Björn Wiemer Bjoern.Wiemer at UNI-KONSTANZ.DE
Sun Jan 12 15:59:45 UTC 2003

Dear colleagues from ALT and "Linguistik",
after my request from the middle of December concerning self-referring 
names of speech communities ("our language" and the like) I received a 
large number of really interesting replies. Some of them were distributed 
by their authors on the list already. I nevertheless decided to compose a 
kind of digest of the replies received from both e-mail lists.
         I have got replies from Winfried Böder, Mily Crevels, Östen Dahl, 
Dan Everett, Maria-José Ezeizabarrena, Jan Terje Faarlund, Francesca Fici, 
Viktor Friedman, David Gil, Gideon Goldenberg, Claude Hagège, Elke 
Hentschel, László Honti, Valerij Khabirov, Johanna Laakso, Martin Mato, 
Kazuto Matsumara, Thomas Menzel, Johanna Nichols, Alberto Nocentini, 
Michael Noonan, Elke Nowak, Manfred Ostrowski, Paolo Ramat, Jeanette Sakel, 
Pilar Maritza Valenzuela. All of them I want to thank in the first place 
(if I have forgotten somebody, please excuse me). I also want to thank 
Mikael Parkvall, who sent me a file with an alphabetical list of 
"glossonyms" (if you want a copy you should ask him directly: 
parkvall at ling.su.se). As you will see from the table in the first 
attachment, the phenomenon I am searching for can be encountered on the 
predominant number of continents; the only continents I have not got any 
information on are Australia and Northern America. I guess this is just an 
incidental fact resulting not from the non-occurrence of this phenomenon on 
these two continents, but from lack of information on it. If anybody knows 
more on this topic, please let me know.
         What can be generalized so far?
1. In many aboriginal languages no special name for the ethnic group's own 
dialect/language exists, nor are there special ethnonyms. A widespread 
technique of referring to the speech of one's own ethnic group is just to 
take the word for 'speech, talk, language, tongue, word' and add a 
determiner to them: mostly a possessive pronoun (1.pl) or a possessive 
suffix on a 1.pl personal pronoun is used, but a definite article (if it 
exists, e.g. in Arabic) may suffice, too. If the language distinguishes 
between 1.pl exclusive and inclusive, the inclusive is used throughout 
(with the somewhat artificial exception of Itonama in Amazonian Bolivia!). 
Often only the word for 'our(s)' is used, thus identifying the native 
tongue with ethnic membership by treating the tongue as the central 
distinguishing feature against other ethnic groups. This can be observed 
both in South America and on the Balkans. A less common technique seems to 
be to refer to the place where the ethnic group lives (see however 
Goldenberg's e-mail).
2. Ethnic and dialect/language names are often not distinguished from one 
another. They are often not restricted to one particular linguistic and/or 
ethnic group, but may embrace neighboring indigenous groups, e.g. in the 
Caucasus (cf. Nichols' contribution). I guess that this is basically an 
outcome of the same opposition as in the next point.
3. As for South American indigenous languages, it seems to be the case that 
the terms for the group's own dialect (which, as I guess, is more often 
than not a minority dialect, in many cases on the verge of extinction) were 
invented after the European conquest and after Spanish (probably also 
Portuguese?) began to dominate linguistically as linguae francae and as 
languages, which -- in one way or other -- are spoken by the indigenous 
peoples as second or first (?) language. The ethno- and glossonyms for 
these ethnic groups are often used and general terms in order to oppose the 
indigenous people from the dominating white people (i.e. only 
Spanish-speaking population). Cf. the contributions by Mily Crevels, Dan 
Everett and Jan Terje Faarlund.
4. Somewhat in contrast to this, on the Balkans and in the Black Sea region 
designations like 'our language/speech' derive from a period before 
national consciousness, when religion (Christian, Moslem etc.) was the 
basic feature by which people identified with each other (cf. Friedman's 
e-mail from 12/14/02).

