Back in August 2015, Dave Sayers had a bracing post on a contentious topic:
“Indigenous languages” and “immigrant languages” are much discussed in language policy research, but surprisingly little time is spent actually defining those terms. In general, “indigenous” tends to encompass two features: a long heritage in a place; and some form of contemporary disadvantage, usually associated with prior colonisation/invasion. But those criteria are seldom explicated.
I particularly like these examples:
Take the creole Nouchi, in the Ivory Coast, arising in the 1980s through contact between French and various Ivorian languages. Nouchi is indigenously Ivorian but has no obvious ethnic pedigree. It arose because street traders, itinerant workers, and others in the Ivorian grey economy – who didn’t share a common language – needed to communicate. From a rich mix of diverse people striking deals, talking shop, agreeing, disagreeing, socialising, eating, dancing and falling in love, came about a more distinctive set of words, phrases, and grammatical features. This story of language genesis is as old as human speech itself. And in the worldwide context of overwhelming language death, Nouchi could be celebrated as a new indigenous minority language.
So is it celebrated? Not quite. Although a vibrant feature of Ivorian popular (sub-)culture, Nouchi is typically looked down on by mainstream media and other guardians of all that is right and good in the world, as broken French and/or a subversive subaltern code. That even includes minority language sympathisers. In a book-length discussion of Ivorian minority languages, Ettien Koffi (2012) mentions Nouchi only once (p. 207) and then only as a kind of curiosity. (See my somewhat irritable review of Koffi’s book here.)
The same fate has befallen Tsotsitaal in South Africa, another recently born creole “including elements of Zulu and Afrikaans … from the working class outskirts and townships of Johannesburg … used by (would-be) gangsters and rebellious township youth. … [L]anguages like Tsotstitaal are not legitimated … and their speakers are marginalized” (Stroud & Heugh 2004: 202).
Dynamic urban vernaculars also have a tendency to change and transform much more quickly than older languages. That is of course part of the appeal for their speakers, but another reason for indifference among those who prefer languages to sit still.
Hurray for dynamism, and fie on sitting still!