Language Wars are Universal


Prof. Rita Miliūnaitė is Chief Researcher at Lithuania’s Centre of Standard Language. Herfields of research are normative linguistics (the theory and practice of language standardization, language planning, language culture), sociolinguistics (variations of modern usage, language mind-sets) and internet linguistics.

In an article for this week, she writes that so-called language wars are not a Lithuanian invention – many nations have had battles waging internally in this field for many years. The two extremes of opinion dictate that language should either be controlled, or left alone to develop as it may. Ideally a middle road must be chosen to avoid chaos on one hand or a relic frozen in time on the other.

She outlines several areas of language practice which differ in their intent. Private communication, both written and oral, is entirely up to its users. Scientific and administrative language cannot be self-regulated, because a common terminology is essential. Language used in the media should be regulated to some extent, otherwise communication can become chaotic and ineffective.

Prof. Miliūnaitė notes that discussions around regulation have become less than productive because of  certain attitudes toward those who work with language, such as translators, editors, language teachers and journalists. She states that changes are brewing, but discussions about them must be honest and well-substantiated.

Linguists are being unfairly accused of isolated decision-making without referring to actual users of the language. However, the public should take an interest in recent discoveries and studies. Teachers have been begging various institutions to help regulate the language used in the media, because giving their students assignments in current media style is embarrassing. Teachers also ask for teaching tools to keep their students interested.

Editors and translators are requesting new dictionaries, yet these do not seem to be a priority in education policy. The minister of education has admitted that language policy has not been changed in 20 or 30 years. Researchers are frustrated that ordinary people asking questions about usage are told to speak as they have always spoken. Language institutes advise people to read about and take an interest in these issues.

The State Commission on Lithuanian Language has held virtual forums on language, inviting writers, editors, translators, sports commentators, advertisers, actors and philosphers to participate. These have shown that it is and must continue to be possible to discuss these matters without rancour.