LINGUIST List 6.532

Sun 09 Apr 1995

Disc: Language Policy

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  1. ADdeV Cluver, Language Policy

Message 1: Language Policy

Date: Fri, 07 Apr 1995 16:09:52 Language Policy
From: ADdeV Cluver <>
Subject: Language Policy

The discussion of the Latvian language policy in the latest
posting by Ina Druviete (6.509) shows up trends that may be
found found in African language policies as well. Attempts of
the Latvians to eliminate the "harmful legacy of the Soviet
period" reminds one of attempts of various African countries
to reintroduce vernaculars as medium of instruction in schools
in the seventies. In Africa many of these attempts seem to
have run into trouble and English is increasingly used as
medium of instruction - even in Tanzania (cf. Rugemalira et al

Perhaps I can take this opportunity to respond to some of the
comments by Frank Anshen and Benji Wald on an earlier
posting of mine. In my last posting (6.339) I said that "the
introduction of a foreign official language has, in Africa, led to
explicit negative attitudes amongst speakers themselves
towards their languages." Frank Anshen responded (6.392)
that negative feelings about vernaculars seem strongly related
to the non-existence of written literary traditions. Languages
without them, seem to be devalued both by outsiders and

I agree with this statement, but would like to point out that
fully standardised languages are also at risk in the type of
situation that I described -i.e. when a (world) language
dominates a smaller language or one spoken by speakers with
limited political or economic power. Hal Schiffman pointed
out (posting 6.258) that in Singapore "Tamil speakers are
losing their language and becoming English speakers" and
that Romansch is losing its speakers (to French?). Deborah
Ruuskanen pointed out (posting 6.339) that Swedish is
disappearing in Finland and that this "has to do more with the
dominance of Finnish and the reluctance of the
Swedish-speaking parent in 'mixed' marriages to insist that the
children speak Swedish." Thus, as Hal Schiffman pointed
out, "egalitarianism in language policy does not result
necessarily in equal outcomes." This point is also underlying
to Ina Druviete's statement that if Russian would be a
co-official language in Latvia "Latvian would lose more and
more functions." It is clear that the level of codification of
the language of comunities with limited access to power is not
the most important reason for their shift to a dominant

Frank Anshen sees my postulate that there were no language
wars prior to colonisation in Africa as a red herring. However,
he states that "there were no language based disputes in
India prior to colonization." I think this observation confirms
my position.

The three language policy for African countries mentioned in
my posting (6.351) has been discussed by Laitin (1992),
Fakuade (1989), Bamgbose (1991), Mukama (1992) and
Akinnaso (1994). (Bibliographical details available on

I find it more difficult to react to Benji Wald's statements
mainly because he seems to have misinterpreted some of my
statements. For instance, he refers to my "claim that on the
one hand the official adoption of a foreign language makes
'people' (which people?) look down on their language ..."
Since the word "people" does not appear in my two postings
it seems that some inaccuracies have crept into Benji Wald's
interpretations. The question that Benji Wald seems to want
to discuss is whether the presence and use of a foreign
official language can lead to the stigmatisation of
vernaculars. I'll come back to this question.

In my posting (6.351) I referred to the suggestions of Djite
(1993) (the accented e seems to have come out as a question
mark on some screens so I am omitting it) that African lingua
francas should be seen as viable alternatives to the use of
foreign official languages. She (1993:152-153) states that
"Linguae francae can speed up the process of popularization
of new techniques in health, agriculture, and education."
She (1993:162) concludes "The widespread acquisition and
use of these linguae francae indicate a general willingness for
cooperation and a cultural and linguistic tolerance that
ignores the political boundaries inherited from colonization."
Benji Wald unfortunately saw these my discussion of these
ideas as my comments - I quoted Djite and included a full
reference at the end of my posting. I remain convinced that
these suggestions merrit further investigation.

There is no contradiction (as Benji Wald would have it) in
Djite's statement that African lingua francas are spreading
and my statement that the foreign official languages create
negative attitudes amongst (educated African) speakers
towards their own languages. African lingua francas are
spreading at the expense of smaller African languages (as
clearly described by Herman Batibo in his contribution to the
book on language death edited by Matthias Brennzinger).
Benji Wald's example of Digo children borrowing from Swahili
illustrates (early stages) in this trend. The Tanzanian
situation illustrates how an African lingua franca dominates
the vernaculars. The 120 vernaculars of Tanzania seems to
be totally overshadowed by Swahili (cf. also Barton 1980).

Foreign official languages are, similarly (but to a much more
limited extent), taking the place of vernaculars amongst the
elite in ever increasing domains of usage. Carol Myers
Scotton (1988:218) states clearly that "both Swahili and
English are moving into traditionally vernacular domains." In
her comments on language arttitudes in Kampala Scotton
(1972:129) stated that "Swahili is still considered by most
Africans to be the language of the less educated." This
perception is confirmed in Scotton (1988). Benji Wald's
experience in a bar in which his friend wanted him to speak
English rather than Swahili confirms this trend. More on
language attitudes is available in Schmied (1985), Sure (1991)
and Adegbija(1994). Negative attitudes lead to borrowing first
in the lexicon and later in the phonology and morphology.
Umfomata (1991) discusses the influence of English on
Yoruba phonology and concludes "One can imagine no more
far-reaching influence than that which induces people to
speak their own language with a foreign accent."

Although there is evidence of language shift in francophone
countries (Adegbija 1994) this does not seem to have been
the case in East African anglophone countries.
Myers-Scotton (1990:31) points out that "the elite carefully
retain their ethnic group languages ..." In Southern Africa
there is ample evidence of language shift towards English.

I would like to continue this (for me) interesting debate, but
perhaps others would like not to have their screens full of
language planning comments.

August Cluver
Department of Linguistics
University of South Africa
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