On the occasion of
European Day of Languages
European Language Mela
20 October 2008
The English and Foreign Languages University
Institutes in Hyderabad which teach European languages will come together on 20 October to celebrate the European Day of Languages. The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU) will host a "European Language Mela".
"The event is the first of its kind in India, and will showcase the rich diversity of languages in Europe," said Professor Abhai Maurya, Vice-Chancellor, EFLU. He added, "The event takes on added significance in 2008, which the United Nations has declared International Year of Languages."
Participating institutes include Alliance Française, Goethe Zentrum, Osmania University, Universal Esperanto Association, and University of Hyderabad. As many as eight European languages will be presented – Croatian, English, Esperanto, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish – followed by a discussion.
Over the next few months, several Language Days are being planned by these institutes to present these languages and their cultures in greater depth.
Launched in 2001, the European Day of Languages, which is traditionally celebrated on or around 26 September, promotes linguistic diversity as a tool for greater intercultural understanding. There are over 200 languages indigenous to Europe and many more are spoken by citizens whose family origin is from other continents.
- The mother tongues spoken by most people in Europe are Russian, German, English, French and Italian, in that order.
- The non-European languages most widely used on European territory are Arabic, Chinese and Hindi, each with its own writing system.
- Russia (148 million inhabitants) has by far the highest number of languages spoken on its territory: from 130 to 200 depending on the criteria.
- Most countries in Europe have a number of regional or minority languages – some of these have obtained official status.
- Due to the influx of migrants and refugees, Europe has become largely multilingual. In London alone some 300 languages are spoken (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Berber, Hindi, Punjabi, etc.).
Bilingualism. Let us recognize, use and cherish this resource. Bilingualism brings all kinds of benefits. Being bilingual can enhance your chances of successfully learning other languages. Learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third. Bilinguals may also have some advantages in thinking: there is evidence that they make faster progress than monolinguals in certain areas of early cognitive development and are in many ways more creative in their linguistic skills.
Bilinguals can communicate with a wider variety of people. Since bilinguals can experience two or more cultures in an intimate way, their ability can make them more sensitive in communication and more ready to overcome cultural barriers and to build cultural bridges. There are also important practical issues: bilinguals enjoy a potential economic advantage because a larger number of jobs becomes available to them. It is also increasingly accepted that multilingual companies have a competitive edge over monolingual ones.
Minority languages. Thus, in a globalizing world high-level multilingualism is very desirable. The conditions to achieve high-level multilingualism are quite favourable for the big languages. A 10-year schooling in the mother-tongue lays a solid cognitive foundation on which other languages can be effectively acquired. However, as in the rest of the world, in Europe too the situation of the smaller languages is far more uncertain – indeed, for the world as a whole, experts estimate that over this century, at least half of the world’s languages, and perhaps more, will die out. Within two generations all traces of a language can disappear when it is not spoken at home, and when children are not taught in it at school. It is this urgency that has prompted the United Nations to declare 2008 “International Year of Languages”.
As a community of nations committed to defending human rights – including linguistic human rights – Europe is seriously discussing strategies to ensure these rights for all its citizens. A range of proposals exist: initiatives to encourage citizens to learn the languages of the neighbours; a 'simplified' English; adopting a national language as one's own; declaring a national language as the official European language; and learning a planned language like Esperanto as a universal second language.
Europe's success in defending linguistic human rights, promoting linguistic diversity and democracy, and achieving a high-level multilingualism will be watched with great interest in other multilingual mosaics such as India.
As we – with our own complex mix of languages! – gather to celebrate Europe's linguistic diversity, these are some of the larger issues that we invite you to ponder over during the seminar. Indeed, we hope that our celebrations and deliberations will continue through the various European Language Days that we plan to organize during the next few months in Hyderabad!
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