Language Preservation Policies

Public policies aiming to preserve a national language are most commonly associated with small nations, whether they be small nation-states (i.e., Iceland, Ireland, and Estonia) or minority nations within a larger nation-state (i.e., Quebecois French, Basque, Catalan, and countless indigenous languages). Nevertheless, now many larger countries are taking action to preserve their majority languages.

The most well-known case (and least surprising to anyone familiar with stereotypes of the French) is that of France, with the Toubon Law of 1994 which mandates the use of French in all government documents, commercial contracts, commercial communications and advertising. In 2006, Malaysia began fining those who mix English words into Malay – so-called Manglish – in advertising and Iran it was decreed that all adopted foreign words be replaced with Persian equivalents (with the exception of Arabic, since it is the language of the Koran).

This week I’ve read that the ruling Christian Democrats of Germany are trying to enshrine the German language in their federal constitution as the country’s official language in order to protect the national language. Again, the main concern is the increasing use of English words. According to a study by Hanover University, cited by the December 16th The Independent article, “23 of the 100 currently most-used words in German were in fact English”.

There must be many other examples, but will any of them successfully ward of the apparent forces of language change and anglicization? Only time will tell.