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1 ‘Killer’ Languages? Linguistic Imperialism: Language Death, or New Languages?

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1 1 ‘Killer’ Languages? Linguistic Imperialism: Language Death, or New Languages?

2 2 Foucault: A (Brief) Re-Cap Necessary condition for the operation of power? Resistance Cannot have power without resistance Though sometimes we may legitimise power by our resistance! (E.g. by voting against the government, you are legitimising democracy) But resistance can also be seen as positive, emancipatory (remember Foucault himself was quite pessimistic about this potential though – but this interpretation is useful for language policy research) Power/Knowledge – interlinked; the production of knowledge is a form of power. (So we have to be careful about what linguists say …)

3 3 Language Shift and Death Language death: when the last speaker of a language dies Language shift: the process by which communities adopt another language Language shift & death: Cornish (to English) Shift without death: Welsh (to English) Norwegian (to English) in the US Death without shift: Tasmanian etc. – normally because population is killed. Approximately 6000 languages ‘alive’ today. (Crystal, 2000:11) Only 4% of the globe's 6 billion speak 96% of the languages (p 14) Perhaps half will die in the next century?

4 4 What causes language shift and death? Difficult to pinpoint exact causes that will always accurately predict language shift or death … but … War and conflict, especially genocide Population movement e.g. migration, re-settlement or taking of traditional land Also (similarly) re-drawing of national boundaries in e.g. colonial Africa Economic reasons such as choosing to adopt a majority language e.g. for jobs Demographics (e.g. declining birth rate, exogamy) Institutional support: whether ‘laissez-faire’ or overt proscription Etc. – But often a combination of different historical social and political factors (see Mesthrie et al 2000)

5 5 Language Death vs. Language Murder Language death Languages just disappear naturally… Languages commit suicide; speakers are leaving them voluntarily for instrumental reasons and for their own good (From Skuttknab-Kangas 2000) Language Murder Arson: the libraries (of specific local knowledge encoded in each language) are set on fire Educational systems, mass media, etc participate in committing linguistic and cultural genocide

6 6 Linguicism, Language Murder Linguicism: the notion that language inequality is a form of discrimination (a la race, gender) that prevents equal access to societal power (Phillipson, 1997; Skuttnab- Kanghas 1988) = produced as statements of truth in discourses on languages. E.g.: AAVE is ‘illogical’ or ‘not a proper language’ Language Murder (or Linguistic Genocide): the active attempts to get rid of languages and cultures, usually blamed on ‘globalisation’ and it’s tendency towards homogenisation. (Skuttnab-Kangas 2000)

7 7 Killer Languages? English, Spanish, etc. – the ‘big’ languages Can be in contact situations (e.g. through colonialism, other forms of domination) But also as a result of neo-imperialist endeavours (e.g. learning English as a second language) British Council promotion of English English as ‘natural and neutral means of international communication’ and other ideologies promoted in discourses on English Whether English is used by donor nations as a condition of e.g. aid, development, international co-operation (or whether English is perceived as such by recipient nations) But *any* language can be a ‘killer language’ if it threatens minority languages Can threaten both indigenous minority languages, and minority immigrant Like ‘carnivorous plants’ or cancerous cells, devouring other languages (Helsingin Sanomat – 24/8/04)

8 8 Linguistic Imperialism 1 ‘Linguistic imperialism’ is shorthand for a multitude of activities, ideologies and structural relationships. Linguistic imperialism takes place within an overarching structure of asymmetrical North/South relations, where language interlocks with other dimensions, cultural (particularly in education, science and the media), economic and political. For example if an aid project provides funds for language X, and not for language Y, when both X and Y are central to the linguistic ecology of a given country, there may be linguistic imperialism at play, especially if X is associated with the donor country, is the former colonial language, and is being used as a medium of education (for instance French in Senegal or English in Nigeria). (Phillipson, 1997)

9 9 Linguistic Imperialism 2 ‘Makerere conference [Uganda 1961] was how a Western language and culture could enable ‘Us’ to solve ‘Their’ problems (good Orientalist stuff in Said’s terms)’ (Phillipson 1997) So … ‘Killer Languages’ reproducing colonialist ideology (imperialism) As does ‘development’ when done by, e.g. the World Bank, IMF etc.

10 10 Linguistic Imperialism and Killer Languages: Some Criticisms ‘A small but growing body of ethnographic studies from the periphery suggests that pedagogies and textbooks from the center are not used in the prescribed manner in local classrooms, and that strategies of resistance against the discourses and ELT pedagogies are influenced by students’ own indigenous social and educational traditions.’ (Canagarajah, 1995: 593, quoted, ironically, by Phillipson!) As we saw last week, teachers and students ‘on the ground’ resist policy by interpreting them in their own way ‘A special metalanguage has also emerged, in which languages are treated as agents and speakers of the endangered or dead languages only as victims.’ (Mufwene, ref) Fundamentally, the idea that it is languages themselves which are somehow agents of destruction of minority identities de-ascribes individual agency, and actually risks overlooking the historical, social and political reasons for dominance, paradoxically reducing the ability to challenge that dominance.

11 11 Linguistic Imperialism: Some Criticisms ‘In the same vein, the rhetoric has been less about the rights of speakers than about the rights of languages to survive’ (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000, in Mufwene, ref. below) However … the idea of language rights (e.g. the right to mother tongue language education) is tricky. E.g. European Charter on Minority Languages and Cultures is not binding as it has a clause to the effect that preceding UN laws and charters remain valid: International Convent on Civil and Political Rights says that people have right to enjoy language and culture (so teaching a class in e.g. Welsh, which the ECMLC advocates, with an English speaker present ironically ignores their rights, and is technically illegal.) Politicians often criticised for not knowing about language issues, but also linguists can be criticised for not knowing about politics or international law! Should we have a right to e.g. English? Should we have a right to bilingualism?

12 12 Linguistic Imperialism: Some Criticisms Completely ignores strategies of resistance and the fact that, as we saw last week, language policies produce unintended consequences. E.g. Welsh did not die, Cornish has been revived? Why? How? Point to be made that languages can be threatened, but what are the political and social resources that communities can/do deploy to maintain languages? Language movements? Looking at language death cases from a critical perspective can help identify what social and political resources were NOT used and how they might be used in the future. Resistance does not have to be political in the sense of e.g. language movements: e.g. Western Apache anatomical terms applied to a car. Ignores that globalisation (and post-colonial identies) is more commonly now understood as a process of hybridisation of cultures, and local appropriation of globalised forms. E.g.: different varieties of hip-hop across the world; even McDonalds has local menus (and does not uniformly speak English) Role of language in globalisation may be overstated? (Mufwene)

13 13 Linguistic Imperialism – Some Criticisms What about power/knowledge in that linguists are producing knowledge; linguistics is both a discipline and a discourse? Can linguists tell people that they are not allowed to lose their languages? (Hale, 1992: 40; Ladefoged, 1992: , in Mesthrie 2002:272) What are the ideological assumptions that say languages should be ‘saved’ in the first place? But then, are members of minority communities empowered with the knowledge to know what choices are available to them, and the consequences of those choices? (Mesthrie 2002:274)

14 14 The Development of New Languages? Language contact situations can (and do) produce ‘contact languages’ (i.e. a mixed language) Also produce pidgins, and later, creoles (Mufwene) They can add vitality and innovation to a new language by enriching the lexicon (Mesthrie 2000) This is why the language death argument – as if languages were biological ‘species’ – is a bit odd: ‘if a dog and a bird are in the same house, the dog doesn’t sprout wings, nor does the bird grow paws’ – languages in contact can produce new languages. (May, 2003)


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