ELL: Endangered Languages Debate

Matthew McDaniel akha at loxinfo.co.th
Mon Oct 4 14:54:29 UTC 1999

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    Date: Mon, 04 Oct 1999 21:54:29 +0700
    From: Matthew McDaniel <akha at loxinfo.co.th>
    Organization: The Akha Heritage Foundation
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    In reference to Paulina's statement.

    This isn't about making Akha's into victims, it is about ethics.

    I think we are too ready to excuse reckless and slobbish behavior on the
    of missionaries.

    Because they can get away with it and play to internal dissent is no

    I know of many cases, I will site one.

    A catholic village, fifteen years converted.  Ok, some of the traditions
    gone, but certainly not scorched earth protestant style.  The catechist
    dies.  There is some power dispute, little or great, I nor translators
    better language skill could not find out without going into it more, but
    there was some power dispute.  One village man invited a roving missionary
    come to his side with some kind of project.  Now this is where ethic comes
    in.  The missionary could have refused this offer under the conditions or
    certainly if accepted, have packaged it is such a way as to not make a
    situation that had instability worse.  But he did not.  He came to the
    village, didn't bother to talk to the regional priest to find out what was
    going on and built an enormous church compound square in the middle of the
    village a great expense, making that half of the village protestant.
    Whatever differences the village had, as one family, they were certainly
    as great as he then made them.  what had been a village matter now had
    coming in from outside pulling to this side and that, previously not the
    case.  To say nothing of the fact that the enormous church which can be
    easily spotted from half a kilometer away in a small village of bamboo
    nearly two stories tall was totally inappropriate.

    One can always justify their actions for gain in the community, but it
    not justify the increased division that these people sew to in the
    communities, which in itself is a contradiction with their stated creed of

    This village could have easily been encouraged to resolve whatever
    but the matter seemed to rely heavy in the financial gains that the new
    pastor would get and the benefits to that part of the village.  You can
    have the event without the foreign pastors playing it for all its worth,
    this case a man from Australia.  In the west we have laws to protect
    and their environments from this sort of thing, if not, it sure slows it
    and gives people a collective forum.  The catholic side of the village
    that wether they agreed with it or not, did not matter because the
    had lots of money and could do what he wanted.

    So on one hand we can wash our hands of it, all this religious bullying,
    in reality we know quite full that many less impoverished communities
    not put up with this.  But then isn't divide and conquer a long tradition


    Paulina Jaenecke wrote:

> 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
> protestants.
> 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
> well.
> 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
> Paulina Jaenecke             pj at zedat.fu-berlin.de
> Nehringstr.14                +49-30-3265514
> 14059 Berlin
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Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation
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Mobile Phone Number:  Sometimes hard to reach while in Mountains.

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