LINGUIST List 2.209

Thursday, 9 May 1991

Disc: Language and Culture (Part 2)

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  1. , Re: Linguistic Communities and their rights
  2. "STEVE SEEGMILLER", RE: Banned Languages
  3. Mark Seidenberg, finis

Message 1: Re: Linguistic Communities and their rights

Date: Tue, 7 May 91 11:03 MST
From: <>
Subject: Re: Linguistic Communities and their rights
This is in response to Koenraad De Smedt note on Standard Flemish. I 
agree that there are subtle differences between standard Dutch in the
Netherlands, and standard Dutch in Belgium, but I'm still not convinced
that talking about "standard Flemish" is a good idea. That is mainly
because something should be called standard when it is considered 
standard by the majority of the population and considered as such by 
the grammarians. If we Flemings often believe that something is
standard but no one has explicitly said so, maybe this is not
evidence that there is a "Flemish" standard, but rather that we don't
control the standard in all its subtleties. This would be the view
of many good prescriptive Dutch grammarians widely read in Belgium, such
P.C. Paardekoper. I am not sure I really want to be prescriptivist to
this extent (after all I'm a linguist!!!), but having a Flemish
standard in the absence of a very explicit definition of it makes me
somewhat uneasy. Note by the way that the French speakers in Belgium
have a very similar problem; they want to speak perfect standard
French, but can't get themselves to use certain Parisian phrases (and this
goes beyond the septante/soixante-dix shibboleth). In Belgian Dutch,
there are certain things explicitly considered standard however, even
though not considered standard in the North. One, considered quite
subtle by most Flemings, but interestingly not considered subtle by 
some Dutch linguists in the North, and by French and English speakers,
is the bilabial vs. labiodental pronunciation of the phoneme /w/. 
Most Flemings have bilabial, and are not willing to part with it, even 
though at least some speakers, like myself, very easily accommodate to
the labio-dental pronunciation when speaking to someone from the
Netherlands; I feel I'm willing to accommodate because it doesn't 
matter to me, since the pronunciations are so close phonetically, a
lot closer than e.g.English /v/ and English /w/. Of course, there
are also bilabial speakers in the North. So would agree with you
that at least the bilabial /w/ is feature of this standard Flemish,
because it is explicitly recognized as such. Sorry for being so
convoluted about all this, but I feel the status of "standard Flemish"
is a topic of some general interest.
Willem J. de Reuse
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Message 2: RE: Banned Languages

Date: 8 May 91 12:56:00 EST
Subject: RE: Banned Languages
 This is a belated (but I hope not outdated) reply to the query about
banned languages, as well as to some previous replies to that query.
 There was, indeed, a movement during the 1960's and 70's to teach
speakers of Black English Vernacular to read intheir own dialect. Milton
Baxter, now of the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City
University of New York, was involved in such a program at Brooklyn College.
He might be able to provide more information. I also believe that the Center
for Applied Linguistics produced teaching materials for such programs.

 On policies toward minority languages in Turkey, it is my understanding
that there are three different categories. A condition of the Treaty of 
Sevres, which recognized the legitimacy of the Turkish Republic, was that
three specific groups be granted legal protection, including the right to
maintain their own languages, religions, and schools. These three groups were
the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Jews. The second category includes, I
believe, all languages other than Kurdish and the three mentioned earlier.
The majority of these, for practical purposes, are the languages of immigrant
groups, both Turkic and non-Turkic. The general policy toward these is that
the languages are not languages, but rather are "dialects" of Turkish. (A
colleague from Haceteppe University in Ankara once confided to me, in regard
to the Turkic language Karachay, "You and I both know that it's a separate
language, bu I can't say or write that in Turkey; I have to call it a dialect.")
language, bu I can't say or write that in Turkey; I have to call it a dialect.")Kurdish occupies a special position (perhaps along with Arabic, although 
I'm not sure): the official position is both that it doesn't exist, because
it is just like Karachay and Turkmen, i.e. it is a dialect of Turkish; but
at the same time, it is banned from public use. As far as I know, no attempt
has been made to resolve the obvious contradiction. At any rate, Kurdish
is different because it is specifically banned; other languages, like Tatar,
Karachay, and probably 30 others, are ignored, or their existence as separate
languages denied.

