IYL '08: Moratorium on beating kids for speaking mother tongue?

Stan & Sandy Anonby stan-sandy_anonby at sil.org
Thu Jan 3 14:40:14 UTC 2008

Happy New Year, Don.

It certainly is reprehensible to beat kids for speaking their language and I'm glad the practice is on the wane.

I too have heard a lot of stories from several parts of the world about this. Although it would seem logical that this would stop people from speaking their language, I wonder if there is any actual evidence. When I lived in Canada, I heard this story a lot. What struck me was that almost everyone who had been beaten still spoke Kwak'wala, while those from a later generation, who were not beaten spoke only English. I realize this isn't great evidence, but still I wonder if having a clear enemy might help keep a language. I think sometimes you can kill a language with kindness quicker than with beatings. 

Have a good year,

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Don Osborn 
  To: Multilingual_Literacy at yahoogroups.com ; 'Indigenous Languages and Technology' ; lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu ; MULTIED-L at usc.edu 
  Sent: Wednesday, January 02, 2008 12:16 PM
  Subject: IYL '08: Moratorium on beating kids for speaking mother tongue?

  Happy New Year 2008, which is the "International Year of Languages"! *


  Whatever else might be accomplished during IYL, one modest proposal I would like to put forward is that during this Year, there be an absolute prohibition on beating, shaming or otherwise punishing children for speaking their mother tongue at home or at school.


  All the rest is commentary.


  Punishing children for speaking their mother tongue is not new - one can read a lot about this of this sort of thing in biographical accounts (formal and informal) from all over the world, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. What is surprising is that it still continues even in extreme forms. For example, I just received an email from someone in Tanzania who mentioned teachers threatening young students with a beating if they spoke their maternal language. Not long ago there was mention in an article of some parents in Uganda beating their kids for speaking something other than English at home. (Those are just two examples from one region.).


  Some people will justify some kind of punishment for whatever reason (curriculum, language learning, etc.). The kind of punishment is another issue (important but another issue). But the issue here is that if learning is the object in an obviously multilingual setting, there are better ways to achieve it than by condemning maternal languages as out of place and punishing students who use them in the process f learning.


  This is not to say that language in a multilingual classroom or community is not a complex issue, but that negative approaches to children's first languages - which in some places go all the way to corporal punishment - are negative approaches to learning and to various social factors in a child's life.


  Once the punishing of children for speaking their mother tongue stops, then maybe some good thinking can go into what are the best ways to promote learning overall, including in first and second languages.


  It should also become clear from a moratorium on punishing children for speaking their mother tongue for the duration of IYL (all of 2008) that the alternative to such punishment is not babel and ignorance. 


  So can this practice be stopped, at least for just this one year?


  Don Osborn



  * see the UNESCO page at http://tinyurl.com/2u2ewd
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