indigenous groups

Mark P. Line mline at
Mon Feb 10 01:34:40 UTC 1997

Victor Golla wrote:
> Am I the only one who is tired of hearing how "communities" and
> "cultures" do this or that?  These are constructs useful to sociol
> and anthropological discussion, not objective reality.

I assume you mean that "objective reality" gets by just fine without the
benefit of any kind of sociological or anthropological discussion. In that
case, I agree with you so far.

You seem to be implying, though, that any such discussion is moot. What
makes you think that? In what way is the discussion here between Peter and
others about the Maori position not a sociological discussion in the first

> Mark Line, for eaxmple, writes:
> > The difference is: the Scots don't mind, but the Maori do.
> But not all Scots don't, nor Maoris do.  What about the dissidents?
> Are they any less "Scot" or "Maori"?  (Remember Two Crows, anybody?)

So you believe that a linguistic community cannot formulate a consensus
position and name one or more members to represent that position to the
rest of the world. What makes you think that?

Perhaps I should rephrase my comment: "The difference is: the members of
the Scots Gaelic community have not formulated a consensus to control (or
at least try to control) access to their language by people from outside
their community, while the members of the Maori community _have_
formulated such a consensus, and have chosen to allow Peter (and others,
I'm sure) to represent this position on the outside."

> > the issue here has to do with the Maori's culturally dependent point
> > of view about non-Maori activities
> There is no "Maori" point of view.  There are points of view associated
> with individuals who designate themselves Maori.  These differ and
> change.

Again, why do you believe that a linguistic community is incapable of
formulating a consensus?

> > I will accept the fact that the Maori themselves have taken the
> > conscious action of placing themselves in charge of their own language
> Unless he is discussing a formally structured government or association
>  -- maybe he is -- "the Maori" do not constitute a discrete entity.

"The Maori" constitute a discrete entity by virtue of the existence of a
self-recognizing group of people, which is good enough for me. I am not
prepared to force any "etic" perspective on people's own "emic"
perspective as though the latter didn't exist.

Additionally, "the Maori" constitute a discrete entity by virtue of New
Zealand law, which should be good enough for _anybody_.

Peter has said that he has been given permission by the leaders of The
Maori (that discrete entity whose existence comes as a surprise to you) to
represent the Maori position on the outside. I don't know if his scope
goes beyond Maori language policy, but that's irrelevant to the comments
he's made here.

So either Peter is prevaricating, or he is representing the consensus
policy of a formally structured organization. I have no reason to believe
that Peter would have made his story up. Do you?

> And
> even were a formalized "Maori" body to exist, it is not easy to imagine
> it "taking charge" of language -- of what is essentially one-on-one
> interaction.  (Shades of the Iowa anti-German laws!)

I have no difficulty whatsoever imagining that the members of a linguistic
community might form a consensus to take charge of their own language

But maybe I'm just particularly imaginative...

Or did you think Peter meant that there was going to be a Maori linguist
in every Maori house, monitoring the proper usage of the language or
something? That's not what Peter was talking about by saying "taking
charge of their language", and I can easily imagine that you know that

> Human beings seem to be cognitively hard-wired to readily believe in
> the objective existence of social groups, in their internal homogeneity,
> and in their sharp boundedness.  But social reality is not this simple,
> and we do not further the understanding of language decline and
> replacement by summoning up comfortable but misleading myths.

We do not further the understanding of language decline and replacement by
investigating a linguistic community, and even intervening in its
sociolinguistics, against the established consensus of that community

Understanding language decline is fine, but not at any cost. The main
reason I want to understand language decline is to be able to inform the
members of linguistic communities about the processes involved and how
they can formulate a consensus to intervene if they choose. If I learn
from the Maori experience by hearing what the Maori themselves have found
out, what actions they have taken and with what results, then why should I
value that less than if I'd been there and done it myself?

-- Mark

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

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