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Linguistic Sustainability for a Multilingual Humanity [Language sustainability for a multilingual humanity] [Sostenibilidad (sustentabilidad) lingüística para una humanidad multilingüe]

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(Text based on the plenary speech for the X Linguapax Congress on 'Linguistic diversity, sustainability and peace', Forum 2004, Barcelona. Also published in: Bastardas-Boada, Albert. From language shift to language revitalization and sustainability. A complexity approach to linguistic ecology. Barcelona: Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, 2019, pp. 289-312). Transdisciplinary analogies and metaphors are potential useful tools for thinking and creativity. The exploration of other conceptual philosophies and fields can be rewarding and can contribute to produce new useful ideas to be applied on different problems and parts of reality. The development of the so-called 'sustainability' approach allows us to explore the possibility of translate and adapt some of its main ideas to the organisation of human language diversity. The concept of 'sustainability' clearly comes from the tradition of thinking that criticises the perspective of economic development that overlooks almost totally the natural environment -the precise context where this development takes place -and which thus leads it to a final end devoid of resources and clearly harmful for the life of human beings. Against this economicist view, which is blind to its very important side effects, some academic and activist enclaves have proposed the perspective of 'sustainable development' or 'lasting development'. In other words, they have theorised, constructed, and begun to practice an economic and urbanistic development respectful of, integrated into, and in keeping with the dynamics of nature. Such perspective provides a way of improving the material aspects of human life while at the same time not damaging other environmental aspects still more necessary and fundamental for the quality —and even for the simple possibility- of human existence. In fact, the view is a synthesis of possible opposed patterns. It does not renounce material and economic improvement, but nor does it exclude a fully healthy environment that is appropriate for the continuation of the species. If we now try to transfer and to apply this way of thinking to the linguodiversity reality, are there useful analogies and metaphors to be made? We believe there are, and ones that can be used to good advantage, and linked, moreover, to the traditions of thought that have always been present but perhaps even more so these last years with the drive to develop the thinking we are calling ‘eco-linguistic’. From the outset, we would underscore the will to connect apparent ‘opposites’ in an integrative conceptualisation, such as the very syntagm ‘sustainable development’. On the sociolinguistic plane, our debate should probably be about our ‘opposites’, which could be on the one hand the expansion of the dominant languages and, on the other hand, the maintenance and development of human linguistic diversity.
Linguistic Sustainability for a Multilingual Humanity1
Albert Bastardas-Boada
University of Barcelona
CUSC – Centre Universitari de Sociolingüística i Comunicació (University Centre of
Sociolinguistics and Comunication), and Department of General Linguistics,
From ‘Sustainability’ to ‘Linguistic Sustainability’
Transdisciplinary analogies and metaphors are potential useful tools for thinking
and creativity. The exploration of other conceptual philosophies and fields can be
rewarding and can contribute to produce new useful ideas to be applied on different
problems and parts of reality (Holland). The development of the so-called ‘sustainability’
approach allows us to explore the possibility of translate and adapt some of its main ideas
to the organisation of human language diversity.
The concept of ‘sustainability’ clearly comes from the tradition of thinking that
criticises the perspective of economic development that overlooks almost totally the
natural environment - the precise context where this development takes place - and
which thus leads it to a final end devoid of resources and clearly harmful for the life of
human beings. To an end, that is to say, which is clearly unsustainable. Against this
economicist view, which is blind to its very important side effects, some academic and
activist enclaves have proposed the perspective of ‘sustainable development’ or ‘lasting
development’. In other words, they have theorised, constructed, and begun to practice an
economic and urbanistic development respectful of, integrated into, and in keeping with
the dynamics of nature. Such perspective provides a way of improving the material
aspects of human life while at the same time not damaging other environmental aspects
still more necessary and fundamental for the quality —and even for the simple possibility
- of human existence. In fact, the view is a synthesis of possible opposed patterns. It does
not renounce material and economic improvement, but nor does it exclude a fully healthy
environment that is appropriate for the continuation of the species.
1 Text based on the plenary speech for the X Linguapax Congress on ‘Linguistic diversity, sustainability
and peace’, Forum 2004, Barcelona.
1
As a concept, ‘sustainability’ was born at the end of the 1980s. It found world-
wide resonance at the conference of the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The
document known as the ‘Bruntdland report’ defines the term as a form of sustainable
development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of
future generations to meet their own needs. Today the term ‘sustainability’ is already
being used in many not exactly equivalent senses and by many highly distinct - and even
opposed - social actors, a situation which makes it necessary to go to the root of the
problem and attempt to conceptualise it more basically and in greater depth. Therefore,
we believe that, from a general perspective, the sustainability philosophy would seek the
integral development of the human being, with a humanist approach and not a purely
economistic social ‘progress’. The aim would not be to have more but to live better. By
way of example, Ramon Folch - one of the most representative promoters of
sustainability philosophy in Catalonia - supports an ability to imagine an ‘economy
without growth’. Other thinkers in the movement also explicitly claim to be against what
they call ‘the disease of growth’. From this take on reality, sustainability sets itself the
task of in-depth re-thinking of society and gradual transformation of the current paradigm
of production and consumption. This view postulates a nonagressive economic model
towards an ‘ecological’ economy. The aim, thus, is a mobilizing utopia that presents itself
as a new way of hierarchising values, in contrast to politico-ideological conservatism.
Opposed in the same sense to growth for its own sake, the sustainability
philosophy is also against expansive and dominating societies and also offers itself as the
mainstay of postcolonial and postnational thought, with a planetary and universal
outlook. The movement, then, aims for the formulation of utopias for the twenty-first
century and the building of a sustainability International. In this regard, sustainability
thought recognises the wisdom of many societies that are still undeveloped economically
and hence can consider, as Folch says, the so-called ‘developed’ societies as “very large
barbarians simply provided with powerful machinery or with decisive financial means”.
2
2.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the sustainability argument is its
emphasis on the safeguarding of the natural environment, from an ecological perspective.
This philosophy posits a way of overcoming the environmental crisis and safeguarding
biodiversity. It postulates an environmental morality (Jacobs 67) because the basis of the
problem lies, more than in legal dispositions, in the scales of value shared by society and
shaped by juridical codification. Therefore, a training process for a new collective
consciousness is needed, a process of reflection and socioecological debate so that the
ethics of sustainability can be acquired as a proper value of the moral identity of the
contemporary and future individual, all in order to enable ‘sustainability ecologism’ to
pervade the general socioeconomic reality.
This, in fact, is what the aforementioned Brundtland Report was already saying
when it stated that a strict minimum of sustainable development means not endangering
the natural systems that keep us alive, that is, the air, water, and soils, as well as living
beings. Hence, the great challenge will be to find a way to harmonise economic and
social progress without endangering the planet’s natural balance.
3.
