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