THE BLOG

This Island Nation Doesn't Need Language Police, Do We?

04/12/2013 12:10 EDT | Updated 06/12/2013 05:12 EDT
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Aruba praia

It is sometimes difficult for members of the continent's linguistic majority to fully understand and appreciate the substance of language specificity. A linguistic and cultural haven might view the encircling majority with trepidation. A nation in this precarious position might take steps to preserve its distinct nature.

One such nation is Aruba.

The 33 km-long island is a former Dutch colony from where one can literally see the coast of Venezuela.

Aruba is within the clutches of Latin America. Much like Quebec, European explorers once abandoned the arid plot of land to Indigenous people.

Nowadays, this is a nation which maintains colonial ties with the Netherlands, although its economy relies on trade with neighbouring countries. Almost all business is conducted in foreign languages: either Spanish or English. Visitors (tourists) are mostly anglophone, with 80 per cent coming out of the United States. The island of 100,000 residents welcomes more than one-million visitors per year.

Yet the socioeconomic and cultural invasion hasn't trampled on the native language. Far from it.

Immigrants are required to learn the official language, and a test is administered by the government to evaluate the newcomer's integration within three and a half years of arrival. Residency and citizenship rest firmly on the language test results.

A rule similar to Québec's Bill 101 forces immigrant schoolchildren to operate and evolve in the official language.

What struck me during my stay on "one happy island" is that residents saw no disconnect between maintaining their native tongue/ culture and learning foreign languages -- even if these foreign languages could, in theory, menace their unique culture. Billing software, office signs, transportation schedules were in a foreign language. No "language police" here!

Perhaps the Aruban government has chosen not to burden businesses with language bureaucracy. Without doing thorough research on the inner workings of the country, the island seems to be in great shape. In any case, the unemployment rate on the island is almost non-existent.

Without depleting state funds for a Ministry of the official language, Aruba has preserved the specificity of its culture against the current. Could it be that survival and flourishing of a culture isn't tied to the spelling of the word "pasta" on a restaurant menu, or via replacing the "hold" button on a telephone? The distinct society that encompasses Aruba manages to sustain its socio-linguistic culture. It is evergreen -- not because it is tied to linguistic red tape, but because it is rooted in the heart and soul of its citizens.

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