Multilingualism in the Modern World

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Multilingualism in the Modern World

Multilingual nations exist in all parts of the world, and very many examples could be cited. Difficulties only arise when one attempts to locate a country that is genuinely monolingual. There appear to be very few. Even in Europe there are not many true examples. Nearly all European countries contain linguistic minorities – groups of speakers who have as their native variety a language other than that which is the official, dominant or major language in the country where they live. In some cases, where the minorities are relatively large, the nation state usually has more than one official language. Examples are Belgium (Flemish, the Dutch language as spoken in northern Belgium and French), Switzerland (German, French, Italian, and Romansch). Where the minority is smaller or less influential, the minority language or languages are unlikely to have official status, and their speakers, often out of sheer practical necessity, will tend to be bilingual. This last factor is what helps to give Europe its outwardly monolingual appearance. The UK, for instance, also gives every appearance of being monolingual, and visitors certainly need to learn no other languages than English. But this appearance is somewhat deceptive. Welsh is the first language of about a quarter of the population of Wales. Scots Gaelic is spoken natively by about 80 000 people largely in the West Highlands and Hebridean Islands of Scotland. Irish Gaelic is still spoken by a small numbers of speakers in parts of Northern Ireland. Perhaps the most multilingual of all the countries in Europe is Rumania. About 85% of the population have Rumania as their mother tongue, but at least fourteen other languages are spoken natively in the country. Multilingualism clearly brings problems for governments and for individuals and groups of individuals, especially those who are members of linguistic minorities. Perhaps the biggest problem they have to face is educational. In...