Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Cultural Encounters

467 words

Finding the new issue of The Warwick magazine in my mailbox this week, I browsed through it while waiting for my laundry to be finished and read the final article by Susan Bassnett, entitled Cultural Encounters circling around the same language issues I wrote about recently.

Susan Bassnett stresses that language goes further than communication but also transports a cultural subtext. She also warns that by not having the need to learn other languages these days, native speakers of English may lose the skill to understand other cultures.

So why, you may wonder, would anyone have misgivings about all these wonderful developments, and why does the rise of English as a global language cause feelings of uneasiness for some of us? For there are indeed problems with the communications revolution, problems that are not only economic. Most fundamental is the profound relationship between language and culture that lies at the heart of society and one that we overlook at our peril.

Different cultures are not simply groups of people who label the world differently; languages give us the means to shape our views of the world and languages are different from one another. We express what we see and feel through language, and because languages are so clearly culture-related, often we find that what we can say in one language cannot be expressed at all in another. [...]

Compromising is something that speakers of more than one language understand. When there are no words in another language for what you want to say, you make adjustments and try to approximate. [...]

Inevitably, the spread of English means that millions of people are adding another language to their own and are learning how to negotiate cultural and linguistic differences. This is an essential skill in today's hybrid world, particularly now when the need for international understanding has rarely been so important. But even as more people become multilingual, so native English speakers are losing out, for they are becoming ever more monolingual, and hence increasingly unaware of the differences between cultures that languages reveal. Communicating in another language involves not only linguistic skills, but the ability to think differently, to enter into another culture's mentality and shape language accordingly. Millions of people are discovering how to bridge cultures, while the English-speaking world becomes ever more complacent and cuts down on foreign language learning programmes in the mistaken belief that it is enough to know English.

World peace in the future depends on intercultural understanding. Those best placed to help that process may not be the ones with the latest technology and state of the art mobile phones, but those with the skills to understand what lies in, under and beyond the words spoken in many different languages.

Gosh, now I quoted almost half of the article.

April 5, 2003, 18:12

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