FORBIDDEN LANGUAGES.

The NYRB now has a blog, which is pretty nifty, and a recent post by István Deák is called Slovakia: The Forbidden Languages. It sounds like a bad situation:

On September 1, the Slovak parliament made it largely illegal for its citizens to use any language other than Slovak. The use of minority languages in “official” situations is now punishable by fines of up to €5,000 (US $7,270)—and possible offenses include:
a fireman responding in Hungarian to a call for help from a person in a burning building; a civil servant discussing job opportunities with an unemployed Roma in Romany; a German book club discussing a book in German without first introducing it in Slovak; a [train] conductor addressing a passenger in Hungarian on a train from Slovakia to Hungary; a radio station broadcasting in English without Slovak translation; failure to re-carve a 50-year-old grave marker [into Slovak]

(I know from experience that not even manhole covers in Slovakia are allowed to display the old Hungarian-language inscriptions.)
How these rules will be enforced in daily life is another matter; the law appears to rely, at least in part, on denunciations. It’s enough to scare public employees in Slovakia—including even doctors, teachers, postal workers, and railroad clerks—into self-censorship.

Visit the post for Deák’s discussion of the depressing politics involved. (Thanks for the link, Jim.)
Important update. It would seem that Mr. Deák (whose writing I have enjoyed in the past) is lying and/or wildly exaggerating to express/stoke Hungarian fears. See bulbul’s detailed post on the subject.

Comments

  1. As I’m sure you know, during the Martial Law period, the KMT government in Taiwan passed a similar law against the use of any language other than Mandarin. In schools students were encouraged to rat each other out by wearing a sign (which declared that they had been speaking a “dialect”). The only way to get the sign off of your chest was to rat out another student, who then had to wear the sign. I’m not sure, but there may have been a special punishment for the student caught with the sign at the end of the day. And these denunciations were not restricted to school. Students could be caught and reported (by anyone) if they used their mother tongue in public outside of school as well. It is hard to understate the damage this did to local languages.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    The scope of those laws is unbelievable: to prevent the rescue of someone from a burning building for such a reason is … I can’t think of a horrible enough word.
    Kerim: It looks like schools keep “reinventing the wheel”, if not informing themselves about prohibitive measures in other countries. Similar measures were used in Scotland against Gaelic, in France against Occitan and Breton, and in a more general way in Canada about aboriginal children (and possibly in some English-speaking provinces against French-speaking children). Then 50 or 60 years later, after the first generation of those children has been so traumatized that they raised their own children and grandchildren in the dominant language, the grandchildren are trying to reclaim the lost languages, which are once again tolerated in the schools, with limited success.

  3. If this law includes the songs played on the radio, I expect hilarious results.
    But seriously, shouldn’t the EU have regulations against such laws? this seems to be smack in the middle of the EU’s meddling policy.

  4. I just sent an email to bulbul to see if he’s been affected. Hopefully he’ll post here with reassurances.

  5. I have heard about how Catalan was supressed under Franco in Spain and also how the Cetic languages were supressed but I can’t believe this sort of thing is still going on all over the shop.
    A crying shame!

  6. Kerim: It sounds like the hot potato of punishments.
    “failure to re-carve a 50-year-old grave marker [into Slovak]”
    Woah.

  7. It probably would be overturned by EU law once it comes to EU attention, but before that can happen somebody needs to bring a case forward.

  8. I’m on it, just hang on an hour or two.
    Martin,
    EU learned about it just after it was passed. According to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek, it’s kosher.

  9. mollymooly says:

    The Wikipedia article has a couple of interesting “External Links”
    I very much doubt Vollebaek’s interpretation of the law agrees with Deák’s; the question is which of them agrees with the Slovak courts.
    I am guessing Deák’s examples are possible but unintended interpretations of the law. If the rules apply only on official contacts, I don’t know that a fireman attending a blaze, as opposed to doing a safety inspection, comes under the relevant definition of “official”.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    Perhaps the law will be enforced with especial rigor against Czech, giving renewed importance to whatever shibboleths of spelling/pronunciation/lexicon may distinguish Slovak? I suppose the Czechs themselves don’t really have a similar minority-language problem, due to their greater competence in ethnic cleansing over the course of the last century.
    If the inference I draw from the wikipedia article is correct and Deak’s horrible-sounding hypothetical examples come from the not-very-impartial-sounding “Ethnic-National Minority Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences,” one might be a little skeptical.

