Why Don’t We All Speak the Same Language? Some Reflections on the Role of Cognition

Luca Cilibrasi


From the psycholinguistic point of view, the use of English by non-natives in Europe poses an interesting contradiction, especially for the younger generation. On the one side, it is a non-preferred choice: Speakers have a natural tendency to avoid cross-group intelligibility, and are thus not keen in using a language that increases the amount of shared information, such as English. On the other side, English carries a specific system of values that are psychologically appealing to the younger generation, since it identifies with what speakers see in the media. As such, the new generations of Europeans experience an internal turmoil where the two tendencies, for and against English as a lingua franca, interact. One of the consequences of this particular situation is the use of English terms in local languages (so-called anglicism), a phenomenon rather common across Europe. Using the European situation as an example, this paper discusses the cognitive factors that drive the existence of (so many different) languages, as well as the factors that lead, in the opposite direction, to the use of a lingua franca among speakers.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v12i3.17063

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