A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘language policy

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • 80 Beats reports on a proposal to protect New Orleans from risk of inundation by restoring the marshlands that once provided a natural buffer for the metropolis against the ocean.
  • Anders Sandberg argues against the surgical sterilization of the transgendered on the grounds that it’s not only intrusive, it’s linked to effort to enforce a gender binary that doesn’t exist.
  • blogTO celebrates the 35th anniversary of the Eaton Centre with photos and videos from throughout its long history.
  • The Burgh Diaspora discusses the appeal of foreignness–or out-of-stateness–on prospective migrants’ attractiveness to natives, starting from Texas.
  • Centauri Dreams reports that Vesta, unlike the Moon, has no permanently shadowed craters where water ice could exist on the surface on account of its pronounced tilt. Ices would exist below the surface, rather.
  • Language Hat links to a contentious article claiming that no such thing as an Arabic language exists, but rather regional Arabic standards, inspiring an interesting debate about the dynamics of language in the Arab world.
  • Progressive Download’s John Farrell traces the origins of hockey in Montréal, referring to an Adam Gopnik essay suggesting the sport took off as a product of an alliance of Irish Catholics and French Canadians against Anglo-Scottish Protestants.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • 80 Beats reports on a proposal to protect New Orleans from risk of inundation by restoring the marshlands that once provided a natural buffer for the metropolis against the ocean.
  • Anders Sandberg argues against the surgical sterilization of the transgendered on the grounds that it’s not only intrusive, it’s linked to effort to enforce a gender binary that doesn’t exist.
  • blogTO celebrates the 35th anniversary of the Eaton Centre with photos and videos from throughout its long history.
  • The Burgh Diaspora discusses the appeal of foreignness–or out-of-stateness–on prospective migrants’ attractiveness to natives, starting from Texas.
  • Centauri Dreams reports that Vesta, unlike the Moon, has no permanently shadowed craters where water ice could exist on the surface on account of its pronounced tilt. Ices would exist below the surface, rather.
  • Language Hat links to a contentious article claiming that no such thing as an Arabic language exists, but rather regional Arabic standards, inspiring an interesting debate about the dynamics of language in the Arab world.
  • Progressive Download’s John Farrell traces the origins of hockey in Montréal, referring to an Adam Gopnik essay suggesting the sport took off as a product of an alliance of Irish Catholics and French Canadians against Anglo-Scottish Protestants.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 13, 2012 at 11:00 am

[FORUM] How does your language vary from the standard?

One of the interesting things about the recent Tunisian revolution is the language that Ben Ali spoke in a televised address before his departure. Instead of speaking Standard Arabic, Ben Ali spoke Tunisian Arabic.

According to an email from Youssef Gaigi posted by Gillian York:

Today’s speech shows definitely a major shift in Tunisia’s history.
[Tunisian president Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali talked for the third time in the past month to the people. Something unprecedented, we barely knew this guy. Ben Ali talked in the Tunisian dialect instead of Arabic for the first time ever.

A story in today’s New York Times will give you some background on the serious and astonishing situation in Tunisia: David Kirkpatrick and Alan Cowell, “Crisis Deepens in Tunisia as President’s Offer Falls Flat“, 1/14/2011. [Update — Since I posted this, Ben Ali has resigned and fled the country, as the linked story indicates.]

By “Tunisian dialect” Youssef Gaigi means what the Ethnologue calls “Tunisian Spoken Arabic“, and by “Arabic” he means what the Ethnologue calls “Standard Arabic“, often referred to as “Modern Standard Arabic”.

For those who aren’t familiar with Arabic diglossia, a plausible analogy would be to equate “Classical Arabic” with Latin, to compare “Modern Standard Arabic” (MSA) to the variety of Latin used in the Vatican (with words and phrases added over the years to refer to more recent objects and concepts), and to link the various “spoken” Arabics (sometimes called “colloquials” or “dialects”) with modern Latin-derived “Romance” languages like French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian, etc.

The analogy is incomplete, since MSA is taught everywhere in schools, used almost everywhere in the media, and is the only variety of Arabic with significant presence in a written form. The “spoken” or “colloquial” Arabics are used in everyday life, but generally don’t have a standard written form and are rarely written. Still, the linguistic differences between MSA and Tunisian or Syrian are roughly as large as those between Latin and French or Spanish.

