[lg policy] Re: Are dying languages worth saving?

Julia Sallabank js72 at SOAS.AC.UK
Fri Apr 15 14:29:03 UTC 2011


Dear all

The article that Ayaz Ahmad cites actually came out last September during
the Foundation for Endangered Languages conference in Carmarthen, Wales. I
should point out that it is not an accurate report of the conference itself,
which by and large did not promote an essentialist view of language, and was
not only attended by academics.

The 'counter' arguments seem to be a somewhat clumsy attempt at 'impartial'
reporting. They follow a utilitarian view of language and ignore the
socio-historical processes which lead to language loss.

Small languages may cease to be used because nobody needs/wants to speak
them, but in many cases this is because minorities are marginalised
politically, economically and culturally. Language revitalisation is one way
in which some communities try to regain self-esteem and reclaim a mode of
expression which they (or their parents) have been denied.

Here is a statement prepared by myself and colleagues after this article
appeared, which unfortunately was not appended by the BBC:

 At this conference we saw how supporting and maintaining minority languages
can help to regenerate communities socially, psychologically and
economically. Of course languages of wider communication are essential
nowadays, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up a heritage language. The
benefits of being bilingual, especially developing literacy skills in more
than one language, are well attested, and Welsh-medium education is in high
demand. As one of the people in the video, I am disappointed that we were
not informed of the content of the accompanying article and given the
opportunity to respond to its misleading arguments.

And just a quick plug: if you'd like to know more about this issue, or
contribute to the debate, the Endangered Languages programme at the School
of Oriental and African Studies in London is holding its annual Endangered
Languages Week from 9th to 14th May (see
http://www.hrelp.org/events/elw2011/index.html). There is an Open Day on
Thursday 12th with numerous displays, and a public lecture in the evening by
Jeff Good (University at Buffalo) entitled *What are we trying to preserve?
Diversity, change, and ideology at the edge of Cameroonian Grassfields*.

Best wishes

Julia Sallabank
Lecturer in Language Support and Revitalisation,
Endangered Languages Academic Programme,
Department of Linguistics,
School of Oriental and African Studies,
Thornhaugh Street
London WC1H 0XG
UK

