Posted by: janecronin | October 9, 2016

The Status of Languages


The language with the highest status worldwide is English.  There is no objective evidence for this, but it is clearly the language with most influence.  Just in terms of statistics, it is spoken as a first language by about 375 million people; it is the official language of 75 countries; there are more second language than first language English speakers in the world and around 750 million people speak it as a foreign language.   In addition, 80% of the world’s electronically stored information is in English.

Bringing such overwhelming statistics to a personal level, I brought my children up as bilingual English-Spanish speakers in Spain.  This has not only given them a huge advantage professionally and academically, it has also given them a social and psychological advantage.  Since early infancy they have been envied and congratulated by their Spanish friends, neighbours and teachers for their ability to speak English.  This has meant that they have grown up with positive emotional connections with their mother’s native language and have certainly never been embarrassed by it.

Now compare this with the psychological impression a child would have living in Europe if their other language belonged to an ethnic minority.  No one would be congratulating them for speaking the language and it is quite possible that it would be looked down on, either consciously or unconsciously by their friends and acquaintances.  This could ultimately lead to their own rejection of the language, along with its culture and associations, and their lack of interest in passing it on to their own children in later life.

Therefore, we can clearly see that different languages enjoy different levels of social acceptability, with English at the top of the league table.  When it comes to Spanish, there is a lot of effort being put into raising its status in the world.  Every year there is Spanish language congress attended by academics and institutional figures from Spanish speaking countries in which they work out strategies to improve the standing of Spanish in the world.  Their objectives include agreeing points of common ground in the language itself, asserting the recognition and use of Spanish in the Internet, promoting Spanish language interests around the world and so on.  They have particular issues in the United States where “latinos” have had a second class status for so long and another of their challenges is the invasion of English words and terminology which has become increasingly pervasive in advertising and marketing, as it has been for many years in other fields such as technology and medicine.

In a global world and a free-market economy it very difficult, and possibly even counter-productive, to protect a language by legislation, but those who are working to promote the status of the Spanish language in the world are helping themselves and future generations of Spanish speakers both  professionally and culturally.

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Responses

  1. In technology and medicine, the vocabulary is usually more complex, intrinsically, and in these cases focuses more on that part of English which comes from the Latin (old French) roots post-Norman invasion, 1066 etc. It is, therefore, inevitable (<- ! an example) that English words will have some similarity to Spanish words which, clearly, are predominantly Latin-based.

    I agree with your examples of marketing and advertising which i.m.h.o. use too many anglicisms. Some people even think it's hip and cool; there again you see some articles by Spaniards criticising their usage. I will admit to particularly liking this article:

    http://elpais.com/elpais/2015/05/13/eps/1431541076_553813.html

    Made me laugh, especially where it mentions examples such as 'crowdfunding'. I once wrote to a Spanish lady who runs an English language blog and had taken it upon herself to educate her virtual students about 'crowfunding' [sic] – spot the missing 'D'?. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, ie. that her pronunciation of the first four letters would nonetheless have rhymed with the word 'how', her somewhat amusing error still conjured up mental images of giving large dark coloured birds some money. They would probably prefer bread or seeds.

  2. The El País article is excellent and very, very true. I’ve tried to help one or two panicking teachers who have found themselves required to suddenly teach their subjects in English, and they are the conscientious ones. I’m told that many teachers just rely on handing out photocopies as they are too embarrassed to speak English to their classes. I think the whole bilingual education system as it is being developed is very questionable. As for English words thrown into Spanish speech (Ritalix haha) it´s quite embarrassing when you ask someone to repeat a word you didn´t understand and it turns out to be horribly pronounced English!


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