Dec. 18th, 2011

dhobikikutti: earthen diya (Default)
[personal profile] dhobikikutti
Via [personal profile] azuire:
Using a Private-sphere Language for a Public-sphere Purpose: Some Hard Lessons from Making a TV Documentary in a Dying Dialect by Nancy Dorian
The awkwardness of the situation I found myself in arose from the kind of functional restriction that takes place in contracting minority languages as they come to be spoken less. Some other more favored language, typically the official language of the nation or the region, expands into most of the public spheres (government, education, the legal establishment) --and the small minority language retreats into local village life and even eventually just into family life within the home. It becomes a private-sphere language, used with your neighbors and your kinsfolk in relatively intimate, face-to-face circumstances. In those settings, feeling free to borrow words does have a positive effect, since it makes it possible to avoid switching back and forth between whole languages and to stick instead to your own language: you can talk about more or less anything by drafting whatever loanwords might be necessary to bridge the lexical gaps you run into.

But a larger problem is created by this whole development -- because the retreat of a local language into purely private spheres of use may change the sense of what a language is for. Monolingual speakers of standardized languages don’t have to think much about this question. They would probably say that languages are for communication, and since communication covers most of what we do with language, their answer would be that a language is essentially for all communicative purposes. Bilinguals who happen to speak two standardized languages well would probably say much the same, though immigrant bilinguals who speak one standardized language almost entirely at home and the other everywhere else may have more sense of a functional difference between their languages. Bilinguals who speak one standardized language and one non-standardized minority language (that is, one unwritten language) are much more likely to feel that languages are not necessarily always for the same thing at all.

Sometimes it's obvious that one of a bilingual's languages has some functions that the other doesn’t have: if you've never had schooling in one of your languages, you probably wont be able to recite the multiplication tables in that one, and if you've never heard one of your languages used in a formal meeting, you probably wont have any terminology with which to second a motion, table a discussion, or raise a point of order in that language. But much more broadly than that, if you use one of your languages only with people whom you know personally, and always in a face-to-face setting, that language is likely to develop an association with intimacy and informality that makes its use with "strangers" feel inappropriate.[...]

Things get tougher still if a bilingual person one of whose languages is associated with intimacy is expected to communicate not just with strangers, but about relatively abstract and formal topics in the "intimate" language. [...] I was going to need to talk like an intelligent child: someone who might know the answers to some of the questions that would be raised but who didn’t have a large and specialized vocabulary to answer them with.[...]
Until I faced the TV camera armed only with East Sutherland fisherfolk Gaelic, my take on this sort of situation was about as realistic as Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign against the use of drugs. I thought minority-language supporters should "Just Say Yes": if they wanted to create a future for their languages, they should just make up their minds to use their languages all the time and get busy and do it.

What I didn’t reckon with is the personal difficulty of moving a private-sphere language, with all its homely, intimate aspects, into the public sphere where it seems to fit very poorly and feels inappropriate. And along with that essentially functional problem comes the additional problem that very small minority-group languages are often stigmatized, so that their speakers are braving all sorts of associations with backwardness and poverty when they speak their languages in public. And last but not least there's the problem of limited up-to-date lexicon and the need to press a lot of borrowings into service in order to stretch the hearth-and-home language into new contexts of use.

All in all, these are formidable problems, and I begin to understand not just why the aspiring Mexicano teachers held all their workshop sessions in Spanish, but even why young minority-language parents who make a decision to raise their children as first-language speakers of the ancestral language are so often learners rather than native speakers. The answer must be in part that they bring less baggage to the undertaking. They are less likely to have experienced stigmatization personally, they have bigger "modern" vocabularies because they've acquired the language at least partly from books, and they don’t have the deep, hard-to-break association of the ancestral language exclusively with intimate, hearth-and-home settings.

On Words

Dec. 18th, 2011 05:10 pm
thatlitgirl: “Extreme closeup on Shiva's face as she smiles meanly with her bangs across her eyes (Richard Dragon: Enter the Dragon)” (DC: Sandra Woosan smiling)
[personal profile] thatlitgirl
I’ve written a piece about language contact and acquisition, and how I feel about it; Kutti asked me to link to it, so here it is:

On Words and Up Words [Content warning: Strong Language]
The professor used a rather thought-provoking metaphor in our conversation. Learning a language, to him, is like approaching it with a thick wall of frosted glass in the way. One day, you might get close enough to peer through the glass; even closer, and the glass shatters. And when the glass shatters, you can see clearly, but the shards can cut.

I am welcome to anyone else sharing how they approach the process of language learning emotionally! :)

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