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From Punjabi To Breton: Five Language Controversies Around The World

A mess of signs in Hong Kong
A mess of signs in Hong Kong
Emeraude Monnier

More than just a vehicle to communicate, language expresses and helps construct identity. As such, it has the power to inspire and unite people — but language can also be a source of division, or an impediment to peace between groups already in conflict. From squabbles over things like spelling and pronunciation, to minority groups fighting for the survival of their mother tongue — and everything it stands for — language politics can be deeply disruptive. Here are five examples from around the world:

Traditional Chinese vs. simplified Chinese

In China, people have been arguing for decades over whether to stick with traditional Chinese characters or accept the more simplified versions Mao Zedong introduced to stamp out illiteracy in mainland China. Simplified characters are by far the dominant option, although in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, people still use the traditional variety — at least for now.

Sign mixing Traditional and Simplified Chinese characters — Photo: Panzer VI-II

There are signs of change, however, as the Chinese newspaper QDaily reports. In Hong Kong, a former British colony, one international school recently took the controversial step of doing away with classes in traditional Chinese characters.

Turkey's crackdown on Kurdish

The ban on the Kurdish language in Turkey's Kurd areas has long been a key component of the government's discriminatory treatment toward the minority group. Authorities make sure that Kurdish is not used as a language of instruction in the education system, and prohibit the publication of books written in Kurdish. Turkey's recently reelected leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been especially heavy-handed in his treatment of the Kurds, which nevertheless had a major influence in the June election, as the English language news source Ahval reports.

Speaking "Mexican" in Montana

Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States, which is now the world's second largest Spanish-speaking country after Mexico, with an estimated 50 million people who speak it as their first, second or heritage language.

"We speak Spanish" sign in the U.S. — Photo: Paul Sableman

But not everyone's happy about the expansion of español. In Montana, an immigration agent recently detained and questioned two U.S. citizens waiting in line at a gas station because he heard them speak Spanish, The Washington Post reports. He bluntly demanded their identification papers and told them the issue was that they were speaking Spanish in a "predominantly English-speaking" state.

Making a bold statement ... in Breton

From Occitan in the south to Alsacien in the northeast, there are a number of languages spoken in France besides standard French. Little by little these regional tongues are disappearing, although there are initiatives here and there to protect them. One recent example took place in the western region of Brittany, where a group of 15 teenagers decided to answer a portion of their end-of-high-school exam in Breton, the Rennes-based Ouest-France newspaper reports. The move was in protest to national education rules requiring that the exams be done only in standard French.

A polemic tweet in Punjabi

Khadime Punjab jewere taalim ("The servant of Punjab"). So reads a recent tweet (in Punjabi) by Shehbaz Sharif, the former chief minister of Pakistan's Punjab region and current president of the Pakistan Muslim League, a center-right conservative party in Pakistan. The tweet was controversial because although Punjabi is widely spoken in the region and in Pakistan as a whole, Sharif himself had never showed an affinity for the language.

Shebhaz Sharif — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It's odd too, the Times of India reports, that it came just after completing his term as chief minister of Punjab, where many fault Sharif for not using his authority to make Punjabi the official language of the region.

Ahval News provides English, Turkish and Arabic-speaking readers with untampered, daily coverage of Turkish events and involvement worldwide. The news portal was established in Turkey in 2017 at a time of unprecedented pressure on Middle Eastern media. The Turkish government banned the website, forcing the move to its current base in London.
With roots in the western city of Rennes, Ouest-France is known for producing both local and French national daily news. This Berliner format newspaper is the most read francophone newspaper in the world, maintaining its 2.5 million readers through the digital news boom. Founded in 1944, it currently runs 47 different editions.
Q Daily is a Beijing-based Chinese website and app that has been producing breaking news to its Chinese-speaking readers since 2014.
Five cold and cool facts about anything and everything.
The largest selling English-language daily newspaper in the world, The Times of India published its first edition in November of 1838. Its headquarters in Mumbai work to print 2.7 million broadsheets each morning.
Founded in 1877, The Washington Post is a leading U.S. daily, with extensive coverage of national politics, including the historic series of stories following the Watergate break-in that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. After decades of ownership by the Graham family, the Post was purchased in 2013 by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos
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Migrant Lives

A Train Journey With Bengal Migrants Looking For A Living Far Away

Finding a seat on the Karmabhoomi Express is close to impossible. A closer look at why so many migrant workers travel on it, and out of Bengal, offers a grim picture.

image of a train

The Karmabhoomi Express runs from Kamakhya to Mumbai in a 3 day journey.

India Rail Info
Joydeep Sarkar

WEST BENGAL — Welcome aboard the 22512 Kamakhya-LTT Karmabhoomi Express — a metaphor, if any, of the acuteness of Bengal’s unemployment problem.

It is 10.28 pm at north Bengal’s Alipurduar Junction and the crowd has swollen to its peak. This is when the Karmabhoomi Express appears at the station. It is bound for Mumbai. Finding a seat on it is close to impossible. It is always chock full and there are always hundreds struggling to get a spot in the unreserved general compartment.

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