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 –
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.”
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