  11. There you go, folks. Sorry about the delay, had a tough day at work.
    Yuval,
    If this law includes the songs played on the radio, I expect hilarious results.
    5.1 e).
    J.W.Brewer,
    re Czech: quite the contrary, as you will see.
    Gotta run, bb later.

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, I was mostly being facetious about the Czech, although I do think a Slovak nationalism that sought to define itself by contrast to Czechness would have a better comedy-to-malignity ratio than one that focused on defining itself against Magyarness. Of course, the comic aspects of European linguistic nationalism are perhaps easier to appreciate from the safety of the western side of the Atlantic. Um, unless you’re in Quebec and you’ve got problems of your own.

  13. J.W.,
    I appreciate that. It just goes to show that the Czechs can no longer be used as an effective scapegoat. The Hungarians, on the other hand, are a gift that keeps on giving, not just to Slovak, but also Romanian and Serbian politicans. And vice-versa, respectively.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    A great post on your blog, bulbul. (I can never reply to most other blogs – they refuse my answers unless I give them some info that I don’t know how to get).

  15. David Marjanović says:

    According to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek, it’s kosher.

    Really hard to believe.
    But even then, the OSCE is not the EU. I bet that, as soon as someone files a complaint at the European Court or the European Human Rights Court (which I bet has happened long ago), it’ll get trounced.
    (Obligatory literature quote: “And just to make sure, I’ll pulverize the ash!” TRONC TRONC TRONC…)

  16. David Marjanović says:

    …Oopsie. Now that I’ve read what bulbul has written, most of the law probably is kosher.

  17. For an example from the other side of the world (fortunately with no official government involvement AFAIK) see this recent story in The Australian newspaper.
    I love this blog, Mr. Hat. I am a regular lurker here from Melbourne, Australia. Pity my first post has to be about something so shameful…

  18. m-l: You ought to be able to post there if you check the alternative “Name / URL”, giving your email address as the URL.

  19. m-l: You ought to be able to post there if you check the alternative “Name / URL”, giving your email address as the URL.

  20. michael farris says:

    NC, the link, she no work, not good this link of yours. Maybe you tell us what this about, no? That way, we have the way to try and look for her ourselves, no?
    (I have no eartly idea why I just wrote that way).

  21. michael,
    maybe drunk you still are. Sleep it off you must.

  22. NC, the link, she no work

    yes she wörk — but without the final slash: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25939105-2702,00.html

  23. It would seem that Mr. Deák (a Hungarian) is repeating the party line of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. But who the Hungarian Academy of Sciences represents is harder to figure out. Looking at their website, it would seem the academy was established from donations from various counts, later democratized to allow for election of officials by academics, then, coming under state support became a channel for successive governments to promote their ideas. In 1994, the government withdrew its support from academic institutes due to budget constraints and the academy became a “public body”, whatever that is. What is not clear is who is supporting them right now and whose agenda they serve. Maybe some clue is given by the Marxist terminology in this paragraph of their historial blurb:

    The foundation of the Learned Society in Hungary, then on the threshold of bourgeois transformation, meant the realization of earlier aspirations that held that developing the Hungarian language and the flourishing of science were one of the important means of national progress.

    It’s also curious that several linguists, including Noam Chomsky, have endorsed this apparently bizarre Hungarian interpretation of the new Serbian law. The way I understand it, this is some sort of huge intellectual game called “Thesis Antithesis Synthesis”, where academics make false claims not because they believe them but in order to find the “truth”, not by examining the facts, but by asserting the extreme opposite of whatever statement has been made previously. Some who don’t necessarily *like* Chomsky like to read him in order to have an intellectual starting point by “figuring out what is wrong with him”. The catch comes when people take the statements at face value.

  24. J.W. Brewer says:

    Nijma, the petition-signing is only curious if you assume that academic linguists are more prone to investigate the empirical underpinnings of sympathetic-sounding political claims before signing up than other academics typically are. Would that it were so, but I doubt it. Chomsky obviously has his own extra-linguistic political agenda (although I don’t know which way that should cut here), but most of the other prominent signers are likely just displaying all-too-common academic behavior (laziness/credulity).
    Of course, it’s probably also the case that there are *some* political elements in Slovakia who think that the statute described by Deak would be an excellent idea and should be enacted at the first available opportunity . . .

