use of minority languages

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jan 9 14:42:21 UTC 2004

It seems to me in the discussion of the use of Ladin and other languages,
we need to keep in mind what the attitudes of the speakers are toward
literacy in their language, and what it might mean when literacy in
another language might give them more 'power'.

The Tulu people, speakers of a Dravidian language in S. India, have a
population of just under 2 million, and their language is quite distinct
from that of their neighbors. It has been researched since the 19th
century, when missionaries from the Basel Mission compiled a dictionary, a
grammar, and other print stuff.  Yet the Tulu choose literacy in Kannada
for the most part, probably because in the scheme of things in India, a
speakership of 2 million is just a drop in the bucket, so literacy in
Kannada (Tulunad is located mostly within Karnataka State) provides more
opportunities.  One major writer in the area, U.R. Ananthamurthy, a
mother-tongue speaker of Tulu, chose to write in Kannada; his novel
Samskara won national prizes in India.  But he told me that in his home,
Tulu was a language spoken on 'the back porch' mostly by women, while men
spoke Kannada on the 'front porch'.  He enjoyed going back and forth, and
learning Tulu from the women as well as Kannada from the men. But he
chooses to write in Kannada, and gets a larger audience thereby.

In other parts of the world, e.g. ex-Soviet Georgia, it appears that
speakers of Mingrelian, a distinct language from Georgian, though related
(i.e. not mutually intelligible with it) choose to have literacy in
Georgian; it's not an issue with them that their language is not used.
Ethnologue gives a figure of 500,000 speakers of Mingrelian

In this country in situations where bilingual education is offered in e.g.
Spanish, we hear of some Hispanics choosing not to have it, because of
fears of 'ghettoization'.  They want the language of empowerment, and
that's the majority language.

Hal Schiffman

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