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.