One usually thinks of a language as a tool for communicating and seeing the world, but a language also serves many other functions.
Back in the days when I would trek across the snowy campus of the University of Minnesota, I took a class on linguistic anthropology.
There, I read about the utility of language – what purposes it might serve – and in one class in particular I read theories of why language evolved.
One of these theories flashed before my eyes as I watched a news video about Brexit.
In the video, the BBC detailed the lives of three Poles who were displaced by the Brexit vote.
In listening to their stories, I recalled my linguistic anthropology class, where I learned languages serve the purpose of keeping outsiders out.
A foreigner will forever remain foreign if his or her speech is incomprehensible.
And this, I thought, is where English has found itself on uneven footing.
Mass media, which has been broadcast throughout the world, has made the English language the current day Lingua Franca; and therefore England, America, Canada, Australia, and all the other English speaking countries – all speak a language that doesn’t serve a purpose it once did.
Nowadays, immigrants can land on the tarmac and get by — some even hit the ground running, quickly starting work as doctors or engineers.
In many ways this is a truly great thing.
But the problem is the reverse is rarely possible: an English-speaker working in another country, speaking another language.
This situation makes England’s membership in the European Union much different.
A candidate from Wales running for UKIP leadership said it best when he said the English can’t leave their country and go work elsewhere because they are not equip with the foreign language.
Whereas the reverse situation stands for all other European countries.
The bigger picture.
And in keeping with the times, I see this situation mimicking that of the United States, where Trump’s message of insularity has struck a chord.
The English language certainly profits from having such cachet worldwide. But it also spells out the loss of a once powerful feature of keeping outsiders out.
Even other countries that had empires, such as Portugal and Spain, have not had the same degree of immigration as English speaking countries – although each has taken in many immigrants from their former colonies, Brazil and Latin America, respectively.
Countries like Hungary, who never had a seafaring empire, don’t have to worry as much about immigrants because there language poses such a wall.
Germany, on the other hand, despite being the birthplace of a very difficult language, has accepted many immigrants because of its economic prosperity and humanitarian aspirations.
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