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CHAT: language and politics (was CHAT: conlangs and mentalillness)

From:Tom Wier <artabanos@...>
Date:Friday, May 14, 1999, 21:48
Danny Wier wrote:

> Thanks Tom; I never really understood it in that light. And I'm game for a > political debate, off list of course. (Preferably on IRC.) This goes for > anybody else on the list.
Well, I'd like to restate that I was not talking about my personal political beliefs, but those of a lot of people I've met who're pretty conservative by any measure. I was just trying to correct what I perceived was IMO somewhat of an unfair characterization. Certainly, there is a very wide variety of conservative ideologies, so I make no bones about the fact that it's just those that I've met that hold to that particular line of defense.
> To get back on topic a little more, and this could pertain to conlanging and > concultures, I'm interested in learning about language and how it relates to > social and political issues. There was a debate about three years ago > (doesn't seem to be much of an issue now) about whether or not the federal > government of the US should make English the sole official language. > (Strangely, this was supported in the House by liberals like Sheila Jackson > Lee as well as conservatives like Newt Gingrich.) Many states (in fact > every Southern state except Texas) have done so already; New Mexico has > English and Spanish while Hawaii has English and Hawaiian. Indigenous and > immigrant language issues in UK/Commonwealth as well as France, Germany, > Russia/former USSR and (mainland) China interest me. > > I do not want to get a big political debate going on the list; that probably > wouldn't be appropriate. But any information would be useful since my three > concultures are pretty diverse.
Well, it seems to me that in this issue it has a whole lot more to do with politics than with linguistics. Consider Texas. Policymakers in Austin are not going to do anything to antagonize the 30 percent of the population of Hispanic descent, because it would mean, in many areas, political suicide. Moreover, Texas is just a complicated state, linguistically speaking, with large historical communities of German, Czech and even Cajun speakers living within the State borders. This isn't counting, of course, the waves of immigrants from nontraditional sources of immigration like Japanese, Korean, Thai, Bengali, Hindi speakers, and speakers of the various Chinese languages (most of whom living in the five large metropoleis of Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, or Austin). In Texas this has, I think, bred the idea that to respect another person's language is to respect another person's culture, and so because of that, there is resistance among us to the idea that there should be an "official" language, because that would suggest that some languages are somehow better than others. But I don't want to portray Texas as some linguistically enlightened haven for other languages; that would be to vastly oversimplify the situation. I'm sure there are plenty of people in Texas that would disagree with that opinion; I'm just expressing what I feel to be a general mood. (I have a feeling that the roots of this go way back; during the Republic, from 1836 till admission as a US State in1845, there were quite a few Hispanic legislators in Congress, and one of the most esteemed signers of the Texan Declaration of Independence was a Hispanic, Jose Antonio Navarro, from San Antonio.) So, not speaking about whether it's right or not to have official languages, you can see why in some areas it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I might note, however, that Texas is perhaps more homogenous linguistically than France, e.g., which AFAIK has continued to maintain its policy of French-only instruction in school and in other areas where language enters into politics, despite the fact that you have no less than eight regions in which there is a long historical tradition of a non-French language being spoken (Breton, Basque, Provencal, German, Italian, Monagasque, Catalan, and Dutch, I think). So, obviously, there are other reasons than mere diversity that determine whether a country will choose to designate an official language. In some cases, such as China, it is because a regime wants to impose some sense of homogeneity on its population, or others, like I suppose in France, where the sheer weight of history and tradition make some unwilling to change, I think (during the Ancien Regime and Empire, of course, their aim was either to ignore the idea of subject language communities entirely, or to impose French, so as to impose Frenchness in the name of "unity"). (If anyone disagrees with any of my characterizations, I invite them to speak up about it) ======================================================= Tom Wier <artabanos@...> ICQ#: 4315704 AIM: Deuterotom Website: <> "Cogito ergo sum, sed credo ergo ero." Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day. - Thomas Jefferson ========================================================