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Re: Saving endangered langs (was Re: Extrapolating languages)

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Wednesday, December 24, 2003, 7:41
From:    Joe <joe@...>
> If they are willing to let their language die, how can they see > worth in it to safeguard from outsiders? To me, that would appear > to be a blatant contradiction. [...] Otherwise, you are merely > 'stealing' something of no real importance to them.
You're assuming that most people care about language as such separate from its uses. For the vast majority of human beings, language is seen as merely a tool, and because it is a tool in principle usable by everyone, it can be put to uses other than those intended by certain cultural agents. It only gains iconic status when it is attached to some other facet of cultural experience, whether that be religion (as with these groups), or politics (as in France, Quebec, Belgium, Israel, etc. ad nauseam), or something else they deem important. As a result, most people never pay any particular attention to it. Linguists are rather bizarre in this respect. With respect to the current debate, think about it this way: when one artist in New York exhibited a portrait of the Virgin Mary which made use of elephant dung, was that a bad thing? Well, clearly it offended countless Catholics around the world for whom elephant dung could only have disgraceful or disrespectful connotations. For many native Americans, misuse of language by illegitimate authorities is similarly loaded with negative connotations. But that is a culturally contingent fact: when members of Native American tribes have converted to Christianity, these notions of language have also tended to slip away. ========================================================================= Thomas Wier "I find it useful to meet my subjects personally, Dept. of Linguistics because our secret police don't get it right University of Chicago half the time." -- octogenarian Sheikh Zayed of 1010 E. 59th Street Abu Dhabi, to a French reporter. Chicago, IL 60637