  25. there are *some* political elements in Slovakia who think that the statute described by Deak would be an excellent idea and should be enacted at the first available opportunity
    Twenty or so names jumped into my mind…
    Screw Chomsky, but Trudgill, Comrie and Roberts, too? Jesus H. Christ, this thing is really getting out of control. I mean, look at the comments under Deák’s piece – a gentlemen by the name of Béla Lipták complains about Trianon (the treaty that established the borders of Czechoslovakia), echoes Deák’s comments on the evils of the Beneš Decrees and then goes on about the Gabčíkovo project painting it as some sort of anti-Hungarian conspiracy! I mean, seriously – Trianon and the Beneš Decrees are the usual battle cries of certain groups in Hungary nostalgic for the past long gone, but to include Gabčíkovo, that… that … That’s full Carlin, that’s what it is – stupid, full of shit and fucking nuts.

  26. The Gabčíkovo project seems to have worked out quite well according to the Wikipedia article.

  27. The Gabčíkovo project seems to have worked out quite well according to the Wikipedia article.

  28. most of the other prominent signers are likely just displaying all-too-common academic behavior (laziness/credulity)
    I was once at a university function where the department head approached the faculty member I was talking to and asked if she had seen a petition that was being circulated by the department’s only Marxist. She had only one question, and it wasn’t about the contents of the petition. It was “Does he vote on my tenure?”
    I suspect if you “follow the money” in the Serbian situation you might also find some examples of good reasons and real reasons.

  29. Nijma,
    pardon me, but I believe there is some geographical confusion here…

  30. Gadzooks, what thinking of I am? I swear, not a drop I have had. But it’s not exactly a household word here now, is it. I mean, when I learned this in school, and maybe this is dating me, our maps said “Czechoslovakia”.

  31. displaying all-too-common academic behavior (laziness/credulity)
    Are academics particularly credulous? Like most academics, my comfortable unthinking assumption has always been that advanced academic work trains the mind to habits of rigor: ask good questions, think for yourself, look for proof.
    our maps said “Czechoslovakia”
    Our old maps showed Serbia as being a part of Yugoslavia, not Czechoslovakia.
    A friend of mine once taught me a song that he co-wrote in high school as part of a geography research project. To the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”:
    Oh, the state of Yugoslavia is a country, with
    6 republics
    5 Slavic nationalities …
    4 languages
    3 religions
    2 alphabets
    and a single political par-ty.

  32. http://saveuvugirl.blogspot.com/
    http://www.mongolduu.com/
    I’m very sorry to disturb you all, please, click through the links.
    Thank you very much.

  33. David Marjanović says:

    You ought to be able to post there if you check the alternative “Name / URL”, giving your email address as the URL.

    Or just giving nothing as the URL! Putting your e-mail address there will mean that, like here, your e-mail address is out in the open, for anyone to click, and for all spambots to harvest.

    That way, we have the way to try and look for her ourselves, no?

    Do, or do not. There is no “try”.

    I mean, when I learned this in school, and maybe this is dating me, our maps said “Czechoslovakia”.

    It merely dates you to before 1993… however, Serbia is on the other side of Hungary (south rather than north).

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Are academics particularly credulous? Like most academics, my comfortable unthinking assumption has always been that advanced academic work trains the mind to habits of rigor: ask good questions, think for yourself, look for [evidence].

    Not all academics are scientists. <broad toothy grin>
    Snark aside, though, you’re probably right. Even though “the closer you get to humans, the worse the science gets”.

  35. marie-lucie says:

    advanced academic work trains the mind to habits of rigor:
    That’s the idea in the abstract. It does not always work in practice. And “rigor” can be overdone.

  36. Yes, “evidence” is a better word than “proof” for what I had in my mind. And by “rigor” I meant something pretty broad, lilke “thinking clearly”. Every academic discipline has its own methods and its own (somewhat flexible) standards. The dreamer in me says that the habit of thinking clearly (whatever that means) about one’s own specialty will tend to spill over into other realms in the form of a general willingness to think clearly.
    I hope it was also clear that my tongue was in my cheek as to the degree to which this dream is realized.

  37. But bulbul is in Bratislava, is this not on the route of the Orient Express? I have always wanted to take the Orient Express from Paris to the castle of Vlad the Impaler and beyond (and after that, of course, the trans-Siberian railroad) but the closest I have ever gotten is Venice.

