forces and, it must be added, also military alliances and intelligence networks (like the so-called Echelon or Five Eyes network which includes only English-speaking states) promote the dominance of English. Inevitably tensions and conflicts arise at various levels and they need be analysed.

In his book Michael A. Morris sets out to rate a number of cases of language politics in the Americas with the help of a multi-level analysis. He compares various North and South American groupings and whenever possible introduces parallels with extra-American groupings (in particular the European Union). His aim is to provide a conciliatory strategy allowing consensus to be forged and tensions lessened. His book is a tool that could help reduce or solve problems arising from a hegemonic lifestyle imposed at the expense of biodiversity and cultural diversity.

Whereas a country like Canada imposes Canadian content quotas on cultural productions (and quotas on the use of French songs on radio), one should be reminded that cultural protectionism is not exclusive to Canada: the US practice of film remakes is a clear example of cultural protectionism favouring the Hollywood film industry. This instance of a covert cultural and linguistic policy shows a lack of respect for cultural diversity. In most countries films in foreign languages are either dubbed or subtitled.

But even greater social forces are at play and jeopardise the promotion of various national languages or even the preservation of most aboriginal languages in a context where parents tend to see the use of the ancestral tongue as hindering social upward mobility.

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