rainer ganahl 1998


"Once we used to send gunboats and
diplomats abroad; now we are sending
English teachers (International house brochure, 1979, quoted from "Linguistic Imperialism"


Languages and Globalisation
The term globalization has been accepted by everybody and - opposite to the word post-modernism - it can't be limited to an academic discipline. Because of this and its seaming neutrality it needs some explanation. Globalisation is an ideology that, as such, tries to pass as neutral. It describes the situation since the Cold War of a supposedly free international circulation of products, information, finances, people, and work. This is made possible due to massive technological changes allowing us to refer to the world simply as a “global village.” Yet when you think of globalization as neoliberalism, something that differs from the old internationalism of the left, this phenomenon looks more ideological. In neoliberalism the so-called free market is an instrument of transnational corporations following their immediate profits and interests without respect to particular national or local interests.
Without discussing here the problems of transnational capitalism such as the redistribution of unemployment, financial crisis, debts, poverty, diseases (Aids...), prostitution, gods, war, refugee crises, human fates and neocolonialism in the world, I would like to focus briefly on the prehistory of globalization, something that leads us to, among other things, the problem of language. Around 1500 the first phase of European expansion began as mercantile exploitation coupled with the bloody mission of christianization. With this expansion, Spanish and Portugese was brought to the New World. The following period of colonial imperialism was under English, Dutch and French flags and developed into industrial colonialism. This was justified, along with other reasons, by its civilizing mission. Colonial imperialism mainly exported the English and French languages as well as some Dutch. The third and ongoing precursor of globalization is characterized by US industrial imperialism with European and Japanese participation legitimized through the credo of modernization and developing aid. From this current phase, English has consolidated itself as the dominant post colonial world language. If one only considers this colonial prehistory under post-colonial perspectives - and how could one ignore the spread of colonial languages over the entire world? - the icons of the “free” market economy such as IMF and the World Bank.
Colonial history is also language history. In order to govern a country efficiently colonialists need to spread the language of the rulers, the masters. That ,very soon, brings advantages to a small collaborating minority. Not only entire continents and countries were divided politically by rulers but also the decision over their languages were imposed. Let's take a glance at the linguistic map. Spanish and Portuguese are spoken in South America and parts of Africa, English in South East Asia, Africa, North America and New Zealand; French in Africa, North America and some of the Caribbean Islands, in order to point only unprecisely onto some dominant European colonial traces. One also shouldn't forget the “russification” of a big part of the world under ex-Soviet influence where today local languages have to be relearned. Russification didn't stop even before family and proper names had to be altered. Even today, this fight over languages continues. It persists, for example, with the choice of a second language to teach in school. To talk to somebody from Latvia in Russian is an insult though people from Latvia might speak better Russian then English since the English language stands for westernization, modernization, political independence and ideological neutrality. The negation of coevalness is less practiced when there is world wide use of English, credit cards, e-mail, Calvin Klein, Benneton, Toyota or Mercedes.
Most European languages are national languages and instrumental by-products of the foundations of 18th and 19th century nation states . This doesn't mean that there weren't Italian, French, Hungarian, Slovakian or Czech in use. Earlier on, these languages were not national languages and were not spoken by the entire population for all purposes. In 1789, only 33 % spoke French in what is today called France. In 1872 in Italy, only 14 % used Italian on a daily basis, the rest used different languages or dialects.
In Germany Luther's translation of the bible split not only the religious landscape of Europe but unified the very different German counties and countries linguistically. With the fact of this linguistic unification in the 19th century political unification could be first anticipated and then realized. National art, literature and history were constructed and instrumentalized. A common language was defined as an essential characteristic of Volksgemeinschaft, or “the people's community,” and, as such, rendered instrumental for political reasons. For political plurilingual entities like Hapsburg Austria this politics brought distraction and dissolution. Also in Italy of the 19th century, as it was 50 years earlier in France, the formation of the state went parallel to the italianization of Italy where Italian was spoken completely only by the educated classes. In the 20th century and even now at the end of the millennium this process of the formation of states and national languages hasn't yet come to an end: Norway with Norwegian, Israel with modern Hebrew, and most recently Slovenia with Slovenian, Croatia with Croatian and Serbia with Serbian. Basque and Catalan still want to become national languages which would alter the political status quo as much as the French speaking part of Canada is demanding political independence. Though I am not listing any African or Asian examples we shouldn't forget about the many complex linguistic constellations of Asia and Africa, that today still have to struggle against their colonial inheritance, and mostly under neo-colonial conditions.
