Native Land.

Cecilia Keating reports for Atlas Obscura on a valuable project:

For centuries, Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have been purposefully left off maps by colonizers as part of a sustained campaign to delegitimize their existence and land claims. Interactive mapping website Native Land does the opposite, by stripping out country and state borders in order to highlight the complex patchwork of historic and present-day Indigenous territories, treaties, and languages that stretch across the United States, Canada, and beyond.

Visitors to the site can enter a street address or ZIP code into the map’s search bar to discover whose traditional territory their home was built on. […] The map, which is also a mobile app for Apple and Android, was created by a Canadian programmer named Victor Temprano, who started educating himself about Indigenous land rights and ownership when he got involved in anti-pipeline activism in British Columbia three years ago.

Temprano points out that if the map were to be a valid academic resource, “it would also need a time slider to specify different time periods, separate existing and historical nations, and highlight the movement of nations across time. That would be a huge logistical challenge, [..] requiring time, sources, and resources not currently available to him.” (Via poffin boffin’s MetaFilter post.)

Related only in that what happened to indigenous peoples here can happen elsewhere, legislation that makes studying minority languages voluntary in Russian schools threatens local languages and cultures: Tatarstan, the North Caucasus. (Thanks, Ayla!)

Comments

  1. Marie-Lucie: In case you haven’t yet read the Erard article, it spends several paragraphs talking about Leena Minifie, “a journalist, media artist, and filmmaker from the Gispwudwada (Killerwhale) clan of the Gitxaala Nation in Tsimshian territory.” I figured you would be interested.

  2. J.W. Brewer says:

    “Tourists will learn that the Statue of Liberty was erected on Lenape land.” “Lenape” didn’t describe a single political entity but a bunch of different polities with some cultural similarities speaking related language varieties. It’s at the level of generality of “Scandinavian” or maybe “Celtic.” You would describe territory as belonging to the Lenape only because you don’t know what more specific politically-salient group it did belong to. Or because you were clueless and wanted to romanticize the prior inhabitants of the land rather than understand them.

    The dirt under my house just north of the present boundaries of NYC was generally understood by white settlers as of the 1640’s/1650’s to belong to a more specific Lenape polity known in surviving sources as something like the Wiechquaesgecks. (Why yes, the name is spelled various ways in different 17th century sources, partly reflecting variations between Dutch and English orthographic conventions and partly reflecting variation for its own sake.) Which of the multiple indigenous signers of multiple documents purporting to convey the land to different factions of white settlers at different points in time were actually authorized to sign away the rights of the Wiechquaesgecks is an unresolved issue but eventually the white people reached consensus among themselves as to which white people now owned the land and the question of how it had legitimately entered into white/settler control became of purely academic interest.

  3. What’s more, it shows the eastern shore of Lower Manhattan as “Lenape/Canarsie”, though it is in fact landfill and as such had no indigenous population.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Thank you for the mention of the Tsimshian artist. The people of the Coast, living comfortably from the sea as long as the salmon are still plentiful, have been able to maintain and develop parts of their cultures and many of their younger people have been able to study and get advanced qualifications in various fields.

  5. Aside from the poor quality of the digitization, the map makes me cringe by assuming a language stands for an ethnicity or a polity. A particularly bad example is Nheengatu, a post-contact Amazonian lingua franca, now spoken far away from where its ancestor (Tupinamba) had been spoken.

  6. SFReader says:

    Re: new Russian language law.

    Authorities in Tatarstan republic were forcing ethnic Russian children to study Tatar language. Many parents didn’t like it, because they felt it hurt their children’s chances to pass national Russian language exams. Bad score would mean they couldn’t get into good college for free.

    New law makes parents choose what language their children could study as “native language”, essentially solving this tricky problem. (I wonder how Anglo-Canadian parents in British Columbia would have reacted if their children were forced to study Tsimshian…)

    Activists fear, though, that parents of non-Russian students would choose Russian as “native language” under this law for the same reasons (exams, good college, free education).

  7. David Marjanović says:

    Many parents didn’t like it, because they felt it hurt their children’s chances to pass national Russian language exams.

    Still the old fallacy that there’s only space for one language in one head.

