On September 24th, the Society gathered in the Philodemic room to debate a very important resolution: Linguistic Diversity should be Actively Promoted. The keynoters for this debate were Ms. Katherine Landau (SFS ’17) of New York on the affirmation and Mr. Philip Ma (SFS ’17) on the negation. The 24th was an induction debate, with Mr. Alex Barnes (SFS ’16) of New York keynoting on the affirmation and Mr. Joseph Laposata (COL ’16) of Massachusetts keynoting on the negation.
Mr. Barnes kicked off the keynotes by telling us how languages are vehicles for communication between different people. He told us that we should focus on disappearing languages, and that to actively promote a language is to actively support it at the domestic or national level. He told us about the Bonackers, an ethnic group located on Long Island whose dialect is in danger of disappearing. His argument was that their language was valuable because it reflects the ways the Bonackers center their lives on the water. Mr. Laposata opened his keynote by arguing that promoting language diversity was a form of cultural imperialism. He continued by informing the society about how language divides countries and contributes to the ignorance that can lead to civil war. Furthermore, he argued that government s are made inefficient by linguistic diversity, and that to promote it at the governmental level would be detrimental to countries with extremely high levels of linguistic diversity.
Ms. Landau argued that the floor should consider how much linguistic support many immigrants require. She argued that linguistic diversity must be actively encouraged as well in order to respect the benefits of cultural diversity immigrants bring to a new country. Furthermore, the increased understanding brought about by increased linguistic diversity could help aid efforts for both international and domestic peace. Mr. Ma responded by reminding the society of the law of unintended consequences. He argued that other Jewish languages were lost as the Zionist movement promoted Hebrew as a national language. He argued that promoting linguistic diversity is a massive task that requires too many resources in order to be successful.
Mr. Evan Monod (COL ’14) rebutted the negation by claiming that promoting linguistic diversity would decrease the power of imperialist languages instead of increasing them. Additionally, he argued that all voices should be heard in the language in which they’re the most comfortable. Ms. Aleman told the floor that linguistic prowess makes one lazy. She told the floor that while she was in China she hardly spoke Chinese because she could get by using her English. She argued that creating a monolithic language would decrease the massive amount of effort necessary to cross national borders that language defines.
Mr. Ernst reminded the floor that national borders are not marked by language alone, but are instead created by a mutually imagined identity that goes beyond language. He further posited that language barrier does not prevent someone from becoming a true citizen of a country. Ms. Burke informed the floor that upper classes in England created accents in order to separate themselves from the dialect of the working class. A world language, such as Newspeak, would be a double plus good egalitarian solution to both inefficiencies created by linguistic diversity and discrimination based on dialects and accents.
Ms. Hernick told the society that they needed to stop telling stories and start having a debate. She argued that the Catholic Church used to have a universal language, but instead of insisting on tradition, it actually promoted using vernacular languages in order to bring the faith to the margins of the world. In response, Mr. Graff reminded Ms. Hernick that diversity is not a good in and of itself. While there are benefits afforded by permitting diversity when a single language has become inefficient, there are far greater rewards in creating a single language that everyone understands. Simply put, if everyone could understand each other, life would be better.
Ms. Thanki railed against this idea, claiming that while Mr. Graff’s idea sounds wonderful, it is far from practical. Ms. Thanki told the society about how different words and emotions can only be expressed in her own language. Losing the ability to speak Hindi would mean losing the ability to learn nuanced lessons from Indian culture. Chancellor Whelan disagreed with Ms. Thanki, claiming that English is perfectly capable of absorbing words from other cultures.
After Chancellor Whelan sat down, President Ringwald opened the floor to non-members. Ms. Katherine Li (COL ’19) relayed to the society the noticeable difference between thinking in Mandarin and thinking in English. She also claimed that the efficiencies gained by a country by decreasing linguistic diversity would become meaningless if the culture of that country becomes less rich as a result. Ms. Sara Fisher (COL ’18) argued that while translators might improve access to resources for linguistically marginalized groups, relying on fallible translators for government sources could mean a serious error caused by a simple mistake.
Mr. Yashovardhan Diwan (COL ’17) told the society to recall the ways people experience discrimination because of their language. He ended his argument by asking the society to pursue an increased understanding of other cultures by learning different languages instead of destroying old ones. Mr. Billy Moran (SFS ’16) closed the non-member speaking time by stating that language death is natural, and that promoting linguistic diversity is both unnatural and unnecessary.
Mr. Shaughnessy surprised the society by beginning his speech in Dork (A highly accented form of Scottish). He told the society that he uses Dork to read his family history, and losing the ability to read Dork would mean losing an invaluable part of his life. Vice-President Willis responded by defining the difference between active and passive promotion of language. He then asked the affirmation to consider whether they could succeed in promoting marginalized cultures without also promoting their languages. Mr. Musgrave argued that exposure to linguistic diversity increases curiosity about topics outside the field of linguistics. Ms. Kurek reiterated the point that language death is natural and added that we should see language death as an opportunity to study how languages evolve into new forms.
Mr. Weiner argued that the negation misunderstood the affirmation’s argument. In the affirmation’s mind, it is possible for new languages to appear even while old languages are being preserved. Mr. Dinneen agreed that both sides were missing the point. He believed that Mr. Weiner was incorrect, and that to actively promote linguistic diversity would be to interfere with the Darwinian evolution of language. Mr. Perez-Reyes began his speech with a quote from Ozymandias. He asked us to formulate a clear conception of the value of language. Mr. Perez-Reyes pinned the value of language on its ability to transcend personal and national boundaries.
Mr. Ma retook the dais to begin the closing keynotes by pointing out the problematic aspects of actively promoting linguistic diversity. He argued that many languages are born out of, and maintained by, oppressive social structures. Mr. Ma closed by claiming that linguistic diversity does not have the same intrinsic value equal to human development or liberty. Ms. Landau countered Mr. Ma by claiming that all language contains oppressive structures within it. Furthermore, promoting linguistic diversity would promote the idea that the way people want to speak is as equally legitimate as the way society tells people they should talk.
Mr. Laposata closed his induction by reminding the society that promoting linguistic diversity is an active process for the purpose of our debate. He argued that when two people cannot communicate, society suffers. He claimed the affirmation’s proposal of using translators as increasing linguistic diversity was achieving diversity by cheating. Mr. Laposata closed his keynote by urging the society to understand that most efficient way to proceed was through making languages more homogenous. Mr. Barnes closed the debate by drawing from Ms. Thanki’s concerns of lost words and concepts. He listed different foreign phrases, and eloquently described how English simply was incapable of incorporating them all. Mr. Barnes stated that if humanity is to learn all it can from its many languages, it must promote linguistic diversity in cases where languages are in danger of disappearing. Finally, Mr. Barnes stated that archiving endangered languages would never be enough to learn these lessons, as
the process of archiving is long and arduous.
With a vote of 37 affirming, 5 abstentions, and 38 negating, the society narrowly voted to negate this resolution.