A hierarchy of languages

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In a BBC online article about the need to promote non-European languages in British schools, Dr Anderson of Goldsmiths College is quoted as follows:

It's a question of status - the message has been that these languages are less important. We need to get to a point where we don't think in terms of foreign languages and community languages, where there isn't this sense of a hierarchy of languages, where all forms of language learning are valued.

I have to say that I can't agree fully with him, though we do need to teach more non-European languages. Teaching languages is an expensive business and requires a considerable investment in human resources and in the creation of decent materials. While I agree that any language learning is of itself useful, I think that languages taught in schools, which are the places where our future society and prosperity will come from, should be selected on a more pragmatic basis. Is it more useful to teach our children Japanese, spoken by about 150 million people, or Ainu, spoken by a couple of hundred in remote parts of Japan and likely to be dead in a very few years?

I think that there is still a hierarchy of languages and that we should choose them on the basis of how useful they will be to our society as a whole, and this does include many more non-European languages as the globalised society of today is driving the need for wider and better communication. This is not to say that one language is somehow better than another, but one language can plainly be much more useful than another, and the languages we select for teaching at schools should be chosen on a basis of usefulness.

Categories: General

1 Comment

Language is just a method to combine minds. We can't save any method we used once upon a time. If people find that zippers are more handy, why force them to use buttons? So let people decide, which language they prefer, and count the numbers of speakers!

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