Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is language a source of power?

Language is a part of one’s identity. Language is still a source of power. Acquiring a language can open different opportunities. But it is the practicality of a language that makes it dominant. There are very powerful economic countries whose languages aren’t as widespread as English. In China, due to its economic boom and openness on the outside world, there are more than 300 million English learners. The Chinese can export their products, but they can’t export their language at a scale as large as that of English. The same applies to Japan and Germany. French is retreating. This is embarrassing for France which is spending more and more money to keep French “afloat” at least in its former colonies through its cultural centres.

However there are many languages that are marginalised even by their own speakers in favour of a dominant language. Many countries have tens if not hundreds languages like Nigeria and India. Deciding a national language is always linked to political considerations and influence.

In the case of Morocco, although classical Arabic is the national language, there is Moroccan Arabic (which is in most cases understood just by the Moroccans and to some extents by the Algerians.) as there is Amazigh which is made of three main different dialects.

However, in Morocco, foreign languages mainly French, English and Spanish are also important, especially in the world of business. Many jobs, especially in business and tourism require at least one foreign language. Administrative papers are in most cases both in Arabic and French.

At the personal level, speaking more than one language is an opportunity to be open on different cultures. Personally I can speak three languages, Arabic French and English. Still I have the wish to learn Spanish. I more than once made myself the promise to learn it but I failed. Still I enjoy its rhythm without understanding a single word.

In general, a language is a source of power if it is linked to an economic and cultural activity. Just speaking multiple languages doesn’t make one multimillionaire.

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