What do we lose when we lose a language?

Format: 300-400 words expected length. Though brief, your thoughts should be organized and your writing free of excessive errors, and formal in tone.
Prompt: What do we lose when we lose a language?
Compare/contrast the value of endangered languages from two distinct perspectives – one from the emic or “insider” perspective of a speaker of an endangered language and one from an etic perspective belonging to an outside observer, scholar or policy-maker. You can drawn on any of our readings for these perspectives– the Patrick or Nonaka readings and the four clips shown in class all offer “emic” perspectives to consider. Just make sure to be clear and specific about whose perspective you are talking about!


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Language Revitalization

Mohican Clan Mother: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3hl7DAEkV0

Menominee Revitalization: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcLPCe1t7fE

Ojibwe Language School: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SPbzwUnmoo

Ho Chunk Language Apprentice: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2fet9FhN9U
I. Language revitalization efforts raise a lot of questions about the nature of language, the relationship of particular languages to its speech community, and the links between language and culture that we discussed at the beginning of class (e.g. around Sapir-Whorf).

A. The stakes of language endangerment change depending on how we think about language, culture and linguistic diversity.
1. Many peoples facing language shift think of language in similar terms: as having a strong, inherent or essentialized link to culture & identity.
2. Might imagine a stronger link than academic linguists and anthropologists would agree with.
B. Given what we’ve learned about questions of culture and identity in class- that culture is changing, that identity is complex and a matter of negotiation, not of static, essential categories, we should expect that the questions raised by language endangerment and revitalization movements would be more complex.
C. Patrick discusses both strategic benefits and the dangers of assuming an essential link between language, culture and identity.

II. Today, thinking about politics of revitalization movements.

Using Canada as a case study:
A country with an explicit commitment to multiculturalism; recognition of cultural diversity and the rights of people to maintain and practice their culture; and support for the maintenance of cultural heritage (including linguistic heritage).
Also a country that has two official languages, English and French, as well as a multitude of indigenous languages belonging to First Nations and other native peoples (and of course many immigrant languages).
Compare politics of language protection/revitalization b/w French and aboriginal languages.

III. French is recognized as an official language, however it is a minority language in the country as a whole and outside of Quebec.
A. In Quebec French is the dominant/majority language, is used alongside English in public signs, information, publications– all according to official state policy.
1. Bilingual education system is asymmetrical: French-dominant schools are bilingual (French is primary medium but English also taught), English-dominant schools offer French only as an optional “foreign language,”
2. In general French speakers are bilingual, English speakers monolingual.
3. Some French-sp. communities, esp. minorities outside Quebec, find themselves under pressure to use English at the expense of French.
B. The situation is complicated for some communities by the fact that there is more than one variety of French:
C. Boudreau and Dubois write about the town of Clare in an area called Acadia in the Baie Sainte-Marie region of Nova Scotia. In the province as a whole English is the majority language, but this area is majority French speaking, with a distinct local French vernacular called Acadjonne (Acadian).
Among those who want to preserve French as a vital part of local identity there is a controversy causing a deep split in the community: make standard French the dominant form, or preserve and promote public use of Acadjonne?

Acadjonne tied to a distinctive & unique local history & identity, while standard French tied to the larger French-speaking world (la francophonie) and to broader notions of correctness and prestige associated with it.

The stakes of this conflict:
Tourism promotion (what image to promote, to whom?)
Economic opportunities and social mobility for Acadians
State funding and support for language maintenance
A sense of cultural identity.

Question for both sides: which variety of French is best suited to ensure the community’s linguistic and cultural survival?

Main point of disagreement: Acadjonne is a hybrid language, preserving many distinct features of archaic French spoken in the era of colonization (includes features of 17th-C French) but also incorporated a lot of borrowing from English (as a result of long-term mingling with local majority population).
For those who favor standard French, it’s the presence of English in Acadjonne that make it unsuitable for public use & preservation—it’s not “pure” French (they are not so bothered by Archaic French elements).
Also worried about prospects for being part of the larger French-speaking world (fear of linguistic prejudice from standard French Speakers)
Getting jobs outside the area—economic opportunities.
Able to be included under wider state support for French as official language.

For those who support Acadjonne, it’s precisely these features that best capture the unique history and distinct identity of the community.
Also make it most appealing to tourists and eligible for cultural funding to support language maintenance.
Also feel that if Acadjonne speakers become confident in and proud of their own language, they will be better able to resist language shift toward English.

Debate centered on a local community radio station—when switched to Acadjonne, including ads, listenership went up.
Part of the issues: two distinct language ideologies: should language be “pure” or should it be reflective of the distinctiveness of its community, even if that means hybridity?

In the case of indigenous communities, both the history and situation vis-à-vis official state language policy more variable, less clear.

Aboriginal/indigenous peoples very diverse: no one language, culture or set of circumstances applicable to all groups.
National policy set in the Indian Act of 1876 treats all First Nations, Innuit and Metis communities as one homogenous category.

No Aboriginal/Indigenous languages are counted as official languages in Canada, but there is at least theoretical gov’t support for cultural and linguistic heritage and rights.
This recognition by the state of the rights of native communities is relatively recent; comes after a long history of assimilationist policies aimed at wiping out native traditions.
Language revitalization movements are part of larger movements to revitalize & preserve indigenous cultures, gain political and economic justice for these communities.

Debates over value of language & its revitalization center on claims about links between language and local knowledge and culture, value of cultural diversity for the nation as a whole, and links that language provides to tangible and intangible heritage that constitute a source of identity for these communities.

In the discourse of indigenous language revitalization movements, language is also strongly tied to land— knowledge of and based on land & its inhabitants (human and nonhuman)—in context of ongoing legal disputes b/w First Nations and the state over land rights.
Another link to environmentalist discourses.

Patrick talks about the use of strategic essentialism in indigenous language rights and language revitalization movements—its benefits and dangers.
Essentialism refers to the idea that a phenomenon has necessary and inherent set of attributes; in this context referring to the link between language and culture as necessary and inherent (like a strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).
Patrick refers to the claims of some indigenous language activists that their language is an essential part of their culture, such that the loss of language is directly and necessarily linked to the loss of culture, as strategic essentialism, because while the discourse is used strategically, it is still essentialist: it assumes things about the nature of language that linguists & anthropologists would not agree with.
Benefits: such claims can help to unify and mobilize the speech community; can be used to make legitimate claims for state support, funding and recognition for language revitalization (esp. in a state with explicit multicultural commitments like Canada).
Drawbacks: not all indigenous people live on the land of their ancestors, live according to all aspects of “traditional culture”—does this mean they don’t also have rights or do not deserve support for such movements? By linking together language and culture this discourse can force native peoples to “perform” their authentic indigenous identity in order to garner support for language revitalization. By emphasizing cultural identity and moving justice to the background, it can make access to economic/political justice dependent on being/performing “authentic Indian-ness.”

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