The real Threat to language


After hearing about a dispute and fight with people at a bar over Mongolians speaking English in Mongolia, I came to wonder about the reasons speaking a foreign language in public angered so many.
In a world where most languages are threatened in their continued existence, sustainability is hotly debated. Language is used as a great weapon against invading cultures. It was one, a century ago, when we didn’t assimilate to Manchurian culture and kept our own way of thinking, thanks to the adaptive Mongolian language.
However, globalization has nearly stopped direct invasions from foreign cultures, and yet, brought upon a more dangerous threat: the threat of losing a nation’s unique perspective and way of thinking to global trends.
A fear of losing independence or losing that unique thinking may explain the rage of the people at the bar. However, the democratic society we live in allows us to worship whatever god we want to and to speak whatever language we wish on Mongolian territory.
A person may be fluent in a language but choose to speak a different language for various reasons. Maybe they want to improve their language proficiency, to improve their professional capital; to make jokes or to give special emphasis on a subject; or just because they can. But speaking a foreign language doesn’t directly correlate with poor native language proficiency.
If a person can speak Mongolian and a foreign language, there’s no real threat to the native language’s extinction. What I fear most is the inability of Mongolia to keep up with the pace of the release of new terminology.
Some Mongolian linguists are even viewing Mongolian language as close to extinction in the age of globalization, where useful “new” finds are almost getting older by the day.
It’s hard to speak completely in Mongolian sometimes, especially when trying to talk about science or making jokes. It’s usually easier for people to speak in a different language rather than stuffing foreign terms in between Mongolian words.
As Mongolian language enthusiasts never stop saying, the Mongolian language has a giant vocabulary. But what are the facts? The new Mongolian language dictionary being authored by the Mongolian Science Academy, which will officially be released in December 2015, has a total of 60,000 words, along with 80,000 compound words. The dictionary includes uncommon words that are rarely used in daily life. If you consider this number as the total number of words in the Mongolian language, it is relatively small. It could be said the largest language in the world is English. According to the Global Language Monitor, in a report published on January 1, 2014, there are 1,025,109 English words. We are 965,109 words behind.
Mongolians are trying to come up with new words for technological terms and very slowly working on this issue, while other countries hold smart language policies which don’t require them to sit and come up with different versions of foreign words. Russia, for instance, puts suffixes at the end of foreign words, enabling them to continue the characteristics of their language and still keep up with foreign terminology.
We use words such as “multimedia”, “computer”, and “nanotechnology” just as they are in English in daily life. This is more detrimental to the language than speaking a foreign language in Mongolia. Provided that those people at the bar really hated hearing English spoken by my friends, and not their faces, it’s not only the foreign language speakers who are posing a threat to Mongolian language, but people who are using foreign terms in everyday life. Basically everyone. Since we are not the French, who translate every single foreign word, a proactive language policy is needed in order for the language to exist. If that’s the reason people are enraged, that is.
These “language discriminators” don’t stop at foreign languages. A recent graduate from the National University of Mongolia, who majored in Mongolian Language Teaching, got a strange reply to a job she applied for. The graduate is from Bayan-Ulgii Province, where they speak with an dialect a bit different from the Khalkha dialect mainly spoken in Ulaanbaatar. The school replied, “We are searching for a teacher who will teach Khalkha Mongolian.” On the other hand, according to linguists, preserving accent diversity and dialects is essential to the survival of any language.
I’ve come to think that maybe it is personal. It’s human nature to want to belong and to be a part of something. Those people at the bar couldn’t be a part of our conversation, and maybe it made them angry. Or on a bigger scale, maybe it was a reminder that they couldn’t keep up with globalization and couldn’t be a part of the global community because of their language skills.
Rather than getting mad, and even attacking foreign language speakers, we should demand that the state adopt a better language policy if we want our native language to not go extinct and stay intact for years to come.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=16591

Posted by on Oct 27 2015. Filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

6 Comments for “The real Threat to language”

  1. I completely agree with you, Bob. India has 23 official languages at this point of time – and the interference of regional and national governments over the years has left languages in a state of flux and stagnation.

    Policies are better left to experts than to politicians – of course, they can choose to work together instead of the politician dictating to the expert. If the Mongolian government constitutes a panel of experts with knowledge, experience and long-term vision, and lets them do their job, there is a greater chance of success without antagonizing too many people or the danger of fragmentation of linguistic groups and interests. The British East India company use language as the basis of their ‘divide and rule’ policy; fortunately, Mongolia does not have too many unique languages, so this can never become a real danger.

    I also agree that while language must be left to evolve in line with social needs, there is no harm in having watchdogs to safeguard certain features of a unique language – once again left to the experts.

  2. The old forms of English are nearly unreadable for the modern Native English speaker. England was ruled alternately by French, Saxon, and Scandinavian kings which accounts for the heavy incorporation of words from these languages into modern English. Add Latin and Greek to the mix and it is not difficult to explain the large vocabulary. Mongolian, or any language makes adaptations as needed, if not it becomes marginalized.

    It is the culture of the people speaking a language that gives it its uniqueness. British and American English are distinctive enough the Roseta Stone has separate programs for them. Preserving traditions will keep Mongolian language Mongolian even as the language evolves.

  3. Mongolians might want to researcg Icelandic linguistic policy, which aims to preserve the uniqueness of the language by coining Icelandic words for everything relating to modern technology and culture.


  4. Why should the state be involved at all? Languages will always change over time. There is no way to stop that. Most Mongolians I know agree that the average Mongolian’s language skills have gone down in the past 15 years. Grammar mistakes are common. Word usage is poor and mostly slang is used.

    Parents should be demanding schools teach their children better language skills. If every time you have a problem you complain to the government they will be hopelessly stuck and unable to do anything.

    • Firstly, thank you for taking the time to read my article. I would like to answer your question, assuming they were not rhetorical and exchange thoughts on your suggestions.
      Why should the state be involved at all?

      Because keeping the language safe is a part of national security, and the state is responsible for providing national security.

      Languages do change and evolve, I’m not denying that. It’s about keeping up with the evolution so it doesn’t die off.
      As you said, Mongolian language skills have gone down in the past 15 years. That’s exactly why we need a better policy, so it doesn’t go down further.
      The language law talks about adopting the traditional Mongolian writing in daily life and official documents by 2050 when we can’t even use the Cyrillics well enough. Is this practical? Not really.
      I heard the Ministry has appointed people to come up with new terminology, but I haven’t heard from them in a while.
      As for your view on parents: The curriculum is set from the Ministry, so parents have next to no impact on changing the topics covered in the class, even if they had the time to complain.
      And I believe the government should be able to take care of all these things, as we pay them taxes to do exactly those. They appoint ministers, and in this case the Minister of Education should pay attention to these issues and not push the language off the cliff.

      • Thanks for replying and sorry I’m getting back to it so late. I’m American so my view on language is different than most countries I admit. Your argument is good and as long as the decisions are reasonable there shouldn’t be any harm.

        As for schools, I actually don’t believe the Ministry is completely capable of setting curriculum, managing its implementation, and checking learning outcomes. The reason I believe this is because I seen governments with many more resources attempt to do just this thing and fail. Don’t get me wrong, I believe a national curriculum is very important, but it should not exist in a vacuum.

        In my experience working at universities here in Mongolia, the single biggest problem is the parents. Because they are never involved in their child’s education they make decisions based on popular opinion. As a result students accept majors that they have no aptitude, ability, or passion for. Ask 100 students why they chose their major, 95 of them will tell you their parents told them or pushed them to take that major. Nearly half of the students enrolled in the information technology programs have virtually no experience with computers. Business students have amazingly poor foreign language skills (incredibly important in such a small country). Students that want to become teachers seem to do it because of the guaranteed job and not their desire to educate and develop students, which just furthers the bad cycle I’m speaking of here.

        All of this is because of a general lack of involvement from parents. People rely too much on the government and then complain when the government doesn’t live up to their expectations. In a democracy power comes from its people, not from the government. Mongolians don’t seem comfortable with this idea, and instead believe the government has sole responsibility for these things. In reality, the government is simply a reflection of the people and its values.

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