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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘kamchatka peninsula

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Adam Fish at anthro{dendum} compares different sorts of public bathing around the world, from Native America to Norden to Japan.
  • Charlie Stross at Antipope is unimpressed by the person writing the script for our timeline.
  • Architectuul reports on an architectural conference in Lisbon.
  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares stunning photos of the eruption of the Raikoke volcano in Kamchatka.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at what the Voyager spacecraft have returned about the edge of the solar system.
  • John Quiggin at Crooked Timber takes issue with the idea of bipartisanship if it means compromising on reality, allegorically.
  • The Crux counts the number of people who have died in outer space.
  • D-Brief notes that the Andromeda Galaxy has swallowed up multiple dwarf galaxies over the eons.
  • Dead Things notes the identification of the first raptor species from Southeast Asia, Siamraptor suwati.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a paper tracing the origins of interstellar comet 2/Borisov from the general area of Kruger 60.
  • Karen Sternheimer at the Everyday Sociology Blog writes about the privilege allowing people access to affordable dental care.
  • Gizmodo tells how Alexei Leonov survived the first spacewalk.
  • io9 looks at the remarkable new status quo for the X-Men created by Jonathan Hickman.
  • Selma Franssen at the Island Review writes about the threats facing the seabirds of the Shetlands.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at what led Richard Nixon to make so many breaks from the American consensus on China in the Cold War.
  • Language Log notes an undergraduate course at Yale using the Voynich Manuscript as an aid in the study of language.
  • Abigail Nussbaum at Lawyers, Guns and Money explains her recent experience of the socialized health care system of Israel for Americans.
  • The LRB Blog looks at how badly the Fukuyama prediction of an end to history has aged.
  • The Map Room Blog shares a few maps of the new Ottawa LRT route.
  • Marginal Revolution notes a paper establishing a link between Chinese industries undermining their counterparts in Mexico and Mexican social ills including crime.
  • Sean Marshall reports from Ottawa about what the Confederation Line looks like.
  • Adam Shatz at the NYR Daily looks at the power of improvisation in music.
  • Roads and Kingdoms looks at South Williamsburg Jewish deli Gottlieb’s.
  • Drew Rowsome reviews</a the new Patti Smith book, Year of the Monkey.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a paper looking as the factors leading into transnational movements.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers the question of the direction(s) in which order in the universe was generated.
  • Window on Eurasia shares a report noting the very minor flows of migration from China to Russia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell looks at the politics in the British riding of Keighley.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at some penguin socks.

[BRIEF NOTE] Geocurrents on language conflict and shift in Siberia

As part of an ongoing series of blog posts at Geocurrents regarding Siberia, Asya Pereltsvaig has been making some interesting posts about language shift in Siberia (defined by Geocurrents as all of Russia’s Asian territory, eastward from the Urals to the Pacific coast). Siberia, she notes, has shifted overwhelmingly to the Russian language, a consequence of (among other factors, including immigration) Soviet-era education policies which prioritized Russian above the languages of the Union (and the indigenous languages of Siberia).

Pereltsvaig’s post “How to save the Itelmen language” reminded me of my link yesterday to an article expressing pessismism about the future of the Chamorro language in American Micronesia. The Itelmens are an indigenous people of the Kamchatka peninsula, on the northeastern coast of Siberia near Alaska, that has experienced a pronounced shift away from their nearly-extinct language to Russian. Why? It doesn’t have anything to do with the complexity of the language, she convincingly argues, but rather with state policies that were directed (intentionally and otherwise) towards triggering a language shift away from Itelmen to Russian, including the non-recognition of the minority in the Soviet era. She explains in detail.

First, the lack of writing by no means dooms a language. Written language is a relatively modern invention going back perhaps 5,000 years old, as opposed to the 100,000-year or so history of spoken language. Until quite recently, moreover, writing was limited to a select few people in certain parts of the world. All over the globe, languages continued to be transmitted perfectly well without any written grammars or dictionaries. Moreover, having a written form is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for one language to replace another. Essentially illiterate Russians managed to acculturate the so-called “lost middle Finns” – Merya, Meschera, and Murom – in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but the cultured, literate Romans never managed to impose Latin on the Celtic inhabitants of the British Isles (though they did in Gaul and elsewhere in their widespread empire). Having a written form is irrelevant to language shift because children learn their native language not from grammars and dictionaries but from hearing the language spoken around them. And as long as children are able to acquire a language from those around them and speak it natively, the language remains a living one.

Second, being “too grammatically complex,” has no bearing on inter-generational language transmission. As noted by John McWhorter What Language Is (And What It Isn’t and What It Could Be), languages that are transmitted in an unbroken chain from one generation to the next tend to get more and more “ingrown” and “disheveled”, meaning they develop complex grammatical patterns with numerous exceptions, as McWhorter illustrates with Ket, another Siberian indigenous language. It is true that many peoples who have spoken Ket and similarly ingrown languages have switched to less disheveled languages over the course of history, but they have not done so because those languages are “easier” or in any way superior to their native tongues. The process actually works in the opposite direction: when people switch en masse to a new language, they often make it “easier” by shifting to it.

[. . .]

Finally, the argument based on adaptability fails too, as all languages, including Itelmen are malleable. Languages create new words and new forms of expressions either by borrowing from other languages or by using language-internal means. Itelmen too proved its adaptability by coining a large number of new words and by borrowing many others. Recent loanwords are mostly derived from Russian, whereas older borrowings are from Koryak, Chukchi, the Eskimo-Aleut languages, and possibly even Ainu.

Implicit in all of these arguments is the assumption that a choice must be made by the community between Itelmen and Russian. However, bilingualism is a very common phenomenon worldwide. Studies conducted in the last fifty years confirm that bringing up a child with more than one language does not result in confusion. Quite the opposite may be true as some psycholinguistic studies indicate that individual bilingualism may promote a child’s cognitive development, improve creative thinking, hone language learning skills, and even promote the maturation of those areas of the brain responsible for inhibition and control. Continuing societal bilingualism does not hold the community back either, as the Swiss illustrate so well.

The bottom line is that speakers of one language switch to another language in a short period of time not due to some inadequacies of their own language. In the case of the Itelmen, the massive switch of the majority to Russian has to do with forcible assimilation on the part of the Russians, perceived ease of entering the social mainstream (getting education, jobs, etc.), and also the destruction of the traditional ways of life. These social, political, and economic reasons account for the sad state that the Itelmen language finds itself in today: only a small number of elderly people still speak the language. It is taught sporadically in kindergartens and elementary schools, but all language programs suffer from a chronic shortage of trained teachers, materials, and funding. The Itelmen community is not monolithic: though many people want to see the language revived, others do not. Some have invested enormous efforts into language preservation programs, but others have resisted them. Local Russian authorities consider the Itelmen fully assimilated rather than forming a separate ethnic group, and thus refuse to grant the Itelmen the privileges guaranteed to native peoples by law. This also helps to explain why revitalization measures have met only with limited success so far: they address the symptoms rather than the underlying causes of the problem.

Great post, great series.