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Outrage over French Eurovision Song

French MP Jacques Myard, of the UMP party,was outraged that the song chosen to represent France in last years Eurovision Song Contest had English lyrics.

This year’s Eurovision Song Contest will take place on the 16th of  May in Moscow and the song chosen to represent France will be sung in French (this time). Forty three countries will be taking part; the show is very popular drawing in a television audience of 200 million viewers from Europe and beyond.

The song which was chosen to represent France last year was entitled ‘Divine’,  it combined both English and French lyrics with electro euro pop.

According to the BBC the culture minister in France defended the song saying, the country should fully support his (Sebastien Tellier – Singing ‘Divine’ for France) bid for victory.

Many countries choose to sing in English. Statistically you are more likely to win the competition when singing in English, according to information released by Eurovision.

Danish Language Protection Laws Deemed Unnecessary

The Danish Culture Ministry has announced that there is no need to pass language protection laws in Denmark at this time, but that other steps should be taken to protect the Danish language.

According to the Copenhagen Post Online, the announcement marks the conclusion of a special government committee investigation into whether or not the use of English is threatening the future viability of Danish.

Although the report released by the committee did not recommend that any new laws be passed to protect Danish, it did recommend steps that the Danish people should take to help preserve their native tongue. For example, the report stressed the “duty” of Danes to preserve the language in their homes and in their schools.

The country’s university system was listed in the report as the one area of Danish life in which additional regulations might be beneficial. Some members of the committee, including its chairman, believe that additional regulation could be used to encourage the development of Danish professional terminology, reducing the reliance on English and other foreign languages.

Interestingly, the report also encouraged Danes to spend more time studying other Nordic languages, like Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Faroese. Since all of these languages are descended from Old Norse, the language of the Vikings, they are all closely related and it is fairly easy for a native speaker of one language to pick up one of the others.

According to the report, “Danes can achieve a deeper understanding of our neighbour languages in just a few weeks than they can by studying foreign languages for years.”

The Danish language has come under increasing pressure from foreign language entertainment in recent years, and the committee recommended encouraging TV and films in other Nordic languages to help counteract this effect.

Slovakia and Hungary in Language Law Row

On the last day of June, Slovakia passed a law governing language use in their country. According to this article, posted on Euractiv.com, the law makes it illegal to use “incorrect” Slovak in Slovakia. The punishment is harsh with fines as high as 5,000 euros (£4,315).

Basically, the law makes it very difficult for speakers of minority languages to publicly communicate in their native language in Slovakia. For example, at public events, speeches and such must be given in Slovak first and the other language second-even if the only people present at the event speak the minority language.

Michael Gahler, the vice-chair for the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has condemned the new language law as a violation of EU standards regarding minority languages. In the article referenced above, he is quoted as saying:

“Slovakia is violating commonly respected standards in the EU and is disregarding respective recommendations of the Council of Europe, which foresee the extended use of minority languages,” Gahler said, going as far as declaring that the country “risks discrediting itself as an EU member and becoming a totalitarian state again if the new provisions are consistently applied”.

The main minority language in Slovakia is Hungarian, which means that Hungary is not pleased, either.  The Hungarian government has asked the Slovakian government to stop the law from being implemented, but they have this far declined, with Slovakian leaders saying that it is not discriminatory.

However, Laszlo Öllős, a political analyst, was quoted as saying that the law is very ambiguous, increasing the potential for abuse.  According to Mr. Öllős, it could even be interpreted to apply to conversations between doctors and patients who speak the same (minority) language.

Debates over “official languages” and how much support to give minority language speakers have raged in many different countries. All too often, the debates become more about hostilities between two different groups than about protecting a specific language or culture. Fining doctors and patients for conversing in a language that they both share seems to be somewhat mean-spirited, and possibly dangerous if it keeps the patient from getting the best possible care.

Linguistic Divide in Belgium

Belgium’s European parliament election, which is due to take place on 7th June, has been riddled with feuds over the rights of Dutch and French speakers.

The BBC reports that francophone political parties have been denied billboard space for their election posters in two mainly Dutch speaking municipalities close to Brussels.

Belgian politics closely mirrors the countries deep linguistic divide. Around 60% of Belgium’s population speak Dutch, while 40% speak French. Approximately 100,000 French speakers live in the mainly Dutch speaking suburbs of the capital.

Political paralysis hit Belgium after last year’s general election. With its long running tensions over language rights effecting all parties, it took months for the political parties to form a new coalition.

This is a difficult and very complicated issue for any country to bear.  Can the Belgian politicians work together and learn to communicate despite the language barriers?

Israel to Remove Languages Other Than Hebrew From Road Signs

In a move that may cause confusion among travellers and will surely cause discomfort among some of its Arab citizens, Israel’s minister of transport, Yisrael Katz, has declared that the country will get new road signs-in Hebrew only. Right now, road signs are trilingual, with the names of cities, airports and other destinations spelled in Hebrew, English and Arabic.

Why change the signs? Well, the official answer given by the minister of transport is that having three different languages on each road sign confuses people. Of course, there’s probably a little bit more to it than that…the language used on street signs is often about declaring ownership or establishing  cultural dominance.

In an op-ed piece for the New York Times, Jerrod Kessel and Pierre Klochendler state that “the political motive is ill-concealed.” They quote Mr. Katz as follows: “Some Palestinian maps still refer to Israeli towns and villages by their pre-1948 [pre-Israel] names: Beisan instead of our Beit-Shean. They want to turn the clock back. Not on my signs! We won’t allow anyone to turn Yerushalayim into al-Quds.”

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, there’s also been a bit of a tussle in Jerusalem itself over the trilingual street signs, with vandals painting over the Arabic portions of the signs.  A more moderate group of Jewish “vigilantes” has taken matters into their own hands, placing stickers printed with the appropriate Arabic street names on top of the vandalized signs.

Seen in this context, it’s easy to see why the minister of transport’s actions could make Israel’s Arabic citizens feel unwelcome. According to the New York Times op-ed, one in 5 Israeli citizens is Arabic, and Arabic is one of the country’s national languages.

The rest of the New York Times editorial gets a little nonsensical in its argument, as the writers claim that since “Israel” is spelled “Yisrael” in Hebrew, Katz’ changes “will be literally wiping Israel off the map.”

Adding a “Y” to the name of a country hardly qualifies as “wiping it off the map,” and as far as English-speaking travelers are concerned, well, when you travel to a foreign country you should make an effort to learn how city/street names are spelled in the local tongue. The real concern is that the move will likely increase Israeli Arabs’ sense of disenfranchisement in their own country. It could also have practical consequences for Israeli citizens. For example, the Jewish Daily Forward article quotes cabdriver Muhammed Dabash saying “When I need to take a passenger somewhere, I read the Arabic on the street signs.”  What will he do once the new street signs are up?