LINGUIST List 3.835

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Language Preservation

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Bill Bennett, Language survival
  2. , Oaxaca
  3. Caoimhin P. ODonnaile, Re: 3.824 Queries: American English Corpora, Irish

Message 1: Language survival

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 18:26:02 GMLanguage survival
From: Bill Bennett <>
Subject: Language survival

I learned, once again, from Helge Dyvik's posting (in 3.811), that brevity in
language gains nothing but misunderstanding. Thus I have learned, and it will
be shown, I trust, by my changed behaviour. Here goes.
 Let me first distinguish between speakers and linguists. There may be
overlap between these two classes, but the linguist, at least, should haven
a professional interest in maintaining the separation. The linguist, of course,
may be interested in a language because of its rich inflexion or because of its
configurality alone. The taste for Classical Latin may well not be of the same
kind as that for English.
 I take it as axiomatic that speakers intuitively prefer languages for what
they allow them to achieve. They may know pride when the linguist draws
attention to the ornateness or clarity of the system of one or all these
languages. And the speaker may be just as chuffed as M Jourdain or as if the
speaker were to be shown the human innate knowledge of mathematics or logic.
 I also take it as axiomatic that we are all born with innate knowledge for
survival (presumably all who can read this are survivors). This includes
knowledge of the use of expelled breath to achieve rewards (either just
survival or the sort of quality of life which counts the number of TVs in each
room...). The system of modification of expelled breath either organises the
world for rewarding response or not. Which system will go on being used? Did
Classical Latin "die" or simply, for sound semantic impoverishent reasons,
transmogrify into "the" Romance languages? And why has Spanish, for instance,
survived better than the Romantsch languages?
 The educated may collect languages as others collect stamps. They may form
groups for this purpose as others form groups to support German Shepherd-dogs.
I do not presume to evaluate any of these activities. All that remains obvious
(Cornish, Welsh, Breton, Jerriais..) is that no external intervention can save
language which no longer serves the speaker. I do not suppose many of my
readers will recall a British government's attempt to revive Welsh (which one,
I cannot remember) by restricting jobs in local government in Wales to those
who spoke Welsh. Was this enough?
 I do not for a moment doubt the value of such in-house discussions on such
marvellous BBs as this one. My wonder of wonders was only that it has run and
 With regards to all who worry about language, and my apologies to the
long-suffering and overwhelmed Editors.

Bill Bennett, Cambridge.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 2: Oaxaca

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 19:17 CST
From: <>
Subject: Oaxaca

Two brief notes on the language preservation thread:

Oaxaca is a place -- a state in Mexico. About 20 languages are spoken
there, so it doesn't make sense to refer to 'the Oaxaca language' or
'the Oaxacas'. (And it's pronounced wa-HA-ka.) I've done some field
work on the Zapotec language there. It has 250,000 speakers, so the
argument that the language is necessarily an obsolete relic
doesn't impress me much. (Of course, not all languages spoken there
are this large.)

One poster suggested that introducing pens, paper, and literacy into
language communities in Oaxaca would corrupt/change/be meddling with
the native culture. But speakers of native languages in Oaxaca are
certainly familiar with all these things already -- they go to school
and learn to read and write Spanish now.

Literacy is not even a European innovation in Oaxaca, since the ancient
Zapotec civilization had a writing system.

Aaron Broadwell
Univ. of Oklahoma
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue

Message 3: Re: 3.824 Queries: American English Corpora, Irish

Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 09:20:38 GMRe: 3.824 Queries: American English Corpora, Irish
From: Caoimhin P. ODonnaile <>
Subject: Re: 3.824 Queries: American English Corpora, Irish

> it does appear that there are no genuine native speakers of Irish even
> in the Gaeltacht.

Whatever about the rest of your message, this statement is certainly wrong.

It is true that the language has been and still is loosing ground in the

> Is it's preservation an act of homage by politicians rather than an
> expression of the will of the people, etc?

See numerous opinion surveys which show that the will of the people is that
the language should be maintained and preserved.

> The student is planning to
> do an in depth investigation into the domains of use of Irish by
> speakers spanning a range of socio-economic and geographic variables
> in an attempt to provide some answers to these questions.

Do you speak Irish yourself? If not, you won't be able to do any more than
a superficial survey. A tourist would think that there is no Gaelic at
all spoken in this part of Skye, apart from at the Gaelic college where I
work. But I know differently because I know the people who know Gaelic and
who are prepared to speak it - not necessarily to learners.

Do you know of the LISTSERV list GAELIC-LIRLEARN.UCD.IE? It is for Irish
Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Messages are supposed to be in Gaelic,
but messages in English are ok if they are relevant and not too lengthy.

 Kevin Donnelly
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue