Language has become a key indicator in the debates about identity and citizenship. The role of language as a vehicle for hatred is a growing phenomenon which we need to understand and contest. A new project – Positive Messengers seeks to do exactly that.
Looking outwards –
“We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate people because they were born in another country, because they speak a different language, or because they take a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly.”
The Languages Company is working with number of organisations in the UK and abroad on a new project to combat online hate speech. Information and details of forthcoming events below.
The idea that we are citizens of one world is unpopular
Some would say that it means ‘citizens of nowhere’. Yet that has been a belief held by both philosophers and activists from Socrates to Mandela.
It is a belief which is central to the calling of the linguist, for this should not just be about helping people to use language for functional exchanges or for making deals. It is about understanding what it is to be human, and appreciating the ‘other’. This is why, during 2017 The Languages Company has been working with colleagues across Europe in a project called Positive Messengers to try to combat Online Hate Speech – which is the antithesis of what we stand for. Although a new departure for us, it has been a moving and enlightening experience.
The language of hate
In the UK the number of recorded hate crimes increased to over 80,000 in 2016/17 (a 29% annual increase). All of these involved hatred of others – 78% were race hate and 11% hatred of sexual orientation. As for online hate speech – using Twitter, Facebook and on line news feeds – this too has expanded massively. According to DEMOS in a study of online Islamophobia , an average of 6943 anti-Islamic tweets per day were sent in 2016, many of them spiking following events such as the EU Referendum or the Nice attacks.
An increasing number of organisations are working to oppose this online hatred, which is both a distortion of language and an attack on our humanity. There is more detail about the current situation in the UK in this recent report. In December and January we will also be organising seminars to discuss ways of developing an alternative narrative to hate, both in the classroom and in society.
Custodians of truth
But this is also a daily challenge for those working with language, especially among the young. In these extraordinary times language is debased, and hatred and lies become common currency. It could not have been put better than by John Le Carré –
“Without clear language, there is no standard of truth. And that’s what language means to a linguist. Those who teach language, those who cherish its accuracy and meaning and beauty, are the custodians of truth in a dangerous age.”
Combatting online hate speech
Since 2016 we have been working with a number of European partners to help combat online hate speech and to develop a positive counter narrative.
We have developed a range of materials for use in schools and with refugee organisations which are available here.
For more information about the project and campaign see here.
Collaboration between European and Asian Universities.
Another new departure for The Languages Company has been our involvement in an exciting new project aiming to strengthen academic ties between Universities In Europe and in China and India. This is part of the Erasmus+ action – “Capacity building in the field of higher education”. It involves the joint development of modules and courses on European studies, including online courses, underlining what we have in common rather than what divides the world.
For more information and updates on progress see here
In January we reported on the completion of a Council of Europe Policy Profile on Malta and the fascinating insights being gained form a profile in Catalonia. Sadly politics intervened – even before the current crisis – and the profile process was terminated. Even so much of the work has been completed and we will be looking at ways to share what is in some ways a unique plurilingual model for language learning. For more information please contact us at the Languages Company
The Languages Company continues to learn and to offer advice on approaches to language teaching, learning and assessment both in the UK and more widely.
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