LINGUIST List 6.554

Thu 13 Apr 1995

Disc: Language Policy

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  1. Michael Newman, Re: 6.532 Language Policy
  2. Haig Der-Houssikian, 6.532/Language Policy
  3. benji wald, Re: 6.532 Language Policy

Message 1: Re: 6.532 Language Policy

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 1995 10:17:55 Re: 6.532 Language Policy
From: Michael Newman <>
Subject: Re: 6.532 Language Policy

It seems to me that it is possible but not necessary that making Latvian
and Russian co-official languages would lead to the progressive decline of
Latvian. At least, that does not appear to be what is happening, at least
so far, in Catalonia. If anything, returning there after a two year trip
after living there for 8 years (sorry all I have is anecdotal evidence,
take it for what it's worth, but if anyone knows better please respond), it
seemed apparent to me that Barcelona was more Catalan speaking than ever.
Some native Spanish speaking friends who didn't speak much (though they
understood) were now speaking it. In several mixed-language marriages and
other pairings, it seemed that Catalan was language of choice, and the kids
were spoken to in both. Now, 40% of the population are either native-born
Spanish speakers or offspring of native born Spanish speakers. They are
concentrated in the Barcelona area however, which rarely votes for the
nationalist party for what it's worth as evidence of ethnic loyalties.
Officially, both languages are co-official; more TV is in Spanish, but the
autonomous government clearly favors Catalan through language policies of
various forms. Unlike, the situation in the Baltics, perhaps, the
government also has a policy of keeping a lid on the more strident forms of
nationalism while maintaining an officially nationalistic posture. While I
lived there, I heard all kinds of the typical prejudices outsiders hear in
situations of mixed ethnicities resulting from immigration, but these have
never coalesced into any serious even minority proposals for population
transfers. Also, there is a tendency for Catalan to be the language of
prestige because of correlation with class, so the impression is that to
get ahead in business, you have to know Catalan.

I will let the parallels as well as the differences speak for themselves,
but if I were talking to the prime minister of Latvia, I might say
something like, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Again
sorry for the impressionistic nature of this posting, and if anyone knows
of serious research on the sociolinguistic situation in Catalonia, please
post. If not, there's some interesting research to be done.
Michael Newman
Dept. of Educational Theory & Practice
The Ohio State University

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Message 2: 6.532/Language Policy

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 1995 15:32:40 6.532/Language Policy
From: Haig Der-Houssikian <>
Subject: 6.532/Language Policy

Another comment on "language policy". Swedish in Finland is not analogous
or comparable to Yoruba in SW Nigeria or Swahili in Tanzania. Still another
comment. The word "elite" needs to be refined. Among the educated in the
context of Africa, the Anglophone and the Anglophile (and likewise
Francophone and Francophile, etc.) should be distinguished. I am generally
intrigued with the facility with which we speak of English and French as
natural lingua francas (excuse my Latin) along with Swahili, Hausa, Kituba,
Fulani, Bambara, and so on, but not as frequently along with Uzbek, Polish,
Japanese, Hebrew, and so on. I am also a little uncertain about the very
notion of "language policy". There is an element of nature taking its
course in these matters that defies, and should defy, logic. Obviously I
don't think anything but Armenian should be thought of in the context of
Armenia, and a few other places. In addition all borrowed words, recent and
ancient, should be cleansed. I am told there are only 450 native Armenian
words. All discussion should be restricted to the distance those 450 words
can go. Haig Der-Houssikian

Dept. of African & Asian Lgs. & Lits. Mailing Address:
Program in Linguistics
University of Florida University Station
 P.O.Box 14105
Campus Mail: 470 Grinter Gainesville, FL 32604
TEL: 904-392-4829
FAX: 904-392-1443
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Message 3: Re: 6.532 Language Policy

Date: Wed, 12 Apr 95 22:35 PDT
From: benji wald <IBENAWJMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 6.532 Language Policy

In response to Cluver, I readily admit reading hastily and not quoting
accurately. I also agree with a lot Cluver has said here and in the
posting I reacted to. I still think it is appropriate to understand
Cluver as saying that "people" (not "cows") were the ones who he said
were "looking down" (if that's the words he used) on their own languages,
i.e., the languages esteemed by their parents. To that I asked the
question "which people?" -- to which I think there is an answer -- and
the answer, I think, is the same as in the West with regard to the
vernaculars called "(local) dialects". The answer is, I think, "educated
people" (at least most of those who do not become educated as linguists).
My conclusion is that "somehow" education makes people look down on their
local vernaculars (to the extent that they, in fact, do. So the question
becomes what is it about education or the socio-economic world that it
opens to such people that has that effect -- and, what?, if anything,
could or should be done about it? Obviously Tanzania is not going to
stop trying to supplement their citizens with a common language, and
whether it's Swahili or whatever (African or whatever), what does that
have to do with the trends we see all over the world, and why?

As for Digo children importing Swahili into their Digo, Digo and Swahili
have coexisted among the Digo for who knows how long. And Digo
survives, but changes -- it has also converged syntactically with
Swahili in many ways, but nobody pays attention to that, except me.
Why should they? As for the "uneducated", as in the example I gave
of my friend and the bar. Scotton has many examples of people playing
multilingual games in East Africa and other parts of Africa. (also
educated people -- but in Kenya they definitely use English more, and
that has something to do with why "everyone" sees English as
presigious and symbolising MONEY. -- but so what?) So, what is the
real issue or set of issues here? Is it whether languages will continue
to live and die vs. they'll all live forever and ever, as we would
like? I realise it's your job to have something to say about it,
but what exactly are the problems, and what do you suggest as
the solution/s?
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