Language fears in post-Brexit UK



Those who do not speak English as a first language could be singled-out for ridicule or even harassment in post-Brexit Britain.

That is according to Professor Bernadette O'Rourke from Heriot-Watt's School of Social Sciences, who today called on the UK and Scottish Government to debate the issue of 'linguistic intolerance'.

The academic says Brexit could hold negative linguistic consequences for immigrants as well as native territorial minorities such as Gaelic or Scots speakers and argues there is a real need to understand the potential social tensions that might emerge.

Professor O'Rourke, explains: “Like all other forms of intolerance, linguistic intolerance is something that cannot and should not be ignored.

“In a post-Brexit context, political discourse around immigration has created a climate which has the potential to exacerbate harassment and intolerance towards individuals and groups who are not only perceived as visibly different but audibly different as 'new speakers' of English or as multilingual speakers of other languages.  

“Denying someone the right to speak their own language, making fun of their accent can have deep and long-term effects on wellbeing, confidence and sense of self and mental health.”

Despite occasional statements from the EU and UK representatives, Professor O'Rourke added, language has not been at the forefront of any serious public debate in regards to Brexit.

Britain's withdrawal from the EU could also hold major consequences for immigrants, particularly with regard to English language requirements for citizenship and asylum applications.

Professor O'Rourke, continues: “Post-Brexit, there are likely to be important implications for the provision of translation and interpreting services for immigrants in public services and official contexts. Issues around language learning provision for newcomers in primary and secondary education will also need to be addressed.

“Inequalities on the basis of language pose a potential challenge to integration, social cohesion and economic collaboration, as well as to the full participation of territorial minorities such as Gaelic and Scots, as well as immigrant minorities. A shared understanding of these complexities across a range of contexts, such as education and healthcare, is needed in order to sharpen our knowledge of how to tackle the challenges and opportunities that contemporary multilingualism brings to Scotland and to guide policy on language after Brexit.”

Professor O'Rourke's work “New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe: Opportunities and Challenges” was funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology under the auspices of EU COST.

By Laura Varney

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