Salikoko Mufwene mufw at MIDWAY.UCHICAGO.EDU
Sat Dec 16 04:04:14 UTC 2000


     Let me first clarify something that I just expressed in a contrary way in
my note to you this morning. I meant to say that I did not want to react
improperly/inadequately to things that may otherwise be well stated.
Unfortunately I omitted "not" in my statement and sounded like I am so
uncooperativc I would just look for the worst interpretation. I really think
that "indigenous" just adds more confusion in a subject matter where things
must be sorted out very cautiously.

     I am rather reluctant now to discuss the subject  matter of language
endangerment itself, because it is very complex and I am not sure that things
have been sorted out to my satisfaction. (Incidentally the Nettle & Romaine
book is very informative and quite an improvement over the current
I need the kind of format I chose (review article and general response) to
articulate my thoughts carefully. Overall, those discussing language
endangerment the most (especially theoretical linguists) have not clearly
distinguished language preservation (please think of food preservation in a
in this context) from language maintainance and from language revitalization.
It is not clear to me, as a person affected by globalization as a  form of
Westernization (one of its many interpretations, as I read again this morning)
that the point of view of the victim has hardly been considered, from the
of view of adaptation to changing ecology. (Loss of heritage or of
diversity is
a humane way of protecting the subject matter of linguistics--at least Michael
Krauss was straightforward about that in 1992.) Sometimes I wonder whether
linguists can really think of speakers of languages as human beings needing to
survive rather than as sources of information. (Oh, that's Mufwene as a
"Tiers-mondiste" that cannot always be suppressed--I am sorry.) But at a more
technical level, it would help to learn what really leads to language
endangerment--is it other languages? speakers? or ecological systems over
the vast majority of speakers and their languages have no control? (I am
by phrases such as "killer languages," because the metaphor is terribly
inadequate.) Some interventions make me wonder why try to fix things with the
victims when we should be dealing with the victimizers? Can we deal with the
victimizers and at what cost? Believe me, I would very much like to see my
language saved, not just preserved and even as a linguist I feel so helpless,
knowing why some of my people are shifting to Kituba or Lingala (NOT to French
in this case)... Well, I should really remain relunctant to discuss the
matter now.

Thanks for your attention,


>I'm pleased that you found my modest comments useful.  I think some people
a little
>too quick to say a group has died out when all of them have shifted over the
>language.  If you spend some time with Indians you see that their culture is
not dead,
>just rapidly and sometimes drastically mutated.  Scholars all over the U.S.
are still
>seeing German or French culture in some areas several generations after the
group has
>completely shifted over to English.  There's an active Swedish-American
historical society
>and museum in the middle of Kansas.  I suppose what differentiates these
people from
>"indigenous" "natives" is that the latter do not have the financial,
>educational, or technological means to accomplish cultural preservation after
losing their
>language.  Movements to save languages usually begin after it's too late.
Will home
>dialects of Irish vernacular remain two generations from now.  Young people
may learn book
>language in school, but that's not what the people speak at home -- instead a
kind of
>nonce "classical" form from earlier written documents, not one that would
enable a
>teenager to carry on lengthy conversations with grandpa while the lure of
bands etc.
>lurks outside.  It seems that I heard someone discussing similar developments
in the
>Telugu area of southeastern India.  Because some areal variety was used
in writing
>at some recent time in history, as reforms came in, that's the variety that
>enshrined as "the language."  If it happens that no literature or laws were
written out,
>then there is no record to serve as an anchor to hold the language in place.
I'm sure I'm
>exaggerating.  Have you seen my article on lingering features of German
phonology in
>Missouri? -- in Heartland English (Tim Frazer, ed.) -- not awfully deep, but
Bill Labov
>liked it.
>I hope to see you in WashDC.
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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