Language is closely linked to social inclusion or exclusion. Indeed, the languages people speak (or do not speak) influence which education or which jobs they can get, which information they can have access to and who they can socialise with.
I How does language reproduce social inequality?
In some cases, the use of language is representative of social differences, thus making inclusion complicated.
1 Language registers
It is important to know and use different language registers so as to communicate properly in various circumstances. Indeed, we don’t speak to our family or friends the way we talk to our boss or our school’s headmaster. The register we use depends on the audience and the context: it can be formal, consultative (or professional) or casual (or informal).
• to climb the social ladder: grimper dans l’échelle sociale • to widen: élargir
Language registers are also related to social background. People living in an underprivileged environment are more likely to use mainly the casual register, thus they may have difficulty mastering the consultative or formal registers. This may prevent them from getting a higher education and climbing the social ladder.
2 Language and social gap
Language can also widen the social gap between different communities.
Some communities who speak minority languages can suffer from exclusion, especially when their languages aren’t recognised as official languages. In India, for instance, 400 languages and 3,000 dialects are spoken but the federal government’s policy favours English and the major Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, Telugu…). That’s why millions of people who can’t have access to education and public matters in their own language feel they are discriminated against.
Spanglish is another example of the social impact of languages. Indeed, Spanglish is a mix of Spanish and English which is spoken in Hispanic communities living in the USA. Although it is a very creative language Latinos are proud of, it often proves an obstacle to their integration in the American society: in the USA, proficiency in English is necessary to social assimilation.
II The effect of globalisation
In a more and more global world, multilingualism and the use of English are spreading, which may enable better integration and social inclusion.
1 Speaking several languages
In many countries, a lot of people speak different languages every day. In Mauritius for example, most people usually speak a French-based creole language at home, English at school or at work, and both French and English in daily life. This multilingualism is increasing as the island becomes an attractive destination for international tourists.
Young people all over the world are encouraged to learn at least another language, so as to be fully part of a global world. In the European Union, half of the people can speak at least two languages and EU policies aim at developing the trend to make its citizens capable of speaking three languages in a near future.
2 English, a new global language
In this context, English has become a global language. It is the language of business in multinational companies, of trade and tourism, and more generally the language of communication between people from different countries.
A lingua franca is a language used for communication between groups of people who speak different languages.
For all these reasons, English is the fastest spreading language in human history and it will most probably keep spreading as a global lingua franca in the future. Though some people wonder about the consequences of such a growth on its cultural aspects, English can be considered the language of inclusion in our global world.