that "offensive" survey request on diglossia

Lakshmi Srinivas lsrinivas at YAHOO.COM
Tue Feb 5 22:26:19 UTC 2008


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As an amateur but interested follower of discussions on this list, I was quite at a loss to understand the implicit assumption of some kind of causal relation between literacy and diglossia. In situations with longstanding diglossia there does not seem to be much of an effect of literacy (in the high language) over diglossia. Schweitzer Deutsch must be a case in point as is diglossia in Tamil. 

Diglossia seems to be a cultural marker more than anything else. Surely one of the first to articulate diglossia in history must have to be Hanuman in the Ramayana when he ponders how to address Sita - in Sanskrit (refined speech) or in the spoken dialect. He is a stranger to Sita and he does not want her to draw the wrong conclusions about him with regard to who he was, his station in life etc. 

This prehistoric reference to diglossia would seem to be a contraindicator for the notion that diglossia has any relationship to literacy. 

Hope this helps,

Lakshmi Srinivas

----- Original Message ----
From: Peter Slomanson <slomanson at GMAIL.COM>
To: VYAKARAN at LISTSERV.SYR.EDU
Sent: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 2:10:51 PM
Subject: Re: that "offensive" survey request on diglossia


VYAKARAN: 
South 
Asian 
Languages 
and 
Linguistics 
Net
Editors:  
Tej 
K. 
Bhatia, 
Syracuse 
University, 
New 
York
  
  
  
  
  
John 
Peterson, 
University 
of 
Osnabrueck, 
Germany
Details:  
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My 
objection 
was 
not 
to 
the 
idea 
that 
a 
diglossic 
linguistic 
culture 
in
which 
the 
H 
language 
is 
linguistically 
distant 
from 
the 
vernacular
language 
may 
be 
an 
impediment 
to 
literacy.

My 
only 
objection 
was 
to 
the 
reference 
to 
ostensible 
ideological
motivations 
for 
the 
maintenance 
of 
diglossia, 
and 
more 
specifically 
to
the 
terms 
used, 
including 
"fanaticism" 
and 
that 
"they" 
wish 
to 
"create 
a
maximally 
large 
'Arab 
people'".  
Why 
would 
one 
suggest 
that 
political
pan-Arabism 
is 
a 
*general* 
motivation 
for 
the 
maintenance 
of 
the
diglossic 
system 
in 
Arabic-speaking 
societies?  
Why 
should 
explicitly
political 
motives 
necessarily 
be 
associated 
with 
the 
maintenance 
of
diglossia 
in 
(predominantly) 
Muslim 
linguistic 
cultures?  
When 
was
the 
last 
time 
Swiss 
Germans 
were 
referred 
to 
as 
fanatics 
of 
any 
variety
in 
discussions 
of 
the 
maintenance 
of 
a 
diglossic 
system 
in 
Switzerland?

What 
about 
the 
idea 
that 
diglossia 
is 
perpetuated 
because 
it 
is
traditionally 
an 
integral 
part 
of 
some 
linguistic 
culture?  
That
dynamic 
(simple 
cultural 
conservatism) 
would 
apply 
in 
all 
of 
the
linguistic 
cultures 
to 
which 
John 
referred.  
I 
certainly 
take 
that 
to 
be 
the
motivation 
for 
the 
maintenance 
of 
diglossia 
in 
Tamil, 
for 
example, 
although
general 
Tamil 
language 
maintenance 
is 
an 
extremely 
politicized 
matter.
The 
idea 
that 
only 
the 
vernacular 
is 
the 
variety 
with 
which 
its 
speakers
ought 
to 
identify 
may 
be 
completely 
logical 
to 
linguists 
from 
non-diglossic
linguistic 
cultures, 
but 
it 
is 
hardly 
a 
universal 
perspective.  
That  
fact
obviates 
the 
need 
to 
look 
for 
a 
grand 
ideological 
motivation 
for 
maintaining
diglossia, 
a 
motivation 
which, 
widespread 
or 
not, 
might 
also 
be 
described 
in
less 
judgmental 
terms.

John 
noted 
that 
literacy 
in 
Sinhala 
and 
in 
Malayalam 
are 
quite 
high.
I 
have 
assumed 
that 
educational 
policy/conditions 
can 
go 
a 
long 
way
toward 
mitigating 
any 
negative 
effects 
of 
diglossia.  
I 
have 
long 
found
the 
extent 
of 
literacy 
in 
Sinhala 
to 
be 
particularly 
impressive 
at 
this
point 
in 
history.  
Although 
diglossia 
may 
contribute 
to 
difficulties 
in
education 
elsewhere, 
I 
am 
unaware 
of 
any 
literature 
making 
such 
a
claim 
with 
reference 
to 
Sinhala.  
(Of 
course 
they 
may 
well 
exist.)
Linguistic 
informants/consultants 
have 
drawn 
my 
attention 
to
problems 
that 
arise 
in 
Sri 
Lanka 
when 
children 
there 
are 
educated
in 
a 
language 
that 
is 
unrelated 
to 
their 
home 
and 
peer 
group
language, 
however 
this 
is 
another 
matter.  
I 
would 
be 
very 
interested
indeed 
in 
a 
longer 
discussion 
of 
diglossia 
and 
education 
in 
South
Asia 
with 
anyone 
who 
cares 
to 
jump 
in, 
in 
this 
forum 
or 
privately.