  38. Nijma, it appears that both your timing and your direction were a bit off. I see that there have been a number of different Orient Expresses over time; scroll down to map here. Some of them have gone through Venice, but not since 1977 have they gone any further. Others (the ones that might take you near the haunts of bulbul and Dracula) have gone through Vienna, but not since 1962 have they gone any further.

  39. With all the bru-ha-ha over Mr. Deák’s lack of fact-checking, the weirdness of the actual law is being overlooked. So, okay, no one is going to be denounced and hauled away over old grave markers, but what is left is a bit strange. Maybe I’m just used to having a lot of unreadable signs around in our Chinatown and the rest of our ethnic neighborhoods, but I really don’t see the harm in not having every scrap of public signage in foreign languages translated into the dominant language. Even if you take into account the story in one of the comments about repeatedly being refused service in the restaurants in Hungarian areas for speaking…let me get this right…Slavic, and not speaking Hungarian, that seems like a bit of a shotgun approach just to fix that one problem. But from now on, anyone who says the law is unreasonable will call to mind the insane accusations made against it. Looks to me like a win for the reactionaries.
    Nijma, it appears that both your timing and your direction were a bit off.
    Off my timing and direction are not; off, the timing and direction of the Orient Express are. Expect a revival with the fifty year anniversary of Travels with my Aunt, surely we can. Wait, I shall.

  40. Screw Chomsky
    Chomsky is a sweet fellow. It’s only in his writings that he becomes obnoxious. (I forget who pointed out that all his technical metaphors reek of authoritarianism.)

  41. A useful perspective for understanding the credulity of academics might be as an instance, or a whole institutionalization, of herd psychology: belonging, counter-belonging, joining, ostracizing, persecuting, betraying, and so on. Which sounds, to me, quite like the social underpinnings of ‘ethnic cleanliness’ in, among a planet of instances, central and eastern Europe.

  42. marie-lucie says:

    all his technical metaphors reek of authoritarianism.
    Yes, this is one thing among others that put me off his theories: not just rules, but barriers, constraints, government, binding, etc (yes, these are technical terms in Chomsky’s linguistic theories). Simply put, Chomsky’s initial revolutionary idea was that the system of rules inherent in a language (and largely unnoticed by its speakers) allows it to generate or produce (rather than just parrot) all kinds of utterances, both basic and complex. But as time went on the complementary idea arose according to which the language faculty (innate in every human being) left to itself would invent all sorts of strange things, and so it has to be firmly kept in place by systems of rules which prevent each language from going into certain directions, and attention became focused on this negative, coercive aspect. This is not quite the same thing that the “language mavens” or “purists” have been insisting on, but the general psychological attitudes are uncanningly similar.

  43. To the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
    Oh damn you, Ø. Now it’s stuck in my head. “4 languages, 3 religions, 2…”
    Aaaaagh.
    I really don’t see the harm in not having every scrap of public signage in foreign languages translated into the dominant language.
    I don’t either, but I guess it’s because neither of us is scared of the Other. I.e., what deadgod said. The only purpose of the law is to keep the public sphere / all levels of government free of any Hungarian influence. We have – or so goes the logic – fought too long and too hard to let Hungarians take over again which is what can happen any time.
    anyone who says the law is unreasonable will call to mind the insane accusations made against it
    Excellent point and reason no. 3 I really didn’t want to have anything to do with the whole thing. I’ve already been accused for taking the government’s side in this whole thing. Yeah, right, that’ll be the day…

  44. Chomsky is a sweet fellow.
    Do you know him personally? I don’t, but I’ve heard that as a teacher he’s authoritarian bordering on cruel.

  45. Years ago I taught his son in an advanced undergraduate math course. He seemed like a sweet fellow.

  46. (I forget who pointed out that all his technical metaphors reek of authoritarianism.)
    I think it was Geoffrey K. Pullum in one of his “Topic….Comment” articles in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory.

  47. marie-lucie says:

    I have heard that Chomsky has zero tolerance for (linguistic) opinions that don’t match his, as some MIT students found to their grief.

  48. I read something about squads of Chomsky’s acolytes going who would go to conferences to intimidate his oponents. Paul Postal was reportedly one of them, before he renounced the Dark Side.

  49. marie-lucie says:

    Yes, when Chomsky first became famous his students were very aggressive in verbally attacking presenters (including respected older scholars who were used to more civilized proceedings) who were not adherents of the new theories.

  50. Chomsky’s office is in Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, at MIT, as is Tim Berners-Lee’s. Berners-Lee’s birthday is the same as mine; so is Frank Lloyd Wright’s. There is no such thing as “coincidence”.

