THEORY: language replacement [was Re: Time machine]
|From:||Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>|
|Date:||Friday, July 12, 2002, 23:32|
Quoting Joe <joe@...>:
> > This reminds me of a joke:
> > A time-traveller from some university visits the future, and comes back
> > and gives a report. He says there's both good and bad news for linguists.
> > The good news is that there'll still be hundreds of languages, with
> > plenty of diversity in syntax, morphology, phonology, and semantics.
> > The bad news is they're all called "English".
> I wouldn't be surprised.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one's view), this is
contrary to all current knowledge about how language replacement
occurs. Pace Mark Rosenfelder's otherwise good piece on when
and why people learn languages, historically all the clearest
examples of language replacement have occurred when large numbers
of immigrants moving into a region begin to outnumber the native
population. This is not the only factor; hierarchical social
relationships and to a much lesser extent ideological beliefs
can also affect whether a people wants to maintain or give up
their traditional language, but these take second seat to the
economic motives that drive the great masses of people to learn
a new language.
In the case of English, by far the majority of people speaking
English live in countries originally settled by English speakers
(England, Australia, New Zealand) or where no other language
ever achieved demographic preponderance (the US). The cases
where elite and colonial relationships played an important role
(India, Malaysia, Scotland, Ireland, much of Africa) vary in
their degree of speaking English, and it is often very difficult
to determine the extent to which hierarchical relationships
played a role since those hierarchical relationships in all
cases also included the actual presence of English speakers in
the colonized countries -- something that is, in principle, not
necessary for a hierarchy. To this day, all the excolonies of
Great Britain (and to a lesser extent, the United States) still
have significant numbers of settlers from Great Britain, as we have
all seen in the troubles surrounding the election of Robert
Mugabe in Zimbabwe. It is difficult, in other words, ever to
imagine language replacement occurring without a large number
of speakers of the replacing language actually present on the
ground. If this is the case, what reason is there to think --
barring the very unlikely reemergence of actual 19th-century
style colonialism on the part of anglophone powers -- that
English will become the sole language of the world? I think
there is none.
(I wrote the following commentary on Mark Rosenfelder's article
before to this list:
Thomas Wier "...koruphàs hetéras hetére:isi prosápto:n /
Dept. of Linguistics mú:tho:n mè: teléein atrapòn mían..."
University of Chicago "To join together diverse peaks of thought /
1010 E. 59th Street and not complete one road that has no turn"
Chicago, IL 60637 Empedocles, _On Nature_, on speculative thinkers