 I hopoe this information is useful. I know of no published source
dealing with language policy in Turkey. I once tried to persuade a linguist
in Ankara to write a paper with me on the topic, but the response was a p[olite
refusal, I think because the whole issue is too politically touchy.

Steve Seegmiller
Montclair State College
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Message 3: finis

Date: Wed, 8 May 91 10:09:02 PDT
From: Mark Seidenberg <>
Subject: finis
I too am quite happy to let the language in Quebec 
issue fade from the list. I think we ended up seeing 
quite an interesting array of viewpoints, the net effect of 
which was to indicate something of the complexity of 
the issues, which I consider to be a good thing.

Some people think that Quebec doesn't need language 
laws because the language and culture are dominant 
in the province and don't need protection. Some 
people think that the province is so overwhelmingly 
Francophone that the rights of minority Anglophones 
don't need any protection. The problem, of course, is 
that the Quebecois are BOTH an overwhelming 
majority (relative to the Anglophones in the province) 
AND a tiny minority (relative to the rest of North 
America). That's the source of the tension. It can 
simultaneously be true that the language and culture 
are in need of protection AND that the protective 
measures infringe on the rights of the linguistic 
minority. That the situation is quite intractable is 
indicated by the fact that the country is effectively 
breaking up over it.

I think that the issues that Julie Auger raised in her very 
informative notes are central to the debate and have to 
be understood. I told stories about the inanities of the 
language law; the Quebecois can tell stories about how 
language was used to oppress the community 
economically and politically (and those stories aren't 
real funny). My view of the language laws is that their 
purpose is to get the size of the Anglophone population 
down to the point where it can be argued that they 
need no more special consideration than the native 
Italian or Chinese speakers. The rest of Canada 
seems ready to go along with this. For one thing, it will 
allow them to ignore the concerns of Francophone 
speakers in places like Manitoba. For another, there 
doesn't seem to be any other solution. At least, no one 
has figured one out.

Leaving aside the intricacies of Canada politics, I was 
surprised by the ethnocentrism of many of the original 
postings. The language laws do not make the people 
in Quebec "Fascists." Moreover, peoples' willingness 
to make pronouncements about the attitudes and 
desires of another people without really knowing much 
about them reminded me of racial insensitivities in 
America. You know, "I don't understand why you 
people are so sensitive about perceived slights," etc. 
In fact, the parallels between racial conflicts in the 
States and language conflicts in Canada are worth 
pursuing (though not on this list!). Think of the 
language laws as "affirmative action" on a large scale. 
That makes Anglophones in Quebec the white males 
whose "rights" are infringed upon in the service of a 
policy that serves the "greater good" of the society as a 

With regard to Frank Anshen's comments, let me see if 
I understand his point. I write a message saying 
something about the oppression of the linguistic 
minority in Quebec and end, in best liberal tradition, 
with a suggestion that people try to understand 
something about the Quebecois political and cultural 
background that provides the basis for these policies. 
Frank Anshen suggests that this kind of INsensitivity to 
other peoples resulted in the bombing of Viet Nam and 
Iraq. Yo, Frank: wake up!

What then, about the original question, "What stand 
should linguists take?" It seems to me that the answer 
depends on whether one is Francophone or 
Anglophone, Quebecois or American, etc. It probably 
depends on whether you were born and raised in 
English in Quebec or live in California. What I would 
like to know is what, if anything, we have learned 
from the study of language that informs this debate. I 
mean this as a serious question. Is there something 
that we as linguists (or, in my case, psycholinguist) can 
contribute above and beyond our more or less 
informed political opinions?

Mark Seidenberg

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