  51. Chomsky’s office is in Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, at MIT, as is Tim Berners-Lee’s. Berners-Lee’s birthday is the same as mine; so is Frank Lloyd Wright’s. There is no such thing as “coincidence”.

  52. marie-lucie says:

    I have heard about how Catalan was supressed under Franco in Spain and also how the Cetic languages were supressed but I can’t believe this sort of thing is still going on all over the shop.
    The Native American languages were also suppressed, so that most of them are extinct by now. If some Americans had their way, the same thing would be going on in the US, suppressing Spanish and other languages.

  53. I heartily recommend the following on Chomsky, his “revolution” and his followers:
    http:www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/Work/KK.html
    In light of the evidence presented, it is quite impossible for me to have any respect for Chomsky, his followers or his “work”. (Full disclosure: the author was a professor of mine, though I never took any of his courses on the history of linguistics. Indeed, I only became familiar with his work on Chomsky after graduation).

  54. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely these issues can be, and perhaps ought to be, addressed differently depending on the historical circumstances involved. The Hungarian speakers in Slovakia are overwhelmingly descended from people who live on more or less the same land as their ancestors did when it was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. The original Czecho-Slovak boundaries drawn in 1918-20 were drawn more aggressively than purely ethnolinguistic criteria would have supported (although, hey, vae victis), and except during the Tiso regime where it was an externally-imposed necessity, Slovak nationalists have generally been resistent to accepting a readjustment of boundaries that would result in a more ethnolinguistically homogeneous population. (This is of course not unique, as many if not most of the new states that sprang up in Eastern Europe as a result of the demise of the Romanov/Hapsburg/Ottoman regimes were based on an ethnolinguistic conception of nationalism while claiming ethnolinguistically heterogenous territory. Hilarity did not ensue.)
    By contrast, in the U.S., the only places with a substantial Spanish-speaking population living where their ancestors lived before the land in question was part of the U.S. are New Mexico and Puerto Rico (plus maybe some of the Rio Grande Valley counties in Texas?), with the vast majority of the Spanish-speaking population outside of those enclaves being either voluntary immigrants or the descendents of voluntary immigrants (including, with an asterisk, Puerto Ricans who exercised their right as U.S. citizens to move from the island to the mainland w/o any formal “immigration” process). How aggressively, if at all, voluntary immigrants and their descendents should be required or encouraged to assimilate (linguistically as well as in other dimensions), and what mix of carrots and sticks should be employed, is not a question with a single obviously right answer, but it seems to me that a substantially broader range of laws and policy options are plausible and morally acceptable in that circumstance than when dealing with an ethnolinguistic minority that became one as a result of the fortunes of war and shifting borders.

  55. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne, thank you for the link. I know the author of the piece too: he was a graduate student at the same time and place as I was, but he was working on his (massive) dissertation when I was still taking courses.

  56. I have heard about how Catalan was supressed under Franco in Spain
    But this situation is precisely the reverse – it’s more like Catalonians supressing Spanish, Latvians supressing Russian or the Quebecois attempting to supress English. I.e in this case we’re talking about speakers of a historically marginal and oppressed language trying to preserve it against a host of unfavorable market and cultural forces. It’s hard for me to see Slovaks as imperialists, although I’m sure some Hungarians would argue the point. And I’m not trying to excuse the Slovaks for their silly and probably counterproductive attempts to legislate reality, but I think some of the analogies being thrown around here are off the mark.

  57. The only purpose of the law is to keep the public sphere / all levels of government free of any Hungarian influence. We have – or so goes the logic – fought too long and too hard to let Hungarians take over again which is what can happen any time.
    If you think of Slavic as the “dominant language”, then the new law looks like one thing, maybe intrusive, but if you think on a more regional level of Slavic as an endangered species, for me at least it shifts quite a bit to an issue of protecting a minority.
    And of course when new national boundaries are drawn or redrawn, sometimes they follow lines of language, and the ethnic group that can make their language the dominant one “on the ground” will have the advantage….
    I guess I’m not sure what Slavic is and how it fits into the eastern European languages. Last night when I was googling my Kras Dorina hazelnut chocolate bar, I read that Croatians are Slavs, but they speak Croatian.

