Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004 10:17:02 -0500 From: Noriko Watanabe Subject: Voices of Modernity: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality
AUTHORS: Bauman, Richard; Briggs, Charles L. TITLE: Voices of Modernity SUBTITLE: Language Ideologies and the Politics of Inequality SERIES: Studies in the Social and Cultural Foundations of Language PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2003
Noriko Watanabe, Baruch College of the City University of New York
This book traces the genesis of the linguistic construction of modernity by scrutinizing linguistic ideologies of philosophers, philologists, folklorists, and anthropologists beginning in seventeenth century England and Europe. The authors believe that by mining the three hundred years of intellectual history of modernity, they will elucidate the systematic oppression and marginalization of voices through what is legitimized as language. The book is critically important to any linguist, because it demands a reexamination of what it means to conduct linguistic research in light of their insight, no matter what current theoretical stance one takes. It is a meta-theoretical and philosophical evaluation of academic scholarship on language in the modern era. Further, it addresses the issue of representation of language and culture that often is ignored or which remains unquestioned in some linguistic projects. In this sense, the volume belongs to the body of work in sociology that reflexively examines the practices of the academia itself. In this book, these two well- respected scholars with lifelong experience working with language propose an ambitious and daunting task for all linguists.
The volume consists of nine chapters, including an introductory chapter. The introductory chapter outlines the role of language in the construction of modernity. The authors point out that the language ideology of modernity places legitimacy on purified, scientific, and printed language, thereby demoting the status of and marginalizing language that falls outside of these circumscribed categories. It is a systematic oppression of voices that are constructed as Other, often under the rubric of tradition.
Chapter two traces the roots of modernity in the works of Francis Bacon and John Locke and their views of language. Bacon initiated purification of language that is essential to his concept of knowledge, whereas Locke promoted the idea of creating language free from ornamental excess and social indexical meanings that produce discursive and reflexive dimensions. The privilege to acquire such purified language is by definition bestowed upon 'gentlemen' and their circle, thereby marginalizing and discrediting the language of people other than the selected group.
Chapter three examines the roles of antiquarians and philologists, including John Aubrey, Thomas Blackwell, Robert Wood, Robert Lowth and others, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the construction of modernity, or rather construction of Other as opposed to the civilized, intellectual and authoritative modern man. Antiquarians contributed to the portrayal of the past as vulgar, ignorant, and lacking sophistication, and linked orality with the major vehicle of conservatism. In turn, orality is also assigned to the domain of women through old songs and other speech genres and activities. Therefore, Bauman and Briggs (B & B hereafter) point out that language of modernity is gendered and temporalized.
In Chapter four, the construction of the Ossian epic by MacPherson and the subsequent analysis of the epic by Hugh Blair against the backdrop of the Scottish Enlightenment are examined. McPherson's entextualization of the Ossian epic unfortunately involved reconstruction of the oral epic. Blair's analysis of the epic as it was texualized by McPherson attempts to link the epic with established textual reference, attributing to it some characteristics of Homeric verses.
Chapter five studies the language ideology of Johann Godfried Herder, a German scholar of philology. In contrast to Locke's view of language, Herder celebrates social dimension of language instead of demonizing rhetoric, orally transmitted culture, and ambiguity as the enemy of reasoning that is necessary for clarity of thought. His romantic nationalism idealizes the oral texts of common people as the essence of their culture. The idealization, however, casts the people's language into the past under the rubric of 'tradition'.
Chapter six interprets the entextualization process involved in the Brothers Grimm work "Kinder und Hausemärchen", a collection of spoken narratives told by the people, 'Volk'. Their claims of authenticity, purity and fidelity of the written text are in fact ensured by their efforts to select and edit the text in compliance with their imagining of the nation and what constitutes tradition in the nation. Their articulation of a language ideology that poses three developmental stages of language depict poeticity in the light of the past and in the realm of the disappearing tradition of the people, who cannot recognize the value of the language themselves. B & B further interpret the commercial success of the Grimms' publication in relation to other studies of modernism, including the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Benedict Anderson.
