printability and standardization

Felicia Briscoe FBriscoe at
Mon Jan 12 19:58:36 UTC 2004


Thanks for letting me know about your very relevant publication.  I do so
much agree with you that we need to look at how any language policy fits
into the overall economic, political, and social structure and if our
"esoteric" linguistic knowledge is to be of benefit to them, then we need to
share it as much as possible in a form that doesn't descend into specialized
jargon.  The problem is that the mass media does such a poor job of making
this information available to the very public who are most directly affected
by langauge policies (see Santa Ana's 2002 book,  Brown Tide Rising:
Metaphors of Latinos in Contemporary American Public Discourse, for more on
how the mass media shapes discourse around particular issues).  And, I think
if we would deal directly with the practices that bring about subordination
or oppression of certain groups then language policies would become less
pressing.  But when language policies act within a political/economic
circumstances to further oppress a particular group then they need to be
changed.  What I am saying, is that I think its impossible to mandate any
particular policy without knowing the particular circumstances of a
cultural/economic/social group.  But in general, as much as possible I think
people should have easy access to knowledge (including linguistic) and also
to languages of power and of their home and communities. And I think that we
have drastically underestimated linguistic abilities of most children and in
fact their overall ability to learn.


-----Original Message-----
From: Bernard Spolsky [mailto:spolsb at]
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2004 1:34 PM
To: lgpolicy-list at
Subject: RE: printability and standardization

At that time, most Navajos lived in traditional homes a good distance from
their neighbors, and from water. That was the point she was making - she
could choose city life with indoor plumbing etc (but living among
non-Navajos where her children would pick up English/  As time went by,
demographic conditions changed - roads were build, water and electricity
provided in small semi-urban settlements and towns, where children also
switched to English.  I describe it in Spolsky, Bernard. (2002). Prospects
for the survival of the Navajo language: a reconsideration. Anthropology &
Education Quarterly, 33(2), 1-24. But I think the central point is that you
should not try to separate the language issue from the social, political,
demographic, cultural, religions, economic etc context.
Bernard Spolsky   spolsb at

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-lgpolicy-list at
[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at] On Behalf Of Felicia Briscoe
Sent: Monday, January 12, 2004 9:06 PM
To: 'lgpolicy-list at'
Subject: RE: printability and standardization


Your statement is interesting on so many why does one have to
make a choice between speaking the major language of one's cultural group or
carrying water a mile in a bucket?  Or why those who stay on the
Reserveration are speaking Navajo less and less...which of course brings the
whole concept of "revervations for some people" into the arena for


-----Original Message-----
From: Bernard Spolsky [mailto:spolsb at]
Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2004 9:51 PM
To: lgpolicy-list at
Subject: RE: printability and standardization

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

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-lgpolicy-list at
[mailto:owner-lgpolicy-list at] On Behalf Of Christina
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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