[lg policy] Dictators with dialects, finger spelling and universal Inuit

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Apr 1 13:49:46 UTC 2011

Dictators with dialects, finger spelling and universal Inuit
By Patrick Cox ⋅ March 31, 2011 ⋅ Post a comment

Dialects are beautiful, ugly, inevitable, unhelpful, and of course,
languages without armies. Dialects are widespread– they exist in most
languages. Millions, perhaps billions of people speak them. Some, like
many Chinese, speak a regional dialect at home, and a standard form of
the language in public settings. And then there all those dictators
who grew up speaking dialects. As a boy, Napoleon spoke Italian and
Corsu — the home language/Italian dialect of the island of Corsica.
The future Emperor of the French didn’t learn French until later.
Hitler spoke an Austrian-inflected German. For his part, Gaddafi
speaks a version of Arabic that isn’t widely understood, even within
Libya. He comes from a Bedouin minority, which is reflected in his
language. This may amplify his otherworldlyness. More on all of that
here. Many languages began life as a series of dialects, which over
time– and with the encouragement of a nation state– morphed in
something with standardized vocabulary and grammar (Robert Lane Greene
writes about this in his new book, You Are What You Speak). In Arctic
Canada, there’s an effort underway to standardize Inuit languages (or
dialects if you prefer). It’s being organized by the Inuit language
authority in Nunavut, the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit. Unlike
the United States, Canada is chock-full of the institutions that make
up a national language policy: a bilingual federal government,
provincial and territorial language commissioners and any number of
panels that try to push the country’s languages in certain set
directions. In this case, the hope is to unite the Inuit people,
spread out over thousands of miles, through a standardized language.
Inuits have had writing systems imposed on their languages, mainly by
missionaries. According to this article, which cites Statistics
Canada, the more popular writing system today is a syllabic one. A
lesser-used alternative is the roman system. Many hours, days and
years of debate will now ensue, as to which writing system to favor.
Carol and I discuss these questions of dialect and language in the
podcast. We also take a stab at the following questions (with much
help from the linked sources): Does Japanese have a word for looting?
Is finger spelling a language, or perhaps a dialect of sorts of
British sign language? Is the language of cartoons necessarily harsh?
The cartoon discussion was brought on by an exhibition at London’s
Cartoon Museum. It’s about depictions of marriage over the years, to
coincide with Britain’s royal wedding. There’s a nice slideshow here.


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