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Review of Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors
EDITOR: Harold Schiffman TITLE: Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors SUBTITLE: The Changing Politics of Language Choice SERIES TITLE: Brill's Studies in South and Southwest Asian Languages PUBLISHER: Brill YEAR: 2011
Richard Littauer, Computational Linguistics, Saarland University
SUMMARY ''Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors: The Changing Policy of Language Choice'', edited by Harold F. Schiffman and co-edited by Brian Spooner, is a collection of papers presented at a workshop at the University of Pennsylvania in December 2003. (The book cover and the publisher information online cite Schiffman as the editor, but throughout the text and in the introduction, Spooner is referenced as the co-editor.) The papers offer an overview of the complicated history of language use and policy in Central Asia, covering a wide range of relevant topics, from diglossia to minority languages, from Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan to Pakistan to Iran, from governmental language policy to resources for scholarly study. The volume is intended to provide an update on language policy in the region, an overview of language use in the region, both historically and currently, and means and areas of potential research. It can serve as an introductory text for on Central Asian linguistics, as a course book for language learners interested in knowing more about the relative scope of language policy issues in the area, and as a concise summary and resource for experienced scholars. Afghani languages cannot be considered in isolation, due to almost constant political and social upheaval historically; this book expands on their interactions, and how multilingualism and language policy, either implicit or explicit, play a constant role in this dynamic region.
The volume is divided into four main sections, covering various regions in Central Asia, and wrapping up by providing resources. In the introduction, a broad history is given of the languages of Afghanistan, as well as an in-depth analysis of diglossia. In Section 1, ''Afghanistan and Iran'', three chapters cover the state and history of the diverse languages and the policies surrounding them in Afghanistan, covering not only their history, but in particular the relationship between the Pashto and Persian languages in depth. In Section 2, ''Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union'', the next three chapters cover language shift in Kazakhstan, as well as the current and projected situation of Uzbekistani languages. In Section 3, ''The Northwest Frontier Province and Pashto, Punjabi, and Balochi'', the state of minority languages with substantial populations is covered, particularly those which have migrated from their native areas. Finally, in Section 4, various resources available to potential researchers in Central Asia are presented, before a final concluding chapter.
The first, introductory chapter (1-28), ''Afghan Languages in the Larger Context of Central and South Asia'', by the editor Harold F. Schiffman and Brian Spooner, briefly covers the history of language study of Central Asian languages, and places the languages themselves in a larger geographical and historical context. It gives a very good summary of language models relevant to the region, providing a suitable linguistic review of Ferguson's (1959) theory of diglossia, and Fishman's (1967) later extension. It wraps up with a discussion of implementing language policy.
In the first section, ''Afghanistan and Iran'', the second chapter (31-52), ''Language Policy in Afghanistan: Linguistic Diversity and National Unity'', Senzil Nawid briefly covers Pashto, Dari, and Uzbek, the three major languages by speaker numbers in Afghanistan, providing historical background. She then goes on to discuss the problem for each successive government, from the Pashtun government in the 1930s until today, of choosing an official language for Afghanistan, as Dari is the historical state language, although Pashto has the largest ethnic group. She clearly explains how official implementation of language policies in such a linguistically and ethnically diverse country affects language attitudes and national identity.
In Chapter 3 (53-88), ''Locating ‘Pashto’ in Afghanistan: a Survey of Secondary Sources'', Walter Hakala considers the state of Pashto in Afghanistan, starting with defining 'Afghan' and 'Pashtun', words steeped with ideological and cultural implications, particularly since the arbitrary Durand Line, established by British state-makers in 1893, split the historical region of ethnic Pashtuns between Afghanistan and Pakistan (formerly India). He discusses the various dialects, and the issues surrounding identifying a standard for Pashto, as well as the state of literature in Pashto, and the current and projected state of the language in the region.
In Chapter 4 (89-117), ''Persian, Farsi, Dari, Tajiki: Language Names and Language Policies'', Brian Spooner considers the significance of the use of the various names for Persian -- Persian, Farsi, Dari, and Tajiki - in Central Asia, and overviews the language's long history as a written language, as well as current views of the language from outside of the region. He goes on to cover the implications of the differing policies regarding Persian and other languages, such as Arabic (particularly in Iran), before questioning whether Persian is diglossic in the classical Fergusonian sense.
In Section II, ''Central Asian Republics of the former Soviet Union'', the focus turns to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and so more time is spent on the Turkic languages and Russian.
In Chapter 5 (121-175), ''Reversing Language Shift in Kazakhstan'', William Fierman discusses the process of language shift and work on reversing it, mostly from the perspective of Fishman (1991). Fierman discusses the geographical and demographic background in Kazakhstan, as well as Soviet interests and policies in the area. He covers in detail the educational issues and administrative policies that have influenced the native Kazakh, and the relative success of reverse language shift today.
In Chapter 6 (176-207), ''Language Policy and Language Development in Multilingual Uzbekistan'', Birgit Schlyter treats the standardization of and formation of a literature for Uzbek in Uzbekistan, and the influence of Russian, before considering current language ideologies. She then gives some attention to Karakalpak, a Turkic minority language, and lastly considers the state of multilingualism, as concerns both the many minority languages as well as foreign languages, such as English.
In Chapter 7 (208-260), ''The Fate of Uzbek Language in the ‘Other’ Central Asian Republics'', Fierman's second chapter concerns Uzbekistani minority language groups in the other former Soviet countries of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. He identifies various factors influencing change in Uzbek: borders, national policies, implementation and repression, the lack of an independent arbiter, economic changes, and technology. He then describes, for each country, the state of the language, as well as prospects for its use and implications of shifting attitudes, particularly in regards to education and the media.
