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LINGUIST List 21.386

Sat Jan 23 2010

Qs: Source of 'Monolingualism is Curable' Quote

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        1.    Daniel Buncic, Source of 'Monolingualism is Curable' Quote

Message 1: Source of 'Monolingualism is Curable' Quote
Date: 21-Jan-2010
From: Daniel Buncic <danielbuncic.de>
Subject: Source of 'Monolingualism is Curable' Quote
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The Linguist List has already helped to find the sources of several
linguistic proverbs and aphorisms (e.g. 'A language is a dialect with an
army and navy', 'All grammars leak', 'Languages differ essentially in what
they must convey and not in what they may convey'), so I'm hopeful that it
might also help me with this one:

'Monolingualism is curable.'
or: 'Monolingualism is a curable disease.'
or: 'Monolingualism can be cured.'
(or 'Einsprachigkeit ist heilbar', 'Le monolinguisme est curable', etc.)

This sentence appears on posters, bumper stickers and buttons advertising
language learning but also prominently in the linguistic literature (most
notably as the title of the 1997 issue of 'Sociolinguistica', but also as
the title of an obscurely published monograph by Elizabeth Diop, Fremantle
1984). I have not been able to identify its ultimate origin but found
several conflicting attributions:

1. Gregory Stephens (in: The American South in a global world, Chapel Hill
2005, p.208f.) attributes it to Carlos Fuentes (with an interview in the
1989 TV film 'Crossing Borders: The Journey of Carlos Fuentes' as a source).

2. Erica Burman (in: Deconstructing developmental psychology, New York
²2008, p.199) attributes it to Tove Skutnabb Kangas (in 'Minority
education: From shame to struggle', Avon 1988, p.13), where she describes
monolingualism as follows: 'Monolingualism is a psychological island. It is
an ideological cramp. It is an illness, a disease which should be
eradicated as soon as possible because it is dangerous for world peace'.
Burman claims that it was from here that the Instituto Central America took
the idea for the slogan 'El monolingualismo es curable'.

3. Timothy Reagan (in: Journal of Research and Development in Education
17:3, 1984, p.17) from Washington, D.C. reports that this slogan appeared
on 'a current bumpersticker'.

4. Romedi Arquint (in: From theory to practice: The European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages, Strasbourg 2002, p.35) refers to 'Todisco's
well-known aphorism: 'monolingualism is a disease, of that there is no
doubt, but it can and must be cured!'', but I have not been able to find
the exact source of this yet (or indeed even made sure which Todisco is
meant here).

5. Paolo E. Balboni (in: Transition Studies Review 11:3, p.11) refers to
'Anthony Mollica's celebrated phrase, 'monolingualism can be cured'', an
idea which was 'anticipated by Andrée Tabouret Keller in the 1980s'. I have
not been able to find a concrete reference either for Mollica or for
Tabouret Keller.

6. Helen Penn (in: Participatory learning in the early years: Research and
pedagogy, New York 2009, p.20) calls 'monolingualism is curable' a
'South-American saying'.

Does anybody have a clue who is right, or know any other (possibly earlier)
source, or the exact context in which the mentioned people have used the

Thank you very much for your replies to me; I will post a summary of the

Daniel Buncic
(Slavic Department of Tübingen University)

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Acquisition
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