The geopolitics of a colonising language

by J.D. Ian Barton & Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano;
© (2018)

A reflection upon the Americanisation of the English language and its dominance within European languages in their spheres of law, economics and the liberal arts; 

Paraphrasing what the Portuguese writer Vergìlio Ferreira said about the language, we venture to say that a language is, above all, a place. This given place is both a Heim to share and a frontier (not a boundary) to experience. It can also be perceived as someone’s ghetto and a place to escape from others or just a place to pass through for mere personal convenience.

When thinking about the sound and words of our own language, one immediately realises that it is there – in the language – that our collective identity dwells. The language, and nowhere else, is the place from where the roots of our social identity springs defining who we are as a society and as individuals. At the same time it is our own language that defines the very limits of ourselves and the world around us.

A language (any language) is essentially a question of space; physical, historical and relational. It is not only the bearer of a specific world view but also, simultaneously, the object of a wider, global vision. Therefore, as with any other space (territory) in the world, it is valued, and a central point of contention for political and economic conquest. It is not by accident that languages are well suited to a geopolitical analysis that fundamentally concerns the ‘rivalry of power’ over territories and people living in them (Yves Lacoste 1993, p.266).

One can easily maintain that the geopolitics of languages represents the other side of traditional geopolitics: it is a sort of parallel world that uses other methods (languages) to describe territorial rivalries. Languages are, in fact, a further ground – and perhaps the most important – whereby power relationships between states (cultural clashes) can be measured and evaluated. The game of supremacy in politics, economics and culture is played out, not only, through the imposition of one’s own language. To put this into perspective, I want to stress further that any given language is that inner space (heim) of its own particular people and culture which projects that very culture and volk value and the manner in which the world around is interpreted.

In point of fact, the power of a state is measured also through the strength of its culture and language. And even if linguistic imperialism, as theorised by the Spanish grammarian Antonio de Nebrijs (la lengua es companera del imperio), is not further supported by weapons, this does not mean that both its ‘Will to achieve power’ and ‘Glotto-Eating’ are any less resolute and/or efficient.

Today they are rather more subtle, as explained by Raffaele Simone. For a language to become important, so as to assert itself above others, it is not necessary that a group of states (virtual or real) officially adopt it as their own language. It is sufficient that in this group of countries the language is recognised as ‘influential’, ‘powerful’ and ‘desirable’ even if tacitly and by means of its subtle machineries of mass culture (R. Simone, “Geopolitica delle lingue tra Cesarotti e Leopardi; in Italiano: lingua di cultura europea, a cura di H. StammerJohann, Tübingen 1997, Günter Narr Verlag, p. 37.).

Any language (the American version of the English Language in this instance) is never innocent: it always underlines a form of clashing cultures. It indicates a will for dominance (or at least dominance as a goal) which implies a subsequent subjection regardless of our willingness to accept it.

The million dollar question to be answered reads as follows: what are the semantic and morphological strategies to unveil which put in place a political tendency towards cultural dominance and a new form of cultural imperialism?

Should we not conclude with further analysis of the ‘Americanisation’ of our European reasoning through the ubiquitous ‘Non-Translation Grafts’ of our European Languages (specifically the French, German and the Italian languages) that it represents a new form of cultural, and therefore political, colonialism?

Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano
Dr. Salvatore Ivan Italiano

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