LINGUIST List 2.164

Thursday, 25 Apr 1991

Disc: Banned Languages

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Scott Delancey, banned languages
  2. Dragon Systems, Banned Languages
  3. Stephen P Spackman, Re: Banned Languages
  4. , Re: Banned Languages
  5. Karen Christie, Re: Banned Languages
  6. Scott Delancey, Re: Banned Languages

Message 1: banned languages

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1991 09:14 PDT
From: Scott Delancey <>
Subject: banned languages
A recent comment (which I can't get at and thus can't quote or credit)
to the effect that a school's banning of use of a non-official language
is not the same thing as a full-fledged official government ban makes
a useful point, but is not the whole story. It isn't always even
legally, much less practically, possible for parents to withdraw their
children from such situations. School systems in the American Southwest
(especially Texas, I have heard) are notorious for having in previous
generations suppressed use of Spanish by students. This is a situation
where school attendance is legally compulsory, and for many families
there would be no alternative schools available. I think that the
attendance of many American Indian children at schools where their
languages were suppressed was likewise not a matter of free choice.
I don't know whether any of these practices were established by 
legislative action (though that seems quite possible), but even if
they do not represent de jure language banning, they are de facto
the same thing.

Scott DeLancey
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Message 2: Banned Languages

Date: Wed 24 Apr 91 12:59:01-EDT
From: Dragon Systems <DRAGONA.ISI.EDU>
Subject: Banned Languages
Margaret Fleck <> writes:

> >From a recent BBC documentary, I gather that British sign language was
> banned in all or almost all schools, until fairly recently. (My
> impression is that BSL is totally unrelated to ASL, even at the level
> of the manual alphabet.)

Indeed, ASL and BSL are completely unrelated. Together with French Sign 
Language they form a nice refutation of the misconception that sign languages 
are derived from the spoken languages of their cultural matrix. An American 
signer in France feels that the language is related to her own (which it is) 
and even recognizes some signs; in Britain, she sees only "gestural salad". 

The phrase "even at the LEVEL of the manual alphabet" [emphasis added]
suggests a misunderstanding of the relation between fingerspelling systems and 
sign languages. Yes, the manual alphabets used along with BSL and ASL are 
likewise totally unrelated, but (at least in ASL) fingerspelling is at base an 
autonomous system, used for elements of the matrix spoken language that a 
signer wants or needs to express without translation: e.g., personal names as 
used in writing, or words borrowed from the spoken language as loans. The 
latter may find their way into the sign language, taking on the phonology of 
signs (see Robbin Battison's dissertation & book). But fingerspelling is not 
really a "level" of a sign language.

 Mark A. Mandel
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Message 3: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 91 12:51:34 -0500
From: Stephen P Spackman <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
I lived in the province of Quebec for fifteen years, before coming to
Chicago last summer. The situation there was something like this
(though laws change from time to time):

There is a ban against operating businesses of over a certain size
(half a dozen employees?) in a langauge other than french, and they
actually send undercover langauge cops around to check (at one company
I worked for we operated in English but didn't talk to strangers :-)
(I have always been interested to know if this would be interpreted as
applying to ASL, and if so, what the constitutional implications would

Access to non-french education is available only to those who received
primary education in a language other than french in the province of
quebec. Curiously, none of the vocal lobby groups seems concerned with
the effect this has on immigrants (I started highschool in quebec, for
instance, but that would not give children of mine access to the
english language schools). In any case, this is more of a
"containment" move than an elimination move, as far as english goes.

The sign laws have changed from time to time, but they were always
primarily applied against english, and (unlike france) no attempt
seems to have been made to use them against speakers of nonstandard
french - which, after all, all quebecois seems to be (in the sense
that the language set down by the government is (at least in computer
science and I gather many technical fields), often an arbitrary
fabrication, not agreeing with the spoken language or the official
french-from-france vocabulary, or even making much sense: it often
feels like existing words have been given new meanings at
semi-random). At their strongest, their effect was simply to ban
public signs in langauges other than french, unless they were
associated with certain exempt institutions, such as churches.

