We’ve all heard of agoraphobia, claustrophobia and arachnophobia… but how about xenoglossophobia? Since this is a translation blog, I guess it’s something that doesn’t affect you, because xenoglossophobia is actually the fear of foreign languages. It is considered a specific phobia and is thought to arise from a combination of traumatic events and internal predisposition. Like so many other phobias, the symptoms of this condition are panic with shortness of breath, fast breathing, tachycardia, sweating, nausea, dry mouth, inability to speak, dry mouth and shaking.
This may sound very extreme; however, language is a subject that causes strong feelings and emotions. It is not uncommon to hear of cases where people hate foreign languages and are offended and resentful when they hear them spoken. This is surely a symptom of the fear that some people have of foreigners and that the parts of the world that they consider belong exclusively to them are being endangered by people who look and speak differently. If migrants and asylum seekers spoke perfect English, I am sure there would be far fewer protests about migrants fleeing from violence and poverty.
In the part of Spain where I live, home to significant numbers of foreign residents, locals are indignant that newcomers and long-term residents do not bother to learn their language. There is also a movement to speak the local variation of Catalan – Valenciano – which is a very emotionally charged and divisive topic. I agree that it is a pity they don’t learn the language, but neither is it a valid reason to disparage them.
Anyone who watches US news channels will have seen stories about people speaking languages other than English places being screamed at and told to “speak English or get out”. This is racism. In fact, yelling at another person for speaking another language is just as racist as discriminating because of the colour of their skin and their choice of clothes, since xenophobia and racism are closely linked by hatred of others.
Of all the languages in the world, no one is ‘better’ than another, and English is certainly not the best. A language is not better than another because of where it is spoken or how many people speak it. With globalisation, languages are developing fast and sharing new words and terms. Language is for communication, not discrimination.