The Foolishness of Linguistic Homogenization

In a new article for RT (which you can read here) I discuss Latvian and Ukrainian efforts to assimilate Russian speakers and to turn their countries into linguistically homogenized states. I note that many of the most successful states in the world have more than one official language, and that ‘that having a multiplicity of languages within a state is not a hindrance to being rich, stable, democratic, or anything else you might consider desirable. ‘

I conclude:

Successful multilingual nations such as Switzerland and Canada have learnt not only to live with diversity but to embrace and celebrate it. In the process they have turned it into a strength. Supporters of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution often say that they want Ukraine to be a “normal country.” They should think about what that means.

Happy reading!

20 thoughts on “The Foolishness of Linguistic Homogenization”

  1. My only objection would be to listing Ireland among the wealthiest nations because its GDP is obviously inflated by hosting a lot of multinational companies.

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    1. On the subject of Ireland and language relative to Russia, the Ukrainian language doesn’t seem to have faced as much suppression than the native tongue of Ireland. In fact, an official Russian government compiled census in the early 1900s acknowledges noticeable use of Ukrainian (known as Little Russian at the time):

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_Empire_Census

      The Soviets proceeded to institute a Ukrainianization campaign in the 1920s.

      Yet, “Russification” is much more in vogue as a term than Anglicization.

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  2. “Latvian and Ukrainian efforts to assimilate Russian speakers”

    I’d say, generally, efforts to assimilate (or integrate, to be more precise) those who aren’t integrated yet are perfectly legitimate. Imposition of language restrictions is not. Integrate, and help with learning the official language(s), without discriminating for not knowing it(them). Seems like common sense.

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    1. It is not Latvian and Ukrainian. This has been going on for centuries. It is the core of most crimes in past couple of millennia – The name is Roman Catholic Church. And they will not stop till someone like Stalin send tanks to Rome 🙂 Planning is under way

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  3. One can add that there are two national languages in Norway too – Nynorsk and Bokmål. However, both are Norwegian, Nynorsk is a written language based on the western dialects and Bokmål is a written language based on the eastern. You can choose the one that you consider closest to the way you speak.

    However, there are many dialects between and outside of the western and the eastern varieties, and it is considered correct to mingle these too into the soup if one wants to.

    The two varieties differ in spelling, word forms, to some extent vocabulary and even grammar. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_language, for more explanation.

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    1. It was once Serbo-Croatian – spoken by Serbs, Croats, Bosnian Muslims (they are not “Boshniaks” as Serbs and Croats from Bosnia should be called “Boshniaks” as well – that is WESTERN plot to declare Serbs 40% of population and Croats 12% of the population – some sort of foreigners) and Montenegrins. Now All these are separate “languages” The biggest madness is that in Croatia (and sometimes in Serbia) they even use subtitles. Now, imagine having English, American, Canadian, Australian… English.

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      1. True. “Serbian” and “Croatian” are not two separate languages, or even dialects. They are exactly the same language. Just using two different alphabets to spell the words. Speaking purely as a Linguist, both alphabets are equally good, they are both phonemically sound and get the job done. (It would be like ASCII vs EBCDIC for computer coding) It’s just the fact there are two of them is a function of politics and “civilizations” (West vs East) and meant to keep people apart and thinking they are from different tribes.

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  4. Ideally children in every nation should learn as many languages as possible when they are still young and receptive, multilingualism gives them more career and educational opportunities for the future. I am so grateful that I was allowed to study French as a child, and I only wish I could have studied Spanish as well. (Trying to learn it now, and it’s a lot harder as an adult!)

    In theory (of Scientific Linguistics), all languages are equally valid and able to express any thought or concept. In practice, limiting children to learning only, say, Latvian, does them no favors when the single language is spoken by less than a million people worldwide. Cuts students off from major literary works, for example. Not to mention culture – how many movies are dubbed into Latvian?

    Learning English is definitely an advantage world-wide, because this particular Creole opens many doors. Likewise, Chinese, although the Chinese themselves offer many obstacles to learning their tongue, including their completely primitive and unlearnable hieroglyphic alphabet.

    Learning or speaking Russian is can be an advantage and opens many doors to, say, literary works and/or scientific monographs. Children born into Russian-speaking homes should be allowed to develop their language skills at the highest level, via schooling and study. Bilingualism and multilingualism should be encouraged. Politics and HATRED gets in the way of these simple truths, alas.

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    1. AFAIK, in most European countries two languages are mandatory to be learned at school, but more can be studied if offered. The choice in Germany was typically English and French, but I guess some schools even include now Spanish and even Mandarin in the upper grades.

      In Canada afaik two languages are not mandatory in schools except BC, and my son had the opportunity to access a French immersion school in NE BC starting with grade four or five.

