A modest proposal

Just to stir up emotions, I’ll sometimes suggest that Denmark drop Danish as official language, and instead adopt English. It usually works. People get mad.

The idea isn’t as stupid as it sounds, actually. A language has to be alive, to be of use. It has to develop along with our thoughts and ideas about the world, so we can express ourselves through the language. But Danish isn’t a very lively language, a fact which is evidenced by our completely integrated use of English phrases, like “computer”, “commitment”, “reminder”, not to mention bad language such as “fuck” and “shit”. Native English speakers are frequently amazed when they listen to Danes speaking with each other. “Does ‘fuck’ mean the same in your language that it does it ours?” Yes, baby, and we don’t even have a clue how offensive it is. The reason is simple: The cultural and technological innovation is happening primarily in the US, and with that, they get to define the language.

But why not play this to our advantage? Ireland has done something of the sort. They have their own original lanugage, Gaelic, which most Irish people know, but they generally stick with English. Consequently, Ireland is a large cultural presence all over the western hemisphere. (There are other reasons, such as actually having a culture worth bringing abroad, but the English language is definitely a major help.)

What would happen if we did something similar here? (Yes, I know I’ll get shot for suggesting this). Perhaps we could more successfully export our TV-shows, movies, documentaries, books, web sites, all sorts of publications. And with that, our values, or take on the world, our ideas. Maybe it would be easier to export products, too. Perhaps our national public service broadcasting company, DR, could finally try to act on their original goal of being “the best public service broadcasting company in the world”, instead of having to add the self-denunciating qualification ”... for the money”.

Maybe we would even start to connect more with the rest of the world. Start to look at ourselves from the outside. Start to realize that some of the barriers to having an impact on the world that we experience, and the self-delusion and convulsive behavior that those perceived barriers result in (Denmark as the world’s leading IT nation, come on!), aren’t really there, that they’re only a product of our imagination. That if we really want to become part of the world, it’s as easy as deciding that that’s what we really want, and then start acting on it, day by day removing obstacle after self-imposed obstacle, until one day, people actually start listening, and start caring about what we have to say, because it’s relevant to them.

The point isn’t so much that I really think we should do this. I surely wouldn’t mind terribly, but it’s not realistic to see that happen within my lifetime, anyway. The point is that by playing along with this little game of supposition, you start to realize just where those obstacles are. Where does the resistance towards the idea of giving up on Danish come from? Is it just convention? Is it the angst of other people being able to read our newspapers and comment on our society? Is it because we fear that we may not be able to argue for why our values are important to us? Is it because we’re actually happy to have the language excuse, when the rest of the world doesn’t care about what we think or the TV shows that we make?

It’s at least worth thinking about, isn’t it?

Eric again


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