Regional languages dying in mixed marriages (fwd)

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Fri Feb 27 22:35:47 UTC 2004

Matthew, all, (here's an even slower reply),

It is interesting to compare the situation in the Americas with that in
Africa.  Colonization in the latter - and the slave trade before - however
severe in its effects did not decimate the populations & cultures the way
that the European invasion of what was for them the "New World" did there.
The imposition of French, English and to a lesser degree Portuguese (and in
one enclave, Spanish) from the mid-19th century on has not replaced the
indigenous languages, but have usurped some functions. One could argue that
cultures were sociolinguistically decapitated with the absorbtion of
existing elites or creating of separate elites schooled in the colonial
tongues, and that that situation has to a large degree continued such that
African languages by and large are seen as backward and incapable of
expressing scientific concepts. This sort of depreciation no longer has to
come from foreigners - I have heard Africans schooled in English or French
will offer this opinion (not sure if speakers of Native American languages
say similar things), and those not schooled but steeped in their first
language(s) away from seats of power and learning don't have the ways or
means to argue.

The large number of languages in Africa is generally given as a reason to
continue to resort to the languages inherited from the colonial period, but
this argument really seems to just gloss over a varied linguistic terrain
and preclude discussion of alternative solutions.  As you mention in your
response re pidgin, there are languages in Africa with as many or more
speakers than some of the state languages in Europe, but they are being
totally or largely neglected in education and language policy (in many cases
it seems because the languages cross borders).

Part of what got me involved in these questions a few years ago was thinking
about facilitating multilingual uses of computers and the internet in
Africa, but as time goes by, it seems that some ICT tools may actually be
able to help in the revitalization of maternal languages and to lessen some
of the inconveniences (relative to advantages) of multiple languages in a


----- Original Message -----
From: "Matthew Ward" <mward at LUNA.CC.NM.US>
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2004 7:23 PM
Subject: Re: Regional languages dying in mixed marriages (fwd)

> If Native American societies had been allowed to develop as independent
> states, then you would probably see this kind of thing happening on a
> widespread scale: language shift occuring in the direction of more
> powerful indigenous languages, rather than in the direction of colonial
> languages. You would still see endangered minority languages, but you
> would also have powerful, thriving indigenous languages, as India has.
> The sad thing is that in the American continents, four colonial
> languages (Spanish, English, Portuguese and French) are official or
> de-facto official in every state, and very few countries have given
> either official recognition or widespread official use to indigenous
> languages, which has put the latter in a precarious position.
> I personally believe that making indigenous languages the de facto state
> languages of various reservations or regions would be one of the most
> effective ways to fight back. Some of the Alaskan languages, for
> example, are relatively healthy, due to their widespread use in local
> government and education. It is easier to maintain a language when using
> that language is required in order to participate in a variety of
> spheres within a given society.
> To take the article we read about Easter Island for an example, if
> Spanish-speaking newcomers to Easter Island had to learn the local
> language in order to navigate local government and education, they would
> be more likely to learn that language, and the locals would have a
> concrete, practical reason for passing the language on to their
> children. I have read about Spanish-speaking migrants to Basque country
> in Spain who have complained bitterly about having to learn Basque, but,
> in my view, the Basques are simply doing what they need to do in order
> to maintain their culture. European minority languages like Catatlan and
> Basque remain healthy because their speakers have won political battles
> which have enabled them to restore their languages' official status and
> use. Hopefully, indigenous people in America (meaning, the American
> continents) will be able to win similar battles.
[ . . . ]

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