The formation of national languages made other languages disappear, rendering them meaningless or discrediting them to dialects or sociolects. National languages have been established predominantly in Europe but one shouldn't ignore the linguistic situation of the United States neither, nor Canada and Brazil - places where immigrants pushed aside most of the indigenous languages. Europe is one of the few places in the world where not more than 10 languages are spoken today if one ignores the many languages of their immigrant population. In most other places of this size and this population more then 10 languages are spoken. This forced reduction of language variety can be viewed as an effect of modernization. Esperanto - the artificial language invented in 1887 - as a Eurocentric vision of a monolingual world was the unrealized linguistic fantasy of modernism. If one day English might exchange the status of being the second language to be taught in school to being the second official and practiced language of all European countries next to their national languages we too would have to see this on the trajectory of enlightenment and modernity. A de facto practiced bilingualism can already be observed in parts of Scandinavia and in the Benelux Countries. These countries are small so that linguistic autonomy has become too expensive - translations, synchronizations, etc. - and meets no longer conditions of the market anymore. In Europe, linguistic planning by governments is an active practice subject to reflection and political discussion. Concerning the politics of the selected foreign language to be taught in school, this planing has not and will never come to an end. Should it be English, Japanese, French, Korean, Spanish, German or Chinese? In the United States, one of the big questions is about making English the official mandatory language for everybody or to continue instructing in the many different languages of immigrants, something that generates debates around identity politics.
All European countries have linguistic minorities; however, this is not always officially admitted. The degree of admittance of linguistic minorities is alone an indicator of their status. Switzerland is certainly a positive example although even there are many troubles. In other areas, bombs and attacks make up the grammar and syntax of senseless conflicts that list next to ethnic, cultural and religious differences also linguistic ones as a pretext for confrontations. In Belgium, where the European Unification has its administration in Brussels, linguistic discriminations can only be hidden away under big efforts having as an effect a not always very efficient double administration. These are, nevertheless, only European examples though similar conflicts drive politics and people everywhere around the world.
The reasons for keeping and defending one's own language are obvious. Language is the primary medium of understanding, memory, and exchange of the individual and of the society one belongs to. Language allows and propagates collective and individual memory and understanding. To belong to a linguistic community or to be excluded from it can have a major impact on a person. Emigration and exile, due to economical, political or other reasons, voluntary or forced are, consequently, linguistic fates. Exclusions are of a linguistic nature. So-called “guest workers”, immigrant workers, people who are working their entire lives for the economic prosperity of their host country without experiencing real hospitality, know the true meaning of linguistic discrimination.
What happens if the national state occupies only a minimal administrative function, dissolves as a political/ideological entity, and becomes a projected surface for bigger transnational constructions from the European Union to NAFTA? Single national economies cannot function fully independently anymore. We can best observe this when regional economic crises spill over into world markets instantaneously. A state seems to do best when acting atypical for a state. The neoliberal economic “new world order” (George Bush) with only minimal state intervention is only feasible under the info-technical conditions of contemporary communication networks using digital, fiber optic and satellite technologies. In these networks many languages compete but English is enjoying hegemony as the main communication and business language. Given the dominance of English, on the internet national languages can easily be considered “ethnic”, “local” and “limited.”
The quasi-monopolistic position of Microsoft, Intel and Netscape on the world computer/software market may be compared with the predominance of the English-American language on the Internet and in the global market place. The internet pushes languages and many more things around. When confronted with the de facto imperialism of English the perspectives of smaller languages in the network of total communication lose their profile. This is also significant when it comes to the choice of English as a second language. Worldwide the majority of school politics tend to teach English already at the beginning of general schooling. This cultural engagement guarantees an economic investment in many ways. With this lingua franca you can do business, circulate information and connect and maintain international relations. The expensive dissemination of English - a billion dollar business - is also an investment. It began in Western Europe at the end of World War II. Today, with extensive financial efforts, the promotion of English as the first foreign language to study and as intra-state language is on the way even in polylingual China, the French speaking African countries and in the Ex-Soviet states. In these countries English is not just a technical instrument for communication, but also an ideological vehicle promising modernity and economic prosperity. However, English does not always live up to the hopes of many people.
The massive mix of languages under globalizing premises is nowhere as surprising as on the internet, in international airports, universities and tourist metropolises. International languages often are only stuttered and used incorrectly. The linguistic landscape hybridizes itself also in as far as you can find in many languages dominant English words and idioms reflecting the domains of daily life, knowledge and entertainment. My four year old niece in the German speaking Austrian Alps finds things “cool” or “heavy”, says “thanks” and feels “sorry” - always employing English terms. But one shouldn't forget that so-called loan words - though nothing will be returned - have always followed fashion as well as technological and political constellations. One just has to remember for example the French loan words in the German language or the German loan words in the Russian or Japanese languages.
Internet chatting is even more colorful. On e-chats you find not just English sentences or idioms from the media world of commercials and the audiovisual sphere of consumption, but also linguistic constructions that are taken from a wide area of dialects and all kinds of colloquial languages and slangs. Abbreviations, mistakes and typos add up to a very visualized net of colloquial language, jargon, sociolects, hate speeches, neologisms and stenographic-like shorthands that can be read or flown over even onomatopoetically. This new, hybrid, formula-like nervous finger driven exchange is particularly animated and turned theatrical by the software dispositions: 21:50 AG18 enters the room; 21:50 VIP06 leaves the chat, 21:54 DJATWork kicks ck19 out of the chat; 21:54 sara1 enters from room Salburg; MADMAX reports back (mom); 23:32 Berliner enters the room WODKA and screams: Hi you! .... (from OE3 Chat, October 1998, Austrian Chat room). These administrative scenarios entertain the reader/writer sometimes even more then the squeezed in dialogical entries that, in many instances, are shorter or missing all together.