In Section III, ''The Northwest Frontier Province and Pashto, Punjabi, and Balochi'', the relationship between southern languages, now Urdu, Panjabi, and Balochi, is brought into focus.
In Chapter 8 (263-281), ''Pashto Language Policy and Practice in the North West Frontier Province'', Robert Nichols outlines the history of Pashto in Pakistan, focusing on the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pushtunkhwa), touching on its relationship with Persian, and then proceeds to focus on the recent state of education in Pashto, looking in-depth at the available textbooks. The chapter covers the implementation and effects of regional language policies, and the recent influence of Urdu.
In Chapter 9 (282-318), ''A ‘Vernacular’ for a ‘New Generation’? Historical Perspectives about Urdu and Punjabi and the Formation of Language Policy in Colonial Northwest India'', Jeffrey M. Diamond treats the history of language attitudes and the influence of missionaries, administrative decisions, and Indian literature in Punjab. He covers in-depth the history of language relationships there, where Persian was predominantly the written language, while Punjabi was the most widely spoken, before colonial attitudes brought about a shift towards Urdu as the administrative vernacular, while Punjabi was not formalised or standardised until recently.
In Chapter 10 (319-336), ''Balochi: Towards a Biography of the Language'', Brian Spooner in his second chapter covers the history of Balochi, another Iranian language, spoken widely throughout Central Asia and into the Persian Gulf. He also speaks of attitudes towards the language, largely from within the ethnic Baloch communities, and its current state and future.
In Section IV, titled ''Pedagogical Resources and Conclusion'', there is only one chapter (339-353), ''Resources for the Study of Language Policies and Languages of Afghanistan and Its Neighbors'', in which Cynthia Groff provides electronic and print resources for interested scholars, students, and teachers of Central Asian language policy. She lists various universities and centers for relevant general study of the Central Asian languages, as well as relevant books and conference proceedings regarding language policy. She gives information for potential resources for learners, as well as specifically for researchers. The references section is helpfully split into resources by region and country.
Finally, in the concluding chapter (354-357), Harold F. Schiffman closes by discussing diglossia again in light of the articles discussed, highlighting that the dynamic nature of language interaction in Central Asia inhibits a clear-cut alignment of theory to specific cases. He also discusses briefly the reversing language shift issue dealt with by some of the authors, and how it can be problematic in this region.
EVALUATION In the final chapter, Harold F. Schiffman returns to the volume’s goal, ''to construct an updated picture of languages and language policy in the region, and give potential language learners a clearer picture of what kinds of resources exist, and what is still needed.'' This goal was certainly attained; the essays do just that, and are brought together adroitly, given the wide range of countries, languages, and policy decisions covered. All of the essays are well written, and show a detailed analysis of the state of multilingualism in their respective countries. As such, the volume can serve as a good springboard for current researchers seeking to draw comparisons between different countries and time periods, for those seeking avenues of research for particular languages or language interactions, as well as for students of language policy interested in Central Asia and the ramifications of cultural, ethnic, and political flux on language use. Many of the chapters provide good background for their specific topics, and several provide long lists of resources for further study; in this, they are invaluable resources themselves. For experienced researchers of this region, the book may provide interesting comparisons and insights by virtue of its breadth, but for detailed analysis of a certain region or policy decision, it may provide more of an overview than an exhaustive study -- as the intent of the volume is not to close but to open up research in this area, however, this is not consequential.
At certain points, the volume could have been drawn together more. For instance, diglossia as a theory of language interaction in the region may not be the best fit, as several chapters do not touch upon it, and as the dynamic nature of political and language change in the area has lead many High and Low varieties to shift in more complicated ways. The introductory chapter covers diglossia as if the entire volume were to be dedicated to it, which is not the case -- language shift could have just as easily been the central theme. The same concerns could be raised about some of the chapters' relations to the book's title -- Afghanistan is often downplayed or ignored in several chapters. The topic of this book is Central Asia more than Afghanistan in itself, and this should be made more clear, especially as over a third of the book concerns only other Central Asian republics further north. Furthermore, while the initial conference which inspired this volume was in 2003 (SALRC 2003), some of the papers reference more recent Afghani policy decisions, which is both timely and called for -- but more time could have been spent on the influence of English in the region, particularly given the last decade of intense Western influence. At the same time, little attention is paid to other minority languages. Some time is given to Karakalpak, Uzbek in Afghanistan, Balochi, and others, but there is little about the Nuristani languages, Sindhi, Uyghur, Tatar, Munji, Shugni, Wakhi, and other minority languages in the region. Given the participants at the original conference, it is a shame that more time was not spent on this. However, as the main languages are all covered, and very well so, there can be no doubt that this is a valuable contribution to the field of Central Asian linguistics and language policy studies.
REFERENCES Ferguson, Charles F. 1959. Diglossia. WORD 15(2). 352-40.
Fishman, Joshua. 1991. Reversing Language Shift: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
South Asia Language Resource Center (SALRC). 2003. SARLC Sponsored Workshops: Workshop on the Languages of Afghanistan, December 12th and 13th, 2003. http://salrc.uchicago.edu/workshops/sponsored/121203/schedule.shtml (19 July, 2012.)
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Richard Littauer is a graduate student in Computational Linguistics,
studying for a joint degree at Saarland University and the University of
Malta. He completed an MA (Hons) in Linguistics at the University of
Edinburgh. His main research interests include minority language
documentation and conservation, particularly involving developing resources
for low-resource languages, as well as understanding language change on a
historical and evolutionary timescale.