Theiling Online    Sitemap    Conlang Mailing List HQ   

Language Replacement (Re: French and US high school language instruction)

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Monday, May 27, 2002, 21:36
[For those of you who haven't read Mark Rosenfelder's article
at the below website, please do so.]

Quoting Philip Newton <Philip.Newton@...>:

> On 25 May 02, at 18:01, Thomas R. Wier wrote: > > > I think this vastly oversimplifies why people in any > > given country tend to learn foreign languages in a given > > way. > [snip] > > (We often forget that, as conlangers, we like to learn > > languages which have more or less by definition no pragmatic > > value for us in the Real World. Most of mankind is, alas, > > not like us in this respect.) > > Yay! I get to plug Mark Rosenfelder ;) > >
A well-written and IMHO generally correct article (although his documentation could have been better). However, I have one quibble: Rosenfelder claims that a language's "fortunes" have often improved historically through conquest, and this is undoubtedly true. But he wildly exaggerates the ability of sheer, raw domination to extend a language's influence. In most cases in human history, political conquest has only succeeded in propagating the conquerors' language when the conquerors began to demographically outnumber speakers of other languages. The examples he cites of English, Spanish and Portuguese expansion all took place only *after* the local population had been decimated by ethnic cleansing, enslavement, and (primarily) diseases against which their bodies had no immunity. This was also followed by, in the case of North America, by a vast influx of Europeans whose sole interlanguage was English (when they did not come from the British Isles already speaking that language). Note too that in Latin America, where colonization from Europe was more superficial, indigenous languages, whose speakers were in any event more numerous than those in North America, are to this day more far more robust than those in NA. Rosenfelder minimizes (or is ignorant of) the numerous cases where such a demographic domination failed to take place -- in Ptolmaic Egypt, for example, where Greek remained (as the Rosetta stone shows) the language only of the tiny elite of outside Greeks and Macedonians who kept themselves mostly to the sea ports of Lower-Egypt. Or of Manchu China, where the language of the conquerors, far from spreading as the result of conquest, is actually now almost extinct. Or Mughal India. Or the Eastern half of the Roman Empire*. It is clear from all of these cases that demographics -- or, to put it into his model, economics -- failed to give to people a strong self-interest in learning the language of the conquerors, and so explains their different outcome from those where language replacement did occur. *(The Roman example is an interesting one, since it shows how the same conquering language is treated differently in different places. It is only in those regions of the Roman Empire where Imperial colonies of Latin speakers had been planted -- primarily in Southern Gaul, Spain, Italy, -- and not later overwhelmed by yet another strong demographic force (like the Germans invading Britain, or the Arabs in North Africa) that Latin actually came to replace whatever local languages might have existed before the Conquests. In the East, which was richer, and had a much larger population, the indigenous languages like Greek, Aramaic, Arabic and Coptic all remained the speech of their respective communities since so few Roman colonies were ever placed there. An interesting prediction made from this theory is that the English language will *not* replace languages on the European continent since American and British military contingents are placed only sparsely, and are not intended to be permanent settlements.) ===================================================================== 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


Jan van Steenbergen <ijzeren_jan@...>