      I myself had instruction in English in school for six years, and tried French for two but the rules of the Latin grammar was too much…which haunts me now as I am learning Portuguese since age 67, which is far from easy with a brain that has apparently lost some of its learning skills…the nice thing with Latin languages: once learned it is relatively easy to catch on to the sister languages, French, Italian, Spanish…

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      1. On my to-do list: I want to study Italian. Mainly because of my love for Italian opera! Because I already read French and a little Spanish, I figure it won’t be too hard to also learn Italian, once this covid thing ends and I can sign up for a class. Also, I had a semester of actual classical Latin in college, like reading some Julius Caesar, that sort of thing. It was so much fun. Because I was studying Indo-European comparative morphology at the time (long story), we had to take at least one semester each of Latin and Classical Greek!

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      2. Also, I had a semester of actual classical Latin in college, like reading some Julius Caesar, that sort of thing.

        Yes, always seems to start with Caesars De Bello Gallico same over here. Horace and my dear friend Publius Ovidius Naso are less easy.
        Short and sharp, easy to understand, still is a must-be in the military. 😉

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  5. For what its worth, East Germany typically has English as the first foreign language, and you can choose between French, Russian and depending on the school perhaps Spanish as the second foreign language.

    Its not really policy, it is more driven by what teachers you have for which language, and probably changes currently.

    My own russian is “meh”, I understand nearly everything, but speak with a pretty ridiculous accent, blithedly ignore the existence of the 5th. and 6th. case and basically use the grammar as if it was essentially German. The fun thing is that Russians typically understand me and frequently amuse themselfs quite a bit while they do so.
    I am always happy to make people laugh/chuckle so thats great as far as I am concerned.

    A funny thing that happened was relatively recent. I was kind of lost and asked a very “retired officer” looking guy where metro station X is.
    He awnswered with “Sie müssen 250 Meter in diese Richtung, dann Rechts um und nochmal 150 Meter, die Station ist dann Linker Hand” in accented German (no German says “Rechts um” or “linker Hand” unless he is military). I saluted (I am a reservist in the German after all) and said “Jawohl!” to which he awnsered “muuuuuh” which I immidiatly returned with a “muuuuuh” myself. Both of us where chuckling pretty hard.

    Which kind of reminds me of something from Dominik Lievens “Russia against Napoleon” “Count Langeron (anti bonapartiste French General in Russian services) aquired a voluble Russian, and spoke in it frequently to his troops, whom he frequently reminded that it was his great honor to be allowed to lead them. The troops typically didnt understand him anyway but appreciated the effort. “

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    1. “linker Hand” wird selbstverständlich auch im normalen Sprachgebrauch benutzt. Statt “rechts um” wird einfach “und dann rechts” gesagt.

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      1. I have lived in Germany for 35 years and I have never heard someone say “Rechts um” or “Linker Hand”/”Rechter Hand” for direction who wasnt former/current military.

        The one exception being my Russian mom who thinks “Rechts um”/”Links um” sounds funny, and “Jawohl” obviously much more so .

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    2. (I am a reservist in the German after all)
      do I register a slight hesitation about labels: “German Army” Bundeswehr oder Nationale Volksarmee? 🙂

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    3. For what its worth, East Germany typically has English as the first foreign language

      I was befuddled at first at the notion that the GDR would teach English as the first foreign language, until I noticed you used the present-tense ‘has’ and not the past-tense ‘had’. By ‘East Germany’ I’m assuming you’re talking about the region that used to be the GDR – is that correct?
      Also, to your knowledge, what languages were taught in the GDR?

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      1. I was born in Moscow (my parents met at a Math spartakiade, father German, mother Russian), in 1984, moved to Halle/Saale in GDR in late 1984 and grew up in the GDR.

        As one would reasonably expect, the NVA was not interested in drafting me at the tender age of 5. :).

        There are still considerable degrees of differences between former East and West Germans, although they get somewhat less noticable in the younger generations. What tertiary languages are offered at a school is basically dependent on which languages the teachers at the school in question can actually teach, in former GDR land, people who could (supposedly) teach Russian were quite frequent.

        IIRC in South Schleswig (which is the extreme north of actual Schleswig- Holstein) you could go with Danish instead of English as first language but relatively few people do that, and in Saarland you can go with French first if you would want to.

        Thing is, English is usefull and relatively easy to learn for germans (similar grammer, similar words, you get to the level where you can make yourself understood relatively quickly), French/Russians etc. are not as usefull and typically harder.

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  6. According to Danilov, post-independence Ukraine dug a hole for itself by “playing games with the Russian language,” and “Now we have found ourselves deep in that hole and it’s being used 100 percent by the Russian Federation,” which is allegedly using the defense of Russian-language speakers as an excuse for supporting the rebellion in Donbass. Danilov’s message is clear: The fact that so many Ukrainians speak Russian is a threat to national security; they have to be made to speak something else.”

    Great paragraph. Ah well yes, the problem always lies outside. Someone out there must be blamed.

    But then, it may get more complicated once you get to the ground. Our right was quite early present on Eastern German ground and quite successful. With Yalensis in mind here somewhat, our Old Europe “services” no doubt cooperated a lot with the US, and within this grown structure may have serious difficulties to adjust to a post 1989 universe. :::

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