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The role of language in preserving cultural identities was debated recently at an interactive event at Shoreditch Townhall, London.

The event, organized by the BBC World Service, provided a platform for a six-hour global conversation on radio, TV and online on the theme “SuperPower Nation Day”.

The BBC World Service conducted an experiment using Google Translate, an automatic machine translation service, to discover how the Internet can break down language barriers.

People all over the world were invited to participate in this conversation using their own languages.

A live message board translated online comments into Arabic, Chinese, English, Persian, Indonesian, Portuguese and Spanish.

“Worth trying”

During the event several participants reacted to the notion of language as an indicator of one’s personal identity.

The head of the Indonesian Service from the BBC World Service, Menuk Suwondo, said the Google Translate service is important.

She explained that the BBC World Service experiment was worth trying, because there are so many languages in the world.

“It’s difficult to say whether it helps people preserve their personal identities.

But I think you can still use your own language, we don’t have to use shared languages.” It does help people to understand each other though,” Ms. Menuk added.

Language is “not crucial”

Ghaida Al Rawashadeh, a Jordanian student in London agreed with Menuk.“ It’s quite important to have such a tool to help us to communicate with others” she said.

“Especially if we don’t know the language, that really helps, “she added.

Ms Rawashadeh sees language and identity as different entities. “I don't think language is still a crucial point here. You can preserve your own identity even if you don’t speak your native language.” She said

“I'm from Jordan and I still preserve my own identity when I speak English", she noted.

The student explained that while language is essential in formulating identities, it is not crucial in preserving those identities.

“Your history, cultural backgrounds, and religion, are all part of your identity. Language does help, but it's not that crucial,” Rawashadeh concluded.

by Jingjing Li

Is Language a True Indicator of One’s Identity?