Tel.    +44 (0)20 7898 4326
E-mail  js72 at soas.ac.uk



> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 3
> Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 09:09:17 -0300
> From: Emily McEwan-Fujita <emilymcfujita at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [lg policy] Are dying languages worth saving?
> To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
> Message-ID: <BANLkTinVsgXpDMLtKqOycYFnTJoHnQb9GA at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252
>
> Dear Dr. Ahmad,
>
> Thank you very much for sharing this article link!
>
> If anyone is interested in academic analyses of such discourse, I have
> a number of publications that analyze discourses of language death and
> revitalization in the UK media. The citations are here:
>
>
> http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita/Papers/335612/_Gaelic_Doomed_as_Speakers_Die_Out_The_Public_Discourse_of_Gaelic_Language_Death_in_Scotland._
>
>
> http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita/Papers/384100/Language_Revitalization_Discourses_as_Metaculture_Gaelic_in_Scotland_from_the_Eighteenth_to_Twentieth_Centuries
>
> I also discussed the topic in Chapters 4 and 5 of my 2003 Ph.D.
> dissertation, “Gaelic in Scotland, Scotland in Europe: Minority
> Language Revitalization in the Age of Neoliberalism.”
>
> I presented a paper on the topic, “Discourses of Neoliberalism and
> Language Death as Metaculture,” at the 2010 American Anthropological
> Association Annual Meetings.
>
> I also have a review of Duchene and Heller's edited volume _Discourses
> of Endangerment_ coming out in the next issue of the Journal of
> Linguistic Anthropology.
>
> Sincerely,
>
> Emily McEwan-Fujita
>
> *********************************************************
> Emily McEwan-Fujita, Ph.D.
> Research Fellow
> Dept. of Anthropology
> Saint Mary's University
> Halifax  B3H 3C3
> Nova Scotia
> Canada
>
> http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita
> *********************************************************
>
> On 15 April 2011 06:16, Ayaz Ahmed <ayazmardan at gmail.com> wrote:
> > Language death and spending on revitalization of a dying language is
> debated
> > by experts, self-proclaimed experts and people who speak a language with
> > their arguments and beliefs. Here is a BBC news article which focus on
> such
> > discussion..
> >
> > Are dying languages worth saving?
> >
> > Why should endangered languages be saved? Delegates at the Trinity
> College
> > Carmarthen conference explain - using nine different languages
> >
> > Language experts are gathering at a university in the UK to discuss
> saving
> > the world's endangered languages. But is it worth keeping alive dialects
> > that are sometimes only spoken by a handful of people, asks Tom de
> Castella?
> >
> > "Language is the dress of thought," Samuel Johnson once said.
> >
> > About 6,000 different languages are spoken around the world. But the
> > Foundation for Endangered Languages estimates that between 500 and 1,000
> of
> > those are spoken by only a handful of people. And every year the world
> loses
> > around 25 mother tongues. That equates to losing 250 languages over a
> decade
> > - a sad prospect for some.
> >
> > This week a conference in Carmarthen, west Wales, organised by the
> > foundation, is being attended by about 100 academics. They are discussing
> > indigenous languages in Ireland, China, Australia and Spain.
> >
> > "Different languages will have their quirks which tell us something about
> > being human," says Nicholas Ostler, the foundation's chairman.
> >
> > "And when languages are lost most of the knowledge that went with them
> gets
> > lost. People do care about identity as they want to be different.
> Nowadays
> > we want access to everything but we don't want to be thought of as no
> more
> > than people on the other side of the world."
> >
> > Apart from English, the United Kingdom has a number of other languages.
> Mr
> > Ostler estimates that half a million people speak Welsh, a few thousand
> > Scots are fluent in Gaelic, about 400 people speak Cornish, while the
> number
> > of Manx speakers - the language of the Isle of Man - is perhaps as small
> as
> > 100. But is there any point in learning the really minor languages?
> >
> > Last speaker dies
> >
> > "I do think it's a good thing for a child on the Isle of Man to learn
> Manx.
> > I value continuity in a community."
> >
> > In Europe, Mr Ostler's view seems to command official support. There is a
> > European Charter for Regional Languages, which every European Union
> member
> > has signed, and the EU has a European Language Diversity For All
> programme,
> > designed to protect the most threatened native tongues. At the end of
> last
> > year the project received 2.7m euros to identify those languages most at
> > risk.
> >
> > But for some this is not just a waste of resources but a misunderstanding
> of
> > how language works. The writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik says it is
> > "irrational" to try to preserve all the world's languages.
> >
> > Earlier this year, the Bo language died out when an 85-year-old member of
> > the Bo tribe in the India-owned Andaman islands died.
> >
> > While it may seem sad that the language expired, says Mr Malik, cultural
> > change is driving the process.
> >
> > "In one sense you could call it a cultural loss. But that makes no sense
> > because cultural forms are lost all the time. To say every cultural form
> > should exist forever is ridiculous." And when governments try to prop
> > languages up, it shows a desire to cling to the past rather than move
> > forwards, he says.
> >
> > If people want to learn minority languages like Manx, that is up to them
> -
> > it shouldn't be backed by government subsidy, he argues.
> >
> > "To have a public policy that a certain culture or language should be
> > preserved shows a fundamental misunderstanding. I don't see why it's in
> the
> > public good to preserve Manx or Cornish or any other language for that
> > matter." In the end, whether or not a language is viable is very simple.
> "If
> > a language is one that people don't participate in, it's not a language
> > anymore."
> >
> > Wicked words
> >
> > The veteran word-watcher and Times columnist Philip Howard agrees that