  8. A good summary, SFReader. Knowing a minor language does not help a young person to get into college under the current admissions system. Even worse, time spent studying, say, Tatar could have been spent studying a subject that counts towards the admission score. One way to fix it would be to credit proficiency in a local language as a personal achievement and to increase the maximum points added for this. Currently, an applicant can earn at most 10 points for personal achievement on top of 3-5 exam scores each with a maximum grade of 100.

  9. You would describe territory as belonging to the Lenape only because you don’t know what more specific politically-salient group it did belong to. Or because you were clueless and wanted to romanticize the prior inhabitants of the land rather than understand them.

    Since the guy who does the map is very clear about being an amateur who doesn’t have the time or materials to do a proper scholarly job, and since he humbly solicits additions and corrections, I’m not sure why you’re taking this aggressively snarky tone.

    One way to fix it would be to credit proficiency in a local language as a personal achievement and to increase the maximum points added for this.

    Yes, this would be one obvious fix if your primary interest was in improving the situation rather than suppressing minority populations. Anyone who thinks the Putin government has a sincere humanitarian interest in the educational attainments of the Russian-speaking children of Tatarstan is delusional.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    hat, maybe I don’t understand why you think this is a “valuable project.” Contrary to the clickbait language in the Atlas Obscura piece, this is not some sort of esoteric suppressed knowledge. I ran into plenty of books with maps purporting to show the territorial/geographical distribution of North American indigenes in not-particularly-sophisticated public and school libraries when I was a kid in the 1970’s, and I would be surprised if such maps have become less rather than more accessible.

    Dumping the content of such a map into a google-maps-like internet interface to overlay it on a modern digitized map is not, to my mind, much of an advance. In fact, it creates significant problems if the source map is only accurate at a fairly high-level because it has taken a lumper rather than splitter approach. A physical hard-copy map that shows the stretch of territory from where I grew up to where I live now as all generically/homogeneously “Lenape” but with the whole distance between my childhood house and present house (140 miles by road but less than that as the crow flies) taking up maybe an inch or inch and a half of distance on the printed map is one thing. But a digital thing that enables one to zoom in until an inch on the screen means less than a mile on the ground makes that high-level degree of defensible accuracy affirmatively inaccurate. It’s the equivalent of not understanding the “significant figures” concept, and giving an estimate combined by multiplying multiple other estimates out to six decimal places and thus creating a misleading illusion of precision.

    And one inherent problem with doing anything like on a continent-wide scale is that we have much more accurate and detailed information about exactly who lived where when, and how their societies operated, for some places and times than other places and times. Simple illustration — in our town school district, I think pursuant to some statewide mandate dictated by Albany, the kids are supposed to learn about the indigenous inhabitants of New York state in maybe fourth grade (somewhere between third and fifth, at least). Invariably, my daughters and their classmates ended up doing their projects and presentations about some aspect of one of the six Iroquois nations, just because we have so much more detailed information about them than we do about the various small Lenape/Munsee/Wappinger/what-have-you groups that lived farther south where we now live.

    I expect the Scott-et-al folks discussed on the other thread would argue that our modern sense of maps as characteristically showing precise boundary lines and territorially-specified allocations of political power is an epiphenomenon of the rise of state power aided and abetted by literacy-enabled government record-keeping.

  11. hat, maybe I don’t understand why you think this is a “valuable project.” Contrary to the clickbait language in the Atlas Obscura piece, this is not some sort of esoteric suppressed knowledge. I ran into plenty of books with maps purporting to show the territorial/geographical distribution of North American indigenes in not-particularly-sophisticated public and school libraries when I was a kid in the 1970’s, and I would be surprised if such maps have become less rather than more accessible.

    But we’re in the 21st century, and people do not read books. This inadequate online map will introduce the concept and some of the particulars to a whole lot of people who do not patronize libraries. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If people get interested, they can immerse themselves in better and more detailed resources, but everyone has to start somewhere.