If we now try to transfer and to apply this way of thinking to the linguodiversity
reality, what do we see? Are there useful analogies and metaphors to be made? We
believe there are, and ones that can be used to good advantage, and linked, moreover, to
the traditions of thought that have always been present but perhaps even more so these
last years with the drive to develop the thinking we are calling ‘eco-linguistic’. From the
outset, we would underscore the will to connect apparent ‘opposites’ in an integrative
conceptualisation, such as the very syntagm ‘sustainable development’. On the
sociolinguistic plane, our debate should probably be about our ‘opposites’, which could
be on the one hand the expansion of the dominant languages and, on the other hand, the
maintenance and development of human linguistic diversity.
Let us note that the existing positions tend to polarise on these two aspects. For
some, it is necessary for peoples to abandon their original languages and adopt only the
great nation-state or global codes of communication in order to be able to advance in
3
their economic and cultural development. For others, the struggle is clearly in favour of
the preservation of linguistic diversity and the maintenance of distinct collective
identities - as a way of avoiding the poverty and anomie that are the results of
disorganisation of the traditional subsistence ecosystem - and of the continuance of the
knowledge and wisdom each culture has produced. These perspectives may seem, at first,
to be irreconcilable and antagonistic, wholly impossible to integrate and assemble.
Would there be some way of transferring the procedures and the conciliating
conceptualisation of ‘sustainability’ to the language field, and combine the competence
and use both of languages of greater communicative scope and group tongues? An
‘ecological’ and ‘egalitarian’ perspective on linguistic diversity would have aim to stop
and reverse expansionist and dominating ideologies. To put an end to the value hierarchy
implied by the belief in linguistic superiority/inferiority is equally urgent and just.
Passing into another historical phase of humankind where the predominant vision would
be one of recognising the equal dignity of all languages and linguistic groups is, clearly,
an aim that cannot be put off. To paraphrase Ramon Folch, we could say that linguistic
sustainability should be a process of gradual transformation from the current model of
the linguistic organisation of the human species, a transformation whose objective would
be to avoid that collective bilingualism or polyglottism of human beings must require the
abandonment by different cultural groups of their own languages. Basically, the ideology
opposed to this would come from the negative human tendency for dichotomous
thinking: black or white, one language or the other. Today, however, from the paradigm
of complexity (Bastardas 2002b) we know that there are other possibilities.
Why, then, can we not forcefully postulate a morality of maintenance and
development of multilingualism similar to that of the maintenance of species and of the
natural environment? Why must human groups leave completely off speaking their
original languages in favour of those that are larger? Why, in so far as it is possible,
cannot weak languages be functionally prioritised? Why can we not safeguard our
linguistic environment, since we are a species conscious of the problem?
It is then necessary to maintain a vigil over the sustainability of linguistic groups
and the safeguarding of these languages for our descendants. The personal and groupal
benefits of preserving languages (greater self-esteem, greater positive self-image of the
4
group, no shame in origins, etc.), while not easily quantifiable, are important to the
happiness of people, as many contemporary cases show us. The larger majority groups
should adopt a sociolinguistic ethics to act in ways that are respectful of linguistic
sustainability.
4.
Just as sustainable development does not negate the development and the desire
for material improvement of human societies but at one and the same time wants to
maintain ecosystemic balance with nature, so linguistic sustainability accepts
polyglottisation and intercommunication among groups and persons yet still calls for the
continuity and full development of human linguistic groups. Just as in the general
sustainability framework we think and act in ways intended not to destroy our very
biospheric context and intended to save the natural resources we depend on, in linguistic
sustainability we want to develop ourselves and intercommunicate with each other
without destroying the linguistic and cultural resources that identify us. From a
sustainability ethics, the diversity of the ways different groups of the species
communicate is clearly a value to protect, and not as an ‘anthropological’ curio but
because of the intrinsic and inalienable dignity of human persons and societies.
5.
Another facet of the tenets of sustainability, which we consider important, is
naturally its ecosystemic conception of phenomena. As the facts have shown a great
many times, we humans do not live independently of our natural environment; hence, our
actions and productions have a clear interdependent effect, and vice-versa. The
conception that overlooked the settings and contexts of all things has inevitably entered
into crisis, and today we see clearly how intervening in a fact or an element means
intervening simultaneously - and above all - in the environment and the context of a fact
or an element. What this signifies is that getting right our actions in the framework of
linguistic sustainability requires our in-depth knowledge of the fundamental evolutionary
dynamics and factors of sociolinguistic ecosystems, both on the local and the global
scale. The ecology of languages should be a sociocognitive holistic approach based on
5
cultural ecosystems and the relations among these ecosystems, because the basic unit is
not language but always the-language-in-its-context. Making a language sustainable in a
sociocultural ecosystem will mean balancing a complex organisation in the framework of
which the corresponding code can be provided with a functional niche that is sufficient to
guarantee an adequate homeostasis. Sustainability is clearly ecosystemic and dynamic
(Bastardas, 2002, 2004).
From this perspective, it should be clear that languages are thus not simple objects
but rather complex ones, emergences produced and maintained at the meeting point of
different dimensions (Holland, Vilarroya). A real language is not only its grammar or its
lexis but also living human cognition, interaction, and identification, in the simultaneous
intersection of, as Edgar Morin states, the ‘noosphere’ - the knowledge systems -, the
‘psychosphere’ - the individual -, and the ‘sociosphere’ – the society - (Bastardas, 2003).
The linguistic code, therefore, will register the events of these planes, and will evolve in
accordance with them, naming things that we want to name, and being used or not in the
circumstances which we desire. In this sense, languages are in our hands and we are in
the hands of our own vital circumstances. The sociocognitive ecosystemic approach is,
then, indispensable and essential.
6.
Sustainability is aware of avoiding a break in the dynamic balance of the different
elements that participate in an ecosystem. For example, Jacobs observes that
‘“sustainable’ commonly applies to the practice of drawing on renewable resources at a
rate no speedier o greedier than the rate at which the resources can renew themselves”
(67). Folch states that it is necessary to produce only what is reasonably held to be
needed and with the least number possible of distorting external factors. Thus, the aim is
always to conserve/preserve the fundamental balance that makes possible the very
maintenance of the ecosystem and of its components. If we now translate analogically
this to linguistic sustainability, we could clearly establish principles such as that of using
only the allochthonous2 languages for that which is reasonably necessary and with the
2 ‘Allochthonous’= the language that is not originally the one of the group (versus ‘autochthonous’ = the
language that is originally that of the group).
6
least cost of functions (or with the least distortion of functions) for the autochthonous
languages. Then, sustainable linguistic contact will be that which does not produce
linguistic exposure or linguistic use in allochthonous language at a speed and/or
pressure—to a degree—so high as to make impossible the stable continuity of the
autochthonous languages of human groups. We can, then, state that the sustainable
character of a massive bilingualisation comes from the comparison between the degree of
valuation and functions of the language that is not originally that of the group (L2) and
that of the language that is originally that of the group (L1). If the first is lower, the
contact massive and the bilingualisation are sustainable. If it is greater, the
bilingualisation is not sustainable and the language original to the group will degrade
and disappear in a few decades.
