What is glottophobia, and how to fight against it?

What is glottophobia, and how to fight against it?

Inclusiveness, progress, curiosity, humility, discovery and open-mindedness: these are some of the values ​​that make Babbel and our experts proud . These are the values ​​that give us more energy every day to pass on our passion for languages ​​and cultures to you, and allow you to become who you want to become, without judgment or distinction.

Much more than a simple commercial posture, these values ​​are our pillars. Just like your passions, your culture, your place of origin or your language, your accent is a trademark, an important element of your identity that nothing and no one should be able to prevent you from displaying proudly.

So that this pride can never be questioned by anyone, we have chosen in the following article to speak to you in a simple word. A rarely used word, little known and yet heavy with meaning: the word ”  glottophobia  “.

What is glottophobia?

The word glottophobia is a neologism coined by French linguist Philippe Blanchet. The term is based on the association of two Greek roots . On the one hand, γλῶττα ( glotta ), the language in ancient Greek, which is also found in polyglot for example. On the other hand, the suffix -phobia which comes from φόβος ( phobos ), fear.

If the structure of the word can be scary, so can the reality it defines. Glottophobia refers to linguistic discrimination , that is to say the fact of excluding an individual or a population for an appropriation of the language that deviates from the norms. It should not be confused with the notion of glossophobia , synonymous with logophobia , which refers to the fear of speaking in public. Glottophobia is based on an ideology of language that only accepts a correct form, considered superior. Other ways of speaking, especially when they involve accents, are then considered inferior and a source of shame.

The Greek etymology of the term glottophobia may seem ironic since βάρϐαρος ( barbaros ), which qualified people who did not speak ancient Greek, gave the word barbarian in French. A concrete example of glottophobia which shows that if the term is recent, the discrimination it names has no age. There is another illustration in the Bible, with the episode of shibboleth , a word that only the Gileadites knew how to pronounce correctly. They subjected their enemies to a pronunciation test. If the sound “schi” was pronounced “si”, then the error was interpreted as proof of their foreign origin and the person had their throat cut!

Discrimination by accent

In French alone, there are many accents . Accent from the North, Alsatian accent, Corsican accent, Toulouse or Marseille accent… not to mention the Belgian, Swiss or Quebec accent . Beyond regions, an accent can also betray membership in a community or social class, such as an aristocratic accent or a suburban accent. Glottophobes rarely realize the scope of their teasing and ironic remarks. To reject an accent is to reject an origin, social or geographical. Like any discrimination, the consequences can be dramatic.

But glottophobia goes beyond simply disregarding mispronounced vowels, distorted consonants, or spurious eh at the end of sentences. To say that German is an ugly language is also a form of glottophobia. More than the phobia of an accent, glottophobia can then be the rejection of a foreign language or outside a community.

Glottophobia, a universal discrimination?

Unfortunately, glottophobia knows no borders. The concept is of French origin, but the reality is universal. In Iran, Guilaki is denigrated in the face of Persian, while Coptic disappeared from Egypt following pressure from Arabic. And if the situation has improved today, Tamil has long been repressed in Sri Lanka to promote only Sinhalese.

The same goes for Belarusian under the USSR, which was considered a dialect of Russian and not a full-fledged Slavic language. In Minsk, the recognition of the national language has only recently taken place. We can also mention the glottophobic policy pursued for several decades by the United Kingdom by encouraging the practice of English to the detriment of Celtic languages ​​in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Not to mention the contempt of the French during the colonial era for the pronunciation of Cameroonians or Algerians.

In view of history, we also see that wars and other ethnic conflicts are often conducive to the expression of glottophobia. The hatred of culture becomes the hatred of language. In 1937, the presence of many Haitians in the sugar cane fields of the Dominican Republic gave rise to an often forgotten ethnic massacre . French-speaking workers unable to correctly pronounce the word perejil ( parsley in Spanish) were then unmasked and massacred with machetes. A modern-day Shibboleth that claimed tens of thousands of victims!

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, people only speak Bosnian since the break with Serbia. In Montenegro, Montenegrin was born with the independence of the country. In fact, Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian are one and the same language. As for the decline of Yiddish since 1945, it is closely linked to the fate reserved for the Jews of Central Europe during the Second World War. More recently, in China, the repression of the Uyghurs also involves the repression of their language, related to Turkish and Uzbek and without any connection with Mandarin.

 ” Do you speak French ? » 

Implicitly, the question of glottophobia raises a broader question: what do expressions such as “  speak English  ”, “  speak Spanish  ” or “speak French  ” mean? In the case of French, it was the vagaries of history that imposed it as the national language of France. But it could have been otherwise, just as Castilian became “Spanish” to the detriment of Catalan. Or Venetian or Neapolitan become the national language of Italy instead of speaking Tuscan.

As these few examples underline – there would still be a lot to say on the subject – glottophobia hides a linguistic domination, often unconscious and discriminating. Like all discrimination, glottophobia is an injustice. To denounce it is to create a more favorable context for language learning to turn yesterday’s glottophobes into tomorrow’s polyglots!

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