A story may illustrate some of the ideologies involved. A few decades ago, a Tunisian linguist who had studied in the U.S. returned to a university position in Tunisia. Because some of his published work dealt with the phonetics and phonology of Tunisian Spoken Arabic, one of his colleagues formally accused him in the faculty senate of bringing the Tunisian nation into disrepute, by suggesting in print that Tunisians spoke such a degenerate and incorrect variety of Arabic.

(This issue was followed up at Language Hat.)

I make active use of tags for “language conflict” and “language policy”, but those tags refer to conflict between self-identified languages, Catalan and Spanish, say. They don’t relate to conflicts between speakers of different forms of a language, whether one’s talking about the sort of diglossia seen in Tunisia, or the more personally familiar variation in accent and vocabulary by region and by class that I hear around me even now. Atlantic Canadian dialects, for instance, are clearly non-standard and may have a stigmatizing effect even now. I don’t speak Prince Edward Island English; instead, like many queer men and women, I’ve managed to adopt the standard form. I noticed in filming my “It Gets Better” video, though, that I have something of the stereotypical but actually existing gay accent.

So. That’s me. And you? What variations from the norm do you evidence? What’s your surrounding community (or communities!) like?


Written by Randy McDonald

January 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On Sinic language conflicts

Open Democracy’s N. Jayaram recently wrote an article describing how the people of Guangdong province successfully resisted the displacement of Cantonese by Putonghua on local television.

It all started with a proposal aired by Ji Keguang, an official of a municipal-level advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, to use Putonghua (Mandarin) in place of Cantonese as the prime time television language in Guangzhou, capital of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. The reasoning was that as Guangzhou would be hosting the 16th Asian Games from 12 November to 27 November, its television station could reach out to visitors through Putonghua broadcasts.

Knowing that in China a leading cadre’s mere proposal can more often than not translate into an ineluctable command, the public raised their voice in protest. As demonstrations are almost never permitted (except on a few occasions such as when the government needs to send anti-Japanese or anti-US messages) and as organizers can expect swift punishment, many people took to flash-mob style tactics or got onto the internet.

People in Hong Kong, the former British-ruled territory, have fewer restrictions to contend with, however. They have taken to the streets more than once in solidarity with their Cantonese-speaking kin. The press in the Special Administrative Region, as Hong Kong is called since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, has been regularly reporting reactions over the contretemps in Guangzhou, 140 kilometres (90 miles) up north.

Although Ji Keguang, the official who started it all, stuck to his guns, claiming that a few people with unspecified “ulterior motives” were behind the adverse reaction, the provincial authorities sought to reassure the public that there was no move to sideline Cantonese.

All too often the Chinese authorities react by clamping down hard on protest activity, however justified or well-founded. In this case, they took care over dousing the fire. A few people were threatened, and reporting within China was muzzled, but by about early to mid-August it was clear that the wishes of the people of Guangdong had prevailed over Ji.

Jayaram suggests that the policy change has much to do with the economic heft (and potentially destabilizing factor) of Guangdong province andthe proximity of wealthy and Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong, which has developed a written Cantonese that admittedly hasn’t caught on outside of Hong Kong in other Cantonese-speaking areas and communities.

Notwithstanding this success, the fate of Cantonese may be limited. Last year I suggested that the vast urbanization of Chinese peasants, by bringing very large numbers of people speaking various dialects into wealthier areas where other Chinese regional languages like Cantonese and Shanghainese have traditionally predominated, may encourage a shift towards Putonghua away from these regional languages. Even Cantonese, with its extensive influence in the realm of popular culture–Cantopop music, for instance–seems threatened.

Like most of China’s dialects, Cantonese is indecipherable to the majority of Chinese speakers born in other linguistic areas. However, young people in urban China have a tenuous grasp of it thanks to wildly popular “Canto-pop” musicians and their preference for watching entertaining Hong Kong soaps and dramas on the Internet instead of the fare of period and patriotic dramas offered up on Mainland television.

Putonghua, which is the language of education across China, is broadly based on the Beijing dialect and is spoken by an estimated 900 million people.