  58. vanya,
    I.e in this case we’re talking about speakers of a historically marginal and oppressed language
    See, vanya, that’s just the point. HISTORICALLY. As in, not right now. As in, not in living memory, except perhaps for those who between 1939 and 1945 lived in one of the villages and towns ceded to Hungary. We have been free from the Hungarian yoke for close to 91 years now. How much more does it take to just let the past go?
    It’s hard for me to see Slovaks as imperialists
    I don’t think it’s imperialism. More like petty and vindictive hatred, plus you good old fashioned fearmongering.

  59. J.W.,
    The original Czecho-Slovak boundaries drawn in 1918-20 were drawn more aggressively than purely ethnolinguistic criteria would have supported
    If you’re interested in the actual numbers, a friend of mine wrote a pretty cool book (PDF, 11 MB) that touches on the subject. It’s all in Slovak, but on p. 67-71 you’ll find maps comparing ethnolinguistic census data from the last four official censuses conducted in the Kingdom of Hungary (1880, 1890, 1900 and 1910), the first semi-official Czechoslovak census (1919) and the first official Czechoslovak census (1921). NB: The Hungarian censuses counted native speakers and there was a strong tendency for those on their way up the social ladder to identify with the ruling class. The Czechoslovak censuses counted those who reported their ethnicity as “Czechoslovak”, so it includes native speakers of Czech, such as members of the armed forces or administrators. So the data is not exactly 100% reliable, but still gives you a pretty good idea.

  60. Nijma,
    Slavic (alt.: Slavonic) is the name of a subbranch of the Balto-Slavic branch of Indo-European languages, which is in turn divided into three subsubbranches – West, East and South. Slovak is a West Slavic language, not to be confused with Slovenian, which is a South Slavic language. Croatian is another South Slavic language.
    it shifts quite a bit to an issue of protecting a minority
    That’s one of the standard arguments in favor of the OLA. Slovaks living in the southern districts are being opressed, they’re being denied service in stores and restaurants blah blah. Most, if not all of it, is largely nonsense.

  61. Thanks to michael farris for pointing out my broken link and to sh for fixing it up.
    The article from the August 17 2009 edition of The Australian newspaper, with the ugly headline “Crime in paradise lost in translation” (!) begins:
    “A largely unknown people, who have called themselves Australians for only the last quarter of a century, are making a stand to preserve their cultural heritage on a tiny Indian Ocean outpost.
    Tensions are peaking in the Australian territory of Cocos (Keeling) Islands as the majority population of Cocos Malays fight a ban on their native language, alleging they are being victimised by public servants from the mainland.”

  62. @Etienne : Thanks for the link, which oddly enough… is on my web site. I’m also responsible for http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~opoudjis/Play/antichomsky.html , although I don’t think that page has stood the test of time. (John Cowan and I have talked about it back in the day.)
    I dunno; I find Chomsky’s syntax uninteresting, the frameworks baroque, and the dismissal of anything outside the framework’s scope deleterious. But the standover tactics by which he gained hegemony? That’s human behaviour; it’s the result of an academic monoculture on the East Coast, rather than the process of screaming in conferences, that I’d object to.
    And I’ve never met Konrad Koerner, whose essay it is; it was my colleague Paul Sidwell who established our journal Dhumbadji, and who got in touch with Koerner after a presenation he gave. The stuff’s all a matter of public record though.

  63. But the standover tactics by which he gained hegemony? That’s human behaviour
    Not true. Well, true in the sense that anything humans do is by definition human behavior, but it was completely unprecedented in linguistics, which had been a collegial field in which people managed to disagree without treating each other like the Evil Empire. Chomsky ruined the field for a generation or more, and I don’t just mean his crackpot ideas.

  64. Chomsky ruined the field for a generation or more
    From an interview that Ted Briscoe conducted with Gerald Gazdar in 2000:
    EJB So that is another reason for your disillusion with the field. Why do think linguistics is in such a bad state?
    GG I’ve no real idea. The field has clearly been damaged by the presence of a charismatic leader who has led it badly. But that, by itself, isn’t sufficient to explain the situation.
    EJB Is it going to get better? Is it getting better now or do you think it’s going to stay in the same state, or you just don’t have an opinion because you have given up?
    GG I see no reason to expect it to get better. There might be a temporary improvement when death occurs. However, if the field is such that it can be taken over by a charismatic leader and be led by him for over forty years, then why shouldn’t that happen again?

