Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Apr 24 16:56:04 UTC 2002

         Language experts discuss dynamics of linguistic issues in a
globalised world

         Brussels 23/4/02 , by Eurolang

         Some 230 experts from all five continents gathered last week in
Barcelona to discuss, at the first World Congress on Language Policies,
the future development of language policies. It was a long-term discussion
and, in a way, a starting point to develop a common understanding of the
dynamics of linguistic issues in a globalised world.  'All languages are
concerned about their future,' stressed Dr. Felix Marti, adding that
linguistic diversity has become one of the most important issues of human
dimension. Felix Marti is the Director of the Linguapax Institute, which
is an UNESCO affiliated NGO based in Barcelona.

         Figures given to the participants by anthropologist Tove
Skutnabb-Kangas from the University in Roskilde, Denmark, showed that
among the approximatly 6000 languages spoken in the world, not more than
100 can really feel safe about their future, and half of them are in
danger of totally disappearing by year 2100.  The conference tried to
answer two main questions:  why and how these languages should be

         The participants did not spend much time answering the first
question; all agreed on the need of preservation of cultural diversity as
part of a common heritage of humanity. 'There is clear public interest to
protect and promote all languages for our common enrichment,' said Dr.
John Packer, Director of the High Commissionate on National Minorities.
Packer as well warned that no social order is neutral towards language

         Most of the conference was dedicated to problems related to
positive approaches to linguistic issues.  Research was considered as the
starting point to produce and develop language planning policies.  It is a
long-term activity: 'You have to imagine what you want the world to be
like in hundred years time;  not in two years, not in ten years, but in
hundred years,' said Professor Peter Muhlhausler, adding that one should
be aware that 'today's solutions can become tomorrow's problems'. So
problems need to be clearly identified and the approach has to be
professional as well as scientific: 'Good intentions are not a substitute
to knowledge,' Muhlhausler stressed.

         The results of the conference are still to be drafted.  But
judged from the reports of the five working groups, it appears the main
concern of the conference was to create positive approaches towards
linguistic issues: 'the promotion of linguistic diversity creates social
peace' was among the frequent statements of the Conference. Catalan
sociolinguist Marc Lepretre, rapporteur of the working group on language
policy, stressed that intergenerational transmission, education and
raising the economic value of the languages should become the main topic
of the Language planning activities.

         Finally, the Catalan agenda was also brought to the attention of
the participants; Jordi Pujol, President of the Generalitat of Catalunya,
(the Catalan authonomous Governement) stressed once more that Catalan has
the right to be recognised among the official languages of the European
Union. (EL)

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