We have written before on the effects government can have on languages but at a record 460 days without a government, Belgium has shown the reverse – the effect that languages can have on government.
While there are other issues here beyond languages it seems impossible to explain the situation without mentioning them. For example, an article in today’s Independent, suggesting the current stalemate could finally come to an end, describes it as follows:
After a world record-breaking 15 months without an elected government, Belgium appeared yesterday to be teetering on the edge of a compromise between its Dutch-speaking and francophone political parties.
Although no coalition government has yet been agreed, eight parties have solved a conundrum which has defied Belgian politicians for almost half a century: how to guarantee the civic rights of French-speaking people who live in the officially Dutch-speaking suburbs of Brussels.
French-speaking, Dutch-speaking, francophone… all words that are repeated in every news article reporting on Belgium’s lack of government over the last 15 months putting languages right at the heart of the matter, where in other countries it might be ethnicity, religion or politics.
And it is not just in government that languages hold such power. Staying in Belgium, sensitivities between Dutch and French speakers have even infiltrated the underground service in Brussels, which has been scrutinized for its music choice. As metro spokeswoman An van Hamme reports:
We decided to try playing songs from an international hit list. This meant a number of French songs and practically none in Dutch and this drew complaints from Dutch-speakers
As a result, the metro service has stopped playing music in French and instead plays hits in English, Italian and Spanish.
Meanwhile in Quebec, the Barreau du Québec has insisted that newly recruited judges to the Supreme Court be bilingual. According to Director General of the Barreau du Québec, Me Claude Provencher:
It is a fundamental right to be heard by a judge in one of the two official languages. This ensures the equal status of both our official languages. To do so without the help of an interpreter boosts public confidence in the justice system and improves the quality of services rendered, since information is not being conveyed by a third-party.
Also in Quebec, earlier this year, languages made it into court when an airline was sued for $12 000 after a passenger’s request for a drink was not understood by a flight attendant and other services were not provided in French as well as English.
Languages clearly have the power to affect government, legal, business and even musical decisions and policies. They should be treated with the respect they deserve!
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