Experts say it is slowly, but surely, replacing local dialects as the “mother tongue” in many regions, particularly in the big cities and industrial areas where the influx of migrant workers from all over China often makes it the only “common” tongue people share.

The relative indifference of Cantonese speakers to the preservation of their language also is a factor. Why go to great efforts to protect it when it’s assumed that the language of the community will persist indefinitely, while learning other languages–chief among them Putonghua–is a necessary skill? Surely the language of home will persist. Right?

Chen blames the current crisis over Cantonese on government indifference, but also on the attitude of parents.

“Locals should maintain passing on our language and culture. Nowadays, some young parents are proud if their children can speak fluent Mandarin or English. However, they don’t take importance to passing on the Cantonese dialect. They consider fluent Mandarin or English as special skills, which they can show off. While Cantonese as a daily language, they don’t pay much attention,” Chen said.

Similar attitudes contributed to the eclipse of the regional languages of France over the 19th and 20th centuries, with younger generations of speakers of Breton and Provençal and Flemish and Italian learning the high-status language, the language of upwards mobility, and left–if not their communities–their low-status language behind. In China, the matter may be complicated by the definition of Cantonese and Shanghainese as “dialects,” i.e. as variations on a common language, as opposed to being full-fledged languages in themselves. (If that’s actually how these languages are identified in China as in the West, mind. Are they?)

It’s a bit odd to realize that the Cantonese language, a language that’s supposed to be the primary language of 70 million people within and without Guangdong province, heir to a vast historic and current array of cultural artifacts, the language of the first Chinese that many Westerners encountered, even, might be replaced so thorroughly that it may disappear even in the Chinatowns founded by Cantonese-speaking migrants.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2010 at 6:31 pm

[LINK] “Reviving Manchu”

Language Hat links to an interesting Wall Street Journal article describing how some Manchu in northeastern China are trying to revive the moribund Manchu language.

Manchus originated from China’s northeast, which under the country’s last dynasty, the Qing, was off-limits to Han Chinese immigration. As the dynasty collapsed toward the end of the 19th century, Chinese migrants flooded in. When Japan occupied Manchuria in the 1930s, Manchu language education was replaced by Japanese. Once China retook the region at the war’s end, Japanese classes were replaced by Chinese. The Manchu language was never again taught on a wide scale.

As a result, virtually no Manchus today have heard Manchu spoken by their parents. For many, it was taboo. Gebu Algika, a 30-year-old sports promoter who helps run one of the Manchu classes in Beijing, said his grandfather, a prominent Manchu, was executed by the Communists shortly after the 1949 takeover for being a “reactionary.” His family fearfully changed its ethnic registration from Manchu to Han. “People born after 1950 don’t speak it,” he says. “It was politically dangerous.”

As rulers of China’s last dynasty, Manchus suffered especially under communist rule. Members of the court underwent ideological indoctrination: Most famously the last emperor, Puyi, whose life story was filmed by Bernardo Bertolucci, became a gardener. His relatives were forbidden to speak Manchu, and Manchu schools in Beijing closed down.

Today, only one elementary school in the country teaches Manchu, and that only as an elective. In universities and a handful of private schools, written Manchu is still taught but purely as a means to reading the Qing dynasty’s archives.

From two million registered Manchus in China’s 1980 census, the country now has nine million — a reflection of people’s willingness to ignore stigmas and embrace their true heritage. For Hasutai, the desire to reconnect to his roots flared up when he was 11 and realized that his people’s language was all but dead. He decided to teach himself written Manchu, using textbooks and old ethnographic recordings of Manchus.

Over time, he came into contact with other Manchus who shared the same goals. The group launched two Web sites, reprinted old textbooks, made up flashcards and collected recordings of Manchu speakers. Hasutai began holding classes in downtown Beijing. “We want it to be part of our life, a language we speak with our spouses and children,” says Ridaikin, who also uses the Chinese name Hu Aibo. The 24-year-old graduate student in mathematics teaches one of the Manchu classes in Beijing.

The discussion at Language Hat segues into an examination of imperial langauges which never managed to replace the languages of conquered peoples.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 7, 2009 at 11:39 am

[LINK] “Canadian Forces to learn French from Americans”

Canada’s really a bilingual country on the ground, is it?

