On Communication

Communication between the people of the world, rather than only the politicians of the world, is a question of understanding rather than intolerance, peace or war, life or death, wealth or poverty.

If not for language we humans would not exist, as faster and stronger animals would have made us extinct. If we had been able to exist under those circumstances, would we have been human beings at all?

What happens in other countries and continents has an increasingly large influence on our lives. This is especially true for the decisions that are made by the UN and, for those of us who live in Europe, the EU. No country can afford to isolate itself, without being struck by a decrease in cultural, scientific and material standards. The predisposition for the well-being of all the people in a small country is increased by the proportion of people therein who speak a foreign language.

Sweden will soon reach nine million inhabitants and is situated in the North of Europe. It has a high level of industrialisation and a high standard of living. School in Sweden is obligatory for the first nine years and most adolescents continue their studies with a three year secondary school (gymnasium, senior high school).

Laugh at their jokes

Understanding of other people grows poorly with those who are trapped in their own languages. Very good language skills are required to understand people who speak different languages. How can you understand them if you cannot speak with them, discuss with them and laugh at their jokes? Understanding fosters tolerance and sympathy, which in turn helps build a more secure world. However, for this to occur, communication ought to take place in an “equal” language that has not been forced upon anyone. Conflicts can easily arise in countries where there is a minority and a majority language. If the minority does not feel respected, the fact that they have been taught the majority language will make little difference in preventing conflict.

What languages should the young learn?

Learning a language is difficult; it takes many years until you know it well enough to be able to discuss and make jokes freely. Indeed, which language should you learn? In the ideal situation, all children and adolescents around the world would learn the same language (apart from their mother tongue), as this would allow them to understand one and other.

Many countries have several native languages. What is most important, to be able to speak with one’s countrymen who have a different mother tongue or to be able to speak to the rest of the world? In Estonia for example, a country of 1.4 million inhabitants, 70% of the population speaks Estonian and 29% Russian. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language whilst Russian is east Slavic. Moreover, Estonian is fragmented into several dialects, especially south Estonian and North Estonian, which between the two are quite different. Switzerland has a population of 7.3 million. 4.6 million have German as their mother tongue, 1.4 million French, 500 000 Italian and 35 000 Rhéto-roman.

Should the majority learn the minority language?

Which language do you recommend the citizens of Switzerland and Estonia to learn, apart from their mother tongue? Do you believe that the minority has to learn the language of the majority? If so, does that mean that the majority should learn the language of the minority, even if there are several large minorities? Do the people of the minority have the time to learn the majority language when they are also expected to learn one or more “world language” such as English, Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Russian? If the minority is forced to learn the majority language, they are unlikely to acquire some or any of the international languages at the level reached by the majority population, who are spared from learning the minority language. How is this to be solved?

There are countries in which the minority do not even receive education in their own language. What do you think is going to happen to their language? In the long run it will disappear, taking their culture with it, as language is also a carrier of culture.

If you continue reading, you will see that there is a solution.

© Hans Malv, 2004