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Paulina Jaenecke pj at
Mon Oct 4 11:00:54 UTC 1999

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Subject: Re: ELL: Endangered Languages Debate
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From: "Paulina Jaenecke" <pj at>
To: "Henry Szymonik" <heszy at>,
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	Date: Mon, 4 Oct 1999 11:00:54 +0000
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	Subject: Re: ELL: Endangered Languages Debate
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	I found Henry's comments very interesting, actually I contacted Lisa
	Valentine to find out more about her book.  But since English is not
	my native language, I find it hard to participate in the debates on
	the list, for fear of being misunderstood (and possibly flamed, as
	well). And if  I want my mail to be grammatically correct, it usually
	takes me so long to write, the debate is over when I'm finished
	:-) I'll give it a try this time......

	I am working with Sorbian, a minority language spoken in Southeastern
	Germany. The Sorbs were christianised in the 11th century. During the
	reformation, most of the Sorbs took to the new Lutheran faith, only a
	small part retained their catholic denomination. In this century, the
	catholic Sorbs turn out to be the "stronger" Sorbs, with regards to
	language maintenance. While the actual number of Catholic Sorbs has
	remained relatively stable, there is a dramatic decline of Sorbian
	Historically there has been a lot of activism among both Protestant
	and Catholic Sorbs. Priests have published books in the Sorbian
	language and paid for them themselves, often they were rebuked for
	this by church authorities.
	The line of Sorbian activism has been stable in the catholic
	communities, although the number of young men opting for priesthood is
	decling. The protestants have / had enormous difficulties recruiting
	young people, not just for priesthood but for other activities as

	I don't think you could say the Protestant church is / was inherently
	negative toward the Sorbs and the Catholic church pro-Sorbian. I
	rather think, it is what the people inside the church make of it.
	There are examples, where protestant groups have been very
	succesful on maintaining their language f.i. the Mennonites.
	And I guess, this brings me to the point, what disturbs me most about
	Matthews mails.
	I don't like to believe in the ideas of victims, I think that people
	have their own motives to act in a specific way. I don't think that
	the missionaries would have much success among the Akha, if there
	hadn't been internal tensions that favoured new ideas.
	An anthropologist I know, studied why some "development programms"
	don't work. One example he told was like this:

	There had been attempts to introduce new rice seeds, and they just
	didn't sprout in the fields. The foreign helpers with best
	intentions of doubling the harvest were quite puzzled, because this
	was the new "wonder seed" and they just couldn't figure out, why it
	didn't grow. The local people told the anthropologist that they
	didn't trust the new seed, but the easiest way to get around possible
	sanctions for not cooperating was to plant the seed anyway. However,
	to prove their point, they boiled the seeds just for a minute, so it
	would still look the same, but wouldn't sprout.
Of course there are situations in which methods like this don't work.
Still it shows that people usually aren't as helpless as we might
think they are.


Paulina Jaenecke             pj at
Nehringstr.14                +49-30-3265514
14059 Berlin
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