If language is viewed as a kind of symbolic glue which holds a "nation" together, then the natural run of human linguistic diversity is likely to be perceived as threat to the existing structures of power and to those whose interests the structures of the nation-state are meant to serve. Linguistic repression, in one form or another, is the common consequence.....When European nations were able to seize control of large areas of the Americas, Africa and Asia in the colonial expansion of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, such ideas and the policies they inspired become global in their reach. Three languages in particular-- English, Spanishand French-- were established as imperial languages over large areas of the world.... With the establishment of languages of global reach and with the foundation everywhere of nation-states, people everywhere came under enormous pressure to learn and use the languages of power.
There are anthropologists and linguists (Ken Hale of MIT for instance) who have argued that the casual multingualism that still prevails over much of the third world is, in some sense, the natural state for a human being to be in, that to know and use only one language is a recent aberration, characteristic only of first-world nation states....
Europe is now the most impoverished region in the world in terms of linguistic diversity, home to just three per cent of the world's languages, desptie having roughly 15 per cent of global population.
That's from an excellent book entitled Voices Silenced: Has Irish a Future? by the linguist James McCloskey, published in 2001. (It's a short book, and contains an Irish version of the text as well.)
The reference to "the casual multilingualism that still prevails over much of the third world" explains why I can't share the Western chauvinism of many upon the Alt Right, Alt Lite, the New Right, and many of the other ideologies which have risen up in opposition to political correctness. (Gavan McInnes explicitly uses the term "Western chauvinism".)
Don't get me wrong. I don't have anything against chauvinism in general. I'm rather in favour of it.
But it just doesn't make sense to me to oppose globalism in the name of Western values. Surely Western values-- which are good and bad in themselves-- created globalization? Surely it was Western man, with his relentless drive towards rationalization, expansion and exploration, who brought about this phase of homogenization in world history?
I don't say this to bash Western man. After all, I'm Western man, and I don't go in for self-flagellation. But I think we have to be clear-sighted about this. If we are going to fight globalism, we are going to have to repress some of our own drives and urges, at least in some respects.
The book is deeply depressing. Do you know how many languages have been created in the last century? The author can only think of three: Tok Pisin (an English creole in Papua New Guinea), Nicaraguan Sign Language, and modern Hebrew. And on the other side of the ledger: "Ask me to list languages which have come to the point of extinction in the same period, and I could list thousands". Indeed, in an earlier passage, he gives us this bleak prognostication: "[Mike] Krauss's calculation suggests that ninety per cent of all the languages currently spoken will be lost in the next century or so. I know of no serious challenge to the validity of these calculations."
I haven't even come to the part about the Irish language yet.
Updated later: I'm finished the book now. (It's very short.) Interestingly enough, Irish is not included in the ninety per cent of languages which are in danger of dying in the next century. The fact that it has the support of a state behind it lifts it out of this category.
McCloskey has some interesting things to say about the Irish language revival. He describes it as the first concerted effort to revive a dying language. He also says that its achievements were (and are) extraordinary, considering the difficulty of such a project.
However, he's also quite dismissive of nationalism. To an extent, I understand this-- he argues that nationalism has contributed to language loss, since nationalists have generally wanted a single language as a symbol of national togetherness, and have often actively suppressed regional languages and dialects to this end. He also takes a dim view of coercion as a tool of language revival-- compulsory Irish in schools and the civil service, for instance. Finally, he complains about the Irish language revivalists associating the Irish language with a conservatism and nationalism which alienated many actual speakers.
But these arguments don't make much sense to me. What else would have motivated the Irish language revival, whose achievements he admires, except nationalism? And how does he know that coercion and compulsion didn't play an essential part in that? I wouldn't have any Irish if it wasn't for coercion and compulsion, and now I'm very glad I was coerced and compelled! Furthermore, the fact that the language has the backing of the state involves an element of coercion, since Irish people's taxes are used to fund it.
As for conservatism, surely caring about language preservation is intrinsically conservative. It makes no sense to me to be conservative in this department but not in others.
On the whole, however, it's an eye-opening and eloquent book.