( Five Minute read)
LANGUAGE IS the soundtracks of our lives.
Speaking only one language is still perceived as both the norm and the ideal for an allegedly well-functioning society.
Perhaps it is proving to be the opposite in the case of Brexit.
Language is more than just code by which we communicate, it is related to social and political knowledge, and access to power structures.
Up to now the myth of one nation, one national language, one national culture – which was at the heart of the ideal of the nation-state in the 19th and 20th centuries – perpetuates the master narrative of national homogeneity.
These attitudes silence the contributions that new multilingual citizens make to economic growth, social cohesion or artistic production.
A different approach is urgently needed, one that moves away from multilingualism as deficit and towards a recognition of linguistic and cultural diversity as a creative engine of civic participation and social well-being.
In an age where politicians and pressure groups alike act on the advice of communications consultants, it seems that a new term is introduced into the debate every few weeks and repeated ad infinitum, if not ad nauseam.
“People’s vote”, “leave means to leave”, “cliff-edge Brexit”, “managed no deal” “backstop” – shout the phrase of the day loud enough and often enough and voters might just remember it at the ballot box.
Rarely is there any space or inclination to look at what these slogans actually entail.
Like all these phrases, “a managed no deal” is not just meaningless spin. It may be a contradiction in terms, but it still has specific functions in the public discourse on Brexit. It serves to allay fears, allows for a positive variation on the journey metaphor and introduces a new option into the debate. Whether that option is realistic, however, is another question.
Linguistic relativity is the idea that language, which most people agree originates in and expresses human thought, can feedback to thinking, influencing thought in return.
The language that you hear gives you a vocabulary for discussing the world, and that vocabulary, by producing simulations, gives you habits of mind.
Encountering language about other groups of people can lead to a skewed view of reality. It may well be that having different words means having differently structured minds. But then, given that every mind on earth is unique and distinct, this is not really a game changer.
Language diversity has played a key role in shaping the interactions of human groups and the history of our species, and yet we know surprisingly little about the factors shaping this diversity.
“Hard Brexit”, “soft Brexit”, “Norway plus”, “Canada plus” These metaphor have shaped much of the discussion on Brexit.
You could be forgiven for being confused about the options available for Britain as it leaves the EU. One phrase in particular, though, is worth investigating further: “a managed no-deal Brexit”.
On the face of it, it seems a contradiction in terms. After all, isn’t no deal about the UK crashing out of the EU or going over a cliff edge? How could such a sudden and disastrous event be managed?
There is more to the phrase “managed no deal” though.
If we look back at the Leave and Remain campaigns, both consistently sought to evoke the emotions of voters. Leave aimed to trigger both negative and positive feelings – frustration with being restricted by the EU, fear of uncontrolled immigration, and pride in a “Global Britain”. The Remain campaign appealed overwhelmingly to fears about the UK’s economic future outside of the EU.
Two-and-a-half years on, it is no deal that is being presented as a frightening prospect. And the way to overcome the fear of what could happen is to control or manage future events.
The notion of control was central to the Leave campaign.
After triggering fears about the perceived threat posed by immigrants, and frustration about a seeming lack of power as an EU member state, the same campaign provided the solution to such negative feelings: take back control of British laws, borders and money by leaving the EU.
The idea of managing a no-deal scenario follows a similar pattern, except that the fears that need to be quelled in this case have been evoked by those rejecting a no-deal scenario.
Today our species collectively speak over 7,000 distinct languages. 2,464 of these are endangered. Just 23 languages dominate among these 7,097 and are spoken by over half of the world’s population, one is related to the backstop Irish.
Undoubtedly, a wide variety of social and environmental factors and processes have contributed to the patterns in language diversity we see across the globe.
The degree to which different environmental, social and geographic variables correlate to language is evident to all with Brexit.
Why is it that humans speak so many languages? And why are they so unevenly spread across the planet?
The European Union is proud of its linguistic diversity, making translation a right. It is the largest translation organisation in the world. EU staff use English for most scientific publications, business channels and international relations. However, this is where the problem starts.
It would be quite ironic that the unofficial international language of business would not be official in the EU because of a lack of English-speaking volunteer countries. And there are only two: The Republic of Ireland and Malta. Ireland has already named Irish as its national language. What a turn of history it would be for the Irish to rescue the English language.
Brexit with have an undeniable effect on Europe as we know it. The social, financial and cultural impact it will have is hard to predict.
One thing we do know is, based on both speculation by EU officials and the regulations of the EU itself, is that the English language will be effect by Article 50. Unless a vote is carried out by the members of the European Union this could be the very end of the English language.
I leave you with- BEIDH TU ANN.
All human comments appreciated. All like clicks and abuse chucked in the bin.