More Language shinnanigans

“If you don’t speak English you can’t belong in Britain”

That is the headline from the Daily Telegraph today from an article which goes on to read the riot act about people moving to the UK (although England seems to be the main subject!) The article can be found here. This, for want of better words annoyed me. Enough for me to post on Facebook a link to the site and a wee rant which said :

The idea of any country stating language as an entry requirement is frankly nuts. If you don’t speak someones language and they don’t speak yours, how can you have a disagreement? You can merely formulate an opinion of what you think they are like based on your own personal discrimination (for negatives AND positives). 

It appears to me that places which think like this, are attempting to use languages as barriers, because as countries borders have become more passable, they need something else to be able to separate themselves and give them their own identity. 

So who is the more self absorbed… the one who doesn’t learn the new language because in their world / social scope it is not needed, or the one who feels so threatened by someone else’s presence, even though they know nothing of them, that they have to impose parameters / restrictions in order for them to frequent the same geographical location as themselves?

Get a grip. Language doesn’t dictate ones culture/personality. Personality does! It’s a separate entity. Language is merely a tool in expressing it to others. But much like an artist who only draws for his friends, that neither reflects on Art as a whole, nor the beauty of the work produced, reguardless of its limited audience! 

That said, I think I want to add more.  There is so much wrong with the article and the portrayal of people as a whole. Take this : “Language is central because we can only search for the common good through face-to-face discussion and public debate via the mass media. The simple fact is that if you can’t speak the language, you can’t take part. You can’t belong.” I think this is outrageous! “The common good”?? Excuse me?? That implies a predisposition to judge another negatively from the outset, and then you have to quest for some form of point within them so that you can say “Oh yes, this bit I understand, so therefore there is good in him/her”, because with understanding comes familiarity, or rather, with understanding, comes the loss of fear of the unknown.

I live in a country where I don’t speak the language. I walk past hundreds of people in town whom I have no understanding of, and if I were to speak with a hippopotomonstosesquipedalian part of my vernacular, the same ignorance would be afforded to my good self, and I feel neither judged nor that I am judging them. The simple fact is, until you speak to someone, they speak only the language of Schrodinger’s Cat, their language might be yours (alive… (I know I know… that’s a tad to positively orientated to be impartial!)), or dead, (a different language). This affects neither how I view them, nor how I react with them in my proximity, because, although we occupy the same geographical location at the time of passing, we have no concern as to who or what we both are like, nor anything to do with our lives after this passing encounter. I do not ponder if there is good in him/her. Oddly enough my preconception of people is that everyone has good in them, and that as a species, the desire to do things considered by our conscience to be “ok”, will mostly over-ride “not ok”. I have no requirement to walk up to someone, and demand they communicate with me. I am not negatively decimated by the passer by’s complete apathy to my even existing.

The truth is, in all honesty, I embrace the idea that people can walk by others, and formulate no opinion whatsoever! That should be the world in which we live in. It should be how we take everything, with an open mind which is only coaxed into directions when pertinent information is given relevant to  the judgement call required of a situation. “He doesn’t speak English”, should have absolutely no effect on the judgement call of, “Is he a good member of his social circle”.

And there is where things start to get interesting again. Social circles. Because we as humans forget that our roots used to see differing social circles as a threat, to our available land, our women/menfolk for breeding, etc etc. And any encroachment… would be met by violence! Possessiveness. “This is mine! Stay out!”. Territorial animal instincts take over and the fear of losing something to someone else because they are different, manifests. Paranoia sets in too. “They’re all talking in a different language…. what if they’re talking about me? Maybe they are? That one looked at me! He’s smiling to his friends now. Bastard!!”

And so, to me it boils down to this. You have a choice. You can see the differences between who you are, and who other people are, as one of two things.

  1. A barrier / border to separate and segregate yourself from the others, and to keep you walled up within you and yours, safe in your own womb, (although wombs are not always safe.. just ask Jack’s brother/sister.. oh wait… you can’t),  and stay insular in your ideas as to what is right for you = right for everyone within an environment which you frequent, or 
  2. A trait to be celebrated as  measure of the diversity which exists throughout our species, and even if we do not understand the person stood next to us, that is not a negative, it is merely an indication of where they grew up/where they were born. Which incidentally, they had no say in whatsoever.

Culture is something which evolved from environmental issues within an area / populous at a given time. As time changes so do cultures and populations. We have reached a point in our evolution as a species where borders and segregation are becoming things no longer required. Our cultures can adapt to this with nothing to lose and everything to gain because, if the society/social environment is THAT important to you as a person, isn’t about time all aspects of that society are acknowledged?

Are we really that insecure in ourselves that we think we might lose our own identity, just because there are people around us who don’t understand how we speak? If so, then maybe our grip on who we are is a touch too fragile and perhaps we might need to look to a different culture for help in that. Maybe one which, perhaps, would allow us to go live in an environment where although WE are the alien, we feel neither threatened or excluded from that which is happening around us, and still ok to eat Haggis / Bacon / whatever, and such quirks are acknowledged as interesting idiosyncrasies, rather than “different = bad”

I am reminded of the first few lines of an Ani Difranco song… which i will post to finish..


when I was four years old
they tried to test my I.Q.
they showed me a picture
of 3 oranges and a pear
they said,
which one is different?
it does not belong
they taught me different is wrong 


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