ONce more on the "offensive" diglossia survey

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Tue Feb 5 22:33:06 UTC 2008

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Thanks for clarifying your objection. This position on the perpetuation of
diglossia as a factor of linguistic culture is exactly the position I take
in my 1996 book (Linguistic Culture and Language Policy) as the reason for
the perpetuation of diglossia in South Asian languages. I hold also that
the reason Tamil diglossia is perhaps more extreme (i.e. the distance
between H and L is so great) is the hypersensitivity in Tamil culture to
the perception that Tamil is threatened by other languages (such as
Sanskrit and Hindi) and needs to protect itself against any deviation from
the archaic norms.

There can be a certain amount of fanaticism involved in this, but you are
right in protesting the broad-brush use of that term, and I think John
Myhill has apologized for it.

Hal S.

Quoting Peter Slomanson:

"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."

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