17 March 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are different languages necessary?

Dear Friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: Are different languages necessary?

Although natural languages are usually not within the scope of
philosophy, this is more a topic about the transition of a natural
phenomenon to a political and cultural tool and more. In my short essay
I try to identify some of the issues of when it is and when it is not
necessary to have many different languages.

Are different languages necessary?

In this topic we assume that by languages we mean natural languages such
as French, German, Latin, English, Spanish, and so on. We can add to the
list dialects and regional variations of the main natural languages. As
such these natural languages are more the domain of linguistics rather
than philosophy, but this does not mean that there are no philosophical
issues worth looking at.

As such, the topic is a matter of need and natural development.
Moreover, all natural languages have the function of transferring
information between human beings in a pre defined oral or visual
parameters (grammar). Languages help us convey information and the
information we receive enable us to act or behave in certain ways.

Thus whether we need many or few languages depends on the efficiency of
those languages. And also the need of the speakers of those languages;
today classical Greek and Latin, are not in great demand. Spanish,
English and Chinese/Mandarin are in greater demand than ever.

Historically, languages followed speakers of that language until the
language became the dominant language, as in colonization, or localised
as in immigration, where the language of the adopted country would be
dominant. Although languages are born in geographical location to
service the needs of a group of people, what matters for the survival of
a natural language is that the people it was evolved to serve still use
it. Learning to use the local language helps us not only to integrate in
the local culture but also to derive more utility from what is available
locally; as every tourist can testify!

But today dominant natural languages have a new method of reaching
people and that is the internet. People separated geographically can
still communicate with each other in their chosen language; indeed the
internet has revived many languages that were on the brink of
extinction. But this also means that weaker languages might become even
weaker if native speakers opt to use the new dominant languages rather
than their own native language.

Since languages are about people this implies that languages are also
about culture and politics. So what is a natural phenomenon has risen
to the status of cultural and political requirements within political
enclaves. This is not a surprise since language is at the centre of
society. As a cultural heritage language is not only a means to exchange
information but also a means to establish cultural identity. The
language we speak tells others where we are from and who we are.

It is also natural that the language of a country should also be the
language of the political structural of that country. Indeed language,
and an ability to use the political natural language of a country, is
identified with patriotism. But, of course, it is not language that
makes us patriotic, but political coherence which is usually achieved
with a universal political discourse and language. When language ceases
to be a political tool and becomes a political weapon, many people
become victims of the new rhetoric. People will refuse to use the
oppressors' language at least to the extent that they do not jeopardise
their survival.

At one level different natural languages happen because different groups
of people need to exchange information to function. This is both a
natural function and a need for language. And we expect this natural
language to evolve with the people in the same way that people evolve to
reflect their environment. Languages mutate as much as genes; languages
split into subsets of the primary language (dialects) as much as people
change their looks and suture to reflect their environment. Of course,
this does not mean that change is always for the good, but change in
nature is probably always an attempt to survive.

But this bottom up view of language need (from nature to society) is in
direct competition with the top down view of usefulness of a language.
This is purely utilitarian; the more people who speak a specific
language, the more successful (adaptation) that language will be as long
as it meets the needs of these users. Today dialects are a very good
example of being dropped in favour of a common version of the primary
language of a country, for example to follow programmes on national
television and radio; this should not be confused with regionalism.

Two of the main "predators" of a natural language are 1) the efficiency
of the language to convey the information to a group of people (eg Latin
in religion, French in diplomacy, English in science and business); and
2) the collapse of the political structure of a country that can leave a
country open to colonisation as mentioned already thus making a primary
language extinct or purely cultural tool (e.g. countries like South
Africa, India and most of Central and South America; in most of these
cases the colonial language is the dominant political language).

On the other hand, when languages do actually solidify the cultural
identity of a group then it is very necessary that these languages exist
and made to survive. The challenge is, knowing not to mix the need to
succeed in business with the pleasure derived from the uniqueness of a

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
philomadrid@gmail.com <mailto:philomadrid@gmail.com>
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: Are different
languages necessary?

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