There are two general problems of a methodological character:
5. Do the self-designations coincide with the designations given by 
outsiders (researchers, state officials etc.)? This quite often seems to 
have been the case with South American indigenous languages (looked at from 
the "Spanish" perspective).
6. To which degree are coinages given by the speech communities themselves 
conventionalized (for the respective community)?

Now, the reason for my request was that I was curious if there are certain 
patterns for ethnic groups in a socially disfavourable position to refer to 
their own "lect", which are comparable to those which I have observed 
myself in the borderland region of Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus'. The 
variety I am thinking of is called 'mowa prosta' (lit. 'simple, ordinary 
speech'). This is a kind of uncodified, only spoken mixture of several 
Belarusian dialects with elements from Polish and on a Lithuanian 
substratum, which hitherto has been described neither in structural nor in 
sociolinguistic terms, the reason being most probably that traditional 
dialectologists have not worried about this unprestigious variety, which 
does not seem to have clear roots in any of the traditional, 
"time-honoured" Belarusian dialects and has been perceived (both by the 
speakers and by the researchers) in opposition to regional Polish (with a 
high prestige), lately also in opposition to standard Lithuanian (after 
1990). The description of the mowa prosta has thus been hampered by a some 
(socio)linguistic prejudices. Paradoxically enough, however, this variety 
is perhaps the most widely spoken one by Slavic speakers, although it would 
be difficult to state ultimately whether it is the first language (in terms 
of language acquisition and of frequency of use in "adult life") of the 
majority of people who use it.
         The term 'mowa prosta' most probably arose first in the mouths of 
the speakers themselves at the end of the 19th c. (or even earlier). Later 
dialectologists and field-workers began to use this denomination as a kind 
of quotation, but meanwhile it has become a quite widespread term among 
specialists of that region. This term however has not been defined in any 
stricter manner.
         'Mowa prosta' refers only to the linguistic variety, in ethnic 
terms the speakers would rather refer to themselves as 'tutejsi' (lit. 'the 
people from here', 'the here-ians'). Linguistic and ethnic identity, thus, 
do not necessarily coincide for these people, but both terms are clearly 
used in place of (and in contrast to) denominations which would associate 
these people closely to speakers of either Belarusian, Polish or 
Lithuanian. Both terms derive from a period before national consciousness, 
and to this extent the situation is comparable to the situation on the 
Balkans (see above p. 4). But neither of these terms is associated to 
religion in such strict a manner. For sure, most speakers of 'mowa prosta' 
are Catholics of Belarusian origin (often on a Lithuanian ethnic and 
linguistic substratum), and many (most?) of them speak also a regional 
variety of Polish (at least on "official" occasions), the language tightly 
associated with Catholicism. However, both 'mowa prosta' and 'tutejsi' are 
self-designations used in lack of a clear national, linguistic and even 
religious membership. They just stress the fact that people are 
autochthonous and can be used as a safe-guard against different kinds of 
politics. For during the last centuries political and administrative 
borders and, as a consequence, languages compulsory at school and in 
official places have changed frequently (only during the 20th c. in some 
subregions they changed no less than five times). Indigenous people, thus, 
do not know (and are not fond of knowing) "to whom they belong". They are 
staying just there where they and their ancestors have been living all the 
time. Typical for the whole region is a high degree of multilingualism 
(multidialectism), where people adapt to each other's dialect (speech) very 
willingly and quickly. The structural features of 'mowa prosta' testify a 
degree of convergence of Belarusian (East Slavic), Polish (West Slavic) and 
Lithuanian (Baltic) features, part of them is common to the eastern part of 
the Circum-Baltic Area as a whole.

I would be curious if there are similar "sociolinguistic constellations" in 
other parts (contact zones) of the world.

With best wishes and regards,
Bjoern Wiemer.

PD Dr. Bjoern Wiemer
Universitaet Konstanz
FB Sprachwissenschaft / Slavistik
Postfach 55 60, D 179
D- 78457 Konstanz

tel.: ++49 / 7531 / 88 -2582
fax: ++49 / 7531 / 88 -4007
e-mail: Bjoern.Wiemer at uni-konstanz.de
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