  65. J.W. Brewer says:

    bulbul, thanks for the link to the Tisliar book, which does look cool (to the extent one can judge these things with zero knowledge of the language). I think the section right after the one you mentioned (i.e., with “Kartograms” 22 through 26) illustrates the issues concerning the border location even more clearly, since it focuses on just the ethnic Hungarians, not non-[Czecho]Slovaks en masse. (Does “nemechou” mean the ethnic Germans?) I did like how the use of technical jargon sometimes made the lexicon more transparent. “Koeficient a index maskulinity” doesn’t even have any distracting diacritical marks.

  66. Very peripherally on topic, but the Hunagarian composer Bartok spent his non-Budapest life in Hungary (most of it) in places that are now part of Romania, Slovakia, or the Ukraine.
    He’s thought of as a nationalist, but he was pretty aggressive about speaking up for Hungarian minorities. He was dedicated to ethnomusicology and didn’t favor Hungarian music.
    Bartok, Janacek, and Haydn all spent much of their lives in obscure, rustic, multinational backwaters of Austria-Hungary.

  67. marie-lucie says:

    About the Gazdar interview: Gazdar’s perspective seems to me very narrow: he seems to think that linguistics means just syntax (sentence structures), as it does for Chomsky, and that there is nothing going on in the field except around Chomsky, but he is not a good representative of the current state of linguistics since by his own admission he has left the field and not kept up with it. There is a lot more to linguistics than syntax, although syntax became the most prestigious subfield (and source of funding) with Chomsky, and Koerner’s paper points out several subfields which have developed alongside Chomsky’s paradigm but outside of it in order to explore facets of language which are totally ignored by the paradigm, an important one being sociolinguistics (the study of language in society) which is a very active field. In recent years there has been renewed theoretical interest in morphology (the structure of words), and historical linguistics, which has been marginalized for decades in North America, is starting to pick up.
    Meanwhile, linguistic leadership has not been just been an East Coast monopoly. Other linguists in the US and Europe have been trying to propose alternatives, especially more functional alternatives. Among departments big enough to develop theoretical “schools”, on the West Coast there are linguists at Berkeley and Stanford who have been looking developing more comprehensive alternatives to the abstract models of Chomskyan syntax, one of them being “construction grammar” which is still feeling its way but looks very promising as it considers not just the syntactic formalism but the meaning and use of sentences. I was in Berkeley all summer, during which there was a conference on construction grammar timed to coincide with the 80th birthday of Charles Fillmore, for decades a leader of this alternative movement, but quite different from Chomsky in attitude and personality. The outpouring of genuine affection from his students and former students on this occasion was something to see.
    To address another point related to Koerner’s article, it is quite true that with the rise of Chomsky at MIT there was a huge increase in the number of students, but there was also a difference in the type of students. Until then, most people interested in linguistics were those who had majored in languages or anthropology, that is, students interested in people too. But the new model, which based the theory on features of English, and emphasized “native speaker intuition” – what makes people know what sounds right or not in their language (what they could say, as opposed to what they would never even think of saying) attracted students from a variety of disciplines, especially science, who in general were more interested in the abstract aspects of language than with the actual use of languages, and who were happy not to have to bother with learning other languages. Applications of the theory to other languages (or rather, to selected aspects of other languages) did not shake Chomsky’s faith in a “universal grammar” underlying all of the world’s languages. (Perhaps there is such a grammar, but it does not necessarily correspond to the Chomskyan model).

  68. michael farris says:

    I have to say in a lot of ways Chomsky’s influence is really overstated. I’ve known a lot of linguists and I can count the number of hardcore Chomskyites I’ve come across on just over one hand. The number is only that high because of a conference organized by the most fervent, who didn’t let her adherence to the model cloud her appreciation of other kinds of linguistics and who was an outstanding teacher and lecturer.
    I understand there was a period where his followers were a meanace at large (before I got involved in linguistics thankfully) and they can be clannish (and ruthless) with each other, but they really aren’t in the center of things and haven’t been for a long, long time (even less so in Europe ime).

  69. marie-lucie says:

    The extent of Chomsky’s influence in linguistics is overrated in the media because of his activities in the political field, but within the field of linguistics his influence continues not only directly but through his former students, even if they have proposed modifications to the current version of the theory, like Gazdar and his team, or to Chomsky’s latest rethinking, which happens every few years: these are alterations of the theory, not a fundamental rethinking starting from another direction.
    In Kuhn’s The structure of scientific revolutions, quoted by Koerner, one of the defining characteristics of an established paradigm is that it is taught as the de facto model to students entering the field. According to this definition, then the Chomskyan or Chomskyan-derived model is indeed the current paradigm, since just about any textbook in linguistics (at least in North America) uses this model in its presentation of syntax, and others at least mention it. The model is very useful for basic features of English syntax, but there are many languages with which it is not compatible without serious adaptations. And I repeat that there is more to linguistics than syntax, so not every linguist needs to even consider the Chomskyan model in their work. But anyone working on syntax needs to be familiar with the model, whether or not they agree with it, and there are departments which will not hire a syntactician with a different orientation.

