Posted by: Bystander PJ24 SEP 2009
Today, 26 September 2009, is the European Day of Languages — a Council of Europe initiative introduced in 2001 to celebrate language and cultural diversity. It aims to alert the public to the importance of language learning, to increase awareness and appreciation of all languages and to encourage lifelong language learning.
So today is a good day for us Brits to remind ourselves that we are not good at languages. To our national shame, about 70 per cent of the UK population speak nothing but English. And yet this monoglot monopoly is surrounded by speakers of many other languages, both native and imported.
The UK is unusual in having no constitutionally defined official language. This is because English has been so predominant that it is accepted as the de facto primary tongue.
However, no fewer that six other native tongues have been recognised by the UK government under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, which protects traditional languages spoken by nationals. The six are Lowland Scots (1.5 miliion speakers), Welsh (600,000), Irish (110,000), Scottish Gaelic (60,000), Uster Scots (30,000) and Cornish (3,500).
Lowland Scots (Lallans) and Ulster Scots (Ullans) are in the list because they are considered significantly different from English to be recognised as distinct languages rather than dialects.
In addition to our seven native languages, we now have many imported tongues. The five million South Asians living in the UK have brought dozens of languages with them. And the expansion of the EU has seen the arrival of a growing number of European languages.
It is estimated that more than 250 languages are now spoken in London, making it the world’s most linguistically diverse city. And a rapidly increasing proportion of the UK’s schoolchildren have languages other than English as their mother tongue.
In a profession such as pharmacy, where most practitioners have regular contact with members of the public, this diversity of languages can lead to communication difficulties. Perhaps monoglot pharmacists should resolve to ease the problem by learning at least a smattering of a locally spoken minority language.