Monday, 25 September 2006

The value of language

I appreciate deeply the opportunity to have learnt languages other than English. My competency in them is not very good but with dictionaries I can cope a little.
I have been deeply envious of those who live in environments where the need and opportunity to speak a second language has been convenient. . And on more than one occasion I have had to encourage a fellow Australian to make sure their kids take the opportunity to learn the language of their ancestors be it Greek, German, Chinese or Latvian.
So I have rather mixed feelings about the "everyone must speak English" value that is promoted in the current irrational debate about Australian values. Anglo Celtic Australia, it seems to me is remarkably poor at learnign languages. (I wonder, for example, what Howard or Beazley's proficiency in another language is like?)
This is a downside of living on an island. We are rather entire unto ourselves, and terribly insular. Remarkably few non-indigenous Australians even understand the basic morphology(here) of a local Aboriginal language. And we tend to sneer, as is happening presently, at those who have been fortunate enough to be able to learn to speak Greek as well as English, at those whose lingua franca remains Khmer, or Mandarin; and we say...You must all speak English.
Don't get me wrong English is the language of this country and we should take responsibility to school each other in at least basic language. But let's not do this at the expense of the other language gifts that migrants bring to this country.
It at least raises the question of whether we should be preparinbg ourselves to be Australian citizens or world citizens. Both are true and are not mutually exclusive. N'est-ce pas? Oder nicht wahr?

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