No matter how many languages we speak, the fact remains that a dominant language of business – reflects our position within society. Here in Gwinnett, English helps assert our positions as language directly affects our civil rights. This does not mean that we have to discard native languages.
It is important to realize that our civil, political and economic rights are shaped by the language of business.
A few months back, I was called in for Jury duty, where some in the group did not speak English and could not comprehend what the Judge was saying. Therefore, they could not exercise their duty to be considered to serve as a member on the Jury because of their language limitations.
Our voting rights are affected by our inability to speak the dominant language. Voting protocol allows interpretation services. It is easy to demand translation of government and public documents in English, for example, the election ballots in several different languages or access to simultaneous translation. From a practical point of view, this type of translation may be possible for popularly spoken foreign languages, but this would drain resources considering that there are 118 languages spoken in the State of Georgia.
Gwinnett is a diverse community. This County is becoming a major hub for international business. Among others, South Korea, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Argentina and Turkey have companies located here. These institutions remind us how small our world has become and how connected we all are.
The symbolic rise of the English language in the international arena was effectively highlighted last week. Two major editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post respectively from prominent world leaders, President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran conveyed messages in English to an international audience. Conversely, Senator John McCain issued a rebuttal in Russian language in Pravda.
My work in the international sector has taught me the importance of learning a language foreign to me. In international aid related programs, there is a tendency to facilitate work in a local language. Client governments would commonly demand translation of all major documents.
On one hand, budget for translation often times comes out of aid budget package – which could otherwise be used to directly benefit the end-users. On the other hand, without local knowledge and language, international work, in trade and development, security and peace would be difficult to plan and target – cultural nuances and area specific details are never fully understood without having an intimate knowledge and understanding of the local culture and language.
There are several examples from around the World where language plays an important role bringing communities together. It is interesting to examine how some of the leading countries handled their debate on language. The examples from India and Indonesia provides two different models of how an official language was used to bridge the communication divide.
In 1948, India adopted Hindustani as a new national language. In India, the largest parliamentary democracy in Asia, people speak 18 major languages in addition to several hundred dialects. At the State level, there are several recognized languages, however English has emerged as the language of business.
In 1945, Indonesia adopted the language Bahasa Indonesia as an official language. Indonesia is the largest Muslim democracy in the World. There are over 700 different languages spoken in the 18,000 island archipelago of Indonesia. Interestingly, the introduction of one language had a positive impact on literacy rate, which has steadily risen over the years to around 90 percent. However, there are concerns that consequence of language unification has triggered the disappearance of some of the indigenous languages.
As a leading democracy and with a long history of multilingualism, America is different. It is noteworthy that in 1776, the Continental Congress published the Articles of Confederation and other documents jointly in German and English, which in 1837 became the founding documents for the first bilingual education law. From the beginnings of this bilingualism, today in America, over twenty percent of the population speak a language other than English. Around 37.6 million people speak Spanish. Our First Amendment Right guarantees us the freedom of speech. Freedom and ideals unify us, but the power of language and the display of multilingualism has also transformed our society.
There is room for debate on how Georgia wishes to proceed in embracing the existence of a multilingual society. However, the fact remains that English is the language of County business and language of power. Our limitations of this language impairs the ability to effectively assert our positions within our society and also within the international market.