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.

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.
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.
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
Premium stories from Worldcrunch's own network of multi-lingual journalists in over 30 countries.
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.
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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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