How Many Languages Do We Need?

How Many Languages Do We Need?: The Economics of Linguistic Diversity

Victor Ginsburgh
Shlomo Weber
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s9tj
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  • Book Info
    How Many Languages Do We Need?
    Book Description:

    In the global economy, linguistic diversity influences economic and political development as well as public policies in positive and negative ways. It leads to financial costs, communication barriers, divisions in national unity, and, in some extreme cases, conflicts and war--but it also produces benefits related to group and individual identity. What are the specific advantages and disadvantages of linguistic diversity and how does it influence social and economic progress? This book examines linguistic diversity as a global social phenomenon and considers what degree of linguistic variety might result in the greatest economic good.

    Victor Ginsburgh and Shlomo Weber look at linguistic proximity between groups and between languages. They describe and use simple economic, linguistic, and statistical tools to measure diversity's impact on growth, development, trade, the quality of institutions, translation issues, voting patterns in multinational competitions, and the likelihood and intensity of civil conflicts. They address the choosing of core languages in a multilingual community, such as the European Union, and argue that although too many official languages might harm cohesiveness, efficiency, and communication, reducing their number brings about alienation and disenfranchisement of groups.

    Demonstrating that the value and drawbacks of linguistic diversity are universal,How Many Languages Do We Need?suggests ways for designing appropriate linguistic policies for today's multilingual world.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3890-5
    Subjects: Economics, Linguistics, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-6)

    The title of the book,How Many Languages Do We Need?, reflects a difficult choice that was pervasive in many multilingual societies over the course of human history, and still is today. The problem is very much on the agenda of a large number of countries, regions, and international unions that must address various aspects of multilingualism. The desire to avoid an excess of societal fragmentation in our rapidly globalizing environment narrows the focus to a relatively small number of “core” languages. But such restrictions inevitably disenfranchise speakers of “non-core” languages. In this book, we analyze the trade-off between the...

  5. Chapter 1 MY LANGUAGE IS MY HOMELAND
    (pp. 7-15)

    We live in a world where individuals, families, and communities often uproot themselves, voluntarily or involuntary, and move to another place, country, or even continent. In fact, both of the authors have gone through this experience at different stages of their lives. One of us was given less than a week to collect his belongings before leaving his native country. What does one take on a journey to a distant, unfamiliar land? Books, memories, records? A very moving response to that dilemma is given by Ariel Dorfman, whose work was mentioned in the introduction. Dorfman (2002, 89) recalls Gabriel García...

  6. Chapter 2 LINGUISTIC POLICIES, DISENFRANCHISEMENT, AND STANDARDIZATION
    (pp. 16-28)

    We start the chapter with a brief tour of linguistic challenges faced by mankind since what is known as the curse of the Tower of Babel. To guarantee cohesiveness and efficiency in a society, some compromising on language standardization, rooted in Max Weber’s rationalization theory, becomes an essential part of public policies. Though standardization is appealing, it may have the undesirable consequence of disenfranchising various groups in a society. In this chapter we discuss both facets and describe various examples of standardization policies, as well as their intended and unintended consequences.

    The challenge of linguistic diversity is not a creation...

  7. Chapter 3 LINGUISTIC, GENETIC, AND CULTURAL DISTANCES: HOW FAR IS NOSTRATIC?
    (pp. 29-55)

    Merritt Ruhlen’s (1994a) quest allowed him to reconstruct twenty-seven words of the very first language, born in Africa 50,000 or 100,000 years ago.² Some linguists raised eyebrows about the words themselves, but not so much about the idea that all languages descend from one or a very small number of languages. This hypothesis is backed by biology and genetics. If this is so, languages can be represented in the form of a tree similar to genealogical trees, starting with a root representing the first language, or ancestor, and followed by branches and twigs for the descendants. This implies, of course,...

  8. Chapter 4 DISTANCES MATTER
    (pp. 56-83)

    The linguistic, genetic, and cultural distances that we discussed in the previous chapter have important applications, and many economists have shown that they matter greatly. This chapter focuses on inter-country differences and their impact on trade, migration, translations, and certain aspects of voting behavior. Within-country differences and fractionalization aspects of linguistic diversity are examined in chapter 6.

    Most applications of intercountry linguistic differences are based on what is now known as the gravity model, whose name comes from its analogy with Newton’s 1687 law of universal gravitation. Newton’s reasoning was that any two objects in the universe exert gravitational attraction...

  9. Chapter 5 INDIVIDUAL COMMUNICATIVE BENEFITS
    (pp. 84-107)

    In this chapter we shift our focus to considerations and decisions made by individuals and try to offer some insight into incentives to acquire languages in addition to one’s mother tongue. We have already touched on related issues in the previous chapter. For example, it may be beneficial for an individual to acquire one or several languages spoken by important trade partners of her own country. If there existed a lingua franca spoken by everybody, it would be easy for traders to communicate. According to some authors (Crystal 2003; Graddol 2006), English may already be or become such a language....

  10. Chapter 6 DIVERSITY AND DISENFRANCHISEMENT INDICES
    (pp. 108-141)

    This chapter is concerned with the measurement ofdiversity, which has recently become a very popular concept in a wide range of contexts. There is an ever-growing number of diversity consultants, officers, and advisers whose role and function are to preserve and enhance diversity in the workplace or in student bodies. While all of us have an intuitive understanding of the concept, its precise meaning is not always clear, which makes it important to link diversity with a numerical measure, such as an index.

    The first known effort to quantify diversity was undertaken in 1912 by the Italian statistician Corrado...

  11. Chapter 7 DIVERSITY AND DISENFRANCHISEMENT: APPLICATIONS
    (pp. 142-161)

    History is full of examples of societal failures to overcome internal division. The example of postcolonial Africa offers a succession of sad case studies. In chapter 2 we mentioned the challenges of linguistic policies and disenfranchisement in Ghana. The cocoa story offers another painful aspect of the country’s linguistic and ethnic fractionalization. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer. Production was concentrated in the region of the Ashanti group, whose dominance in pre-colonial times was resented by coastal Akan communities. When in 1954 the world price of cocoa trebled, Prime minister Kwame Nkrumah, himself...

  12. Chapter 8 MULTILINGUALISM IN THE EUROPEAN UNION: A CASE STUDY IN LINGUISTIC POLICY
    (pp. 162-200)

    The first section of this chapter deals with the difficulties faced by European society, including European institutions themselves, which can hardly cope with the burden of so many languages. Section 2 suggests some simple solutions that do not contradict the generous European cultural idea that all languages are official.

    Babylon in Brussels.And the whole of Europe was of several speeches. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the West and the East, that they found a place in the land of Belgium; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make...

  13. CONCLUSIONS
    (pp. 201-204)

    We have always taken for granted what is shown here: languages, and more generally ethnolinguistic divides, do matter since they are, in many cases, at the root of life or death. They help to explain underdevelopment, brutal changes of power, poor administration, corruption, and slacking growth. They impose frictions on trades between countries in which different languages are spoken. They influence migratory flows, and also the more mundane issues of literary translations or votes cast to elect winners in various contests.

    The tour of linguistic diversity, which started with the Tower of Babel and its like in other mythologies, then...

  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 205-222)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 223-232)