A new paper “reaches the conclusion that less linguistically diverse countries tend to prosper,” according to The Economist.
The magazine cites the work of Bodo Steiner and Cong Wang, economists at the University of Southern Denmark, who explored the relationship between linguistic fragmentation and social capital in countries.
Social capital is kind of a sticky term, but the Harvard Kennedy School defines it as such:
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all ‘social networks’ [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [‘norms of reciprocity’].
The term social capital emphasises not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks.
This includes things such as corruption, rule of law, prevalence of tax evasion, people joining religious or sports groups, “feelings of societal fairness,” confidence in the government and press, etc. But the important thing to keep in mind is that countries will high levels of social capital tend to be richer.
So what Wang and Steiner found is that the number of languages spoken in a country is “significantly negatively correlated with social capital” — i.e., countries with high levels of social capital tend to be linguistically homogeneous.
For real-life examples, you find that Japan, South Korea, and Italy are linguistically homogeneous and have high levels of social capital. Meanwhile, Uganda and India are the opposite.
The US is a bit of a strange case. True, you can find hundreds of languages spoken in the country (experts believe as many as 800 languages are spoken in New York City alone). But English is still the dominant language for now.
“What practical conclusions can be drawn? In the case of immigration, linguistic assimilation is important: Whether or not immigrants and their children keep their old languages, they must master the languages of their new countries,” The Economist said. “The host countries must create the kind of inclusive society that says that anyone putting the effort in will be welcome.”
Of course, there are always exceptions. North Korea and Bangladesh are poor and linguistically homogeneous, while Switzerland has four languages but is rich. And then there is South Africa, which “does better than its multilingualism would predict.”
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