[lg policy] BBC Today Programme: Stephen Leonard on the Inuit people of Greenland

Ann Anderson Evans annevans123 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 7 11:58:20 UTC 2011

In my research on language and the Macedonian community in Greece, I found a
surprising turnabout. The Greeks pressured the ethnic Macedonians, sometimes
violently, to cease speaking Macedonian. Then they joined the European
Union, which encourages the development of minority languages, and have not
been quite so free with their supression.  As the EU becomes more stable (?)
and centralized I wonder if the sometimes arbitrary lines which delineate
nations might shift a bit to encompass ethnic or linguistic communities
instead of nations. This might affect other groups also, such as the Basque.
I believe this might be an unintended consequence of the formation of the
European Union.

Ann Evans

On Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 11:57 AM, Dave Sayers <dave.sayers at cantab.net> wrote:

>  This morning, BBC Radio 4's Today programme had an interview with Stephen
> Leonard (Cambridge) about his fieldwork with the Inuit people of Greenland:
> http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0145x75/?t=2h56m16s
> I might be sticking my head above the parapet here, but his argument
> against the decline of Inuit language and culture seemed a little overly
> romantic, paternalistic, and ethno-linguistically essentialistic. He seems
> to make four broad points:
> 1. Global culture is bad -- down with global culture (reminiscent of George
> Ritzer).
> 2. 'Pure' historical traditional cultures are inherently good, and should
> be celebrated and defended for their own sakes -- not necessarily because of
> their contribution to the material wellbeing of their speakers, but because
> they are intrinsically valuable (this is more of an argument in favour of
> documentation than revitalisation).
> 3. The fact that young Inuit people are "not really interested" in Inuit
> culture/language is problematic in and of itself.
> 4. A decline in Inuit language/culture may signal a decline in the Inuits'
> ability to maintain their traditional way of life on the sea ice (which
> could be dangerous if the sea ice re-encroaches in the coming decades, as he
> claims to be forecast).
> What he doesn't get into, really, is what if anything linguistic/cultural
> change might be doing to the Inuits' quality of life, their basic human
> freedoms, their capabilities. (As for the sea ice argument, if the young
> people are genuinely "not really interested", then the need to know how to
> live on the sea ice would be negated.) My point is not by any means that the
> Inuits are not suffering as a result of contemporaneous social changes.
> Perhaps they are, perhaps they're not. My point is that Leonard seems
> somewhat indifferent to that question, and more interested in the inherent
> value of language/culture.
> Any remaining plan to encourage language revitalisation would have to start
> by persuading these young people of the value of their culture/language,
> which seems a bit paternalistic and meddlesome. Put another way, the
> situation sounds like an intergenerational conflict, with opposing interests
> requiring (if anything) facilitation, not overt favouring of one side.
> Tellingly, when at the end of the interview the presenter suggests
> provocatively that the Inuits "don't mind" their language declining, Leonard
> doesn't directly counter that. Instead he delivers something of a rhetorical
> flourish about the inherent values of languages/cultures, while questions of
> human wellbeing fade from view entirely.
> Admittedly one can be hamstrung in a short radio interview, but he does
> seem to be given opportunities to express a concern about quality of life.
> Perhaps his actual research covers both quality of life and cultural decline
> in equal measure, but in this morning's interview he seemed preoccupied with
> the latter.
> By comparison, somebody whose research does explore both those questions in
> equal measure is Colin Samson, in his (ongoing) work with the Innu in
> northern Canada. Indeed, Samson does find a correlation of declining
> cultural/linguistic vitality and human wellbeing. To repeat, my point is not
> that these things don't go hand in hand, but that Leonard seemed troublingly
> indifferent to the question of human capabilities, and the apparent wishes
> of the people concerned.
> Right, that's my head well and truly above the parapet then. Please don't
> chop it off; I have hats to wear.
> Dave
> --
> Dr. Dave Sayers
> Honorary Research Fellow
> College of Arts & Humanities
> and Language Research Centre
> Swansea University
> dave.sayers at cantab.net
> http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers/
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*Ann Anderson Evans*
*Writer and Adjunct Professor, Montclair State University*
*(201) 792-6892 or (973) 495-0338
The Abortion Wars:  Survivors! Learn, Speak Up, and Organize
on Kindle ebooks.
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