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What do government crackdowns in Cameroon, the Rohingya refugee crisis, and a referendum in Catalonia have in common? At each conflict’s heart are two groups divided by language. Every country on the planet has a multilingual population to some degree – and the conflicts to go with it. Even the United States, one of the most monolingual countries on earth, has its own history of these clashes: decades of efforts to wipe out Native American languages, marginalization of French-speaking Cajuns, and contemporary quarrels over the prevalence of Spanish are prime examples.
Why is language such a sensitive subject? Not only is language a way to express group identity, it can also be the key to economic inclusion in a literacy-driven world. Add to that the tendency of authoritarian states to ban languages in attempts to control minority groups, and you can see why linguistic differences and conflict often seem to go together. If your curiosity is piqued, check out our recommended readings below to learn more about the nature of language and conflict – and the ways to set about resolving it.