Language impoverishment

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Sun Nov 23 08:14:38 UTC 2003

Thank you, Mia (belatedly). In looking at your response and Matthew's I'm
wondering what sort of connections have been made between research in
educational, health, and psychological effects on individuals of language
impoverishment on one hand and the wider socio-linguistic processes on the
other.  I realize this goes rather beyond the focus of the group, so I beg
your indulgence (and advice where else to take the thread).

Having read not long ago a piece that George Packer wrote about the young
men in southwestern West Africa involved in the conflicts there, and how
they have adopted elements of American pop-culture for image and whatever,
it seems clear that beyond having tenous roots, little education (formal or
informal), and no hope, they also have no deep knowledge of their maternal
language, no significant instruction in any other language, and arguably a
very limited range of expression ... pop-culture & violence are manageable
media for expressing frustration, hope, and a restrained spectrum of human
relations.  It would be a huge leap to try to make the case for a
socio-linguistic cause for the problems in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and now
Cote d'Ivoire (and why there and not elsewhere in the subregion), but I
wonder if anyone has tried exploring a "language impoverishment" angle on
conflict in changing societies and the psychology of combattants.


Don Osborn

----- Original Message -----
From: "MiaKalish at RedPony" <miakalish at REDPONY.US>
Sent: Monday, November 10, 2003 1:06 AM
Subject: Re: Language impoverishment

> Dear Don:
> There is lots of this kind of research, but mostly you find it in
> specifically related to environments and student success, and, you find it
> in Health, particularly with regard to the impact that attempts to
> their language and culture has had on Native Americans. You find the
> bright glimmers in qualitative research on the success of reinstituting
> Native culture and religion in AA.
> Good luck,
> Mia Kalish
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Don Osborn" <dzo at BISHARAT.NET>
> Sent: Sunday, November 09, 2003 1:19 AM
> Subject: Language impoverishment
> I came upon a phrase earlier this year that was used by the author John
> Marsden in a workshop: "Language impoverishment can lead to frustration,
> impotence and/or rage" (at the site
> ).  This was a new
> take on a phenomenon that I had been thinking a lot about in the African
> context (young people who learn neither their maternal languages well nor
> the official languages used in school).  Further research found that
> author, Walker Percy, wrote that one result of language's impoverishment
> "a radical impoverishment of human relations."
> My thinking is that well before we get to the point of concern about a
> language's survival, it starts to lose vocabulary and range of expression
> and creativity: it becomes impoverished. But more than being a stage in
> may ultimately end up as extinction, language impoverishment seems to have
> broader social and psychological implications beyond cultural survival and
> language policy.
> I wrote Mr. Marsden, who kindly replied that his statement was the result
> many years of observation and not formal research (which should not
> depreciate the value of such observation I would hasten to add!).  But I
> would be interested in learning more about research anyone is doing on
> language impoverishment in communities and its effects on individual and
> community life.
> Don Osborn, Ph.D.         dzo at
> *Bisharat! A language, technology & development initiative
> *Bisharat! Initiative langues - technologie - développement

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