indigenous

Donald M. Lance LanceDM at MISSOURI.EDU
Sat Dec 16 04:25:36 UTC 2000


Sali,

It  was clear that you had accidentally omitted 'not' and I immediately knew what had
happened.

It would be a huge, huge task to become a real expert on language endangerment, because
linguistics, sociology, anthropology, history, politics, group and individual psychology,
and such matters as technology and political power must be understood.  Good luck with
your review.

I knew a couple of Zaïrians here almost 30 years ago.  His native language was kikongo but
he could also speak lingala.  His wife spoke lingala and another language from the area.
When they were together with me, they spoke French, but he said they tended to speak
lingala at home.  They were quite fluent in French (I'm not) -- with African intonations.
Another Zaïrian student was here at the same (came a year earlier, both for MAs in
linguistics)).  When one of the American linguistics undergraduates started asking
Jean-Grâce about kikongo, he realized that it had never occurred to him to analyze his own
language.  He then did a couple of excellent research papers.  His colleague, Pierre,
tried to do some follow-up research on lingala but was not as strong intellectually and
didn't produce the beautiful analysis that his friend had achieved.  Lingala has less
morphology than kikongo, as I recall, but that was not the reason why Pierre's work did
not measure up.   Shortly before Jean-Grâce was to graduate, his country's leaders decided
to get away from colonialism by changing the name of the country from Congo to Zaîre,
ironically, a Portuguese form of the local name for the river, Nzade.  The two students
thought they should have chosen the African name.  The two had to change their names.
Pierre became Kiyedi, and Jean-Grâce became Nsiang-kula (or something like that).  He was
able to make the change on his records before graduation.  Unfortunately, Nsiang-kula was
killed in a car crash.  Kiyedi ended up teaching English in an undergraduate engineering
school upriver from Kinshasa (occasionally I think of the name of the town).  About 15
years later he wrote me asking about the possibility of his getting an assistantship to do
a doctorate, but I saw no way of doing so, not just because of his scholarship but because
there were so many cut-backs here under a Republican governor.  I wish Jean-Grâce could
have gone on for a PhD.

I would imagine that occasionally you get some humorous questions or observations about
the role of Swahili across the African continent, even the suggestion that it might
replace all other languages.

DMlance

Salikoko Mufwene wrote:

> Don:
>
>      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 literature.) 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 jar
> 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 point 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 which the vast majority of
> speakers and their languages have no control? (I am amused 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 subject matter
> now.
>
> Thanks for your attention,
>
> Sali.
>
> >I'm pleased that you found my modest comments useful.  I think some people are a little
>
> >too quick to say a group has died out when all of them have shifted over the another
> >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, political,
> >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 rock 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 widely in
> writing
> >at some recent time in history, as reforms came in, that's the variety that became
> >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.
> >
> >DMLance
> >
> **********************************************************
> Salikoko S. Mufwene                       s-mufwene at uchicago.edu
> University of Chicago                     773-702-8531; FAX 773-834-0924
> Department of Linguistics
> 1010 East 59th Street
> Chicago, IL 60637
> http://humanities.uchicago.edu/humanities/linguistics/faculty/mufwene.html
> **********************************************************
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