Should linguists do politics?

The French linguist Claude Hagège has called for greater diversity in European language policy, (thanks to Transblawg for the link) suggesting that a Slavic language (e.g. Polish) be used as a working language to offset the Germanic Romance (French, German and English) weighting in day to day EU operations. Especially in the current Drang nach Osten of EU enlargement.

I doubt if anyone will pay much attention to this absurdly rational solution to the traditional messy political problem of EU linguistic communication. Academic linguists have rarely contributed explicitly to language policy. Chomsky is known for his political positions on U.S. foreign policy, not on which languages should be spoken where. I’m sure modern linguists from Sapir and Jakobson to Jespersen, Mel’cuk and David Crystal have been asked by governments for an opinion on this or that aspect of public language policy – most likely in the field of education – but you rarely get a partisan stance such as Hagège’s voiced publicly.

Esperanto and other practical linguistic fantasies have usually begun as the work of non-professional linguists. It has been sociologists, economists (like François Grin, who specializes in the economics of language policy, and is also quoted in the EU Observer article), language mavens and literary types who have had more influence on public opinion about language issues than your hard-core linguist.

Maybe this will change. Now that blogs offer a powerful public platform for the irrepressible linguists of Language Log and similar electronic soapboxes, maybe their informed critiques of folk linguistics will gain ex cathedra status and actually change the world, not merely describe it.

Andrew Joscelyne
European, a language technology industry watcher since Electric Word was first published, sometime journalist, consultant, market analyst and animateur of projects. Interested in technologies for augmenting human intellectual endeavour, multilingual méssage, the history of language machines, the future of translation, and the life of the digital mindset.

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