Also applying the terminology of sustainability to the current crisis of many of the
linguistic ecosystems of humanity, we may be able to begin to speak of assuring the
ecological [ecolinguistic] viability of linguistic groups via a socioenvironmental
[sociolinguistic] management that is made adequate to assure avoidance of an excessive
disorganisation that could be lethal for many of the linguistic codes which the different
human subgroups have built up throughout their existence. The first task is to avoid
abuses against the systems. One should not exceed their ‘charge capacity’. Therefore, as
there are toxic and nontoxic doses, we should attempt to see what degrees of linguistic
contact prove sustainable in each typology of the different ones that exist, what functions
prove to be the fundamental ones to be reserved for the autochthonous linguistic codes,
and how the changes introduced work in interaction with other changes that could be
taken place at the same time in the situation. This forces us to go into still greater depth
than is possible at present in our knowledge of the ecodynamics of linguistic contacts.
7.
Linguistic sustainability, however, is not a purely linguistic fact, as we have seen,
since languages depend on their sociocultural ecosystem, and that ecosystem may be in a
continual state of change, receiving the introduction of new factors. Hence, just as studies
are carried out on environmental or bio-ecological impact, we also should be able to be
up to studying the sociolinguistic impact of economic, political, and educative measures,
7
and of migrations, technological innovations, etc. We need quickly to reach clear and
functional models of sociolinguistic ecosystems, to know of the interactions of their
different elements, of how to quantify them and, in so far as it is possible, to be able to
make predictions on their evolution and hence be able to propose measures that are
adequate from the perspective of a sustainable management of plurilingualism.
There is no reason to conceal that being able to reach this state of practical
awareness of public administrations regarding linguistic diversity implies even today a
constant and conscientious task on the political and governmental domains. In many
cases, these studies would lead us to having to recommend important alterations in the
distribution of power in many states, until now little sensitive to their internal national
and cultural diversity. This would be necessary in order to give to different historical
linguistic groups an important degree of control over their own collective life, something
at present unavailable. For example, the generalisation of the principle of what is now
known as ‘political subsidiarity’ - enabling decisions to be taken on the maximum
number of topics in politically administrative instances close to the citizens - would
undoubtedly benefit the possibility of such linguistic self-government. Applying another
version of subsidiarity, in a linguistic sense, we could say, that everything that a local
language can do need not be done by a more global language, that is to say that, by
default, the language of pre-eminent use should be that of the group, the weaker, except
for those cases of external communications when the situation so requires.
8.
We are aware that even though the aims and principles of the philosophy of
sustainability are by nature universal, their application must be differentiated according to
given situations, their particular constrictions, and their evolutionary moments. Certainly,
linguistic sustainability will require different actions according to the degree of, for
example, the group’s techno-industrial development, its political organisation, the
composition of its populations, collective self-images, the general force of the languages
present, etc. But for each case we are sure that we can go forward towards creating ‘good
practices’ that will lead us to the application of a sustainable multilingualism. Probably
the priorities will be different: in economically underdeveloped groups, for example,
8
swift action would be necessary to keep their own languages from falling into discredit
with their own speakers. But in groups with greater economic development but with an
already important loss of their language it might be necessary to intervene in the
intergenerational transmission still capable of being saved. And in other small countries
with a strong presence of an international language, it may turn out to be necessary to
replace the functions of the latter in order to halt its abusive and unbalancing uses, etc.
Much work still remains to be done to be able to reach a clear assessment of the models,
their phases, the different situations to which they correspond, the priorities and
interventions, and the most adequate action and evaluation strategies.
The Imbalance and Maintenance of Sociolinguistic Ecosystems
9.
Our advance in the design of sustainability principles and interventions will move
more slowly if we don’t equip ourselves with a conceptualisation powerful enough to
account for the fundamental factors and interrelationships of such interventions, which
are responsible for the existence or nonexistence of human languages. The sustainability
or unsustainability of a language, as we have indicated, obviously does not depend on
that language itself but on the general sociocultural ecosystem in which it finds itself
inscribed and in which the other elements of reality interrelate. Clearly, humanity’s
linguistic continuity - wherever it has occurred - has existed due to the fact that its
speakers were living in a given system of (inter)relations that caused them to use that
code and regularly to transmit it to new and successive generations, even though
structural changes were progressively taking place. Contrariwise, the phenomena of
language shift and abandonment have come about clearly because of the introduction of
new elements in the traditional sociocultural ecosystem and which have ended up dis-
(re)-organising it and thus taking it into another phase.
Hence, we can conceive of the ‘linguosphere’ as a set of sociolinguistic
ecosystems in continual internal and external equilibrium inside which the individuals
use or avoid using the codes in their unceasing communication. These ecosystems made
up of elements such as the human brain/mind, their behavioural competences and habits,
9
their cognitive-emotional representations of reality, the sub-groups they constitute
sociologically, the enterprises, the commerce and other social organisations, the mass
media, the educational institutions, and the governments and public administrations, for
example, sustain - permitting, in the process, as we have seen, internal change - the
mutual communication systems that are languages.
These, as complex objects, will simultaneously live in the minds, in the social
interaction, and in the general communication of a given community, which will make
use of them for purposes of social relations, categorisation of reality and, when necessary,
to identify themselves in relation to other humans speaking other languages. Historically,
if this ecosystem suffers no fundamental disturbances, it will tend to reproduce itself
intergenerationally, even though with internal change, via self-co-construction of the
codes by the new individuals. If, however, as we have already stated, the ecosystem
registers a large and powerful enough entry of exogenous linguistic elements, then there
could occur a reorganisation of competencies and norms of linguistic usage, and this
could lead to important evolutionary repercussions (Bastardas 1996). There have been
basically two main causes of the historical disruption of linguistic ecosystems: migratory
irruptions and politico-economic integrations.
10.
One crucial aspect that is derived from a sustainability approach to linguistic
diversity is the distinction between the causes of bilingualisation and those of the
intergenerational abandonment of one of the codes which, as the Canadian sociologist
Stanley Lieberson already observed some years ago, probably are not exactly the same
ones (130). It is also pertinent here to question - in order to attempt to understand more
completely the exact mechanisms - the widespread belief that, ineluctably, ‘bilingualism
leads to language shift’. The sociologist Norbert Elias already warned us that when it
comes to dealing with the problem of the need for social changes we must clearly
distinguish the affirmation that a ‘figuration B’ will necessarily follow a ‘figuration A’
from the affirmation that a ‘figuration A’ must necessarily precede a ‘figuration B’. All
of which is to say that what is a fact is that bilingualisation must have been there before if
any abandonment of an original code was to have taken place. However, what may be
10
less clear is that by the mere fact of this bilingualisation, individuals have necessarily to
abandon their first language as they bring up their children, for example. That is, that
bilingualisation is perhaps a condition that is necessary but not sufficient to explain the
evolution towards the intergenerational disuse of the local varieties. The exact answer
therefore remains open in regard to this evolution which is, as we know, unfortunately
not at all infrequent in many cases.
