Language diversity brings us together, not divides us

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

A world-renowned linguist at the University of Adelaide has called on Australians to better understand how language diversity makes our community stronger.

Speaking ahead of Harmony Day (Thursday 21 March), Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann, Australia's first Chair of Endangered Languages, says language diversity plays an important role in people's identity, cultural autonomy, and even their wellbeing and mental health, and should be seen as something that brings Australians together.

"While it's very easy for people to believe we should all be speaking English in the 21st century, the reality is there are dozens of languages spoken in Australia today by people from fascinating and multifaceted backgrounds," Professor Zuckermann says.

"As a linguistics professor, I obviously believe in multilingualism, but there are some very good reasons for having such language diversity in our community, countering the unfortunate 'monolingual mindset'.

"These include ethical reasons - by supporting language diversity we are strengthening people's cultural heritage and therefore their identity.

"People who speak more than one language possess improved cognitive abilities and educational outcomes.

"There are also aesthetic reasons - diversity is in itself a form of beauty. Every language in our world has its own unique elegance and we should embrace that beauty."

In addition to his teaching and research, Professor Zuckermann is assisting indigenous groups to reclaim their lost or dying tongues.

"Harmony and reconciliation can be achieved as a result of reclamation of language," he says.

"This is especially true of Aboriginal people who are working to resurrect their sleeping beauty languages, which were often subject to linguicide, language killing. Language revival empowers them, reinforces their sense of purpose in life and is liberating.

"We certainly do not want people to lose their cultural independence and, in many cases, their spirituality, all of which go hand in hand with language. The death of language is the death of the soul."


Contact Details

Professor Ghil'ad Zuckermann
Professor of Linguistics and Endangered Languages
School of Humanities
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5247
Mobile: +61 (0)423 901 808

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762