Fieldwork today or cultural theft ? (part 4)

Mark P. Line mline at
Fri Feb 7 22:19:15 UTC 1997

Neil Alasdair McEwan wrote:
> For my
> own part I don't really see the difference between a white New Zealander
> speaking Maori, on the one hand, and a Chinese resident of the Isle of
> Lewis speaking Scots Gaelic, on the other -- if one is acceptable, so is
> the other.

The difference is: the Scots don't mind, but the Maori do.

There is no one, single, culturally independent morality (unfortunately,
_that_ ethical statement is _also_ not without cultural influence ...),
and the issue here has to do with the Maori's culturally dependent point
of view about non-Maori activities that have to do with their language and

But as I always say, "One man's ceiling is another man's flaw."

If a community chooses to take an isolationist policy in some regard, then
I guess I have no recourse but to honor that policy (unless I want to send
in the marines or the missionaries or both, which I don't). If the Maori
language is endangered, and if the Maori themselves wish to control
everything about the language, then I wish them luck and hope that they
are able to save their little piece of human linguistic diversity for
posterity (not just Maori posterity, but human posterity -- but those are
_my_ culturally dependent values talking).

To the extent that I involve myself with the protection of endangered
languages, I will accept the fact that the Maori themselves have taken the
conscious action of placing themselves in charge of their own language and
its protection, and I can direct my efforts to endangered languages for
which nobody currently feels they're in charge (yet). After all, the best
outcome of the language protection enterprise, to my mind, is to
successfully enable a viable (perhaps revitalized) linguistic community to
take charge of its own language and its protection. I note that this has
already happened in the case of Maori, and move on.

-- Mark

(Mark P. Line   ----   Bellevue, Washington   ----   mline at

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