use of minority languages

Felicia Briscoe FBriscoe at
Fri Jan 9 17:51:22 UTC 2004


I think you are so right.  The problem lies when material goods are more
easily obtained when speaking "mainstream" tongue, thus making the choice to
speak Portequese is not a free choice, but understandable in the case of
people's whose "mother tongue" is not part of the mianstream and to deny
them access to mainstream langauge in many cases is to deny them power
(political, economic, and social).  However, Skutnabb-Kangas provides a
compelling rationale about why we need a diversity of languages. What needs
to be changed is not whether or not any group of people has access to a
particular langauge, but the fact that power has come to be associated with
only a few (generally European) langauges.  As you say, I am speaking in
very general terms.

-----Original Message-----
From: Stan & Sandy Anonby [mailto:stan-sandy_anonby at]
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 9:10 AM
To: lgpolicy-list at
Subject: Re: use of minority languages

The situation you describe is pretty well identical for Brazilian Indians.
The people promoting mother tongue literacy are mostly foreigners -
missionaries, folks working for NGO's, and universities.  The Indians
themselves are eager to become literate in Portuguese.  When classes are
taught in their Indian language, there are comments like, "Now we're wasting
our time."  It seems to me their priority is not their language, their
priorities are to get access to the material goods available in mainstream
Brazilian society, which is via Portuguese.  There are many tribes in
Brazil, and of course I am generalizing.

Stan Anonby

----- Original Message -----
From: "Harold F. Schiffman" <haroldfs at>
To: "Language Policy-List" <lgpolicy-list at>
Sent: Friday, January 09, 2004 10:42 AM
Subject: use of minority languages

> 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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