Salikoko Mufwene mufw at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Wed Dec 13 17:48:12 UTC 2000

I have been reading some literature on language vitality/ endangerment
recently. I have been struck by absolute (non-relative) uses of the term
"indigenous" as in the following passage in Nettle & Romaine's VANISHING

"The greatest biolinguistic diversity is found in areas inhabited by
peoples, who represent 4 percent of the world's population, but speak at least
60 percent of its languages and control or manage some some of the ecosystems
richest in biodiversity." (13)

Who are "indigenous peoples?" There are many such constructions in chapter 1
alone. And David Crystal's LANGUAGE DEATH contains more than one, but the
leads back to the following:

"But, in principle, each language provides a new slant on how the human mind
works, and how it expresses itself in linguistic categories: 'Language
the intellectual wealth of the people who use it.'
     A statement of this kind allows me to return to the general perspective
which opened this section, where the emphasis was on all languages -- not just
the less well-known ones (to Western minds) which I have been calling
'indigenous'." (51-52).

     Is "indigenous" becoming (partly) synonymous with "exotic" or
"non-western?"  I know that in these books the authors are generally using the
term to refer to languages and people of non-European stocks and the euphemism
(if this is what it is, or is it a PC word?) seems to be a deviation
(divergence?) from the meaning of "indigenous" that I am accustomed to, which
is relative -- like "peoples and languages indigenous to Africa."

Any comments?


Salikoko S. Mufwene                        s-mufwene at
University of Chicago                      773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924
Department of Linguistics
1010 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
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