Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Dwindling Diversity

Diversity is all the name of the game these days - religious, ethnic, sexual practices, knitting patterns. But it's a sad case that the more it is celebrated - and the more does our society encourage it - the more it is dwindling away.

Burton Dasset has cracked open a bottle of his favourite French bière de garde - a rather sweet little Triple called "ChTi".

But Ch'Ti was not originally a beer - it is a language. Closely related to mainstream French, in this case, but distinctly more than a dialect, nonetheless. And, as the regional languages of France are, relegated to a historic relic by the French drive for standardisation. You consider the historic languages that existed - or still cling on - within the area covered by France. There's Flemish, Picard, Langue d'Oc, Provencal, Occitan, Corsican, Basque, Catalan, Breton, Franco-Provençal, Gallo and so on and so on. But the French government has for many years been dedicated to getting everyone speaking French.

I mean, you can see the benefits of this kind of standardisation. And once the the French government realises that the rest of the world is speaking English, they will surely wholeheartedly support the drive to supplant French with it throughout their departments. Then we will have the great benefit of being able to drive from Calais to the eastern fringes of Holland, without ever meeting a person who can't speak English. Gone forever will be the look of contempt as they realise that we don't really understand their language, preferring to communicate IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND S-L-O-W-L-Y.

And yet, and yet. That Bernadette of Lourdes couldn't speak French gives her a great romance, to my mind. That the people of Britanny had their own version of P-Celtic gives me a certain whimsical sadness. These languages evolved over time, as Frankish, Spanish, Celtic and Germanic peoples' folk movements ground up against each other like linguistic tectonic plates. These languages were of their place, carrying history with them. Whereas when they are all capable of sharing the information that Sylvianne la guêpe pique tout le monde, sure they'll be less likely to get stung by that vicious stripy brute, but there's a certain uncertainty and gray shading been replaced by certainty, black and white.

We still have some distinctions. To my south, the Cockney diaspora of Lu'on 'n' Dunstabwl will continue to  refer to living to the "sarf", while to the north and east, people will continue to be "frit", and to claim they are "gooin' Kettrin" when they are off to spend the day at Wickie Park. But many of the old sayings of my region are gone, like the dew before the sun, as they once said. It's a samey old world, homogenised by easy transport and electronic telecommunications. Perhaps if we keep away from Skype, and encourage people onto Twitter and Facebook - the old dialect words may still go, but at least we will all keep our accents.


  1. The problem with diversity, particularly in language is that it is separatist and doesn't fit the political narrative for centralisation that most politicians aspire to.

    But, it seems to me that Wales has the answer. It you are militant enough about your native dialect, such as Welsh, you can overcome all resistance and work in a dual language environment. And, now it seems that to be a dual welsh/english speaker is a pre-qualification required for any public appointment in Wales?

    Now, Scotland has the issue of wanting independence, but in a Foreign Language. English!
    There are complaints being heard that Scots Gaelic isn't being used in their Parliament nor has any of the literature of the Scottish National Party been issued in dual language format. So, it looks like that issue will be divisive and they won't achieve true independence because, they will essentially rely on a foreign language to be self governing.

    Now, what about Cornwall. Cornish Gaelic is also on the rise - with some militants (at least three at last count) insisting in only speaking their native language. Unsurprisingly, they can't get served in banks, shops, buy tickets or do anything publically unless they use English - so proud Cornishmen and Women, who value their heritage are being sidelined by that very diversity they demand.

    Now, England has got it right. Every Public Authority issues it's literature in multi-ethnic languages spoken in their area - in my area of North Kent, we have 13 different languages heard every day on our streets, in our pubs, churches, Mosques, Synagues and Temples. We have it cracked, because the politicians have caught on to this and now issue their rhetoric in similar languages. Although, at the hustings, the WASP candidates struggle with heckling from their diverse audiences. They have yet to get around to actually learn the 13 languages that their literature display.

    At a recent hustings, the candidates each had 13 interpreters in front of them, including several signing in the two versions of sign language in use, along with an Esperanto interpreter serving everyone, who was kept extremely busy.

    In fact, there were so many interpreters, that there was no room for the public - so they had to record their ranting, transcribe them and issue them in 13 languages afterwards.

    So, diversity has its uses - never needing to hear a politician in England ranting ever again. :)

  2. As all Picardiens know, Shakespeare is best appreciated in the original Klingon ;)

    1. The good captain should have known better, saying "cheval" when he meant "keval".

      Perhaps a Babel Fish is the answer?


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