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 idea that we are citizens of one world is unpopular
Some would say that it means ‘citizens of nowhere’. Yet it has been a belief held by both philosophers and activists from Socrates to Mandela. In the Spring of 2022, when faced with the monstrous consequences of extreme nationalism in Europe people throughout the world are coming together to support their fellow human beings, this idea has never been so important.
It is a belief which is central to the calling of the linguist, for this is not just 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 in recent years, The Languages Company has been working with colleagues across Europe 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 officially recorded hate crimes increased to over 124,000 in 2020/21 (compared with less than 40,000 in 2012/13). All of these involved hatred of others – 74% were race hate and 15% 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 in 2016, an average of 6943 anti-Islamic tweets per day were sent that year, 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 situation in the UK in this recent report.
Custodians of truth
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.”
RECENT ACTIVITY BY THE LANGUAGES COMPANY
Combatting online hate speech
Until 2018 along with a number of European partners partners we were part of the Positive Messengers consortium aiming to combat online hate speech and to develop a positive counter narrative.
Although the project has reached the end of its funding period, we developed a range of materials for use in schools and with refugee organisations which are still available here.
For more information about the campaign see here.
We continue to do what we can and Organisations such as Hope not Hate and Tell mama are playing a significant role opposing hate speech. The London Mayor’s office is also coordinating efforts with a range of partners – the importance of this issue has become mainstream.
Collaboration between European and Asian Universities.
Another new departure for The Languages Company has been our involvement in a 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, underlining what we have in common rather than what divides the world. The onset of the Pandemic meant that much of this work was carried out online, notably the creation of 10 online courses, including one on Language Policy and another on Intercultural Relations
For more information and updates on progress see here