Friday, 26 April 2013

The Importance of Protecting Our Linguistic Traditions.

I was honoured this week to be invited to address the congress of the European Alliance of Tatars here in Brussels. Widely spread across Europe and the rest of the world, the Tartars are trying to ensure that their rich culture and ancient traditions, some of which date back to the days of the Golden Horde, are not lost.

Globalisation has its downsides, and as a result there are many peoples trying to protect their cultural identies and their languages. And it is not just smaller groups that are in this position. In the context of the EU institutions even the French are becoming concerned about the rapid decline in the use of their language. In Flanders, English has now replaced Dutch as the 2nd most widely spoken language. Arabic is now the 4th language in the region, although it is a long way behind Dutch. Interestingly, whilst use of English is rising dramatically and Dutch has slipped to 3rd place, there has actually been a slight rise in the use of Dutch due to more emphasis on the language at primary school level. It is, again, French that is seeing its primacy challenged. The official 3rd language of Belgium is German, but that is largely confined to a smallish area around Liége, and is not often heard on the streets of Brussels.

Hardly anybody even remembers Backslang, which I used to hear as a boy, mostly from elderly male cockneys. I have a few words and colouful expressions, but it is rarely heard now as the demographics change in London, and cultural influences are more global, (although I have a Welsh friend here in Brussels who lived in London in the late 1930s, and who, much to my pleasure, picked up and retains some words and phrases). Rhyming slang has been integrated to a degree in mainstream English, although to a very limited degree. It also evolves continually, which I hope will ensure that at least some of it will stay with us. It is tragic to realise that a whole culture, within our capital city, could be on the verge of vanishing completely within a couple of generations.

This lunchtime, we can mourn the demise of Backslang with a Top a' Reeb which I am sure will cost me a Vos r'owt!

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