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Should We Ban Loanwords to Preserve Language?

I read an article by Euronews the other day that really stood out for me. So absurd was the news, that, at first, I thought it was some sort of a joke. It wasn’t!

This was the opening paragraph:

“The right-wing party led by Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, has pushed forward proposed new legislation which will punish the use of English and other foreign words in official communications with fines between €5,000 and €100,000.”

"It is not just a matter of fashion,” it states, “as fashions pass, but Anglomania (has) repercussions for society as a whole."

The draft bill is calling for the Italian language to be “protected” and “nurtured”.

What you are about to read next is NOT a political post. It's simply my two cents on why restricting a language in any way is not only ridiculous (and dangerous!), but nearly impossible.

5 reasons why I think that banning loanwords is utterly ridiculous

1. “Linguistic purity” is a false concept.

ALL languages contain loanwords. No language possesses every single word necessary to describe every possible concept, human experience, or expertise.

Therefore, whether far-right nationalists like it or not, a language is bound to borrow words and expressions from other languages out of sheer necessity (or simply to facilitate faster and smoother communication).

Did you know that loanwords make up 80% of the English language? Could that be one of the resons for its popularity? Just wondering.

And, no, it is not true that such borrowed items “demean and mortify” the language. Quite the contrary!

Loanwords enrich a language and help it evolve, expand, and adapt itself to a more modern and efficient way of global communication.

2. Any language censorship or forceful modification should be regarded as a threat to democracy.

George Orwell’s concept of Newspeak, the official language in his utopian novel 1984, is a stark warning about how dominance over vocabulary and semantics in a language can be a tool for social and ideological control over the “proles”.

In the novel, Newspeak is promoted by the government (Big Brother) and “designed to diminish the range of thought” by means of eliminating certain words. Its purpose is to control (not to enhance) communication between people.

History teaches us that propaganda (politically controlled language, designed to further an agenda) is the driving force behind the success of every ideology. Read more about it here.

3. Language shapes the way we think and perceive the world around us.

To limit language is to restrict human thoughts and ideas. When language is altered to promote certain political ideologies, this modifies how people think (and behave!) regarding those ideas.

Linguistic determinism (the idea that human knowledge and thought are determined by language) explains why thinking is influenced by the kind of language we speak and why people who speak different languages think differently.

Therefore, if a language lacks the terms to express certain ideas (because some jingoistwacko has decided to censor it), its speakers cannot conceptualize those ideas.

4. Language is a means of self-expression.

Language use is essentially individualistic and idiosyncratic. It allows for self-identification and the expression of one’s unique personality.

Bilingual and multilingual individuals cannot possibly be limited to expressing themselves in only one language.

They tend to flexibly and creatively code switch between all the languages they speak, making their vocabulary choices based on a vast linguistic repertoire, thus optimizing the flow of the conversation.

Not only does the occasional use of loanwords make the language more precise, but it also renders it a lot more flavorful and inclusive.

5. Language is a living, breathing, constantly evolving phenomenon.

The language of a country reflects its social, cultural, geopolitical, and economic changes, and continuously adapts in response to technological advancements.

Technical, political, or business vocabulary which is directly borrowed from English allows us to communicate with a minimal amount of ambiguity in the fastest and most efficient way.

While it previously took years for a specialized language to make its way to the general public, now, thanks to social media and the influence that technology has on the global economy, new tech terms and internet jargon enter our everyday language usage extremely quickly.

Can a language be stopped from evolving? Not in a global context of cross-culture communication! Not unless it’s a barbwired, walled-up, totally isolated country, free from any foreign influence whatsoever.

As people’s lives and ways of thinking change, so does the language with them. Just imagine if we still spoke the English of Shakespeare!

A language that does not flow freely, lending and borrowing words, evolving and growing, is bound to become extinct.

So, let us “preserve” and “nurture” our native (or any other) language by allowing it to… just be. 😊

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