Canadian Forces personnel stationed in Colorado will get French lessons through an American firm, after the military received poor grades for its record on bilingualism, the Ottawa Citizen reported Wednesday.

According to a Department of National Defence (DND) notice issued Tuesday, a $285,000-contract was awarded to Globelink Foreign Language Centre in Colorado Springs to tutor Canadians at the North American Aerospace Defence Command headquarters, the newspaper said.

The company has done work for DND before, owner Fadia Gnoske told the paper.

Gnoske, who is fluent in French, said she believes it is important for Canadian Forces personnel to continue their language training.

“Just because they are posted outside of Canada, does not mean they should not have access to the training they need,” she said.

In his last report card, for 2007-08, Canada’s Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser, gave the Canadian Forces a ‘D’.

Over the past three years he said language complaints have increased, and a survey showed “low satisfaction levels among both Anglophone and Francophone members of the Forces with their right to use the language of their choice when working in a minority setting.”

This year, Canada marked the 40th anniversary of its Official Languages Act, which gives English and French equal status as the country’s languages of government and justice.

The mandate of the Official Languages Commissioner is to ensure the goals of the act are met.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Louisiana’s shift away from the francophonie

The Encyclopedia of Cajun Culture’s article on the French language in Lousiana, the only American state to belong to la francophonie, seems quite accurate to me.

During the nineteenth century, most Cajuns spoke only Cajun French, which frequently irritated Anglo-American observers. As one New Yorker noted on a visit to south Louisiana during the 1860s, the Cajuns were “unable to speak the English language, or convey an intelligent idea in the national tongue.” Even those non-Cajuns who appreciated standard French frowned on Cajun French as inferior. For example, in 1880 a Chicago Times reporter on assignment in Iberia Parish stated that “The educated people speak the bona fide Parisian, but the ‘Cagin’ [sic] patois is deemed good enough for ‘the low-down folks.’ . . .” Census data indicates that about eight-five percent of Cajuns born between 1906 and 1910 spoke French as their primary language. In 1916, however, the state board of education banned the use of French in public classrooms; in 1921 legislators confirmed the ban in a new state constitution. As a result, many educators subjected Cajun students to humiliating punishments for daring to speak their traditional language at school. In addition, twentieth-century Cajuns were increasingly exposed to powerful Americanizing forces (such as compulsory military service, radio and television, the coming of interstate highways and “the jet age,” and so on). Because of these factors, the percentage of Cajuns speaking French as a first language dropped considerably, particularly after 1940. Today few young Cajuns speak French: of those born between 1976 and 1980, for instance, slightly less than nine percent speak French as a first language.

The Louisiana Creoles went through a similar process of Anglicization. French, it seems certain, is not very likely at all to recover–Francophone minorities in western Canada may well be in better shape.

What happened? Louisiana French did seem to have some advantages at the start. Unlike more sparsely populated Upper Louisiana, the core areas of French settlement in what is now the south of the State of Louisiana had accumulated a large Francophone population, composed of Cajuns and Louisiana Creoles, the second group including both whites and blacks. Even after Louisiana’s sale to the Untied States, Louisiana retained a dynamic Francophone culture well into the 19th century–Degas spent no little amount of time in New Orleans, for instance, Kate Chopin was strongly interested in the stories of Maupassant, and generations before the Harlem Renaissance, free blacks in New Orleans composed a vibrant literature. Unfortunately, the dynamics of assimilation described in Carl L. Bankston III and Jacques M. Henry’s 1998 paper in the Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, “The Silence of the Gators: Cajun Ethnicity and Intergenerational Transmission of Louisiana French” (PDF format), ended up prevailing.

[I]n a movement which accelerated after the Civil War, wealthy Acadian landowners assimilated to the white Creole or American society, while small farmers, labourers and craftsmen of Acadian extraction retained their French culture, low status and Cajun label (Dormon, 1983). This was the basis for the stereotype of the marginal, poor and uneducated Cajun which endured through most of the 20th century. The industrialisation and urbanisation of Louisiana in the 1930s was accompanied by the rapid assimilation of Cajuns into the American way: in a three-generation span, English became their first language, traditional farming and fishing occupations gave way to jobs in the oil-and-gas industry and manufacturing, and a kinship- and neighbourhood- based way of life was transformed by modern amenities in communication, transportation and leisure.

