Invisible Borders

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Invisible Borders

Daniel Carvalheiro-Santos, Staff Writer

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Unlike the United States where all citizens are united under the use of a common language, English, certain countries are politically and culturally divided because of the linguistic diversity in certain regions. These languages create barriers that sometimes almost transcend the nationalistic sentiments that bind regions of a nation. These differences can emerge from geographic separation and/or a difference in origins. Some countries and their disunited provinces, however, share sufficient common traits to be joined under one flag.

The first and probably most prominent example of a nation divided by its linguistic differences is India where there are 23 official languages. Their various tongues are spread throughout an array of geographic regions that are extremely different. Out of the 36 Indian states and Union territories, 17 have an official language/s that are not Hindi or English. Some of these regionally varying languages include Tegulu, Assamese, Konkani, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia, Bengali, Punjabi, Marathi, Tamil, etc, all languages derived from Vedic Sanskrit and, by extension, Proto Indo-European. As in other examples, in countries that are linguistically diverse, a universally spoken language helps to politically and nationalistically unite the people; in India, both English and Hindi serve as this link, helping people from all parts of the massive country communicate. With so many differences, there is bound to be conflicts between these regions. In the Tamil Nadu region, a number of violent instances have erupted over the implementation of Hindi as an official language of the country, belligerence which has led to a change in the leading political party in the region. A fierce sense of cultural pride based on linguistic differences have also caused conflicts in the states of Maharashtra, Bengal, and Punjab. These diverse regions of India are a prime example of how language can deepen the divide between groups of people.

There are also several instances of these differences throughout the vast continent of Europe, where there are more countries, in relation to the area, in the world. One of these is Switzerland, a country geographically and linguistically divided into four separate regions. Switzerland, divided among the speakers of German, French, Italian, and Romansh, exhibits more than your average cultural boundaries, invisible borders that once transcended transports you into a whole new world where a different language is spoken. In the German Switzerland or Deutschschweiz, which accounts for 65% of the nation, most display little regional pride in comparison with the French-speaking population. This particular group lives in an area known as La Romandie, and, as a minority, are proud to speak French in Switzerland. Italians, inhabiting the Southeastern region and the canton of Ticino, are a distinct minority of approximately 550,000 people. The final and most obscure language spoken in Switzerland is Romansch, a strange language sometimes known as one of the languages that retain some of the most archaic structure and phonetics of the Latin language. With its 60,000 speakers, this endangered tongue appeared to be a small vestige of the original Swiss mountains, a language that survived because of its geographic isolation.

The final example that will be explored today is the linguistic diversity of South Africa. This African country has a total of eleven official languages, all spoken in different regions of the country. These languages include Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu, and the majority of them, with the obvious exceptions of those introduced by foreign colonizers, are influenced or directly derived from the Bantu language family. As seen in India with English and Hindi, English and Afrikaans serve as, at the very least, a second-language that unite all South Africans. Zulu is the language which is most popularly associated with South Africa, spoken throughout Durban and Johannesburg. Xhosa is the second most widely spoken languages and mainly used in the major metropolitan areas of Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth and in the states of Orange, Natal, and Eastern Cape. The others are spoken throughout other regions of the large country. South Africa has had its share of problems, however, very few of them have been linked to the linguistic differences among the various regions of the country.

Overall, all of these examples have proven that in some countries there are differences come language, and although these aren’t seen in the United States, they are also extremely topical. India, Switzerland, South Africa, and a plethora of other nations are all linguistically diverse; the borders and, in some rare cases, conflicts this diversity creates are all part of the intrigue of these invisible borders, borders that one may cross within one country, yet be in a totally different world.


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