Sustainability, because it proposes conciliation of two apparent antinomies - to
develop oneself economically and not damage the natural environment, or else to
know/use more than one language and not abandon any of those known/used - again
places the subject on the table for discussion and therefore insists that we sociolinguists
detail our answer so as to refine our theorising and our research. Hence, when and why
does a situation of bilingualism or polyglottism in a society evolve towards the
abandonment of the weaker code by its speakers and when not? To be able to answer
these questions, we need obviously to refer to the sociocognitive representations of
speakers in regard to the linguistic varieties that are present and in regard to the contexts
in which these are formed and maintained. As we already said in other publications, the
first important factor that we have seen is usually very active in this type of situations is
the political context. In many cases, the political powers in charge have desired precisely
the existence of this result of linguistic abandonment from the very beginning of the
process of massive diffusion of the state language - which, for the great majority of the
population, first coincides with learning to read. In many cases, the explicit aim was not
only that of spreading an interlanguage of general communication but of doing away with
the existence of other systems of linguistic communication that differ from the model
adopted by the central and sovereign political power. The scholastic diffusion of the
official standard will, then, be accompanied by a clearly disparaging and stigmatising
discourse on the vernacular varieties (“soyez propre, parlez français”, in France, or, in
Spain, “habla en cristiano”, “habla la lengua del imperio”) while, at the same time, in
many of these cases, there will even be a decree to prohibit the use of the other different
varieties in public communication.
11
It is in this framework of subordination and dependency that people, as they
progressively become competent in the newly acquired official language, will opt to
transmit it to their children as the basic variety of socialisation that is, as a native variety,
thus interrupting the intergenerational transmission of the group’s own vernacular. As it
is a question of a behaviour that will obviously be evaluated by the community, the
change in the habitual norms will require a clear ideological and/or practical justification
and legitimation. This, however, will be usually brought about by the discourse of the
‘national language’ which will favour the idea of the single and general language for all
citizens, argued on the basis of images such as “children of the same family” or “ties that
bind siblings” (Balibar & Laporte 184). Thus, in the case of France, for example,
renouncing the continuity of one’s own language will officially be interpreted as an act of
patriotism at the service of freedom. From the practical point of view, the legal
imposition of the standard variety of the official language known as “French” as the only
code for official and public use in parallel with the processes of industrialisation and
urbanisation that will favour the social and geographical mobility of the population(s)
will increase the perception of the need and essentiality of this language for survival and,
especially, for economic ascent. Gradually, then, and in a process of asymmetric
diffusion according to the social and geographic groups, the new variety - in the form of
langue nationale’ - will be adopted first for institutionalised communications and later
transferred to the individualised communications by a generation already competent
which, at the same time, will transmit it as native speech to the following generation. This
latter generation will rarely know the old vernaculars and will make the official variety -
conveniently adapted to the colloquial functions - their only first and habitual language.
If, however, we compare that typical language shift process with the cases of
stable balance, such as for example the diglossia typical of German Switzerland, we find
that very probably, in this stabilisation of the local varieties there must intervene the fact
of the existence of a highly positive groupal image - Switzerland is not a poor country
that is little developed economically - and the fact that the adoption of the general
German standard is not in any way a foreign imposition or the fruit of a situation of
political minoritisation but rather a decision of the language group itself - and, if they
wish, a revocable one freely taken. In our study of 1997, we concluded that,
12
“fundamentally, then, the reason for the relative stability of these cases of diglossic
distribution must be sought in the politico-cognitive dimension: none of the cases
habitually analysed are situations of political subordination like those of the minoritised
European communities. The perception of dependence and, in consequence, of self-
deprecation, taking a group or foreign cultural elements as a main referent of behaviour
and of values, simply does not need to take place. It seems clear, therefore, that it must
not be the simple fact of bilingualisation and asymmetric distribution of functions which
can lead to intergenerational language shift, but rather the politico-economic context in
which this bilingualisation takes place and the meanings and representations that its
protagonists associate with it”.
Note that in this conclusion, we mention fundamentally two different but fully
interrelated planes of reality, the macro and the micro, the large factors and events, and,
at the same time, the sociosignifications that are produced by the individuals that live in
these circumstances. This is important to bear in mind because, in spite of the fact that
humans can be influenced to a high degree by the events and elements of their
sociocultural environment, in the final analysis it is their brain/mind that creates the
representations of reality and decides, consciously or otherwise, their courses of action.
Those who move more towards the abandonment of their own codes are those human
groups that have no control of their collective life - and hence of their public linguistic
functions -, that are little developed economically but integrated into supraeconomic and
perhaps more advanced areas, that experience geographic and social mobility, - even if
this is internal as, for example, from rural areas to cities - and that maintain a non-
favourable self-image while on the other hand tending to follow another group of
reference, whose language they attempt to adopt and, when possible, use to speak to their
children. On the other hand, the abandonment of their code is much less frequent in those
groups that in some important degree control their collective life, their code having
enough public linguistic functions and their group a very high or medium degree of
economic development, and a feeling and self-image of positive identity. In between, we
find all sorts of other cases, with a gradation in which, as the French sociologist Bourdieu
would say, we see clearly how social positions and dispositions highly correspond.
13
11.
If we look more closely at how bilingualised people and groups come to abandon
their first languages, we discover a whole series of dynamic characteristics in which often
the protagonists of the very phenomenon may not be very aware of the historical process
in which they are participating. For many, consciousness of the problem comes when it
may already be too late, as has been seen in many cases we know of. What happens,
however, is that a series of behaviours is set in motion with important historical
consequences which too often are little understood by their very agents.
The key point of breaking the balance may be in the moment when an important
number of individuals of the same group accept, among themselves and in a habitual
manner, the use of the language that was initially allochthonous. In as much as there is a
functional distribution that makes the outside language basically used to speak with
individuals of other groups or to carry out only determined public functions, there may be
a more or less unstable balance, and the continuity of the linguistic collective appears
assured, even though it is in a context that is perhaps little favourable. If, however, they
begin to use it among themselves, and above all this takes place in a general way, even in
the level of individualised communications - those of private and domestic types - then
the system can begin a crisis dynamics. If among the members of the group, for example,
the young people speak in the other code in important numbers, this will mean that
couples will begin to be formed in that code who will eventually have children, to whom
they will also probably tend to speak in that language. We would then have the first
members of the group that have the allochthonous language as an L1 that is not the
original one of the group. If the behaviour is widely imitated and extended progressively,
the group will progressively be emptied of people who have the original code as an L1
and its use will continually decrease.