Shifting demographics also played a role in ensuring the assimilation of Creoles.

With imported furniture, wines, books, and clothes, white Creoles were once immersed in a completely French atmosphere. Part of Creole social life has traditionally centered on the French Opera House; from 1859 to 1919, it was the place for sumptuous gatherings and glittering receptions. The interior, graced by curved balconies and open boxes of architectural beauty, seated 805 people. Creoles loved the music and delighted in attendance as the operas were great social and cultural affairs.

White Creoles clung to their individualistic way of life, frowned upon intermarriage with Anglo-Americans, refused to learn English, and were resentful and contemptuous of Protestants, whom they considered irreligious and wicked. Creoles generally succeeded in remaining separate in the rural sections but they steadily lost ground in New Orleans. In 1803, there were seven Creoles to every Anglo-American in New Orleans, but these figures dwindled to two to one by 1830.

Anglo-Americans reacted by disliking the Creoles with equal enthusiasm. Gradually, New Orleans became not one city, but two. Canal Street split them apart, dividing the old Creole city from the “uptown” section where the other Americans quickly settled. Tcross Canal Street in either direction was to enter another world. These differences are still noticeable today.

Finally, Creoles, unlike the Cajuns who were istanced from the sources of power, were even politically important, but even this involvement in state affairs worked to the disadvantage of French.

When the Constitutional Convention of 1811 met at New Orleans, 26 of its 43 members were Creoles. During the first few years of statehood, native Creoles were not particularly interested in national politics and the newly arrived Americans were far too busy securing an economic basis to seriously care much about political problems. Many Creoles were still suspicious of the American system and were prejudiced against it.

Until the election of 1834, the paramount issue in state elections was whether the candidate was Creole or Anglo-American. Throughout this period, many English-speaking Americans believed that Creoles were opposed to development and progress, while the Creoles considered other Americans radical in their political ideas. Since then, Creoles have actively participated in American politics; they have learned English to ease this process. In fact, Creoles of color have dominated New Orleans politics since the 1977 election of Ernest “Dutch” Morial as mayor. He was followed in office by Sidney Bartholemey and then by his son, Marc Morial.

From 1864 on, the state constitution imposed by the post-Civil War reconstruction regime explicitly removed prior commitments to French, particularly the requirement of state officials to be bilingual.

Efforts late in the 20th century to revive French, again seem doomed in the face of the numerous forces eroding French. The picture painted by Allard and Landry’s 1996 paper “French in South Louisiana- Towards Language Loss” in English, and by reinforced by Jacques Leclerc’s survey of Louisiana’s linguistic and legal structures on French, confirm that French may not even survive this generation. Louisiana will likely become, past aside, as Francophone as fellow francophonie member-state Lithuania.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 21, 2009 at 3:44 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Canadian official bilingualism as a good thing

Keith Spicer‘s Ottawa Citizen article “Still bilingual after all these years” is one article among many commemorating the 40th anniversary of official bilingualism in Canada.

Forty years ago today, Canada became officially bilingual. Broadly, the federal government would serve French-speakers as well as English-speakers in the language it taxed them in. It would allow its employees to work in either English or French. How did this happen?

It started with Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution.” In 1960, Jean Lesage’s Quebec Liberal party defeated Maurice Duplessis’ corrupt, inward-looking Union Nationale. Ensuing intellectual ferment sapped Quebec’s co-domination by the Catholic Church and Anglo business. Dissatisfaction with Quebec’s power elites took on anti-Canada tones, with mail-box bombs and talk of separatism.

Pressed by Le Devoir publisher Claude Ryan, prime minister Lester Pearson named a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the “B and B Commission” or, after its co-chairmen, “Laurendeau-Dunton” Commission). Its job: propose steps to “develop … an equal partnership between the two founding races, taking into account the contribution made by the other ethnic groups. …”

The B & B Commission’s bombshell 1969 report became the bible for language reform. On Sept. 7 that year, after bitter parliamentary debate, it led to proclamation of the Official Languages Act. The act made English and French Canada’s two official languages with equal status, rights and privileges in all (then) 181 federal departments and agencies.

Spicer, mind, was the first federal commissioner of official languages.

