Gaeilge - should we keep it?

Elements of Irish politics want to minimise compulsory teaching of it

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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#161  Postby zulumoose » Oct 19, 2012 8:31 am

I can see this degrading into a series of very lengthy cut and paste quotes. In order to avoid that I am going to make points and avoid lengthy quotes.

1) In terms of the data you provided about kids liking the language, there are two forms of this you provided, which I have separate issues with, your "let's review" completely misconstrues this.

When you say the kids like it, it is 'liked' in much the same way as Shakespeare might show up as being 'liked' in a survey, when in reality all but a small percentage hate it. Very easy to engineer with minor changes in the questions asked and the method of reporting. I think it is self evident that If they really did like it, teaching it as an optional 2nd language choice in English schools would be popular and successful. I am of the opinion that that approach would be an abject failure, and you appear to agree with me on that point.

When you give the example of opinions within IMMERSION SCHOOLS which are by definition a sub-set of the 2% of people who encounter the language once a week or more, you cannot extrapolate that to pretend it is a majority opinion.

2) I really have no interest in the definition of when a language can be technically termed endangered, I am pretty confident that the writing has been on the wall for many dead or dying languages long before your definition of endangered applied, and some have probably recovered rapidly despite going far beyond that point.

3) "I thought the use of the word "must" indicated some sort of compulsion"

It did, but each use of the word was within one of the approaches I presented as ideas, or proposals, if you like. I thought I had made that clear.

4)"My ideal scenario would be to promote the regional lingua francas over the colonial ones, but not to neglect the mother tongues either. So a, say, Soninke in Mali would speak and write primarily Soninke, passing it onto their children and such, but also know Bambara, and then maybe French and/or English"

Your ideal scenario is my nightmare, keeping minority languages alive by adopting 3-4 languages per person to retain practicality and marketability. Chaos. Imagine if someone proposed this with currencies, the ideal is one currency, or perhaps one local referenced against one international standard to facilitate exchange rates. The same should be true of languages.

5)"Silly reasoning, like saying if more people drove American cars Detroit would be rebuilt. Reality is real."

This does not apply to the scenario I presented re Esperanto. It would only be adopted in my example if it was the MOST PRACTICAL COMPROMISE to achieve multinational communication. Detroit is failing to compete in a free market, like a dying home language. In that case Esperanto would be like 15 countries agreeing to convert their collapsing car industries to produce a single cheap and easy world marketed utility car that uses any fuel and has interchangeable parts internationally. It could work, but only if enough people could agree to support it in advance.

6)"Oral languages don't "have" sign languages. They're totally distinct and independent from oral languages. There's no such thing as "English sign language"; there's "South African Sign Language" which is related to "British Sign Language" and not at all to English.

Maybe you're right, I don't have any knowledge of this, but I would be very surprised if British sign language deviated substantially from English in things like sentence structure, common words and expressions, etc. Why would it? It was developed in England, by exclusively English speaking communities.Do you think they made stroking your cheek the sign for white for international compatibility?
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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#162  Postby Saim » Oct 29, 2012 5:06 am

zulumoose wrote:
6)"Oral languages don't "have" sign languages. They're totally distinct and independent from oral languages. There's no such thing as "English sign language"; there's "South African Sign Language" which is related to "British Sign Language" and not at all to English.

Maybe you're right, I don't have any knowledge of this, but I would be very surprised if British sign language deviated substantially from English in things like sentence structure, common words and expressions, etc. Why would it? It was developed in England, by exclusively English speaking communities.Do you think they made stroking your cheek the sign for white for international compatibility?

I skimmed over the post and this jumped out at me - I'll respond to the rest later. The rest is more muddy and values-based; this one I can respond to with hard facts.

BSL is a language, not at all signed English. To further drive the point home, BSL and American Sign Language are not mutually intelligible. ASL is actually closer to French sign language. As you can see from that link, sign languages form language families just like spoken languages do.

I don't think speakers of BSL or Irish Sign Language (the two main sources of South African Sign Language as far as I can gather), wherever that particular sign come from, would have been thinking about what would happen if black people half the world away were to use that sign, no. :P But then again, words aren't usually planned, are they?
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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#163  Postby Saim » Dec 13, 2012 7:48 am

zulumoose wrote: I think it is self evident that If they really did like it, teaching it as an optional 2nd language choice in English schools would be popular and successful.

There's a difference between wanting to learn a language and wanting to go through the effort of learning it.

When you give the example of opinions within IMMERSION SCHOOLS which are by definition a sub-set of the 2% of people who encounter the language once a week or more, you cannot extrapolate that to pretend it is a majority opinion.