Peter 
Slomanson

2008/2/5, 
Harold 
F. 
Schiffman 
<haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>:
> 
VYAKARAN: 
South 
Asian 
Languages 
and 
Linguistics 
Net
> 
Editors:  
Tej 
K. 
Bhatia, 
Syracuse 
University, 
New 
York
>  
  
  
  
  
 
John 
Peterson, 
University 
of 
Osnabrueck, 
Germany
> 
Details:  
Send 
email 
to 
listserv at listserv.syr.edu 
and 
say: 
INFO 
VYAKARAN
> 
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>  
  
  
  
  
 
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for 
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> 
Archives: 
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>
> 
In 
reply 
to 
various 
people 
who 
found 
the 
diglossia 
survey 
"offensive", 
I'd
> 
like 
to 
add 
what 
I 
can 
to 
hopefully 
clarify 
this. 
The 
point 
John 
was
> 
trying 
to 
make 
is 
that 
the 
greater 
degree 
of 
distance 
there 
is 
between 
the
> 
H 
and 
L 
varieties 
of 
a 
language, 
the 
more 
difficult 
it 
is 
to 
achieve
> 
literacy 
for 
people 
who 
only 
know 
L 
and 
are 
attempting 
to 
master 
H. 
I 
am
> 
not 
an 
expert 
on 
Arabic, 
but 
I 
have 
heard 
people 
who 
are 
say 
that 
the
> 
extreme 
diglossia 
of 
Arabic 
is 
in 
fact 
an 
impediment 
to 
literacy 
in
> 
H-variety 
(Qu'ranic) 
Arabic, 
and 
I 
would 
agree 
that 
this 
is 
true 
for
> 
Tamil, 
a 
language 
I 
spent 
28 
years 
of 
my 
career 
teaching. 
In 
fact 
I 
used
> 
to 
teach 
H-variety 
Tamil 
and 
L-variety 
spoken 
Tamil 
separately, 
almost 
as
> 
if 
they 
were 
two 
different 
but 
related 
languages, 
because 
otherwise
> 
students 
tended 
to 
confuse 
the 
two 
varieties, 
especially 
at 
first.  
So 
I
> 
don't 
think 
that 
offense 
was 
meant 
by 
this 
question, 
and 
I 
don't 
find 
the
> 
question 
offensive 
when 
seen 
in 
this 
light.
>
> 
My 
only 
reservation 
is 
that 
I 
don't 
know 
of 
any 
number-crunching 
metric
> 
one 
can 
use 
to 
ascertain 
what 
the 
"distance" 
is 
between 
the 
H 
and 
L 
of 
any
> 
diglossic 
language, 
so 
that 
unless 
someone 
has 
come 
up 
with 
a 
way 
to
> 
measure 
this, 
the 
"degree 
of 
distance" 
can 
only 
be 
guessed 
at,
> 
impressionistically.  
I 
think 
there 
is 
room 
here 
for 
some 
interesting
> 
kinds 
of 
testing, 
e.g. 
to 
see 
how 
much 
of 
a 
different 
dialect 
speakers 
of
> 
a 
given 
language 
can 
understand, 
e.g. 
how 
much 
Sri 
Lanka 
Tamil 
can 
Indian
> 
Tamil 
speakers 
understand, 
vs. 
Sri 
Lanka 
speakers 
understanding 
Indian
> 
Tamil.
>
> 
The 
problem 
of 
course 
is 
that 
mutual 
intelligibility, 
or 
lack 
of 
it, 
often
> 
has 
to 
do 
with 
factors 
other 
than 
"pure" 
perceptual 
cues, 
or 
measurable 
as
> 
phonological 
morphological, 
lexical 
or 
syntactic 
differences.  
(SL 
Tamil
> 
speakers 
tend 
to 
understand 
Indian 
Tamil 
better 
than 
vice 
versa 
because 
of
> 
the 
dominance 
of 
Indian 
Tamil 
in 
films, 
etc., 
or 
so 
I'm 
told.  
I 
once 
had
> 
the 
experience 
of 
speaking 
Indian 
Tamil 
to 
a 
woman 
in 
Sri 
Lanka 
who
> 
replied 
to 
me 
in 
H-variety 
Tamil; 
if 
she 
had 
spoken 
SL 
Tamil 
I 
would 
have
> 
not 
understood, 
but 
the 
arrangement 
worked 
well.) 
And 
we 
also 
have
> 
literature 
on 
non-reciprocal 
intelligibility 
that 
is 
based 
on 
political
> 
factors.
>
> 
In 
other 
words, 
there 
are 
many 
sociolingustic 
factors 
involved 
here, 
but 
I
> 
think 
it's 
an 
area 
for 
more 
research.  
In 
any 
event, 
it's 
not 
an 
ignorant
> 
question, 
and 
it's 
not 
meant 
to 
be 
offensive.
>
>
> 
Hal 
Schiffman
>



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