The Linguist

TheLinguist 58,3-June/July 2019

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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8 The Linguist Vol/58 No/3 2019 FEATURES In her Threlford Lecture, Bernadette O'Rourke examines growing intolerance and asks if linguists unwittingly promote monolingual The authority to speak L et me begin with a story. This is a story that I have told on a number of occasions. It is a very personal story and one which has stimulated a lot of my thinking on linguistic intolerance in our contemporary societies. In September 2016, my 7-year-old son was out shopping with my husband in our local supermarket in Edinburgh. They were going about their usual business when my son was approached by a stranger who tapped him on the shoulder and told him (politely) that this was the UK and he should be speaking English. My son had been speaking French with my husband, who is French; French is the language they always use together. This does not mean, of course, that they can't speak English, but in the monolingual English- speaking space of the Edinburgh supermarket, speaking French was seen as out of place. It was in some way marked, and even deviant, and did not fit in with the local environment. This is just one example of where the authority to speak is contested – where a particular language is out of place. Nobody in the supermarket seemed to question the use of English or the fact that in the supermarket there was no bilingual signage. English was the default language. The unquestioned norm. The anonymous language. To understand these dynamics, I draw on the lens of language ideologies as a way of questioning and trying to understand. I ask why it is that certain speakers (new speakers, native speakers) are given authority; why it is that particular languages (majority or minority languages) are given authority; what the consequences are for the speakers themselves; what the consequences are for the use of certain languages; and what role we play as linguists in responding to these types of issues. In the globalised world in which we live, with mobilities and flows, transnational working, economic migration and forced migration, our societies have become more diverse than ever before. Multilingualism is the norm – not the exception – in 21st century societies. In February 2018, the Salzburg Global Seminar's Statement for a Multilingual World was launched, calling for better policies and practices to support such multilingualism. 1 It opened with the statement that all 193 UN member states are multilingual, as are most people in the world. It also pointed out that more than 7,000 languages are spoken across the world but nearly 2,500 are endangered. The statement emphasised that languages enrich our experience of the world and that multilingualism provides a window into the diversity of our societies. However, much of the multilingualism in our societies is ignored or overlooked, and monolingual ideologies underlie a lot of the discourses that shape many Western societies in particular. Although multilingualism is associated with mobility, productivity and knowledge creation, monolingualism continues to be the norm, with linguistic diversity seen as both suspicious and costly.

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