A group can inexorably empty itself in this way, although the functional
endo/exogroupal distribution is not broken, due to the fact of mixed marriage, especially
if it is a question of a demolinguistic situation where the volumes are equalled or, even
more, if the other collective is the majority. Even if the habit or norm of speaking
together as a group continues to be preserved in the original language, in a mixed
14
ethnolinguistic couple there will be a strong tendency to use a single code between
conjugal pairs, which will tend to be the best positioned in the social distribution of
linguistic competences. That is, it will become customary to use the language more
developed by both participants and/or more felt ‘appropriate’ for inter-group relations, a
fact that often will depend on the language policies being applied in the situation, or on
the social context in which the individuals live. In the mixed marriage there is
customarily an important tendency to speak to children in only one of the languages, even
though it is also possible for each parent to speak to the children in a different language,
something which is not, however, as common.
In fact, in order for one partner in a mixed matrimony to be able to use with the
child a language which is different from that used by the other partner, an important
condition seems to be the fact that, at least, the other member of the couple must
understand this language. Otherwise, they would not be able to understand a good part of
the linguistic input available in the domestic setting. This, of course, would limit the
possibility of maintaining the transmission of the codes, although it certainly doesn’t
make it impossible if the conjugal partner willingly accepts the situation. We would then
have an individual with, we could say, two L1’s, so long as both languages were spoken
to the child with more or less the same intensity. The strategy of bilingual growth in the
family is an opportunity that too often goes unused for linguistic maintenance; one which
we think should be favored and promoted in those cases that are suitable.
It is clear, then, that in situations of politico-economic and/or demographic
subordination it will be more difficult to succeed in creating sustainable dynamics of
linguistic maintenance. This kind of context will hardly be favourable and the speakers
can abandon the use of their L1 due to negative or at least not very positive social
meanings that can be associated with them in regard to the other language that is present,
or else for practical reasons of communication in everyday relations among individuals.
Hence, it will not be easy to assure sustainability in all the different sociolinguistic
situations that exist today on our planet.
15
What Should a Sustainable Multilingualism be Like?
12.
What we now wish to posit is how to avoid situations whereby people who have
been bilingualised or polyglottised have to abandon the fundamental uses of their group’s
L1 in their daily life. That is, how to make it possible for these people to continue using
their habitual code and using it for the maximum number of functions. Let us distinguish,
in our analysis, between two large situation types, which, however, can also exist
together: vertical contact and horizontal contact (Barreto). What we should consider then
is whether bilingualisation is the fruit of a territorial and group integration inside wider
political and socioeconomic structures, or whether the situation has basically come about
because of face-to-face contact with other people from migration processes with whom
one coexists on a daily basis.
Prior to beginning to analyse in more detail each major typology, let us be clear
about the fact that in order to be able to act on the abandonment of languages by its
bilingual or polyglot speakers, the main need will be to achieve an impact on their
representations of reality. This is true for two main reasons. First, in cases where the
speakers have arrived at an interiorising of negative evaluations regarding their L1, they
will need to be exposed to a discourse - and also, hopefully, a situation - that presents
alternatives which promote and dignify their language and their group to keep them from
abandoning the use of that language and, instead, recovering it and making it grow. The
second reason is to do with cases where there is no formal negative discourse but there
are demosociolinguistic conditions which spontaneously and in a self-organised way
cause the speakers, for very practical reasons, to progressively stop using their own L1
almost without realising it so that they will need to be made aware and convinced of the
need to change their behaviour as effective long term language group self-destroyers.
13.
In the first type of situation, that of ‘vertical contact’, we are referring, as
mentioned, to linguistic groups which, without having been displaced from their territory,
habitually become bilingual due to the fact of being politically integrated into a higher
structure which decides to adopt, in the simplest typologies, a language with an official
16
character, one which is not that of the affected group. Since there are far fewer states that
there are languages, this is a case that is far from infrequent. In extreme cases, the state,
which often consciously desires to build a homogeneous ‘nation’, will tend to put into
practice a policy in which exalt the values of the official language, presenting it as the
guarantee of national unity and the symbol of the new nation one wants to build.
Reciprocally, in many cases, the discourse will be one of disparagement or at least of
public oblivion of the other languages existing in the perimeter of sovereignty. Moreover,
if this political subordination occurs, as is often the case, in the framework of acute
technoeconomical change, which often leads to the destruction of the culture’s traditional
economic organisation, then the new language will progressively be seen as the language
of the new situation, in turn seen as ‘modern and of material progress’. The new language
will then need to be not only known well but even adopted if one wishes to become
integrated in the new ruling class or, simply, to improve one’s social status. If this
process becomes generalised gradually among the population, there may follow cases of
group self-abandonment of the original language and thus an initiation of the process of
linguistic extinction.
In these situations, action should be fundamentally political to reorient the
predominant discourses in the directions of self-esteem and, at the same time, if possible,
to provide the peoples with a sufficient degree of political and economic selfhood in their
collective life. This should permit sociolinguistic self-determination and provide the
freedom necessary to distribute communicative functions between both languages. In so
far as it is possible for the hegemonic powers to see their way to adopt this point of view
and put it into practice, halting the abusive uses of the large interlanguage, these
situations, if well balanced and if the peoples in question recover their cultural self-
esteem, can be sustainable in the long run so long as other types of factors are not added
to them. There are organisational principles and techniques, as we know, which can
organise the corresponding distributions of functions and linguistic rights (Bastardas &
Boix). Depending on the territorial distributions of the peoples in question and on their
volume, we can guide ourselves by the by now classic criteria of ‘personality’ or
‘territoriality’, to which we personally would suggest adding those of functionality and
subsidiariety, for those cases in which the other two principles cannot be applied with
17
their optimum force (Bastardas, Subsidiarietat, 2004). If the political power involves
itself in this in a sincere way and the group’s demographic volumes are not too low, they
are cases that can be solved and lead to long continuity.
These cases, however, may present more sustainability difficulties if, in a
comparative sense, their demolinguistic numbers are proportionally lower and, even
more, if they are territorially dispersed. Here, the compaction of the collective plays an
important role. If the members are few but compacted, if they live in a single territorial
base that clearly enables them to have public use of their L1 and an easy and continual
linguistic interaction, then sustainability will be higher. On the other hand, if the group
has been progressively dispersed and has mixed with other groups, even if the state in
question recognises their rights and has positive official ideologies, they won’t be able
easily to use their code in daily communication, and that could play against its
preservation. In such cases, the acting mechanisms in the mixture situation can gradually
lead to disuse of the L1, in favour of the more general one employed in the community.
Most probably, the key to the question of linguistic sustainability is to be found in
the states and in their linguistic policies, which of course cannot be divorced from their
responsibility to embrace a sociolinguistic ethics, respectful of linguistic diversity.
Hegemonic groups must especially bear in mind that a language today requires much
more than in the past simply to exist. In past societies the functions of a language were
based in those of local quotidian life. Today, the functions which, for the psyche, can be
seen as most important often depend not on the local universes but on supralocal
organisations that are not at all infrequently international. The language of work, of the
‘media/cinema/music’, of ‘progress’ and of technological advances, exercises an
important influence on people, who can come to interiorise, as we have seen, a negative
vision of their own L1’s. In order to compensate for this - since often it will not be
possible for a language to serve all the functions of a contemporary developed society -
we should assign the maximum number of important ‘local’ functions to the original
languages of the human groups in question, assuring them exclusive functions that makes
them useful and profitable in the eyes of their speakers. In ecological terms, we could say
that the states should aid the languages in being able to find (and occupy) functional
18
niches that are sufficiently important to invite their maintenance and their
intergenerational transmission.
