Friday, 16 December 2016

Merry Christmas to my Blog Readers

Having completed all my assignments this term and done some research for my dissertation, Christmas is now only singe-digits away and I just thought that I would write this blog as an early Christmas present to members of my family and my other readers.  I therefore hope that the content of this blog makes your respective Christmases all the merrier:

It was last Christmas, I think, when we were all, or rather, most of us were, lodging in this beautiful barn, when one member of the family argued that the countries of Northern Europe such as the Netherlands and Denmark, may well end up abandoning their national languages and adopt English as their new mother tongue.  Another member of the family told us, once (not at Christmas), that there were people in Germany who thought that the Germans may well stop speaking German one day and adopt English as their mother tongue.  In this blog, I intend to assure said relatives, along with anybody who happens to be reading this blog, that such a catastrophe just isn't going to happen.

The reality is this; just because a society, region or nation-state comes under the influence an outside language, and that language becomes a widely/universally spoken second language within that region/nation-state, it does not mean that the indigenous language has to disappear.  There are many examples of this.  Most speakers of Swiss German can also speak Standard German (the two being very different) as their second language yet that does not mean that Swiss German has to die out.  In fact, Swiss German has survived very well.  In the Baltic States and other areas of the former Soviet Union, Russian was (in some cases, is still) very widely spoken but the indigenous vernaculars there have not simply melted away.  In Prague under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most Czech speakers in the city could also speak German but it did not mean that they had to stop speaking Czech.  Closer to home, in the town of Caernarfon in north Wales, English was understood by a majority by at least 1911, while 100 years on, the town is still very Welsh-speaking; in 2011, it was noted that Welsh was very much the language used by its secondary school pupils in the playground, while in 2016 it was reported that 90% of the pupils in the town's secondary school spoke Welsh at home. 

Thus, the presence of a widely/universally spoken second language does not mean that the indigenous language has to disappear.  In all the cases listed above, a knowledge of the widely/universally spoken second language was either advantageous or necessary and so no matter how important English or any other language becomes, I don't see said independent nation-states just abandoning their mother tongue.  Firstly, what would they have to gain? Nothing, because if they are already reaping the advantages of having high levels of English, what more do they have to gain? Unlike in the situations described above, languages like German and Swedish have full command of domains within their respective countries; Swedish is the language of government in Sweden and of the domestic media.  Immigrants and Refugees who move to Sweden tend to learn Swedish, and in fact, the most popular language in Sweden on the language-learning website, Duolinguo, was Swedish.  This was related to immigration into the country, as the article here describes.  Thus, so far, there is little sign that globalization is going to endanger the languages of said countries. 

Thus, the national languages of Northern Europe, are, in my opinion, not under threat and I am very happy to come to that conclusion.  I hope that you all are too, and I also hope that such a conclusion makes your respective Christmases all the merrier this year.  Merry Christmas, or as they say in Swedish, God Jul!


  1. It is easier for a language spoken by only a small number of speakers to survive the onslaught of a major world language like English, Russian, Spanish or French when the country it is spoken in is affluent, and when it's solidly established as a written language. It will be much harder for (say) the hundreds of minority languages in Africa, the indigenous languages of Brazil or PNG, or the dialects of Italy to survive. When a language isn't used for in education or the media, I wonder how much of a future it has.

    1. Agree, to some extent at least. The obvious counter example here is probably Irish where all the backing of a nationalist movement and later a nation state seems to have achieved is a subject you have to pass to get on in school. Much in the way English kids once had to learn Latin to get into university.
      Certainly a comparison of the state and status of the surviving Celtic languages, if it could ever be done both sympathetically and objectively (no easy task!) could be most instructive.