Alain Bentolila

Talk to People You Don’t Like The Challenge Of Babel Publication date : September 2, 2010

Alain Bentolila is a professor of linguistics at the University of Paris V-Sorbonne and a scientific adviser for the French National Observatory on Reading Skills and for the National Agency Against Illiteracy. He is the author of numerous highly influential works, including Tout sur l’école (2004) and Le Verbe contre la barbarie (2007), which was awarded the France Television Prize. His other works include Apprendre à lire. Observatoire national de la lecture (coll., 1998), L’Ecole à 2 ans: est-ce bon pour l’enfant? (coll., 2006) and Urgence école. Le droit d’apprendre, le devoir de transmettre (2007).

“Today, the fall of Babel is the French language, riddled with such inequalities in speech, reading and writing that its very integrity is being called into question.
“Today, the fall of Babel is those millions of men, women and children who are deprived of the fundamental right of leaving a clear, firm trace of themselves on a foreign intelligence.
“Today, the fall of Babel is our renouncing to transmit to our children an accurate, powerful language capable of conveying free, lucid thinking,” writes Alain Bentolila.

Refusing dispersion and enclosure; refusing whatever makes us incapable of crossing the social, religious, professional or cultural gap that separates us from others; refusing to bestow our words only on those who resemble us — this is what rebuilding Babel means today. And this is the demanding but necessary task that Alain Bentolila invites us to take part in.

• A virulent criticism of everything that keeps the French from sharing a common language, and so keeps them from developing a collective intelligence nourished by a demanding and fertile dialogue on such issues as illiteracy, academic exclusion, the perversion of political discourse, the hijacking of religious texts.
• A vigorous defence of language as the means of gaining access to the Other — the person that we are unacquainted with, know nothing about and may even dislike.
• A vibrant, well-argued tribute to what can still be done, even now, to bring together and reconcile the French with their national identity — a debate that remains highly topical.