The world consists of 205 countries, 193 of which are UN members (Mihaud, 2012) –plus Vatican City and Palestine which are considered to be “non-member observer states”– and there are approximately between 3,000 and 5,000 languages spoken worldwide (Sánz, s.f.). This means that there are 20 times as many languages as there are countries.
The fact that there is such a complex diversity when it comes to languages, only demonstrates the underlying complexity of human kind. One of the intrinsic elements of any State lies in its population, which ultimately means that states are formed by people. More specifically, by individuals. This sentence implies that multifarious individuals imbue their country with this aspect, and as a result States are complicated entities as well. Argentina, for instance, would qualify as a remarkably intricate State, given that in Salta alone –the province where I live– there are six languages other than Spanish –quechua, toba, chiriguano, wichì, nivaclé and chorote.
From what is said above, we could state that languages are a fundamental part of a multifaceted State. Indeed, languages represent a decisive and unique trait in both a person’s and a State´s life. Actually, languages are so significant that they act as a bond connecting several countries, and even as a representation of a shared history –a perfect example could be Argentina and how Argentinians in particular feel “attached” to Spain and have a brotherly link with other Latin American countries.
Furthermore, languages have different forms depending on their geographical location, as in the case of Spanish –Argentinians speak a very different form of Spanish from Mexicans, and, in Argentina, we even have a great number of dialects that set each Province apart.
Moreover, languages are SO particular that it has been said that ´there is no such a thing as the perfect translation´ because meanings are `lost in it´. Perhaps this is why, a poetry written in English has not always have the same connotation when read in another language, or maybe why jokes cannot be translated –because they are not understood in the same way.
In addition, languages contain and reveal the way a certain culture/group of people see the world and interact with it. The more complex a group of people`s reality/culture is, the more complex the language will be. This is mainly because a more complex culture, has more to account for. The first civilizations, for instance, had the need to name their surroundings which is why words to describe `rocks´ and `fire´ (among other ones) appeared. As time went by and men became more aware of other surroundings, more words appeared. Alongside the colonization of America, there was an exchange in vocabulary and certain indigenous words (like hurricane, canoe and jaguar, etc.) were borrowed by the Spanish people. With the industrial revolution, and the everyday technological developments, there were MORE words needed (like mail, internet, drone, etc.). Another reason for the appearance of new words could be the contrasting realities. An Esquimalt has more than one way of distinguishing the colour ´white´, because they are surrounded by snow. Whereas here in Salta, as it never snows, a wichí only has one word for it.
Having said that, the natural diversity in languages is sometimes misunderstood by people who neglect or are blind to the contributions each language´s particularities make towards the healthy development of unique individuals.
What is more, it has been argued that the abysmal difference in languages in some regions represents a barrier for communication and sustainable relations amongst its States. So much so, that there have even been several attempts –Esperanto, for instance- to create a single language which would replace all others. These efforts have failed however, due to the fact that they did not contemplate the key aspect of a language, its singularity.
Why are we so determined to undermine our differences? Why is it that we feel the constant need to demean someone based solely on the fact that they are not like us?The sad truth is that instead of praising our uniqueness and trying to understand each other better, we only focus on what separates us. Clearly, languages are just a part of the astounding complexity that surrounds us and SHOULD be given the prominence they deserve.
If knowledge is power, then being able to fully comprehend a language and its context confers great power and at the same time great responsibilities on the international community.It is within this framework that a relatively new concept has arisen, the concept of “Global Citizens”. As can be expected, this idea entails broadening our cultural horizons in order to solve countless issues that transcend national borders. A Global Citizen is multi-perceptive and has a critical outlook, thus contributing to peaceful dialogue and still more, solving problems –such as therelativization of Human Rights– and conflicts of interest –e.g. the “internationalization” of The Amazon.
In a globalized world where conflicts are widely spread, where its cultures are in constant juxtaposition, and where distances are shortened, it is of vital importance to set joint goals and move forward to achieve them.
