[lg policy] Who is indigenous?

Annette Islei annetteislei at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 8 22:00:35 UTC 2013

We had a very interesting paper in the Language in Africa SIG niche at
the BAAL September conference 2012 from Nigeria on this theme.
Adegboye Adeyanju from Abuja university.

Annette Islei

On 7 January 2013 16:17, Dave Sayers <D.Sayers at swansea.ac.uk> wrote:
> Hello one and all,
> I do hope the new year is treating you all well so far, and that you managed to get some sort of a
> break during the festivities. I'm well and truly back in harness, and I hope I'm not butting into
> anyone's continued vacation with this question, especially one that has turned out to be such a
> monster as I've written it. (I also apologise for cross-posting.) Well, here goes...
> In language policy research, I've always been struck by the implicitness of the meaning of
> 'indigenous', usually referring to those with the oldest known historical ancestry in a given
> location. One example that comes to mind is Nancy Hornberger's 1998 article:
> http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=28435
> Since 1998, the emphasis on education has been increasingly called into question (including by Nancy
> Hornberger, I hasten to add), but I haven't really seen the same critical deconstruction of what
> 'indigenous' means -- either in language policy or elsewhere. I hope I'm just looking in the wrong
> places and that the debate is alive and well, somewhere. From what I have seen in language policy
> research, the meaning of 'indigenous' is complex and varied...
> In some cases, it's highly politically salient, defined starkly against the backdrop of historical
> injustice and present-day inequalities (e.g. USA, Australia, Canada). Language policy is often a
> central aspect of such debates. The indigenous people are typically socially excluded, poorer, with
> relatively high rates of incarceration, alcohol and drug dependence, shorter life expectancy and so
> on. (I do have concerns about quite how substantively language policy in these contexts is actually
> motivated by concerns over material human wellbeing, but that's another matter.)
> In other cases, the picture is very different. In much of Europe, 'indigenous' is a term used often
> by elements of the political far right, in contrast to 'immigrants', those with more recent
> ancestries on other shores. In these cases though, the 'indigenous' ones are relatively privileged,
> while the 'immigrants' tend to be socially excluded, poorer, etc. 'Indigenous' in these contexts is
> seldom equated explicitly to the struggles of, for example, Native Americans. I'm not suggesting
> this is the case in all of Europe, of course. My point is that 'indigenous' in European contexts is
> a varied condition -- some richer, some poorer, and variously the beneficiaries and the dispossessed
> in different historical struggles.
> The longer histories of migration and conquest in Europe mean that 'indigenous' is much harder to
> define based on original inhabitation of a given location. The English popularly like to define
> themselves as Anglo-Saxons since time immemorial, but try telling that to the sixth century Britons
> as they were driven ever further westward by successive waves of Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Franks
> (who were themselves later shoved around by the Vikings for a few centuries, and so on and so on).
> Defining an indigenous Brit these days continues to embarrass the British far right (no bad thing).
> But whatever its meaning, it isn't strictly "us what was here first". Nevertheless (and back to my
> original question), I've always wondered what is meant by 'indigenous' in these historically more
> convoluted cases, in language policy research. Where the term is used in LP research, I've tended to
> find it mainly as a contrast with (im)migrants (not in a far-right type of way, but
> just as a way to counter-define). That in turn begs the more important question: If the Anglo-Saxons
> ultimately 'became indigenous', then how long should others wait to qualify for indigenous status?
> How many centuries do you have to be around?
> The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages might not actually use the word
> "indigenous", but its somewhat mealy-mouthed focus on "languages that are traditionally used within
> a given territory of a State" is placed in contrast to the "languages of migrants", which it
> excludes. I've seen Anthea Fraser Gupta call the ECRML a racist document for this reason, which is a
> fair heckle to an extent. Without wanting to put words in Anthea FG's mouth, I took her point to be
> that languages like Hindi have a centuries-long 'tradition' in, say, parts of the UK, but they just
> happen to be associated with ethnic groups whose migration is ongoing, not ancient history -- yet
> those languages are perfectly 'traditional' in those parts of the UK. If 'traditional' here is a
> kind of definition of indigeneity, then how long, in years, is 'traditional'?
> The conundrum for the creators of the ECRML (and let's remember it took 8 years to write, so there
> were bound to be compromises made and corners trimmed) was that Europe is host to hundreds of
> languages, depending on the measure, and so protecting all of them would be practicably impossible.
> But the next question is: well, why not decide on an actual definition of how long it takes to be
> counted as 'indigenous', or 'traditional' etc., after which you can join the club? We've already
> established that it isn't based on being there first, and that it is just a matter of time (e.g.
> Anglo-Saxons). I doubt the current 'minorities' of Europe will all count themselves as
> non-indigenous in a few hundred years' time. So how long is it?
> I'm not really looking for an answer in the form of X years. I'm really hoping for this idea of
> 'indigenous' to be picked apart and ultimately discarded, as it doesn't seem helpful to any but
> those on the far right (and it's not particularly helpful to them; it's so nebulous it just makes
> them look silly). I'm not trying to rhetorically equate anyone who uses that word with far right
> extremists! But I am asking... after all this... am I re-inventing the wheel with all of the above?
> Has there been a decent deconstruction of the 'indigenous' label, either in language policy research
> or elsewhere? If so, please let me know as I've run out of leads. If not, then let's start it...!
> All the best,
> Dave
> --
> Dr. Dave Sayers
> Honorary Research Fellow, Arts & Humanities, Swansea University
> and Visiting Lecturer (2012-2013), Dept English, Åbo Akademi University
> dave.sayers at cantab.net
> http://swansea.academia.edu/DaveSayers
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Secretary of Language in Africa Special Interest Group,
British Association of Applied Linguistics (BAAL)

Freelance English Trainer
Research in Multilingual Education

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