Bilingualism didn’t achieve everything that people hoped it would. Anglophones often resented the new priority given to a language that, outside f the bilingual belt, they rarely had occasion to learn, especially in the context of Québec’s language laws. Francophones observed that English/French bilingualism remained something far more common among Francophones than not and did little to slow the assimilation of most Francophone minorities outside of Québec. This poll suggests that official bilingualism remains most popular in central and eastern Canada, i.e. where Canada’s Francophones are concentrated, and that the West is much more hostile.

It’s not an ideal policy, but Spicer’s right to imply that if there wasn’t official bilingualism as a federal government policy Québec might well have opted for independence, perhaps in the 1980 referendum, perhaps earlier. If living in a Francophone environment could be seen as impossible under a government that made relatively few concessions, instead of going 40:60 against independence it could well have gone 60:40. A writer from that history blogging about the natural straight-line transition from conservative introverted Québec province to an outward-looking yet decidedly Francophone Québec state would sound plausible enough, don’t you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 9, 2009 at 11:56 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Corsican language

TF1 reports that the regional assembly of the French island of Corsica has rejected, by a majority of 28 out of the 47 representatives present, a plan to make Corsican an official language of the island alongside French.

L’Assemblée de Corse a rejeté à une large majorité une motion déposée par les nationalistes indépendantistes visant à donner à la langue corse un “statut d’officialité”, dans la nuit de lundi à mardi. La motion a été rejetée par 28 des 47 conseillers présents sur un total de 51. Dix neuf autres ont voté pour. La motion avait été déposée par Jean-Guy Talamoni, le leader de Corsica Nazione Indipendente. “A défaut de donner un statut d’officialité à notre langue – un trésor que nous avons en partage – il n’est pas envisageable d’en enrayer le déclin“, a plaidé le conseiller territorial devant l’Assemblée.

Le communiste Dominique Bucchini a estimé qu'”il fallait donner un statut aux langues de France” et s’est prononcé pour “un statut de “co-officialité” du Corse, qui ne serait pas en opposition avec la langue de la République mais en complémentarité” avec elle.

Selon les chiffres avancés lors du débat, environ un tiers seulement de la population de l’île, 100.000 personnes, parlerait le Corse. Lors du débat, plusieurs élus de la majorité ont estimé qu'”il ne fallait pas brûler les étapes mais commencer par un réel apprentissage du Corse”. “Il n’y a pas eu de sursaut dans la population, le nombre des locuteurs n’augmente pas, le bilinguisme instauré à l’école maternelle n’est pas une réalité, pas plus que les 3 heures d’enseignement hebdomadaire prévues dans le primaire, et 12% seulement des collégiens de l’île suivent un enseignement bilingue“, a ainsi rappelé Madeleine Mozziconacci (divers gauche).

The Corsican language, called a collection of Italian dialects by some and part of a continuum of Romance languages in the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea, doesn’t seem to have a good fate ahead ofi t.

The January 2007 estimated population of the island was 281,000, while the figure for the March 1999 census, when most of the studies – though not the linguistic survey work referenced in this article – were performed, was about 261,000 (see under Corsica). Only a certain percentage of the population at either time spoke Corsu with any fluency. The 2001 population of 341,000 speakers on the island given by Ethnologue exceeds either census and thus may be considered questionable, like its estimate of 402,000 speakers worldwide.

The use of Corsican over French has been declining. In 1980 about 70% of the population “had some command of the Corsican language.” In 1990 out of a total population of about 254,000 the percentage had declined to 50%, with only 10% using it as a first language. The language was clearly on the way out when the French government reversed its non-supportive stand and began some strong measures to save it. Whether these measures will succeed remains to be seen. No recent statistics on Corsu are available.

Euromosaic is quite skeptical of the idea of reversing the fall in the numbers of speakers of the Corsican language, that it “is a clear example of the gradual demise of a linguistic tradition. Bilingualism in one generation has normally been followed by monolingualism in the next. Despite the absence of reliable data (an absence which is significant in itself), the reduction in the number and percentage of Corsican speakers over the last few decades is obvious. Socioeconomic conditions for the preservation of Corsican have long been unfavourable, due to the twofold phenomenon of the emigration of native speakers and the immigration of non-speakers.”

