LINGUIST List 6.1486

Mon Oct 23 1995

Disc: Language and Dialect, Linguistic Human Rights

Editor for this issue: Ljuba Veselinova <>


  1. Karl Teeter, Re: 6.1465, Disc: Language/Dialect
  2. , Re: 6.1408, Disc: Language and Dialect, Linguistic Human Rights

Message 1: Re: 6.1465, Disc: Language/Dialect

Date: Sat, 21 Oct 1995 11:35:36 Re: 6.1465, Disc: Language/Dialect
From: Karl Teeter <>
Subject: Re: 6.1465, Disc: Language/Dialect

Dear Colleagues: I have found the language/dialect discussions on
Galician (Galizan) very profitable and illuminating, and they bring to my
mind other cases of languages which have "split", as it were, such as
Hindi/Urdu and Serbo-Croatian. I also think of the work of my Harvard
colleague Horace Lunt on Macedonian, where he used to speak of a single
language being strongly promoted as two different ones. If any of you
experts would like to expatiate on these and similar cases I am certain I
would find it very helpful and instructive. Disclaimer: Since I retired from
academia sixyears ago, I am not seeking to cheat in courses or, in fact,
even to steal your knowledge and represent it as my own. Cheers! Yours, Karl
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Message 2: Re: 6.1408, Disc: Language and Dialect, Linguistic Human Rights

Date: Thu, 12 Oct 1995 21:44:28 Re: 6.1408, Disc: Language and Dialect, Linguistic Human Rights
Subject: Re: 6.1408, Disc: Language and Dialect, Linguistic Human Rights (Karl Teeter) wrote:
>Dear Colleagues: I have found myself recently wondering whether there
>really is a proper separate subject matter for LINGUISTIC human rights as
>against human rights in general. With languages alone, we are already
>dealing with a situation where there are over 6000 of them, and LESS THAN 1%
>are even granted the minimal recognition of having a writing

Surely more than that. More than 60+ languages have a writing system.

> Much as I believe that everybody should have a recorded literary
>tradition to refer to, it all begins with the ability to record one's
>literary tradition. In recognition of languages, we have advanced little
>if at all from the days when Ken Pike subtitled his textbook PHONEMICS "A
>Technique for Reducing Languages to Writing". We are still at a stage
>where our efforts might well be primarily directed to tasks such as this,
>basic linguistics. Once people have the option of being able to write
>they have an important tool to demand their human rights. Without it all
>of the pontificating about LINGUISTIC human rights simply goes on in
>disregard of almost everybody in the world. Somebody react, please; this
>is just my off-the-cuff feelings about a number of the messages I have
>recently read here on this subject! Yours, kvt (=Karl V. Teeter,
>Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, Harvard University)

I agree completely about the need to do basic linguistics. Who gives a hoot
what the latest jargon for "subject" is and what node of a speculative tree it
is attached to? There are real languages out there, and they're worth knowing
about and recording i.e. writing. And I further agree that writing them will
encourage minority language speakers to demand their rights, although we may
well disagree as to what these are exactly.

Still, I think we must guard against treating endangered languages like the
snail darter. Minority language speakers have excellent practical reasons for
learning and using the majority language -- and for assimilating to the
majority culture, whatever that mean in a particular instance. These languages
are spoken by real people with real desires and needs. It is hybris and
condescension to consign them to the linguistic museum merely because we find
their languages syntactically interesting. They are free to abandon their
languages if they like.

And finally, having a writing system does not guarantee nirvana. Sometimes
having a writing system is a bad thing. Cyrillic and Roman do not happily
coexist in the former Yugoslavia. Might the war be less bloody if they didn't
have one alphabet too many to fight about?

Leo A. Connolly Foreign Languages & Literatures University of Memphis
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