6th Pavia Graduate Conference in Political Philosophy – Abstract/Peled

Yael Peled

The Blessing of Babel: Linguistic Diversity and Human Development

Our world today exhibits a tremendous degree of linguistic diversity, with 6,000 to 6,500 living human languages currently spoken on the face of the earth. For different historical, social and political reasons, however, this linguistic diversity is often regarded by policy makers and speakers of dominant languages, particularly in modern nation-state with strong monolingual traditions, as a problem that needs to be addressed, most often by seeking to reduce the overall number of languages residing in and spoken by members of political communities. Such policy is devised and initiated in different forms across different countries in the world, in accordance with their particular political culture: from securing only minimal support for minority languages, through an active purposeful action intended to reduce linguistic diversity by more coercive means, and to its complete denial. Such action is often reasoned by strong national identity politics that regard minority languages and associated cultures and divisive and subversive, as well as an economic argument that equalises linguistic homogeneity with better, more efficient economic performance. Such rejective attitude towards linguistic diversity, however, has very strong negative impact on human development. In order to examine and discuss this impact, the paper distinguishes two different understandings of the concept of human development: the development of individual humans, particularly its socioeconomic aspects, and the development of humanity, or mankind, in general. Using this dual understanding, the paper argues that rejective attitude towards linguistic diversity, originating from the view that linguistic diversity is a problem that needs to be solved, leads individual humans to substantial socioeconomic and political disadvantage, and prevents humanity as a whole from the significant benefits that linguistic diversity entails, especially from an ecolinguistic point of view. Acceptive attitude towards linguistic diversity, by contrast, which originates from the view that linguistic diversity is not a problem but rather a resource, has a strong positive impact on human development, in the form of socioeconomic and political empowerment of individual humans, as well as better social and environmental sustainability for humanity in general.