Trond Trosterud Trond.Trosterud at hum.uit.no
Wed Sep 29 08:20:51 UTC 1999

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Date: Wed, 29 Sep 1999 10:20:51 +0200
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>I would find it very odd that SIL's effect on the endangering of languages
>and cultures is not discussed on this list unless it is a chosen blind spot.
>So far there is no other cause or suspected cause of endangering languages
>that people are not willing to discuss.  We see government prohibition and
>many other human unfortunate things which effect language discussed on this
>list. Only SIL and such orgs seem to not get the academic scrutiny or
>documentation that they deserve.
>I find this odd. I find no reason to not discuss it on this list.

Until now you have not done academic scrutiny, only shouting and yelling at
SIL. As I have said earlier: Concrete cases of conduct that will be deemed
bad by #any# ethic standard, such as the things you have written about,
should either be forwarded to bodies responsible for them (in this case,
SIL), or they risk loosing credibility, as in this case. If your
accusations are correct, why tell them to me? Why not to SIL, so that the
persons responsible may be fired immediately?

Then to the important question, what role missionaries have towards
endangered lgs. This should be discussed on this list. I said discussed,
not yelled and shouted. As a Norwegian writer once wrote in the margin of
his speech manuscript: "weak argument. loud voice!"

So here is a starting point for such a discussion:

Missionaries are cultural imperialists, by definition, and they will stay
this way, a.o. because  they do not and cannot see their activities as
cultural imperialism, since they see God as being literally outside and
above different human cultures. This can not be changed. Attempts at
changing this on this list will destroy the list, nothing more. As any
missionary may tell you, this is not the way of saving souls away from God.

The christian mission project makes thousands of devoted volunteers do two
thing in tandem: Making bibles in more and more languages, and including
more and more people in the western cultural sphere. The soviet experience
of the 30ies, in many ways strictily parallel to the mission project, tells
us that the most profound effect lies in the cultural side, in other words:
A people will be more marked by getting included in a money-based culture
than by getting the new testament in their own lg.

And, as earlier stated on the list, we should dare the thought that it may
be an option #not# to enter modern money-based society.

This last point is strictly academic, though, since in most cases the
alternatives are not sil or a prolonged life in the rain forest, but either
a life outside the newly chopped down rain forests, and this life in
portugese in a suburb, or a life outside the newly chopped down rain
forest, but in their native tongue with some kind of cultural and perhaps
even economic independence. Sil may be bad, but I am not sure that Forestry
companies, United Fruit, slum life and the dream about a Coca-Cola is any

>This list is about endangered languages.

True, and from my perspective missionaries have far better records than any
other project, Stalin being the sole exception, as the architect of the
most thorough lit lg creation project to date.

What I do not need on this list, is accusations on missionaires for being
missionaires (sigh) or for forcibly sterilizing children (we are not a
jury, if you have a case, go with it to where it belongs).

What I would be very interested in seing, is documentation that my picture
of missionaries are wrong: That they assimilate people, that they run
schools that are not in the mother tongue of the peoples, but rather in
Portugese in Angola, or even worse, in English in Angola, etc. etc. I would
also like documentation that the texts they offer are too narrow
(bible-only), in which case we should enter a dialogue with them on
printing more books on other topics as well.

>It is the opinion of some people that SIL is involved in endangering
>languages or supporting those who do.
>I suggested that there be good academic study of this.

Good suggestion. Well, at least they have more grammars than most of us do,
and they keep a good track of the situation world-wide. But what happens in
actual communities may be another matter.

>What are people afraid of?

I am not afraid, I am utterly bored by your writings, and when I answer you
at all it is because I think that the topic is important (we are talking
about thetext producer with the biggest lg coverage, Disney and Microsoft
are not even remotedly close).

>One thing could happen.

Or, if the stucy were academic and not just prejudicingly polemic, it would
be an open study, and #two# things could actually happen, not one, as you
aprioristically suggest.

>It could be determined by more and more people on this list and in language
>work that these missionaries are damaging language in the name of their own
>arrogance toward native peoples.

I have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Here in Norway, both the church
and the layman.s rel.  organisations used native lg bibles, had services in
S.i and Finnish, whereas the (social democrat) state ran a policy almost
American in its eagerness to assimilate (S.i and Finnish forbidden to use
in boarding schools, etc). This was a front towards assimilation, until at
least part of it was broken down by stronger state control of the church in
the beginning of this century (the missionary and layman.s organisations
remained outside state control, though, and thus continued a better lg
policy). Similarily, the same missionary organisations conducted the same
policy in Africa, from the beginning of this century. There are evidence of
the same kind for native american lgs, Dakota being a case in point.

This does not mean that I am not willing to listen to counter evidence, on
the contrary I am very interested. Any missionary misconduct in this
respect should be found and fought. Until now this has not been found in
the debate, certainly not for Akha (remember our Akha wr lg debate)), but
neither for other lgs. So evidence for "missionaries damaging language"
would be welcome (not the damanging, but bringing it to light). In light of
missionaries overall good record here I judge the possibilities good as to
improve cases of misconduct.

>Then it might be determined that in many cases these organizations are not
>helping languages but contributing to their destruction.

Here I think you may be more right. Opening up a society to majority
pressure, introducing milingualism, is the first step on the road to full
assimilation. And the best weapon against assimilation is cultural
autonomy, something the missionaries have great problems in giving, due to
the inherent cultural imperialism in the missionary project.

>So it might be determined to come up with some common ways to fight the
>activities of such organizations just as one might come up with ways to fight
>governments who damage people's languages.

Direct damages will be relatively easy to fight, as soon as it is found.

The cultural imperialism part is worse. As for the religious bit, it will
always be present in mission, what is needed is then discussion with
misisonaries in order to promote a profound rooting of (in this case)
christianity in local culture (as when 1800-c finnish bible replaced the
whole middle east fauna with a Finnish fauna)

>But to suggest that we should look the other way?

No. Not look the other way, but look with eyes wide open.


Trond Trosterud                                     t +47 7764 4763
Finsk institutt, Det humanistiske fakultet          h +47 7767 3639
N-9037 Universitetet i Troms., Noreg                f +47 7764 4239
Trond.Trosterud at hum.uit.no  http://www2.isl.uit.no/trond/index.html

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