philologists and socio-linguists

egunkaria egunka01 at
Thu Feb 13 16:58:56 UTC 1997

A commentary from a basque list member.

Joseph Tomei wrote:
>While I can't imagine that linguistics will suddenly turn all its attention
and resources to the problems of endangered languages, it can begin to come
up with targeted programs that assist these communities. We look on the work
of turn of the century anthropologists, who collected artifacts and remains
from 'backward peoples' for the 'advancement of science', with a certain
amount of disdain and embarassment. 100 years from now, if things don't
change, I can easily see people regarding the field of linguistics in the
same way.

I think that most people in this recent discussion asks for the linguists to
make a socio-linguist approach to endangered languages, instead of a
philologist approach.
Both aspects of linguistics should be considered separatedly, I think. They
are different fields. Philology / Sociolinguistics. Both are related, no
doubt, but regarding endangered languages, it is clear that the
Sociolinguistic Approach is more important. Keeping the language alive is
FIRST. Determining the cases in which ergative construction happens is

Certainly, training local members of the endangered language as
professionals and scientists improves the chances of the language, and also
increases the prospects of making a good work.
Nowadays, the best Basque linguistics are made by local native Basque
linguists, no doubt about it. Foreign approaches to the language are often
mistified and certainly odd to comprehend from the Basque point of view. For
instance, there is a lot of blah-blah-blah regarding the position of Basque
in a Proto-World language genealogy, linking our language to a
Sino-Dene-Caucasian group. For native Basque linguists, this is just fantasy.
At the same time, in the sociolinguistics field, we have been bombarded by
experiences and theories from Quebec, Ireland, Israel and so on during the
last decades. Fishman told this and Fishman told that... But finally, a
native basque sociolinguistic theory and practice is gaining terrain, put up
by a basque sociolinguist (Jose Maria Sanchez Carrion *Txepetx*), and today,
most Basques think that this is the trend to follow.

It just happens that Basque (catalogued as endangered by Unesco) has a
number of speakers (650.000) that barely offers a critic mass to develop its
own trends, professional linguists and so on. But do most endangered
languages (I mean mainly indigenous languages) have this chance?

(pardon for my bad english)
Luistxo Fernandez - a basque journalist
 Euskaldunon Egunkaria - the one and only basque-language daily newspaper in
 the world (one of the few in an endangered language)
     e-mail:	egunka01 at
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	* Personal pages (about minority languages and place-names)

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