This is getting absurd. You asked me for evidence that people in those schools aren't being "forced" into learning the language.

I really have no interest in the definition of when a language can be technically termed endangered

What, so you have no interest on what actual sociolinguistics have to say about language endangerment?

Your ideal scenario is my nightmare, keeping minority languages alive by adopting 3-4 languages

Multilingualism is not chaotic just because you've never experienced it. There are societies where such multilingualism is the rule not the exception, and no-one complains about it how chaotic it is. Not to mention even minorities in the West like Frisians or Catalans who would comfortably know 3 or 4 languages quite well.

But I have been revising my view recently. Language minorities should have the right to be monolingual.
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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#164  Postby Saim » Dec 13, 2012 8:11 am

I think there's a real danger of us talking past each other here so I'll try and explain where I'm coming from in general with language minorities. For me, and for quite a lot of people involved in these sort of topics, languages are not just a tool for communication. They're one of the most obvious and visible markers of identity. They're the soul of a people, a linking factor that creates a world within itself. All these cultural spheres are part of our collective heritage as a species and it would be foolish to throw the vast majority away within a century without fully grasping the consequences.

Language death is also achieved through essentially coercive means, that target the self-esteem of a people. In this sense, linguicide is deeply linked to ethnic assimilation and nation-state power. Ethnic minorities are told by neighbouring peoples that they and their culture is essentially worthless; it's too rustic, it's too undeveloped ("you can't count in Zulu"), not fit for the modern world or economy. This disrespect for regional or ethnic minority cultures extends to their languages, encouraging them to adopt features of the dominant or majority group. This is a form of cultural colonization.

And yet, it's clear what linguistic minorities are told about their heritage is not true. All languages are equal, as linguists have found out. They went out in the 1800s and early 1900s trying to prove the supremacy of "civilized languages", expecting to find largely "primitive" ones spoken outside of the historial centres of 'civilization' in Eurasia and North Africa. But they didn't - they found languages just as rich and capable of expression as French, German or English. There's nothing that inherently makes Zulu less fit for higher education than English, it only hasn't been used that way because of the economic and political status of the people who speak it.

This is also linked with centralizing nationalisms. Dominant culture-elites feel threatened by minority cultures existing within their State structure, seeing the homogeneity of the State as the best way to ensure its survival and expansion. You can see many examples of this in Western Europe: the linguistic anglification of the UK, the near-total eradication of regional cultures in France, the persecution of the Sami in Scandinavia, or the attempts at assimilation of peripheral nationalities in Spain. Or just pop down to a recent discussion we've been having on this forum about Kurdish rights if you want to see an example of centralizing Turkish nationalism.

I would argue that this sort of homogenizing state policy inevitably creates conflict. Look at the ETA, or the IRA, or Chechnya, or those Kurdish militants, or any of the other ethnic conflicts through history. None of these conflicts would be happening if we respected rights to cultural autonomy and intergenerational transmission, as well as to the right to self-determination. Imposing colonial languages, far from bringing people together as they become more alike, in many cases generates conflict as minorities fight back and are then harshly reprimanded by state authorities.

For me this is where internationalism comes in: for a true internationalism and a peaceful culture we need to respect every culture and people. Not that some cultures are more equal than others. This is also democracy: self-determination and cultural rights. I hear people talking about language revitalization or giving recognition to minority languages being an imposition, a waste of money or time in schools, and yet these same people don't critique the very existence of an Education board that mandates public school curriculums or of a government that funds public projects. For me, attempts to protect our linguistic ecology fall under the same category as other public works; thinks that are not as well taken care of by private organizations.

Zulumouse, do you now have a better idea of my overall ideological bent when it comes to the recognition and support of language minorities?
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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#165  Postby zulumoose » Dec 13, 2012 9:39 am

Saim wrote:I think there's a real danger of us talking past each other here


Absolutely, we are approaching the topic from two very different viewpoints.

Saim wrote:disrespect for regional or ethnic minority cultures extends to their languages, encouraging them to adopt features of the dominant or majority group. This is a form of cultural colonization.


Yes, yet it is often not an imposition, but something willingly participated in as a way forward for minority or underprivileged groups to reach towards progress in the modern world. South African children and North American immigrants teaching their children English at first language level are two good examples. The discrimination certainly exists, yet does not have to exist for the switch to English to be a positive one.

Saim wrote:All languages are equal, as linguists have found out.
There's nothing that inherently makes Zulu less fit for higher education than English


Nonsense. They may be equally capable of expressing an idea or describing a concept, but if a language has no scientific, mathematical, or medical vocabulary, and the culture has no history of learning at tertiary level or even an existing literature base, then it is very far from equal and the effort to artificially raise it to that point is immense. When even the motivation does not exist as the participation at that level in that language does not exist, it becomes ridiculous.