The wordy props give a linguistic user-friendly surface that takes on decorative-entertaining as well as architectonic-orienting functions. The letters of the users are navigating by themselves through an artificially animated landscape that barely needs an active population. Poor navigation on the screen translates in linguistic pseudo communication. There is no muteness. Everything is activated. Impuls cries out: WODKAAAAAAAAAA FOOOR ALLL!!!!! Statistically speaking, this linguistic interface structure produces in certain chats the majority of words. They play over the fact of the often dialog-poor interaction and hinder dialog with its stimulating distraction. A lot happens; the text is running; everybody seems to chat, to CRY!!!, to whisper, to enter into or leave from all these different closed and open rooms with exotic and erotic, pretentious or banal names. One misses a lot, is always sligtly too late and has to run after everything:
23:32 LeBook enters from room wien.
23:32 lookingfromthecutegirlfromyesterday leaves this room: where are you??
> Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet WODKA!
Chasing after blind dates or playing cat and mouse game s/a/l (sex, age, location) answers are quite big. The more people are in the chat the faster they speak and the more blunt and direct things evolve: then, participants don't name themselves guest8821 or use abstract nicknames: you encounter then K19, niceGirl, offering23 and so on [lounge] - Impuls BadGremlin Kelben jamhot Tunafisch Gragon16 SamStealth niceGirl LeFrench LeBook 1harald21 sweet SchneiderSepp Guga16 anja100 rosebutl Micha22 Prince Sue25 K19 MB trinidad20 DarkNight96 Bärlitz Compton theWorst aNiceguy iceman1yo DarkNight95 peppino verysadgirl36 TiberiusJames spuki Reknuddler DcSunshine tschaebi1 Whitie20 WEBSepperl bumbleeBEE Nightwatcher REGGAEGIRL SuperGLU DJTequila18 ullifromgraz RayGriffins Schmusekatzi floyd33 crazy_bad_luck Silvara Discotiger catter mazov Spitz gugsl20 MedicineMan22 sissy1 . These names don't disclose much yet are still informative. If men/women are successful they can change from an open room to a closed room. The game can continue verbally by mobile phones or motorized by car. But this is none of our business here. Let's be happy about all the dates that wouldn't have been matched otherwise. But we have only tried to observe a little bit one particular linguistic cloning in internet chats, places that sometimes even employ e-police for word watch.
My text tries to look at language not under linguistic views - hybridization, anglification, errorization - but to observe it under a political perspective. For this I would like to get back to a few central questions that mostly are not asked from linguistic reasoning, but are pointing to the fundamental problems of our “New (old) World Order”. How might we account for the fact, that English is the world language in economy, traffic, information, science and technology, though English is spoken by only 7.6 % of the world population compared to Chinese at 18.8 % (Mandarin, 15.2 % of the world population). Why is it that French (2.1% wp, 9th world ranking) and German (2% wp, 10th wr) are considered more important as foreign languages in the USA, in Asia and in many European languages then Hindi (6.4 % wp, 3rd wr), Bengali (3.2 % wp, 7th wr), Arabic (3.5 % wp, 6wr), Spanish (6.1 % wp, 4th wr), Russian (4.9 % wp, 5th wr) or Portuguese (3 % wp, 8th wr)? From a post-colonial perspective one can also ask why these European colonial languages are assigned a greater value then the non-colonial languages even though the majority of the world population are not speaking colonial languages (English, Spanish, French, Portuguese...)? The answer is obvious and lies in the economic, technical, informational, and transportational predominance of the so-called West, a situation that is precisely, perpetuating neocolonial, neoliberal and transcapitalistic signs and symbols. Globalization is therefore in many ways a closeted Eurocentrism under North American flags and let us not forget the Japanese role next to Asian and South American co-players.
Under the perspective of representational politics it is important to notice that the Europeans, mostly the German, French and English speaking countries, have an incompatible mass of sociological, anthropological, geographical, linguistic and most importantly historical and philosophical studies written in their national languages. These materials are essentially dominating the terminological and conceptual framework of how we think about the world. This culture of studies, of definitions and of conceptualizations and reasoning was an essential instrument in the human, material and cultural exploitation of peoples. Even robbery and homicide was executed, optimized and legitimated. It also instituted these few European languages as university languages, as languages of knowledge and universal authority. Since World War II the center of studies and cultural criticism has been transferred mainly to the USA and continues this Eurocentric tradition that allows subaltern theoreticians from the periphery and from other languages not without difficulties. The hegemonic position of the few European languages as languages of knowledge, technology and information as well as of their interests on all social levels are perpetuated.