The hegemony of a language is a political phenomenon


The hegemony of a language is a political phenomenon

ABSTRACT: "Linguistic domination is not in itself a linguistic phenomenon, but a political one": this statement, which may be defined as a fundamental law of sociolinguistics, has been demonstrated particularly effectively by Louis-Jean Calvet, a French linguist. It means that if one language exercises hegemony over another, or over others, it is not because it is better, or more effective and expressive than the others, but because it is the language of a dominant political power.
(THE PARTY NEW - N. 5 - FEBRUARY 1992)


Calvet has demonstrated this phenomenon with regard to French, which has gradually eroded the other languages spoken in France, reducing them to the status of dialects. The reason for this is that French is the official language of the state and its centralist policies. Calvet quite rightly concludes from this observation that it would be a mistake to believe that the various laws to protect dialects in danger of extinction are sufficient: as long as the cause of the problem - political dominance - remains unchanged, then such laws only address the symptoms.

The problem which Calvet diagnoses so effectively with regard to his own country now exists, and is no less serious, all over the world, and particularly in Europe. Here, too, English is taking over not because it is a better means of communication, but because it is the language of the United States (and of all the other English-speaking countries which help to increase the hegemony, including the cultural and linguistic hegemony, of the United States). And here, too, it would be a mistake - a mistake often made even by the supporters of a planned and neutral international language - to believe that it is sufficient, for the widespread acceptance of such a language, to demonstrate its greater ease and flexibility, and thus the fact that it is much more suitable as an international lingua franca.
"How many divisions has the Pope got?" asked Stalin. As long as Esperanto continues to have fewer divisions than the Pope, as is currently the case, it will be unable to make inroads into the overwhelming political weight of English.

As the prospect of a United States of Europe is still distant, and there is a serious, imminent risk of language cannibalism with English on everybody's lips, right now we must provide Esperanto with its first foothold, exploiting its versatility as a means towards the easier learning of current languages, as evinced by the seal of scientific objectivity granted by the University of Paderborn's Institute of Cybernetics.

Andrea Chiti Batelli, Federalist and Esperantist.