The lack of institutional support for Corsican, as mentioned above, hasn’t helped, this lack derived in part from the identification since 1992 of French as the country’s official language, with other languages at best coming in behind. As the above vote demonstrates, it doesn’t seem as if very many Corsicans mind this fate for their island’s indigenous language.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2009 at 5:35 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On Nepali language conflict

Dhruba Adhikari at Asia Times has come up with an interesting article, “Nepal plunges into politics of language,” which describes how the Maoists who now govern Nepal are trying to deal with the country’s multilingualism by privileging minority languages as much as possible.

The issue of official language(s) has never been as sensitive in Nepal as it is now. While the interim statute maintains the continuity of Nepali, in Devnagari script, as the language of official communication, some members of the 601-strong Constituent Assembly want to add 11 more languages to the list, giving them the same status, while others are advocating for the addition of Hindi.

Otherwise, the members will resort to writing “notes of dissent”, unwittingly using an English expression to press their point. One contention is that since Nepal is now a republic, it should adopt a language policy to de-link the country’s monarchical past.

If all 11 languages gain equal status with Nepali as demanded, that will still leave Nepal’s 60 other languages and dialects, whichare spoken by just 1% of the population in a country of over 25 million people, off the list.

But does Nepal have the required resource-base to have a dozen official languages? Yes, it is possible, said commentator Shyam Shrestha. Since democracy requires equality, the state should be prepared to pay a concomitant price for it, he said in a recent newspaper article.

[. . .]

Nepali, an offspring of Sanskrit, is the mother tongue of 49% of the population and has been in use for official communication for centuries. In Nepal’s neighborhood and beyond it is also called Gorkhali, a name derived to identify it with the world famous Gurkha soldiers. It is a language with an enriched vocabulary, grammar and literature. Besides being the official language, Nepali has provided a link between and among communities speaking local languages and dialects.

To some extent, this attempt to enfranchise minority languages reflects policies in many Communist state. Early Soviet nationality policies, which, as George Liber describes, at least nominally saw the devolution of power and cultural/linguistic equality for non-Russian minorities even extending to the realm of government affairs, all fitting within a Soviet people. Chinese nationality policy was similar, with the exception that the theoretical right to secede was not included.

Adhruba, who seems quite skeptical of the efforts, argues that questions of language standardization and the roles played by extra-Nepali languages will complica

Some scholars of the Rai community in the eastern hills, for instance, have discovered 28 variations of the Rai language, with speakers of each group wanting their dialect to receive identical treatment from the state. The Sherpa community, which provides high-altitude guides to mountaineers attempting to scale Everest and other Himalayan peaks, is uncomfortable over purported moves to marginalize their language to bestow a higher status to a language used by recent immigrants from Tibet. But people living in the foothills of snow-capped mountains in the northern belt have not lost their cool, and are not making much noise.

The situation is quite different in the southern belt, which shares porous borders with India’s Bihar state – known for lawlessness – and Uttar Pradesh state, with a large population, among others. Small political parties, with loaded regional overtones, suddenly felt strong enough to demand that Hindi, spoken mainly in northern India and popularized by India’s Mumbai-based film industry, be given the status enjoyed by Nepali. This happened on the eve of the national polls of April 2008 that were held to elect the constituent assembly.

Existing regional parties were emboldened with the sudden emergence of new parties, mainly consisting of disgruntled leaders from the mainstream national parties such as Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), which is considered a moderate communist group when compared with the Maoists.

Media reports claimed the new political parties were floated – ahead of the crucial election – with moral and material support from the south; but official India promptly denied such reports and allegations.

Those who have appeared vocal in the constituent assembly debate belong to these newly formed parties, and have inserted the dissenting opinion with the demand that Hindi too be made an official language like Nepali. Their main argument is that since most Nepalis watch Hindi films and enjoy listening to Hindi music there should not be any hesitation to accept it as an official Nepal language.

Adhikari quotes a professor who argues for the preservation of Nepali as a common national language, with minority languages and languages of cultural/religious importance coming afterward. Given the situation that Adhikari describes above, it doesn’t seem very plausible to expect the different non-Nepali language groups to agree.


Written by Randy McDonald

July 9, 2009 at 10:33 am