One of the points which states - and populations - have to keep extremely clear is
that techno-economic development does not necessarily require the abandoning of group
languages, just as economic development need not bring the destruction and degradation
of the environment and/or of natural resources. The decisive fact here is that
‘modernisation’ be controlled by the different society itself, made by it, without having to
be politically or linguistically subordinated to the others. We can make it possible for
those countries where very important techno-economical changes are occurring at present
to achieve ‘development’ without unnecessarily destroying linguistic ecosystems. The
challenge is to discover what must be accommodated, what must be adapted, but by
designing an environmentally and culturally sustainable development. Progress need not
mean destroy and build back but rather it can mean build while conserving and
rehabilitating, modernising but maintaining. And this will always be a vision that is far
more civilised than the reverse, the one often adopted by subordinated and provincial
communities.
14.
If we now move toward the type of contact we’ve called ‘horizontal’, that is, the
type in which bilingualism is basically produced by migration and direct face-to-face
exposure, the factors and the dynamics can be different and, it should be noted, a good
deal more difficult to make it sustainable. As we know, even though linguistic diversity,
in order to be generated, needed isolation and uncommunication between the different
human groups, these have always tended to move from their territories, in search of
survival, greater well-being, or even colonising adventures. This means, and we are at
present living in a critical moment, that the encounter and the physical contact between
different populations is an old phenomenon and at one and the same time extremely
contemporary.
Here also we would find different typologies. From population displacements
from contiguous linguistic areas, one in the direction of the territory of the other, to
migrations in the direction of very faraway lands which, today, with our transport
19
technologies, are becoming progressively closer. This brings with it a type of linguistic
contact in which, momentarily bracketing the variables involved in officially controlled
public communication; a set of specific dynamics is generated in which other factors will
also play an important role. In this type of encounter, the demographic aspects will have a
very decisive weight. The situation could evolve in a different way if the volumes are
clearly unequal or even approximately the same. If the contact, now leaving aside other
factors, is weighted between, for example, 15% and 85% for each group, then we could
predict that the smaller group will tend more than the larger to abandon its original code,
above all if the people in question are moreover little concentrated and compacted.
Naturally, the pressure to use the codes present will be more favourable to the L1 of the
larger group than that of the smaller. It is also clear that if there is no prohibition on
exogamy for some reason, then 15% has more possibilities of mixed pairing than the
reverse, a situation which will create the typology of linguistic behaviour in pairing of
which we spoke above, with negative consequences for the L1 of the smaller group.
Certainly, other variables could here come into play. For example, it will not be the same
if the demographically smaller group is an economically -or culturally or technically -
superior community, but everything indicates that the displacements in unequal volume
will tend to evolve towards the loss of the smaller group.
If, on the other hand, the volumes are more equal, the perspectives for continuity
are clearer since, if there are no other decisive asymmetries; the effectives can tend to
remain very much the same because the statistical opportunities for mixed matrimony
will be the same for both. Other factors, certainly, can contribute to causing the
evolutionary balance to shift, such as the linguistic policies under which this encounter
takes place and whom it tends, overall, to favour. In these situations, all the factors -
economic, ideological, residential, media factors, etc - can become relevant, and in each
case specific dynamics can be produced.
There are also special situations in the current great urbanisation processes in
Africa or, to a less extent, in Latin America. The encounter of populations of different
origins in cities in process of formation, with little presence of state action and, at times,
without a clear predominance of one of the groups, can provoke a situation in which it is
20
difficult to maintain clearly any language, since a tendency can arise to create mixed
varieties or else to adopt general interlanguages that did not originate in any of the groups
in contact. In these cases, attempting to create situations of linguistic sustainability can be
really difficult, more so when the priorities of the groups and the governments are not
centred on these aspects but on others that are much more important and urgent for the
respective people themselves.
In the more developed societies, with functionally effective states, one can
certainly attempt to arbitrate support policies for the linguistic sustainability of displaced
groups, even, if, at times, they themselves consider that they are not interested, if they
have already clearly chosen the option of installing themselves in the new country. Often,
when a person in such a situation is reminded that they are different, this fact is not what
they most like to hear, since what preoccupies them, and above all in terms of their
children, is making their adaptation complete, obviating the children to have to go
through the difficult situations their parents had to experience. Very often, then, if the
parents have become pretty competent linguistically in the language of the receiving
country, they themselves will be the ones who chose to abandon their groupal code to
bring up their children in a way that they feel most benefits them. Here, governmental
actions should aim at making people aware of the fact that, in a host society that is
linguistically normal and developed, the host country’s language will also be learned and
that if they transmit their original L1 then their children will have greater linguistic
competence that can benefit them in future. On the other hand, this could save the parents
the inconvenience of seeing how their children are unable to speak their own original
language, a situation probably both personally and collectively regrettable. Here also
there would be room for action, especially in dignifying the original languages and
informing the populations of the security of their effective bilingualisation at an early
age.
15.
One of the conflictive aspects that can be placed on the table with the new facts of
migration is the destabilisation of the receiving groups by the displaced groups,
especially in those cases in which the receiving society is one that is not politically
independent and is disequilibrated already due to previous migratory movements, or due
21
to an important presence of part of the dominant group in its own territory. Again we can
find here (with evolutionary effects of which the actors are unaware) something which
makes these cases into situations difficult to organise satisfactorily and open to
intergroupal misunderstanding and uncertain outcome.
One of the new phenomena that these last movements are provoking in this age of
globalisation is the use of the major interlanguages instead of the languages of the
receiving country for the purposes of relations between immigrants and receivers,
provoked by greater linguistic knowledge - by polyglottisation - of the people
themselves, both those who move in and those who are already established. And this can
be seen as an unwanted consequence of the massive polyglottisation of societies. Imagine
how these societies could evolve if, simultaneously with their bi- or multi-lingualisation,
there should come about important migratory movements, also of multilingual persons,
and that they implant their interrelation in the L2 that is most shared by the two groups -
quite logical, of course, from the operative point of view. This means that the habit would
be implanted whereby in their relations they used not the language of the country, which
was habitually the solution that was traditional - even though certainly gradual and
imperfect but still enabling linguistic sustainability - but instead one of the major
interlanguages. If the volumes of the displaced are very high and the societies
progressively become mixed, we might have here, in the long run, a dangerous situation
for the linguistic continuity of the receiving community, since it would be impossible to
linguistically integrate the displaced. Therefore, it would be the receiving community
itself the one that would be pulled towards new linguistic behaviour led by the
immigrants, whether in their L2 or their L1, if this L1 is also one of the great
interlanguages.
