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Is Language a Divisive Force

November 12, 2011  by: Madan G Singh  Points: 15   Category: Others    Views: 543

Language has divided nations and communities. Perhaps this may change in the 21st century with the advent of English


William S Burroughs wrote that language is a virus from outer space. He also mentioned that it is infectious and has a demonic influence on the minds of people. This results in impairing the judgment of a person.
The fact is that language is a divisive force. In fact it is interesting to know that the 1961 census in India identified 1,652 languages. This has resulted in language agitations and even riots right up to the 21st century. India is not an exception as a small country like Belgium which has only 2 languages (French and Flemish) also had language riots.

Language an issue.

It is a fact of history that language has been a divisive force. A look at Sri Lanka will bear me out. The Tamil- Lanka civil war had its genesis in the language policy of the Lanka government. It started with the Sinhala only language act passed in 1956. It codified that Sinhala would be the only language of administration and placed the majority Sinhalese speakers in a dominant position. This law had serious economic repercussions as it effectively debarred the Tamil community from all administrative jobs and opportunities in quasi government and academic jobs.

Sinhala linguistic nationalism was also in a way directed against English which was perceived as the language of the elite. In fact as far back as 1940 the politicians and senior civil servants had discussed the possibility of replacing English by local languages in administration.
Official languages

Having accepted that language is a divisive force many people tried to establish a universal artificial language. One of these was Esperanto which has been used by Pope John Paul and Michael Jackson. However here also everything has not been smooth and in the 1930s the organization was suppressed and many members arrested or shot.
One can question as to the need to invent a language when there are existing languages in use globally.

David Crystal in his Encyclopedia of Language, (1987, revised 1997), brings out some facts and figures that make interesting reading. In the top 40 languages, English came in at number two, behind Mandarin Chinese. Tamil was at number 20 and has gone up to number 17, with 77 million speakers worldwide.
Back in the past the official language in Europe was Latin, because it was propagated by the church. Today, the English language dominates as it was the language of the British Empire which had global reach. In modern times it is the language of the internet. It is in real terms a global language and accepted in the 21st century from the remote village of Bihar to the small town in Russia?
Thus there is a good chance in the decades to come one of the most important unifying aspects of world polity could be English. In case that happens it will be the universal language and conflicts like Sinhala-Tamil on language would cease to exist.


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