Cultures are a reflection of a group of people´s history, and they are transmitted through language (various, s.f.).Naturally, when learning a foreign language, its customs and culture in general are being absorbed as well. Even though I have been raised as an Argentinian, I believe I have a deeper understanding of the American, British and Australian culture as I have learnt English together with other aspects of these countries. In fact, this is one of the reasons I am currently learning German, so that I am able understand this culture.
Another advantage of multilinguals is the fact that learning –or better yet, already knowing– an additional language makes the brain work harder. Since multilinguals switch between languages, they cultivate the skill to have a deeper control in what is known as “higher cognitive processes, such as problem-solving, memory, and thought” (KONNIKOVA, 2015). These abilities result in a “more flexible and agile mind”, and are fundamental to the improvement of global citizens.
Going back to globalization, this phenomenon spreads a specific language and culture –English and the American Culture respectively. It has been said that the expansion of this culture, and this language, suffocates other –more vulnerable– ones. Personally, I disagree with this subject mainly because each era had its predominant language:with Alexander Magnus, Greek –and the Greek culture–- ; with the Roman hegemony and later the Roman Empire –Its culture and Latin–; with the Catholic Monarchs and Charles I of Spain –Spanish and their culture–; in the nineteenth century the British culture was widely spread and last but not least, in this new era the American culture has spread significantly. Their several languages were relevant because the countries in which they were spoken, were EXCEPTIONALLY influential.
As a result of this supremacy that some countries have over others, we are almost (and I would like to highlight the word ALMOST) obliged to learn a new language and be open to the outside world and its influences.
Nevertheless, in order for those influences to have a positive effect on a particular State, its own culture –its own diversity– must be well-established. As a matter of fact a solid country is one whose society has unity and equality as their main values.Only when a State´s people are united and aware of their reality (and context) is this State ready to establish strong and long-lasting relations with the rest of the International Community. In the light of recent events regarding Argentina –among which is President Obama´s visit – my country could be a perfect illustration of what was said before.
It is generally recognized that Argentina was once one of the most influential countries in the world –in 1807 when we signed a pact of vassalage in which we ONLY recognized Fernando´s VII authority, not Spain´s, in the period 1810-16 when we rebelled against Spain and freed South America (not Brazil), and in the economic crisis during World War One – but we were never consistent because we were never united. We still do not look at our differences as an advantage. Most Argentinians have not had any contact with the other eighteen languages spoken in our country, much less with the indigenous people who speak them. Although these subjects have recently drawn attention worldwide, there is much more to be done, and part of being a global citizen is accepting and promoting indigenous culture.
All in all, a language represents a community´s distinctive features and also mirrors our diversity as complex human beings.When a language dies, a whole culture, a whole system dies with it, even if it was spoken by a single individual. As citizens of the world (Global Citizens) it is our duty to promulgate understanding and tolerance towards one another. We must praise our differences, as they make us unique, and learn from each other. The world is currently putting so much emphasis on scientific progress that the social development of human kind is sometimes ignored. In this era of dehumanization, in which we are more concerned about upgrading our phones than helping someone in need and are resilient to anyone or anything outside of our comfort zone, we should understand the key role we play as architects of the world´s future. We should be the ones who strive and fight (not in a literal sense) for tolerance, inclusion and equality.
Paul Hazard says that “science becomes an idol, a myth. The terms
‘science’ and ‘happiness’, ‘material progress’ and ‘moral progress’ are often
confused. It is believed that science will replace philosophy and religion, and
that it will satisfy every single need of the Human Spirit” (Hazard, 2013)
REFERRENCES AND LINKS
(3/24/16 10:41 AM)¿Cuántos países hay el mundo? [Accessed 24 March 2016]. Sánz, E., n.d. Muy Interesante. [Online] Available at: http://www.muyinteresante.es/cultura/arte-cultura/articulo/icuantos-idiomas-se-hablan-en-el-mundo [Accessed 24 March 2016]. various, n.d. SUS.DIV. [Online] Available at: http://www.susdiv.org/uploadfiles/rt1.2_pp_durk.pdf [Accessed 23 March 2016].