ELL: Wall Street Journal editorial

Julia Sallabank julia at TORTEVAL.DEMON.CO.UK
Sun Mar 31 13:34:37 UTC 2002

Hello all

I think Claire makes some very good points. They are useful not only when
arguing with majority-language promoters, but also with people from minority
speech communities who also fall for the idea that language shift will lead
to economic prosperity. And thanks for mentioning Channel Island Norman
French, which I'm studying.

Just one comment: isn't George W. Bush fluent in Spanish? Or is that his

----- Original Message -----
From: "Claire Bowern" <bowern at fas.harvard.edu>
To: <endangered-languages-l at cleo.murdoch.edu.au>
Sent: Saturday, March 30, 2002 7:28 PM
Subject: Re: ELL: Wall Street Journal editorial

> Dear all,
> > Just a few comments:
> > 1. we can be definitely sure that more people "out there" (in the "real"
> > world, not in this list) prefer Bic Mac to grub. We have an objective
> > if more people wanted grub, McDonald's would be selling grub. Therefore:
> My original tongue/grub-in-cheek posting was taken much more seriously
> than I intended! and I probably should have admitted from the start that
> I'm a vegetarian. While it usually won't offend anyone if I refuse a big
> mac, refusing a hunk of subcutaneous turtle fat or <insert organic matter
> of choice> would have been very rude to the old ladies who saved it
> specially for me (ultimately the main reason a lot of us end up eating
> weird stuff, right?)
> > 3. I wouldn't want Bourdieu to teach me what "free market" means. Nobody
> > ever said that a market decision always works to the best interest of
> > who make it. Certainly not Adam Smith and the liberal thinkers. We make
> > decisions everyday - we buy things which don't work or which we discover
> > could have bought for a better price. But our decisions are still free -
> > can be persuaded to buy unnecessary things, OK. But to be persuaded to
do X
> Richard Trudgen has written an excellent book on this sort of thing in
> Australia (particularly concerning Yolngu speakers from Arnhemland, but it
> applies equally well to many other parts of the country too); it's called
> "Why warriors lie down and die."
> Someone made a comment in a recent posting about separating the languages
> from the speakers, and asked why we should preserve the languages if the
> speakers themselves don't want to speak them. A lot of Aboriginal people
> I've talked to have said things along the lines of their parents gave up
> their languages and talked English to their children because they thought
> it would give them better opportunities to get a job and have a better
> life. It didn't work because most of the other factors of disadvantage are
> still there - terrible health conditions, terrible nutrition, terrible
> educational opportunities, very limited employment opportunities (because
> of the above), psychologically often very stressful living conditions
> (alcohol abuse, domestic violence, very high youth suicide and the like).
> So the opportunities for their kids aren't considerably better, AND
> they've lost their language and culture, with nothing much to replace it.
> Most of these languages are moribund and nothing is going to make young
> kids suddenly start speaking them in the near future. However, there is
> nothing to say that sometime in the future such communities won't have an
> interest in language revival. (See, for example, Rob Amery's account of
> Kaurna language revival.) Surely it's in both linguists' and communities'
> best interests to do as thorough job as possible, In the community I was
> working in last year, for example, there were about 30 speakers of the
> language, all over 55. They were pushing the language documentation and
> revival project; with a few exceptions most of the community didn't care
> (they had no objection to the project taking place, they just weren't
> interested in it).
> Now, neither language documentation projects or any language revival
> projects have much economic "value", but I believe it's a very big mistake

> to measure things like this in purely economic terms. The preservation of
> historic buildings, for instance, makes little economic sense; funding for
> the arts, the National Portrait Gallery, for example, are an economic
> waste of time. If we didn't spend money on things like this we'd be
> "better off" ecomonically, but not culturally.
> So, if we choose to view these things purely economically and decide that
> it isn't "worth it" to preserve in some form the many highly endangered
> languages we can still do something about, we'd better be damn sure we're
> doing the right thing, and that we're not going to decide in 40 years time
> that we really could have afforded it, after all.
> Claire
> -----------------------------
> Claire Bowern
> Department of Linguistics
> Harvard University
> 305 Boylston Hall
> Cambridge, MA, 02138
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