A future sociolinguists take on Brexit

*dictionary definition of sociolinguistics: the study of language in relation to social factors, including differences of regional, class, and occupational dialect, gender differences, and bilingualism.

One of the classes I was very excited to take while abroad was Multilingualism. Multilingualism is simply an individuals ability to communicate effectively in 3 or more languages. I grew up bilingual, speaking 2 languages, and only knew how that affected me personally and what people thought about it through an American lens. What did it mean to be multilingual in England? Was it a normality? Was it celebrated? Would all my classmates be able to call me a dumb American in 6 different languages?

My multilingualism class also discusses language policy across the United Kingdom. I quickly learned the different appreciation levels of indigenous languages. In places like Wales and Northern Ireland with different parliaments that dictate education, people have a strong cultural identity and strive to keep their heritage alive, along with their languages of Galic, Welsh, Scottish, Irish etc. Road signs are written in indigenous languages as well as English. Academia promotes multilingualism by having primary students learn foreign and classical languages. Being a part of the European Union means you accept the expectations to be able to communicate different languages. With the pending Brexit, this could change for England and harm monolingual English speakers here.

I naively assumed that everyone in Europe would have some level of understanding of at least one other language, that the students in Liverpool would have the basic communication skills to ask a German international student how their weekend was. For one reason or another, I assumed that, due to spacial relations and the stereotype of posh Europeans, students would have an understanding of each others backgrounds. I was initially quite shocked to learn that most of my classmates were not bilingual. They had taken a year or two of a foreign language class, like how students in the States mainly take Spanish, but didn’t consider what they learned substantial enough to qualify them as bilingual.

When it comes to the sociolinguistics of England currently, and my hypothesis of England after Brexit, I feel a bit disheartened about the effects it’ll have on those who are monolinguals as well as multilingual. Without the need to communicate with other countries through the European Union, monolingualism could rise and effectively leave England behind in communication skills, trading abilities, job applications and proficiency, cultural experiences and more. Language learning in primary and higher education would decline drastically. Most of the rest of the world will be speaking their indigenous languages, in addition to English, while educational policy and social attitudes incline them to learn yet another language. A person that can share and partake in different cultures other than their own is generally more adaptable, knowledgeable and well rounded. It saddens me to think about a future culture of isolation and neglecting differences.

This also leads me to worry about those who come from non-English backgrounds living here. If people start to believe that there is no need to communicate in anything other than English, other connected aspects of language like culture, history, music, food, and more may start to diminish as well. If you can not speak to someone or do not feel the need to meet them halfway in the language they speak, it is unlikely that you will want to advocate for them in other aspects of life.

Although I am far from an expert on all things Brexit and European education policy, I do hope that the ideals of shared community and acceptance will stand and continue to grow through times of change.

Published by Ernesta Cole

Class of 2021 Liverpool Hope University Sociology, English

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