Saim wrote:I would argue that this sort of homogenizing state policy inevitably creates conflict.


What, and keeping people separated on language/culture grounds does not? The conflicts are not avoided by encouraging language any more than they would be by serving ethnic dinners at school. State policy is not the cause of friction when the friction was there to begin with, much of it is unavoidable.


Saim wrote:None of these conflicts would be happening if we respected rights to cultural autonomy and intergenerational transmission, as well as to the right to self-determination.


Now that is one hell of a stretch. Equality of separate groups is not the only thing required to prevent conflicts. Never seen conflict between the supporters of two fairly equal sports teams, representing identical cultures and languages in the same country or even the same district?


Saim wrote:Zulumouse, do you now have a better idea of my overall ideological bent when it comes to the recognition and support of language minorities?


Yes, I think I do. I think language protection is very overplayed in your mind. It has become a sort of snake oil for you.
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Re: Gaeilge - should we keep it?

#166  Postby Saim » Jan 04, 2013 3:53 pm

First I'll address the issue of the equality of languages, because if we don't accept this basic linguistic fact this discussion can go nowhere. The idea that all languages are equal in expressive power is not nonsense, it is the baseline consensus of modern linguistics (who no longer contribute to scientific racism, as they did in the past by talking about "primitive languages"). A language loses expressive capacity only in the later stages of endangerement, when semi-speakers (people who grew up hearing the language but don't speak it well) outnumber native-speakers. However, it's worth keeping in mind that that's based on the competence and proficiency of the speaking community itself, not on the language's inherent characteristics.

So that can be a sort of half-exception, depending on the interpretation. But regarding languages that have a base of native speakers, "they're all equal" as a linguistic maxim works quite well. Developing a literary standard of a language is not going to result in anything less "artificial" than all the other literary standards already in use. The history of the English literary standard we're approximating in our posts is made up of as many arbitrary choices as the Zulu literary standard (which does exist, by the way) or a more recently created or recreated one like that of Leonese or Saraiki.

In making these sorts of claims, I'd argue you're seriously underestimating human creativity. People adopt loanwords, or recombine existing roots to create new words. It's not difficult. This is exactly how English has developed its technical vocabulary - people have made up words using Latin and Greek roots according to need. Other languages have more purist literary traditions - that of German or Tamil for instance. Zulu could easily follow either of these traditions: adopting English loanwords that are already widely understood due to bilingualism, or creating new words from Bantu (i.e. indigenous vocabulary) roots and spreading them in the education system and in the media.

Now we've got that out of the way, lets get to the sociopolitical and ethical aspects of the debate. In my opinion, and I'm sure in the opinion of many others who are involved in these sorts of issues, linguistic discrimination is closely linked to and serves to aggravate classism and racism. This explains why cities are usually the first to switch to the dominant language, because the bourgeoisie and the general urban population don't want to be associated with an allegedly rural, backwards language that doesn't have literary or official use. This, with no real exceptions coming to mind, is the result of colonization or forced annexation. This isn't some form of benign globalization or national unification - language shift is accompanied in all cases I know of by other forms of discrimination and exploitation, be it an empire-colony relationship, be it class-based discrimination, or be it discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or identity.

This is why I'm against this linguicide, not because languages are great in and of themselves (although, yes, they are), but because it's inherently coercive. Promoting plurilingualism and fighting against language shift, far from being parochial or archaic, is a necessary companion of other egalitarian movements, and is the best ally of internationalism. I don't want a Leninist pseudo-internationalism where ethnic or linguistic differences are to be seen as enemies of class solidarty, nor do I want an Islamist one where the Ummah supercedes everything. I want a diverse internationalism that is defined against the insane homogenizing narratives of Jacobin nation-states, rather than against ethnic minorities for allegedly being xenophobic or parochial by the very fact of existing. A monolingual anti-nationalism is a contradiction in terms.

You have the impression that I'm exaggerating the role of language in violent conflicts. Do you honestly think that institutionalized linguistic discrimination has nothing to do with violent conflict in the Basque Country, Kurdistan, Balochistan, Tamil Eelam, or any other region of the world? I would never claim they're the only or among the most important contributing factors - that's why I also talked about the right to self-determination and other ways to foment mutual respect between distinct human communities. Nor do I only care about language revitalization as a form of liberation - I'm also a feminist, anti-racist and you could say some sort of socialist. Far from "snake oil", plurilingualism is just one of the building blocks of pluralism and anti-nationalism to me.
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