This situation is not fantasy but something that can happen even in contemporary
Catalonia, for example, a situation where it is not Catalan, the L1 of the receiving group,
historically attacked by the governments of the Spanish state, the most habitual
intergroup language, but Spanish, that of thousands of speech-area migrants from the
south of Spain over the course of the twentieth century, and now from Latin America.
And the same thing is happening with the migrations whose provenance is the north and
22
the center of Africa or the east of Europe, which tend to establish relations with the
autochthonous people and the other groups more in Spanish than in Catalan. Certainly, in
a meeting of humans, the most logical way of acting would seem to be to use the optimal
communicative instrument for mutual understanding. But if this behaviour becomes
consolidated, and it is not only transitory, then the great interlanguages will always win.
We should thus look at ways of creating the conditions - among people who live in a
stable way in a territory - by which they also can know and use the less communicatively
powerful languages when these are the historical and first languages of the receiving
societies.
The Catalan situation is one in a state of disequilibrium and which could be
typical of other similar cases that could come about in future. Bilingualisation or
polyglottisation of compacted and communicating human groups, with exclusive and
secure spaces for their language, can be sustainable; however, it is not so certain that the
language ecosystems will last if the current migratory volumes into societies that are not
fully independent does not stop or even increases.
However, right now we need to await the outcomes of these cases since, as is
happening in Quebec, it could also occur that the first generation, which does not know
the language of the receiving country, might tend to use one of the major interlanguages
(for example, English) while, for the second generation, it might turn out to be more
general to adopt the original language of the receiving society - French, in this case - as
the language of interrelationship. This, however, certainly requires good and effective
teaching institutions and, above all, a very clear vision of what must be the language of
earning a living and of habitual social relations in society. In the case of Catalonia, the
volumes are different from those of Quebec, as are the historical facts and the ideologies
involved (Bastardas, 2002d). The future, then, is very much open.
This globalisation of the migratory movements may cause ‘ethnic conscience’ -
unlike what one might initially have expected to result from globalisation per se - where
there previously was none, or where there was very little. A large, stable receiving group,
with little ‘ethnic conscience’ - regardless of the ‘state/national’ - can increase greatly its
sense of ‘inter-ethnic personal’ difference if it comes into habitual contact with people
23
from other groups that moved to its territory. Certain groups of medium-large languages
may not accept the fact of having to speak in one of the ‘large interlanguages’ in their
own country (e.g., the Dutch or the Danish in English). Obviously, they know them for
‘exterior’ communication, but not for ‘interior’ communication. For quotidian use, they
will probably clearly prefer to use their own language, and they may consider the other
person’s persistence in using the interlanguage as offensive and, if that person indeed
resides there habitually, as a demonstration of their desire not to adapt. Certainly, this
could grow in the case of migrations of some importance in numerical terms, more so
than in the case of the isolated ‘visitor’ to whom one feels more predisposed to adapt
linguistically.
In all probability, then, to the extent that globalisation also increases personal
interethnic contact, it could tend to increase the ‘ethnic conscience’ of human individuals
or groups. The challenge is to organise and manage this: How are we to avoid conflicts,
how inform the population of the fact that this can be happening? How are we to make
known the need for transition phases in linguistic adaptation? We have to find a way of
establishing a set of negotiated principles of coexistence that save: 1) the principle of
linguistic stability and continuity of the receiver group, 2) in consequence, the principle
of intergroupal and social adaptation of the immigrant group, and, 3) the principle of
personal freedom of the displaced in regard to the continuity of their cultural elements, at
the intragroupal level. On this point, many questions remain open and much work
remains to be done.
Conclusion
16.
We must of course be realistic and thus start from the fact that there is still much
terrain to be covered in the creation of a sustainable linguistic development. At the same
time, we should also be aware that we are acting in a different and rather peculiar time in
the human adventure, one that could create obstacles in the full attainment of the aims
being proposed by those of us in favour of sustainability. Our times are characterised, as
24
we’ve seen, by an exponential increase in contact among peoples and languages and,
hence, by the end - or in all events the considerable reduction - of the traditional isolation
that favoured linguistic differences within the same species (Bastardas, 2002). But
simultaneous with this, the creation of new identities of suprastate origin, the selection of
only a few languages to be denominated official and public, and the growing role of the
large languages of intercommunication, are facts that tend to work not in favour of
maintaining the traditional codes but of the often abusive and unimpeded extension of
these state and international languages. Moreover, human populations, seeking to survive
and to materially improve their lot, are leaving their historical territories and going to
other linguistic areas, with the consequent disorganisation and, in any case,
reorganisation of the ecosystems that until the present moment had assured the existence
both of the linguistic groups that are moving and many of those that are receiving them.
On the other hand, now more than ever, awareness of linguistic diversity is
advancing, and high levels of international and governmental organisations are operating
in an ethics of protection and of solidarity in regard to politically subordinate linguistic
and, above all, economically less developed groups. The complex political structuring of
states, with power sharing in different territorial organisations, is also advancing, and
making available more opportunities for political self-government by linguistically
differentiated populations. This makes it possible for such groups to take decisions
autonomously in regard to the linguistic aspects of their life. It is true that much more still
needs to be done and that there are languages in great danger of extinction, but there is
clearly a general advance - too slow, certainly, even badly understood by the hegemonic
groups, but an advance nevertheless. The sustainability model thus offers itself as a
horizon and a process on the path to improving the linguistic life of humans, through the
development of interlinguistic equity and justice. Because the linguistic claims of the so-
called ‘minorities’ are not ‘something from the past’ but clearly for the future, since they
are looking for its sustainable equilibrium and maximum development secured.
In order to be successful in this universal undertaking, we’ll need to combat the
causes more than simply providing palliative remedies. Clearly, we should overcome the
mentality of conservative political positions that hold that the solution is basically to
subsidise the languages, and pass over to a view that adopts more progressive and
25
egalitarian positions based on the adequate distribution of the functions of the languages,
in the aim of achieving their sustainability. A lasting compromise must be sought among
linguistic groups - and this is the special responsibility of the large groups, more than of
the medium-size and small ones - in order to efficaciously influence the causes that make
people abandon their own languages, taking as a centre and motivation of our action the
people and not a purely ‘anthropological’ perspective of the museum or the ‘reservation’.
If the territorial distribution of the groups allows this, the ideal horizon is for each
linguistic group to tend to maintain control of their own sociolinguistic space, enabling
intervention according to the general evolution of the sociocultural ecosystem. It should
be recalled that, in the present technoeconomic situation, contact and exposition - even if
by electronic means - to other, different languages, will grow and not many populations
will remain marginal. Therefore, only those languages that can initiate compensatory and
rebalancing actions in their ecosystem will be able to keep sustainably reproducing.
Given the degree of intensity of contemporary changes, there exists the risk that
populations that are in a situation of high subordination will not be able to undertake
actions that are compensatory or that reroute their evolution. These will be condemned,
very probably, to a slow and gradual abandonment of the use of their language. Our great
challenge, then, will be, as in other sciences and fields of life, to know how to find the
“exact conditions of nonequilibrium that can be stable” (Capra, 104), from a fluent
conception of the reality.
