13 September 2006


Fine piece by the Speccie's Dot Wordsworth in her always stimulating "Mind Your Language" column. This week she takes on that spreading blight, multiculturism, of which chunks are worth posting here for a wider readership.

"I can't find a univocal sense to multiculturism , and I believe people use it to mean quite different things. Yet ... Ruth Kelly said that she believed that 'we have moved from a period of uniform consensus on the value of multiculturism'.

You could have fooled me. Surely no such consensus existed. Multiculturalism emerged two decades after multicultural , which popped up in 1941 in the New York Herald Tribune books pages with reference to a

'fervent sermon against nationalism, national prejudice and behaviour in favour of a "multicultural" way of life.'

The quotation marks suggest the word was novel but already in existence. It came loaded with a burden of value judgment.

It seems to me that multicultural could fit either a polity in which several cultures co-exist separately, or one in which lots of cultures added their tuppenceworth to the stewpot, or mosaic. It wa perhaps this ambiguity that prompted Ruth Kelly to wonder about people's 'sense of belonging in multicultural town and cities.'

RK ws launching a Commission on Integration and Cohesion (groan - my comment) ... Roy Jenkins once described integraqton as 'not a flattening process of assimilation but equal oppootintiy accompabied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.'

In Brewer's Politics  multiculturalism is identified as the view that 'it is wrong to impose a stereotyped national culture on those arriving from other lands'.

What about vice versa?", asks Ms Wordsworth, to which I roar 'hear hear!' and clap the question in bold and give it its own paragraph. Well said that lady - a palpable hit.

Multi- as a prefix generating words started in English modestly with John Lydgate (c 1370-1450) (multifary), with a variant from Nashe in 1593 (multifarious). From the middle of the 17th century such forms multiplied.

There are some real duds. Multifaceted  is hardly possible to use with a straight face. Multi-tasking  has crossed over from sociology to business-speak. Even the respectable Latin multiplex  was appropriated by stuff little cinemas.

As for multiculturalism , an attempt was made in the early 1990s to make it cuddly by use of the diminutive multiculti , but it remains a bear of very little brain."

Cuddly, bah! Bear of little brain - LOL

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