LINGUIST List 2.230

Thursday, 16 May 1991

Disc: Summary of Banned Languages Discussion, Language and Law

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  1. Bernard Spolsky, Summary of banned languages discussion
  2. "Norval Smith, RE: Language and Law

Message 1: Summary of banned languages discussion

Date: Thu, 16 May 91 13:03:28 IST
From: Bernard Spolsky <F24030%BARILVMVM.BIU.AC.IL>
Subject: Summary of banned languages discussion
 My original question, posted on MULTI-L and repeated on
LINGUIST, came from having read a news item about a relaxation of
the Turkish ban on Kurdish. The ban has been described by Tove
Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson in a posting on MULTI-L: a
constitutional and penal code prohibition of the use of languages
"which are not official first languages in states recognized by
the Turkish state." They report arrests of people breaking this
ban, but the cases have not been decided. In the meantime, there
have been newspaper reports, as I said, of relaxation of the ban
on speaking Kurdish.
 Other similar political and official bans (outside of school
contexts) have been reported: Ainu (perhaps), Berber (perhaps),
Chinese characters in Indonesia (also in Tahiti), Chinese
dialects in Singapore, English signs in Quebec, Esperanto in
Iraq, various languages in Ethiopia, Faroese in the Faroese
Islands, Hebrew teaching in the Soviet Union, Japanese movies and
songs in Korea, Scots Gaelic after Culloden, Taiwanese in Taiwan
after Nationalist control (reported to be unsuccessful).
 There have also been also reports of bans of various kinds
and levels (some legally imposed and some not) on the use of
various languages in educational settings: American Indian
Languages in Federal and state schools, American Sign Language
and other Sign Languages in many systems, Basque in Franco Spain,
Breton, and I assume Occitan in French schools, Cajun English
(and later Cajun French) in Louisiana, French and German (at
different times) in Alsace, Irish under British rule, Welsh in
the nineteenth century, Spanish in the Southwestern US.
 Three broad types of case have emerged in the correspondence:
 1. The first is the prejudice shown in an educational system
towards a non-standard or otherwise disfavored variety. I think
it is reasonable to include the Sign Language cases here. This
kind of policy is usually associated with a (misguided) desire to
improve the lot of minority students by having them use the
standard or otherwise desired variety. Replacive language
teaching, well-meaning though it may be, is a common method of
linguicide. In practice, as Tove Skutnabb-Kangas documents in her
book BILINGUALISM OR NOT (Multilingual Matters 1981), these
policies were once enforced with physical violence (there are
graphic descriptions in the letters), replaced now more generally
by "symbolic or structural violence."
 2. The second are cases of political suppression of minority
languages: this may include a ban on a language in schools, in
media, and even (seemingly rarer), on any use of the language. It
is likely to be in the form of a requirement of use one or more
named languages only, implicitly barring the use of others. There
is wide range of treatments possible, ranging from legal
penalties to malign neglect. The Kurdish case fits here clearly.
The Official English movement is an attempt to go this way.
 There do not seem to be many formal and legal bans on
specific languages still in effect (most reports were of earlier
bans). Most arose from attempts to encourage national standard
languages, suppress minorities, deny former political and
linguistic associations. Some arose out of attempts to maintain
another language.
 3. The third type then are the attempts at language
maintenance. The case of French in Quebec is of this last type;
it is an attempt to slow down or reverse the shift from French to
English that was starting to occur in the Province. Thus, its
motivation is language maintenance rather than shift, or even
reversing shift. But of course, from the point of view of
speakers of other languages in Quebec, it is potentially a threat
to maintenance. The Official English movement is sometimes
presented in this way: a fear that other languages might somehow
weaken the grasp of English. The correspondents found this the
most challenging question: is the desire to maintain a threatened
language justification for banning the source of the threat?
 Overall, the main damage of linguicide appears to be done not
by specific laws banning a language, but by the existence of
instrumental and economic incentives to learn a standard
language, backed by an educational policy that suggests that this
can be done by giving up on any other language.
 This last suggests the most useful steps that linguists can
 1. publicising findings of research that show that
bilingualism is harmful neither to a society nor to an
 2. supporting additive language teaching and opposing
replacive language teaching;
 3. continuing to express respect for the value of all
languages as records of their cultures and methods of maintaining
group identity;
 4. supporting a double set of linguistic rights - the right to
learn the standard language, and the right to maintain the home
or community or ethnic language.

 I have sorted the postings to date (10 May 1991) into seven
files, which are available from the LINGUIST archive:
LGBAN-AMERIND American Indian languages
LGBAN-BASQUE Basque in Franco Spain and German in South
LGBAN-BRETON Breton in France and French naming policy
LGBAN-FLEMISH Flemish in Belgium and Netherlands
LGBAN-KURDISH Turkish ban on Kurdish
LGBAN-QUEBEC1 French-only laws in Quebec
LGBAN-SIGN Sign languages
LGBAN-TAIWAN Taiwanese in Taiwan
LGBAN-OTHERLGS Ainu, Alsace, Australian Aboriginal, Berber,
Cajun English, Chinese, Esperanto, Ethiopian languages, Faroese,
German, Hebrew, Icelandic names, Irish, Japanese, Korean,
Norwegian, Puerto Rico, Scots Gaelic, Sorbian, Spanish, Turkish,
LGBAN-GENERAL General comments on banned languages

To get any of the above files, send the message:
 get <file-name>
(e.g. get lgban-sign)

Bernard Spolsky <F24030Barilvm.Bitnet>
Department of English Telephone: +972-3-531-8239
Bar-Ilan University Home: +972-2-282-044
52 100 Ramat-Gan Fax: (office) +972-3-347-601
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Message 2: RE: Language and Law

Date: Thu, 16 May 91 13:04 MET
From: "Norval Smith <NSMITHALF.LET.UVA.NL>
Subject: RE: Language and Law
What a pity. Glancing through Vallduvi's contribution on the legal status of
Catalan I thought I saw a reference to special funds being available to
promote love-making in Catalan! A pity that on reading it properly, it
turned out to be movie-making in Catalan. Maybe a useful pointer for the
Norval Smith

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