Today a friend, brought to my attention that 2008 is the UN proclaimed International Year of Languages. As a linguist, I couldn’t resist writing about this.
The UN proclamation itself mostly discusses the importance of the equality of all six official languages of the UN (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish) and their role in the organisation’s operations. However, they also discuss the importance of multilingualism and preserving and promoting linguistic diversity. The official International Year of Languages website gives more details about the project and provides materials and resources for those wishing to get involved so please feel inspired.
As for me, I love languages. Linguistic diversity is important to me on both an academic and personal level. I know that sometimes there can be snobbery or competitiveness regarding different languages: “Oh this one is one of the hardest to learn!”, “I just don’t like the way it sounds.”, etc. For me, all languages are equally fascinating and when asked I will just admit to being a ‘language whore’ for want of a better name. It’s not that I’m indifferent to the differences and the more the better, it’s more that I can appreciate all of them for all their differences. It fascinates me that humans have been faced with the challenge of communication and these are all the systems that they develop.
There is no one true or better language. There will always be something that one language expresses in a way that you prefer but then it may express something else in a way that frustrates you instead. It is a natural course of events that as long as there are humans on this Earth communicating with each other, new and varied languages or language conventions will occur. A lot of people I speak to have very definite opinions about language, how they conceptualise it and what it means to them. This is understandable. Languages are a very direct way of seeing and understanding the diversity there is among people. We are all different, we all have our own experiences and ideas to contribute and we are all valid important members of the community. Language variation may act as an important reminder that there are different points of view from our own.