Sunday, December 09, 2007
Are you a monolingualist?
I come from a monolingual culture. People in Australia think that English is all you need. Yet around 25% of the Australian population now have a first language other than English. This attitude of monolingualism dates back to imperialism. The British empire set out to colonise the world. The attitude of imperialism was that the colonising culture was a superior one. The inferior culture would therefore benefit from speaking the language of the imperial force. This was a dominant world view of the age.
This dominant world view was influenced by a dual desire to spread the source culture's dominance but also by a fear of cultures foreign and unknown. Jesuit missionaries seemed to evade this damaging world view, but many other missionaries did not. Protestant missionaries in Australia, Canada, America and Africa held a very imperial world view toward the indigenous peoples of those countries. The indigenous peoples were often told that their language and culture were evil and demonic. To become a Christian meant to leave one's culture and language behind. Whilst at times these may seem like broad generalisations, they were grievous mistakes made none the less.
These mistakes were informed by a dominant world view to be sure, but how much did these missionaries seek to be informed by the Holy Spirit? These are not simple issues by any means. It does scare me though that these same problems exist in 21st century Russia. Russians are monolingual in their world view. Siberian peoples are told that their language and culture do not matter, even by the Russian church. These seem to be the exact same mistakes being repeated again.
Such attitudes often make me angry. It causes me grief to see a people have their language and culture threatened. I know that God loves minority peoples, their cultures and their languages. It is a challenge to modern day Australians and Canadians also to not be monolingual in our approach to society. Monolingualism is damaging in all ways. I truly hope that a change of government (even though I believe the Labor government in Australia will be grossly incompetent on an economic level) may reinvigorate the chance to save Australian Aboriginal languages. I also hope that I may play a part in saving indigenous languages in Siberia.
There is a lot to combat in the imperial mindset, world view is deep seated.
God is in favour of multilingualism. The story of the tower of Babel is testament to this. An interesting piece of trivia is that there were already multiple languages before the tower of Babel. It is just the common language that was confused at that event.
What should be our response to this problem? Respect the rights of indigenous peoples and immigrants to speak languages other than English. There is no reason that people can not be bilingual in their lives. Affirm others in their language and culture. You could even go so far as to learn their language in an effort to love them in a practical way. This will be one of the most powerful ways that you can love a person. Do not be afraid of the unknown. Seek to know and to understand. Do not shy away from the Muslim immigrant, love them, get to know them and their culture. Speak their language and in turn, speak the language of love.