One special responsibility in this whole state of things falls on the international
cultural institutions, which must effectively compromise themselves to adopt the
sustainability philosophy and promote research on practical and valid organisational
principles, for example, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or of the
more specifically related ‘Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights’ created in
Barcelona in 1996. Linguistic sustainability clearly seeks the concerted world action of
all the peoples of the planet, which must agree and decide how they desire to organise
themselves communicatively in this new century.
26
Let us conclude by simply enumerating five points, which we think are crucial to
recall and which can guide our actions and interventions in favour of linguistic
sustainability. The priorities should be:
1. Stop the abusive uses of the large interlanguages, and extend the ideology of
linguistic equality and solidarity;
2. Dignify the self-image of subordinated, nonmajority language groups;
3. Allow these linguistic groups to be able to control their own communicative
space, autonomously regulating their public linguistic uses;
4. Distribute communicative functions, providing exclusive and effective
functions to the codes of linguistic groups currently in a situation of
subordination; and,
5. Create awareness in governments, commercial firms, and societies in general,
on the importance of attaining linguistic sustainability, urging them to habitually
incorporate necessary studies on sociolinguistic impact in their decision-making
processes.
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31
Received: March, 15, 2007
Published: June, 2007
32
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(First published online in Diverscité Langues (Montreal), 2002. Now available in: Bastardas-Boada, Albert. From language shift to language revitalization and sustainability. A complexity approach to linguistic ecology. Barcelona: Edicions de la Universitat de Barcelona, 2019, pp. 243-268).
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(Published online in Noves SL. Revista de Sociolingüística (Barcelona), 2002). The extended language contact and the polyglottal needs of more and more members of human groups that were, up until now, non-minority (in the traditional sense of the word), are generating feelings of cultural threat and defensive reactions, previously only experienced by groups habitually minoritized through political integration without official and public recognition. Although these feelings of linguistic insecurity and threat may be exaggerated in most cases, this effect of globalization could be a good starting point for a serious review of the foundations of the linguistic organization of mankind as a whole. Now that this sense of feeling threatened is not exclusive to politically-subordinated groups, now that it encompasses those that are beginning to suffer from the (inter)dependence of economies, technology and the mass media, it should be used to increase understanding of the classical situation of minoritization by larger, minoritizing groups. We may well be on the threshold of a new era in history where linguistic fraternity and intercomprehension between the different human groups can progress and give rise to new, fairer principles of political and linguistic organisation than those in place previously. The representations that have dominated – and still dominate - Western thinking (which later spread to many other parts of the world) are based on the properties of material,physical elements using Aristotelian logic, which is founded on the principle of identity and exclusion of the third. For example, if a place is taken by something, it cannot be occupied by anything else. This view, when automatically applied to the field of human relations (as is often the case), means that if a state or group already has a language, it cannot have another. Secondly, if individuals see themselves as belonging to an 'identity’, they cannot consider themselves to be members of any other. This is not necessarily the case in the sociocognitive, mental world. An individual can know several languages and distribute uses of the languages that they know, and form part of different categories of identity, within human societies. The logic of complexity, therefore, “escapes, in its most fundamental points, from the binary logic of ‘all or nothing’”. This vision of things, with more ‘water-type’or flexible instead of ‘rock-type’ or rigid categories, can therefore encourage a reformulation of situations, resulting in new possibilities that need to be explored – along with the difficulties that this will no doubt entail – with imagination, creativity and rigour. One of the possible paths for exploring processes whereby shift evolves from mass bilingualism might be to explore the cases where this is not so. The situations that Ferguson termed 'diglossia' can be used initially to try and shed some light on the problem. How is it that, despite considerable interlinguistic distances (as with the Swiss-German or Greek cases) and a clear distribution of 'high' and 'low' functions, these latter are not abandoned from generation to generation in favour of the 'high' functions? Is this not precisely what happens in many cases of language shift? How can situations that are so superficially similar from the point of view of language shift evolve in such crucially different ways? What if mass bilingualism was a necessary but not a sufficient condition to explain the evolution towards the intergenerational abandonment of own varieties? What if, as Norbert Elias said, “when we are dealing the problem of the need for social evolutions, we have to distinguish clearly and concisely between the statement that B has to necessarily follow A and the statementthat A necessarily has to precede B”? Political action and representations and discourses on language diversity, political Integration and intercommunication are therefore primordial. One of the first aspects we need to study with world authorities is how to overcome, through discourse, the dichotomies that restrict us, and promote the search for new principles and ways of looking at situations of language contact. As regards the traditional criteria for the organisation of plurilingualism, for example, I believe that we may need to look beyond the principles of 'territoriality' and 'personality' for the more complex situations that so require. Despite their obvious advantages, both principles tend to presuppose that individuals are monolingual and cannot, in principle, resolve the problem of intercommunication. How then can principles such as these resolve the construction of a European sociocultural space in practice? How are we to understand each other, setting aside simple, formal institutions with múltiple translation systems, if we all want to remain functionally monolingual? How would the application of a principle of 'personality' be possible for so many languages in such a widespace? We may well have to look elsewhere for the answer. I suggest, therefore, that the search focuses on the study of the application of the principle called 'subsidiarity' (already present in European nomenclature) in the field of linguistic communication. We could adapt this political and administrative principle into a language policy one that, generally-speaking, establishes the criteria that 'whatever a 'local' language can do, a 'global' language should not’. That is to say, we would allow – and promote – the effective, mass knowledge of other languages, giving functional pre-eminence where possible to the language of each historically-constructed linguistic group. So-called 'foreign' languages would be used for external contact (which would occur increasingly more often) but local, everyday functions would be clearly allocated to the own languages of eachlinguistic group.
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The 'complexity' approach can be positive and very helpful for General Linguistics theory because departs from: a) the idea that knowledge or meaning can exist without a being who produces them, b) the fragmented and reductionist view of reality and its too mechanistic oriented images, c) the 'linear' causality models, d) the tendency to dichotomise the categories about reality, e) the 'third excluded' Aristotelian principle (binary logic: if something is here it is not there), f) the disappearance of the mind in some 'higher' social sciences, g) an inadequate approach of the relationships between the whole and its parts, and, h) a perspective on creativity too much based on logic and not on 'artistic' intuition and imagination in science.
Diversitats. Llengües, espècies i ecologies
  • A Bastardas
Bastardas, A. (2004). Diversitats. Llengües, espècies i ecologies. (Ed.), (pp. 13-53.) Barcelona: Empúries.
Sociología fundamental. Barcelona: Gedisa. (Spanish translation of Was ist Soziologie?
  • N Elias
Elias, N. (1982). Sociología fundamental. Barcelona: Gedisa. (Spanish translation of Was ist Soziologie? Juventa Verlag München, 1970.)