4 National Languages

4 National Languages - Language Society and Culture Andrew...

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Language, Society and Culture, Andrew Simpson, USC Language, Society and Culture Unit 4 National Languages and Language Planning This class considers how languages are developed into national languages. First of all we will briefly review what is meant by the terms “standard language” and “lingua franca”, and then go on to discuss the difference between national and official languages. We also consider various case studies which highlight both successes and failures in the selection and spread of national and official languages. Standard Languages A standard language is generally one that is/can be written and which has been standardised to some degree by the deliberate creation of grammars and dictionaries describing correct usage. A standard language will have prestige and can be used for formal functions and in the areas of academic and scientific discussion. Examples: standard English, standard French, standard Hindi etc. Lingua Francas A lingua franca is a language which is used for communication by peoples whose first languages differ. For example, at international business meetings where groups from many countries come together, English will often be used as a commonly-known language to hold discussions in. In East Africa Swahili is used as a common means of communication among people who all have a different mother-tongue. Russian also serves as a lingua franca in the countries of the former Soviet Union where very many different local languages are spoken. In China, Mandarin Chinese functions as a very important lingua franca, allowing speakers of different regional forms of Chinese (and other minority languages) to communicate with each other. Indonesian fulfils a similar function in Indonesia. Lingua francas may often first develop and spread as languages of trade (as, for example, in the case of Indonesian and Swahili). National and Official Languages Countries often make a distinction between varieties designated as national language(s) and those classed as official languages. A national language should function as a symbol of a nation’s special identity, like a national flag or a national anthem. It should therefore be a language which is felt to be genuinely representative of the people of a nation and help unify the citizens of a nation with a sense of belonging together as a single people. To achieve such nationalist feelings, it is actually possible for a single state to specify 1
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Language, Society and Culture, Andrew Simpson, USC more than one language as having national language status. This may sometimes occur where a state has a very mixed population and a number of large and distinct ethnic groups. The naming of multiple national languages in such instances may be an attempt to recognise that all the major ethnic groups are important components of the nation. However, the majority of countries, even when ethnically complex, seem to try to specify
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4 National Languages - Language Society and Culture Andrew...

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