Whenever two linguistically different cultures meet, if there is to be integration then concessions must be made. In a utopian scenario one might like to imagine that the two cultures merge seamlessly, creating a new, hybrid version with equal measures of both original cultures, including an entirely new daughter language. If this were the case, we might be seeing a proliferation of languages (new creations in use & mother languages retained where the cultures have not hybridised or in academic circles) rather than the paring down that has become the global trend.

Instead, the norm is that one culture concedes to the dominant (usually resident) culture, and in the process learns and adopts the dominant language. It’s less of an integration and more of a takeover. In the 1st and even 2nd generations, retention of the mother tongue in the family home and in mother culture situations is common, but after the 3rd generation this knowledge begins to fade and eventually becomes lost, without a strong effort by members to retain it.

This is the first and well-known edge to the sword then; the loss or diminishment of the mother tongue, but what of the second?

My mother tongue is English; and as this is fast becoming (some would say has already become) the global lingua franca, there are few scenarios in which I need to concede to a more dominant language. I don’t NEED to, but I almost always want to, even if I can only work with a basic minimum of the language. Whenever visiting another country I always try to use their language; or indeed an intermediary language. When visiting Barcelona, I found that speaking (standard) Castilian Spanish would elicit a response in Catalan; the regional language which is strongly supported in that part of Spain. Whilst I could work out most written Catalan, the spoken form was a different story. Rather than resort to English, I tried French and found that most people would respond in French as well.

This illustrates the second problem of language integration; the attitude of the culture into which the attempt to integrate is being made.

Imagine a family who has moved to central Spain; learnt Castilian Spanish & has fully adopted the culture. Some years later, they choose to move to Catalunia, and suddenly find that their perfectly fluent Castilian Spanish is met with indifferent Catalan. Having spent years already learning a new language and culture, they must now effectively start again from scratch.
You could put this down to the particularly vociferous loyalty to regionality that Catalunia, among many other regions, displays, but you can find examples of it everywhere.

I spent a year studying in northern France, and found that although the regional Picard language was not widely spoken, there were enough differences between my standard French and how the locals spoke to have an effect on my integration. When I was at school, I was taught for years by two teachers from Brittany whose accents I must have mimicked; when I went on family holidays to the South of France I was shocked at how much the locals and I struggled to understand each others’ French.

In the UK, we’re no less guilty of this. I live in the Westcountry, famed but by no means alone in the UK for its strong regional accent. Many times have I heard foreign visitors struggling to understand locals who stubbornly repeat themselves without making any effort to make their speech clearer.

I’m not suggesting that one should suppress regional accents or languages altogether, but when faced with someone who is clearly a newcomer or a visitor and who is making an effort to communicate in a mutual language, surely it is good manners to modify your speech or make it clearer?

Language integration should be just that; an integration involving effort from both sides, and although one language must usually concede to the other, a bit of ground-giving from the dominant side can be extremely reassuring to those who stand to lose the most.

Problems with language integration – A two edged sword

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