changing language policy and ideas about language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 12 15:04:11 UTC 2004

One of the reasons for starting this Consortium for Language Policy and
Planning was to have some educational events, e.g. summer institutes,
where we could do some grass-roots teaching of school administrators,
legislators (or legislative aids), and policy-makers of various sorts at
the grass roots level, on issues of language policy. This was to try to
counter the megamillionaire-funded initiatives in California and elsewhere
that made it difficult to have a reasonable discussion of language policy.

It seemed to those of us who founded the group (if I may speak for more
than just myself) that linguists and others can sit in their ivory towers
and make pronouncements about what is right for people, but the world
outside of academic often doesn't trust the elitism they see and hear
coming from us.  Thus the plan for a summer institute on these issues,
which hasn't happened yet because foundations have not seen fit to give us
money.  (Maybe Ron Unz could be approached?)

I appreciate what Rachel says below--we think we have all the answers, but
the world "out there" may not agree with us; or other attitudes have to be
changed before popular ideas about language and language policy will

Hal Schiffman

On Mon, 12 Jan 2004, Rachel Reynolds wrote:

> I am wondering why no one has quite mentioned that language is just a
> single part of the ethnic/racial stratification scene in the United States
> (and elsewhere).  There is only so much that educating people about
> language can accomplish when race relations have a lot to do also with
> clean water supplies, prison, health care disparities (Christina mentioned
> this!), sociogeographical isolation of the poor, the impetus towards
> empire, enduring and changing commercialization of black bodies and sounds,
> etc. etc. etc.   The efficacy of language consciousness education depends
> of course on historical and cultural contexts of other forms of
> consciousness raising and the ethnic/class struggle (i.e. timing is
> everything).  Someone mentioned Kendall King's book earlier on Quechua,
> standardization and the classroom where, for example, in the introduction
> King points out that her ethnography takes place in a setting where
> indigenous people in Ecuador had just won a political place in the wording
> of the constitution and that the wide ranging effects of this will have
> mattered at a more pervasive level than the efforts of a single educational
> consortium.  Nonetheless, this educational consortium arose at the time of
> political change and was probably more effective because of its correlation
> with the zeitgeist. (that last part is me talking, not necessarily King
> whose book I do not presently have by my side).  That's related to why King
> concludes that language revitalization may not necessarily fully reinstate
> languages within all domains, but that it has a positive
> social-psychological effect on minority children and within their
> communities. (again, I hope I've summarized that accurately).
> Wasn't it Marvin Harris who points out that changing superstructural
> concerns from the top, like language and its ideologies, have less
> likelihood of affecting the infrastructure or the structure of a social
> group?  While changes form the base, in the infrastructure and the
> structure will have wider-ranging on the superstructure?  When and how are
> minority language planning efforts likely to change the structure, I guess,
> is what I'm asking...
> Rachel Reynolds
> At 05:51 AM 1/12/2004 +0200, you wrote:
> >Christina's comment reminds me of a remark made by a Navajo graduate
> >student of mine many years ago: by moving to the city, she knew it was
> >unlikely that her son would grow up speaking Navajo, but at least she
> >wouldn't have to carry water a mile or two every day.
> >Of course, those who stayed on the Reservation are speaking Navajo less
> >and less.
> >Bernard
> >-----Original Message-----
> >From: owner-lgpolicy-list at
> >[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at] On Behalf Of Christina
> >Paulston
> >Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2004 9:54 PM
> >To: lgpolicy-list at
> >Subject: Re: printability and standardization
> >
> >I must express myself extremely badly to be so misunderstood. Of course a
> >person can be literate in more than one language or dialect - I read some
> >seven languages, eight, myself. We are not, that is,  I am not talking
> >about a linguistic problem but a social. Of course the LSA comment "from
> >this perspective" they noted, was perfectly sound. It was the Black
> >community across the country who rose up in protest at having AAVE imposed
> >on them and you can give them all the linguistic information you want and
> >it is not going to help.
> >     What about South Africa, now with 11 official languages? Many
> > Afrikaners for "pedagogically sound" reasons now urge the African
> > population to send their children to mother tongue schools - exactly the
> > same policy enforced under apartheid for reasons of segregation.  Parents
> > prefer education in English for their children - are you going to tell
> > them they suffer from false consciousness ( a singularly brilliant
> > concept, that)? There are as always other circumstances, quality of
> > teachers, texts, etc but parents still want English.  And I think it
> > should be their choice.
> >     The problem of course becomes worse when the children and the parents
> > disagree over that choice - which is not uncommon with immigrant
> > groups.  I just object to linguists playing omniscient gods and
> > recommending  options for life decisions on the basis of linguistic
> > criteria.  Most people want a decent life, at least for their children, a
> > good job, good health care (Bush should take note), a secure old age,
> > etc, and if that necessitates another language, they don't care. Of
> > course they can remain bilingual but the children usually don't think it
> > is worth it.
> >     Etc.  My very last comment, Christina
> >
> >----------
> >From: Ronald Kephart <rkephart at>
> >To: lgpolicy-list at
> >Subject: RE: printability and standardization
> >Date: Sun, Jan 11, 2004, 11:15 AM
> >
> >
> >
> >At 11:02 AM -0600 1/10/04, Felicia Briscoe wrote:
> >
> >...There also seems to be an underlying assumption in much of the recent
> >writing that
> >bilingualism is either very difficult to attain or that it is someway is
> >detrimental to the person who is bilingual.  I find this a very strange
> >assumption. Why can't a person be fully literate in AAVE and fully
> >literate in standard English.  Why is it so often posed as an either/or option?
> >
> >
> >I think part of the answer lies in what anthropological linguist MJ
> >Hardman calls our linguistic postulates: specifically, the importance of
> >singularity. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways not only within
> >our language but also how we think about language, as well as more widely:
> >one "right" answer, one god, preference for individual over collective
> >work, "most valuable players," the totalitarian nature of our
> >corporations, even the prescriptive insistence on "he" rather than "they"
> >as a generic pronoun. And of course, "one language."
> >
> >See: Hardman, 1978, Linguistic postulates and applied anthropological
> >linguistics, in Papers on linguistics and child language, edited by V.
> >Honsa and M.J. Hardman-de-Bautista, 117-36. The Hague: Mouton.
> >
> >--
> >Ronald Kephart
> >Sociology, Anthropology, & Criminal Justice
> >University of North Florida
> >

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