Chapter seven describes the works of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft on collections of Ojibwe narrative texts. B & B point out that Schoolcraft believed in the value of the stories as signs of intellect and creativity of the native mind, and he followed Grimms' footsteps in editing some features of the narrative to fit his idea of presentable texts on par with literary texts he deemed important and valuable in the publishing market of the time. Schoolcraft considered his collections to be windows into the mind of the natives, and he cast himself in the role of the mediator of the purified form of culture.
Chapter eight is a critical examination of Franz Boas's works. B & B acknowledge that Boas advocated social justice, promoted cosmopolitanism, aimed to expel xenophobia, and struggled against imperialism and colonialism. He believed that every language is unique and rejected the evolutionary view of language and culture. Nevertheless, like Herder and the Grimms, Boas links tradition with culture, and therefore placed a great emphasis on collecting texts in the native languages. In his view, tradition contrasts with rationality of the modern world, and the carriers of the tradition do not possess the ability to represent themselves in a conscious, scientific and rational way. The distrust of the natives and of their representations of their own cultures ensures inequality: as B & B put it, "The difficulty is that the fundamental modernist move of claiming consciousness and rationality for oneself and one's followers and denying it to others was embedded deeply within the concept of culture that lay at the heart of this project"(p.298).
In the conclusion chapter, B & B discuss contemporary issues related to the 'modern' view of language, including the English only movement in the U.S., the controversies surrounding Ebonics and its role in education, the United Nations' attempt to "protect(ing)and safeguard(ing) folklore", and the UNESCO's recommendations for a similar goal. The authors, however, are determined not to give answers to the burning question of how can we scholars be free from the filter of modernity and the reproduction of inequality in our research. Instead, B & B lays out several suggestions for research practice.
The volume is an impressive piece of scholarship whose contribution is to integrate the study of language with the research on modernity in other social science and humanities disciplines. It relates their project to key works in the study of modernity, e.g., Anderson (1991), Z. Bauman (1987), Chakrabarty (1992, 2000), Chartterjee (1993) and Latour (1993). It also provides a perspective on the history of linguistics in a broader context of intellectual history of the modern era.
Although reading the critique of works that encompass a wide range of disciplines and time periods was a challenging task at times, I enjoyed reading B & B's focused arguments. In particular I was struck by the valorized yet devaluing meanings that were ascribed to oral narratives by a number of thinkers who are discussed in the book.
As I have mentioned earlier, B & B refuse to provide answers to the question of how to avoid the danger of modernity, which is so pervasive that it becomes very difficult to sort out. "It seems clear that two white middle-class North American men are not in a position to dictate what would constitute an enlightened position on language and tradition for all readers of this book" (p. 316). Instead, the authors offer six suggestions for critical examination of research practice. I agree with B & B that providing simplistic answers will not be wise. I wish, however, the authors would examine contemporary approaches to anthropological and linguistic research more extensively. For example, in what ways and how successfully have the authors been able to circumvent the problems of modernity in their own research projects? The readers will benefit from more discussions of applications of the wisdom that derives from the book.
I believe the book is an important piece that provides the missing link between language and politics of modernist culture. It spells out the role of language in our society, culture and research practice which is deeply embedded in the shadow of modernity.
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised edition. London: Verso.
Bauman, Zygmunt. 1987. Legislators and Interpreters: On Modernity, Postmodernity and Intellectuals. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. 1992. Postcoloniality and the Artifice of History: Who Speaks for Indian Pasts? Representations, 37:1-26.
-----. 2000. Deprovincializing Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Catherine Porter, trans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Noriko Watanabe teaches at Baruch College of the The City University of New York. Her research interests include discourse analysis, oral narrative, language ideology and Japanese naming practice.