The real tragedy in quebec is that these laws have been applied in the
many isolated unilingual communities of the province. There are
communities on the north shore of the river (where there is no road)
where people have to be "borrowed" from the weekly boat to come and
read the legal notices at the post office, and where (since nobody
speaks french) public signs were actually effectively made illegal.

These isolated unilingual communities have no voice and I've yet to
meet anyone from outside the province who knows of teir existence,
though they probably number in the hundreds.

Three further notes that might be interesting: the first is that
english is still taught as a second language in the french schools
(though it has been said that the standards to which it is taught have
been declining as a matter of policy; I wouldn't know if this is

The second is that before the sign law there was a flourishing artform
of bilingual punning on public signs. It saddened me to see that go.

The third is that at english-lanaguge highschool I was consistently
forbidden to speak FRENCH anywhere (at one school, anywhere within
three blocks of the school building) on pain of detention (except, of
course, in the legally required french lessons). I never did develop
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Message 4: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 91 14:00:38 -0400
From: <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
 Two things have to be distinguished about the so-called interdiction of 
English in Quebec: public vs. private language use. The only aspect that
the Quebec government is trying to regulate is the public use of English, not
its private use. Even though there have been sporadic proposals that the use
of English should be completely forbidden in French-speaking schools in 
Montreal, I don't know that the implementation of such a ban has ever been 
considered really seriously. People are free to use any language they want in 
their private interactions and they certainly do not have to fear repression.
 In my view, the most important part of Quebec's law 101 (the law that makes
French the only official language in the province of Quebec) is that it forces
non-Canadian immigrants to send their children to a French-speaking school (the
Canada clause). That means that all children whose parents were educated in
English in Canada can go to an English-speaking school in Quebec. When the 
law was first adopted in the 1970's, only children whose parents had been 
instructed in English in Quebec were allowed to receive their instruction in 
English (the Quebec clause).
 To Charles Hoequist: it simply isn't true that the goal in Quebec is to
eradicate English. The goal is to protect the French language and the Quebec
culture. This does not mean that we have to and that we want to eradicate
English. And, by the way, I don't understand why you're talking about Quebec
and European French as if they were almost two different languages: those are 
simply two geographical varieties of the same language, just as American and 
British English are.
--Julie Auger
 University of Pennsylvania
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Message 5: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1991 09:53 EST
From: Karen Christie <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
In response to the motivations behind banned languages...In many situations,
aren't languages being banned by the majority language-users for the 'good of
the minority...'?? (for purposes of integration...getting jobs in the 'real
world' which means using the majority language)...Thus, how do languages become
'unbanned'? That would mean hiring people fluent in the banned
language/dialect to does such a political shift take place in the
other situations that have been shared here????

In response to the ASL discussion: Signed Codes for English do not fit the
category of banned languages because they are not languages. ASL does and the
situation is highly comparable to the American Indian language/schooling
experiences (where most of the teachers have been white and most of the people
making educational decisions have been white..)

In the Bilingual/Bicultural approach to teaching ASL and English...generally
the model is that English print is taught with ASL as the language of
instruction...however, neither language is eventually weaned out... There is a
lot of support for this in the 'world of work' where most deaf people are
successful using written English to communicate with hearing co-workers (much
like Millie Griffin did with the deaf people she was communicating
with)...thus, knowing written English is an important skill... {also the
percentage of unemployment of 80%, is questionable....I think the finding is
80% are *underemployed*.....1987 statistics from Vernon show 20-25% of deaf
people unemployed....more analogous to other minority groups such as hispanic
and black people....)

 I would like to know whether Native American languages are now formally being
taught in schools with American Indian students....???
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Message 6: Re: Banned Languages

Date: Wed, 24 Apr 1991 13:05 PDT
From: Scott Delancey <>
Subject: Re: Banned Languages
My memory is not clear on the matter (a common refrain in this
discussion) but I know I've read that after Culloden Scots Gaelic
was banned, and I believe that at least some forms of public use
of it were for a time capital crimes.

Scott DeLancey

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