  70. J.W. Brewer says:

    Should someone be trying to get the anti-Chomskyites to produce their own petition calling on the Slovak government to take even firmer measures against the menace of Magyar linguistic irredentism? The problem is that all the rhetoric that would seem appropriate (crypto-Fascist neo-Horthyite!) sounds so Chomskyan, but maybe a former disciple who’s had a parting of ways with the master (Paul Postal?) could work in that genre.

  71. I can attest to the influence of Chomskyan linguistics. I learnt my Transformational Grammar from Rodney Huddleston in the 1970s. Huddleston was from a Hallidayan background if I remember correctly, and his (and Pullum’s) Cambridge Grammar of English isn’t exactly an exercise in TG, but at the time I started studying linguistics, TG was THE paradigm and we all went with it.

  72. J.W.,
    glad you like the book, I’m sure the author will be happy to hear that :) “Nemeckou” does indeed mean German (adjective, feminine, instrumental singular).

  73. marie-lucie, thanks for putting the anti- (or simply non-) Chomskyan linguistics perspective into an institutional and epistemic framework.
    Language is, indeed, more than (or somewhat other than) “syntax”- complex though syntax be.
    Chomsky’s political-economic analyses often dismay progressives in how routinized and anti-nuance his dogmatic single-mindedness can be. For all the sharp, accurate, and brave effort he’s gone to to expose mendacity, criminality, and violence on the part of governing elites, it often seems to me that his dot-connecting is suddenly, and destructively, less-than-rigorous. Definitely an embattled, even bunker, approach.
    If you’re interested in a most effective response to Chomsky’s politics, and one I’d be surprised not to find relating closely to perspectives from within linguistics of ‘transformational grammar’, look for a transcription of a debate that Chomsky had with Foucault on Dutch tv. Foucault proposes, from my amateur point of view, a Sapir-Whorfian politics . . .

  74. It seems on-topic to the discussion of language and may be of interest to any other lay readers here:
    wired

  75. Interesting link, Stuart:

    During the several days that three patients at Massachusetts General Hospital were medically wired, Sahin’s team asked them to repeat words verbatim, and translate them to past and present tense.

    In the space of a quarter-second, a small part of Broca’s area — the only part read by the electrodes — received each word, put the word in a correct tense, and sent it to the brain’s speech centers….

    “It’s very distinct from a model where part A does job A. Instead it’s part A doing jobs A, B and C,” said Sahin.

    In high school I took first year German and fourth year Spanish at the same time; in Spanish class I would sometimes come up with the word “ein” instead of “un”. Then I forgot both languages completely until I had Hispanic clients, and the Spanish came back very quickly. Some twenty years later when I studied Arabic, I would sometimes think of the German word instead (but not the Spanish one). Now when I listen to Syrian Arabic language tapes, sometimes I produce the Jordanian Arabic instead, but no other languages. It seems my brain is getting more exact in storing and retrieving the new information.

  76. One thing to be said for Transformational Grammar: it results in some incomprehensible but intriguing jargon. Take this book title:
    Licensing Theory And French Parasitic Gaps
    I’m sure Marie-Lucie has read it :)

  77. marie-lucie says:

    Bathrobe, no, I haven’t read the book and don’t plan to unless I really have to! I know the basics of transformational syntax, but I am not a syntactician and don’t follow all the ins and outs of the theory as it goes through its convoluted motions (and “transformations” is no longer in the approved vocabulary). I have run into the phrase “parasitic gap” but had to check the meaning on Wikipedia. But the book is not about “French parasites” needing a “license”.

  78. so I read Mr. Deak’s post too. While it certainly seems to be biased, I don’t think he’s a liar.
    This news report actually appears to underscore at least some of the Hungarian nightmare scenarios. Seriously: why shouldn’t a private company be able to post a paid billboard advertisement of a Hungarian publication in Hungarian? What’s so illegal about this in Slovakia?

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