> > languages are in the hands of people, not politicians. "Language is the
> only
> > absolutely true democracy. It's not what professors of linguistics or
> > academics or journalists say, but what people do. If children in the
> > playground start using 'wicked' to mean terrific then that has a big
> > effect."
> >
> > The former Spanish dictator Franco spent decades trying to stamp out the
> > nation's regional languages but today Catalan is stronger than ever and
> > Basque is also popular.
> >
> > And Mr Howard says politicians make a "category mistake" when they try to
> > interfere with language, citing an experiment in Glasgow schools that he
> > says is doomed to fail. "Offering Gaelic to children of people who don't
> > speak it seems like a conservation of lost glories. It's very romantic to
> > try and save a language but nonsense."
> >
> > But neither is he saying that everyone should speak English. "Some people
> > take a destructivist view and argue that everyone will soon be speaking
> > English. But Mandarin is the most populous language in the world and
> Spanish
> > the fastest growing."
> >
> > There are competing forces at work that decide whether smaller languages
> > survive, Howard argues. On the one hand globalisation will mean that many
> > languages disappear. But some communities will always live apart,
> separated
> > by sea, distance or other barriers and will therefore keep their own
> > language. With modern communications and popular culture "you find that
> if
> > enough people want to speak a language they can".
> >
> > In short, there is no need for handwringing.
> >
> > "Language is not a plant that rises and falls, lives and decays. It's a
> tool
> > that's perfectly adapted by the people using it. Get on with living and
> > talking."
> >
> >
> >
> > http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11304255
> >
> > --
> > Ayaz Ahmad
> > Lecturer in English,
> > Department of English,
> > Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.
> > Ph.D. Research Scholar,
> > Area Study Centre (Russia, China & Central Asia),
> > University of Peshawar.
> > Cell Phone: +92-334-8432207
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
> > lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
> > To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
> > https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
> >
> >
>
>
>
> ------------------------------
>
> Message: 4
> Date: Fri, 15 Apr 2011 09:09:28 -0400
> From: Ann Anderson Evans <annevans123 at gmail.com>
> Subject: Re: [lg policy] Are dying languages worth saving?
> To: Language Policy List <lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu>
> Message-ID: <BANLkTin2WUqe2XB7pQS3t9aOLAO5eVvPEw at mail.gmail.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="windows-1252"
>
> Thanks for this post.  As some languages die, I wonder if others are
> forming.  English has become a world language, yet there are many times
> when
> I cannot understand a speaker from Africa or India.  English has become so
> customized to their cultures that in another hundred years or so may be
> nothing more than an offshoot of English.  This might be happening in other
> languages too, I just notice it more in English.  Spanish comes to mind.
>  The Castilian mind is quite different from the Dominican one, or the
> Argentinian one, and as language is nothing more than an expression of a
> culture, that language too might morph into something quite different over
> time
>
> Ann Evans
>
> On Fri, Apr 15, 2011 at 8:09 AM, Emily McEwan-Fujita <
> emilymcfujita at gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > Dear Dr. Ahmad,
> >
> > Thank you very much for sharing this article link!
> >
> > If anyone is interested in academic analyses of such discourse, I have
> > a number of publications that analyze discourses of language death and
> > revitalization in the UK media. The citations are here:
> >
> >
> >
> http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita/Papers/335612/_Gaelic_Doomed_as_Speakers_Die_Out_The_Public_Discourse_of_Gaelic_Language_Death_in_Scotland._
> >
> >
> >
> http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita/Papers/384100/Language_Revitalization_Discourses_as_Metaculture_Gaelic_in_Scotland_from_the_Eighteenth_to_Twentieth_Centuries
> >
> > I also discussed the topic in Chapters 4 and 5 of my 2003 Ph.D.
> > dissertation, “Gaelic in Scotland, Scotland in Europe: Minority
> > Language Revitalization in the Age of Neoliberalism.”
> >
> > I presented a paper on the topic, “Discourses of Neoliberalism and
> > Language Death as Metaculture,” at the 2010 American Anthropological
> > Association Annual Meetings.
> >
> > I also have a review of Duchene and Heller's edited volume _Discourses
> > of Endangerment_ coming out in the next issue of the Journal of
> > Linguistic Anthropology.
> >
> > Sincerely,
> >
> > Emily McEwan-Fujita
> >
> > *********************************************************
> > Emily McEwan-Fujita, Ph.D.
> > Research Fellow
> > Dept. of Anthropology
> > Saint Mary's University
> > Halifax  B3H 3C3
> > Nova Scotia
> > Canada
> >
> > http://smu-ca.academia.edu/EmilyMcEwanFujita
> > *********************************************************
> >
> > On 15 April 2011 06:16, Ayaz Ahmed <ayazmardan at gmail.com> wrote:
> > > Language death and spending on revitalization of a dying language is
> > debated
> > > by experts, self-proclaimed experts and people who speak a language
> with
> > > their arguments and beliefs. Here is a BBC news article which focus on
> > such
> > > discussion..
> > >
> > > Are dying languages worth saving?
> > >
> > > Why should endangered languages be saved? Delegates at the Trinity
> > College
> > > Carmarthen conference explain - using nine different languages
> > >
> > > Language experts are gathering at a university in the UK to discuss
> > saving
> > > the world's endangered languages. But is it worth keeping alive
> dialects
> > > that are sometimes only spoken by a handful of people, asks Tom de
> > Castella?
> > >
> > > "Language is the dress of thought," Samuel Johnson once said.
> > >
> > > About 6,000 different languages are spoken around the world. But the
> > > Foundation for Endangered Languages estimates that between 500 and
> 1,000
> > of
> > > those are spoken by only a handful of people. And every year the world
> > loses
> > > around 25 mother tongues. That equates to losing 250 languages over a
> > decade
> > > - a sad prospect for some.
> > >
> > > This week a conference in Carmarthen, west Wales, organised by the
> > > foundation, is being attended by about 100 academics. They are
> discussing
> > > indigenous languages in Ireland, China, Australia and Spain.
> > >
> > > "Different languages will have their quirks which tell us something
> about
> > > being human," says Nicholas Ostler, the foundation's chairman.
> > >
> > > "And when languages are lost most of the knowledge that went with them
> > gets
> > > lost. People do care about identity as they want to be different.
> > Nowadays
> > > we want access to everything but we don't want to be thought of as no
> > more
> > > than people on the other side of the world."
> > >
> > > Apart from English, the United Kingdom has a number of other languages.
> > Mr
> > > Ostler estimates that half a million people speak Welsh, a few thousand
> > > Scots are fluent in Gaelic, about 400 people speak Cornish, while the
> > number
> > > of Manx speakers - the language of the Isle of Man - is perhaps as
> small
> > as
> > > 100. But is there any point in learning the really minor languages?
> > >
> > > Last speaker dies
> > >
> > > "I do think it's a good thing for a child on the Isle of Man to learn
> > Manx.
> > > I value continuity in a community."
> > >
> > > In Europe, Mr Ostler's view seems to command official support. There is
> a
> > > European Charter for Regional Languages, which every European Union
> > member
> > > has signed, and the EU has a European Language Diversity For All
> > programme,
> > > designed to protect the most threatened native tongues. At the end of
> > last
> > > year the project received 2.7m euros to identify those languages most
> at
> > > risk.
> > >
> > > But for some this is not just a waste of resources but a
> misunderstanding
> > of
> > > how language works. The writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik says it is
> > > "irrational" to try to preserve all the world's languages.
> > >
> > > Earlier this year, the Bo language died out when an 85-year-old member
> of
> > > the Bo tribe in the India-owned Andaman islands died.
> > >
> > > While it may seem sad that the language expired, says Mr Malik,
> cultural
> > > change is driving the process.
> > >
> > > "In one sense you could call it a cultural loss. But that makes no
> sense
> > > because cultural forms are lost all the time. To say every cultural
> form
> > > should exist forever is ridiculous." And when governments try to prop
> > > languages up, it shows a desire to cling to the past rather than move
> > > forwards, he says.
> > >
> > > If people want to learn minority languages like Manx, that is up to
> them
> > -
> > > it shouldn't be backed by government subsidy, he argues.
> > >
> > > "To have a public policy that a certain culture or language should be
> > > preserved shows a fundamental misunderstanding. I don't see why it's in
> > the
> > > public good to preserve Manx or Cornish or any other language for that
> > > matter." In the end, whether or not a language is viable is very
> simple.
> > "If
> > > a language is one that people don't participate in, it's not a language
> > > anymore."
> > >
> > > Wicked words
> > >
> > > The veteran word-watcher and Times columnist Philip Howard agrees that
> > > languages are in the hands of people, not politicians. "Language is the
> > only
> > > absolutely true democracy. It's not what professors of linguistics or
> > > academics or journalists say, but what people do. If children in the
> > > playground start using 'wicked' to mean terrific then that has a big
> > > effect."
> > >
> > > The former Spanish dictator Franco spent decades trying to stamp out
> the
> > > nation's regional languages but today Catalan is stronger than ever and
> > > Basque is also popular.
> > >
> > > And Mr Howard says politicians make a "category mistake" when they try
> to
> > > interfere with language, citing an experiment in Glasgow schools that
> he
> > > says is doomed to fail. "Offering Gaelic to children of people who
> don't
> > > speak it seems like a conservation of lost glories. It's very romantic
> to
> > > try and save a language but nonsense."
> > >
> > > But neither is he saying that everyone should speak English. "Some
> people
> > > take a destructivist view and argue that everyone will soon be speaking
> > > English. But Mandarin is the most populous language in the world and
> > Spanish
> > > the fastest growing."
> > >
> > > There are competing forces at work that decide whether smaller
> languages
> > > survive, Howard argues. On the one hand globalisation will mean that
> many
> > > languages disappear. But some communities will always live apart,
> > separated
> > > by sea, distance or other barriers and will therefore keep their own
> > > language. With modern communications and popular culture "you find that
> > if
> > > enough people want to speak a language they can".
> > >
> > > In short, there is no need for handwringing.
> > >
> > > "Language is not a plant that rises and falls, lives and decays. It's a
> > tool
> > > that's perfectly adapted by the people using it. Get on with living and
> > > talking."
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-11304255
> > >
> > > --
> > > Ayaz Ahmad
> > > Lecturer in English,
> > > Department of English,
> > > Abdul Wali Khan University, Mardan.
> > > Ph.D. Research Scholar,
> > > Area Study Centre (Russia, China & Central Asia),
> > > University of Peshawar.
> > > Cell Phone: +92-334-8432207
> > >
> > > _______________________________________________
> > > This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
> > > lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
> > > To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
> > > https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
> > >
> > >
> >
> > _______________________________________________
> > This message came to you by way of the lgpolicy-list mailing list
> > lgpolicy-list at groups.sas.upenn.edu
> > To manage your subscription unsubscribe, or arrange digest format:
> > https://groups.sas.upenn.edu/mailman/listinfo/lgpolicy-list
> >
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