  12. I mean, if you visit the MetaFilter post I linked to you’ll find a bunch of people going “this is cool, I never realized” along with a few suggesting improvements. There are a lot of people completely unaware of the whole thing, deplorable as that may be.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    There have been some previous threads about the murky and sometimes inconsistent use of “indigenous” to describe languages, with I think one such thread (not that I can find it quickly) containing someone’s observation that the only European languages that get the adjective tend to be Basque and maybe Sami. Which is a way to free-associatively set up the otherwise completely off-topic point that I was interested to learn from an obit of the just-deceased Paul Laxalt (1922-2018, governor of Nevada and then two-term U.S. Senator) that he and his siblings grew up in the Reno area with Basque as their L1, via their immigrant parents, and only learned English a bit later. (Nevada is second only to Idaho in having a reasonably-sized concentration of the not-very-large-in-nationwide-terms Basque-American community.)

  14. George Grady says:

    For centuries, Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have been purposefully left off maps by colonizers as part of a sustained campaign to delegitimize their existence and land claims.

    This seems to me, as a statement of fact, objectively false. Maps showing the traditional areas of Native American tribes have been widely available and a standard part of American history curriculum. I remember learning about it in the seventh grade in Florida back in the 80s. My father-in-law still occasionally sings a song he learned in school back in the 50s (in Oakland, California) that recites the major Indian tribes, and he says that they had a wall map that went along with it to show their traditional territories.

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    @George Grady. I think that sentence is the fault of the Atlas Obscura writer, not necessarily the Canadian fellow who did the website. But perhaps for whatever reasons it was still news to him because perhaps for whatever reasons Canadian school curricula did not cover this topic in prior decades the same way U.S. school curricula did? I do get the sense that a lot of issues (including land claims) involving Canadian “First Nations” have surfaced and been thrashed out in quite recent decades in a way that suggested that the Canadian legal/political system was only now rather belatedly dealing with issues whose U.S. parallels had been resolved somewhat earlier.

  16. This seems to me, as a statement of fact, objectively false. Maps showing the traditional areas of Native American tribes have been widely available and a standard part of American history curriculum.

    You are not even contradicting the statement, let alone proving it false. The statement was not that Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories have been permanently banned from public awareness in every colonized territory, it was that (as you yourself quoted) they “have been purposefully left off maps by colonizers.” Not by all colonizers, note; even two colonizers would be enough to make the statement true, and I’m pretty sure you can find more than that. And certainly not by all their descendants in perpetuity — modern American classrooms are irrelevant here.

    J.W.: That’s very cool about Paul Laxalt and Basque!

  17. > Tolkien on the why of “involuntary immersion”.

    Incisive as always. Tolkien is right, of course; it’s about facilitating the powers of the nation-state. But what’s the alternative? Opposition to the powers of the nation-state? A long shot, at best, in the post-Westphalian world. At least the Russian government made it a choice – albeit a loaded one, given the language of college admissions. But I’ve yet to see a country truly succeed at multilingualism, by which I speak of having multiple languages exist at the same level of prestige at *every* level of society, from government to academia to corporate. It doesn’t seem possible.

    > Still the old fallacy that there’s only space for one language in one head.

    Certainly not, but space in the brain, and perhaps more importantly, in the duration of a person’s education, *is* limited.

    Bilingualism isn’t cheap, and more kids struggle with their *one* language than seems possible, but between the time spent hanging out, playing video games, short messaging on mobile phones, etc… there it is.

  18. Bathrobe says:

    @ Eidolon

    I’ve yet to see a country truly succeed at multilingualism…. Bilingualism isn’t cheap

    This has become a familiar refrain. Caveats about the difficulty of having or maintaining multi/bilingualism are one thing. Vocally opposing it is quite another.

    Surely there are more positive things to campaign for, such as ways of reducing the cost of learning languages — e.g., simplifying English spelling, abolishing Chinese characters, reducing time spent on useless subjects (like literature), or introducing better methods of education.

    But perhaps you are just being pragmatic. After all, struggling against the inertia of established writing systems is a waste of time. Campaigning for simpler writing is a good way to waste your life. Persuading educators to stop teaching literature is not going to go anywhere. (Funny how they are allowed to waste our time like that.) So the ideal solution is: Stop teaching children more than one language. Problem solved.

  19. George Grady says:

    Not by all colonizers, note; even two colonizers would be enough to make the statement true, and I’m pretty sure you can find more than that.

    I’m sure that you can find two people who have done pretty much anything you want. If that is all the statement was trying to imply, it seems pretty trivial. I would also be interested in seeing one of these maps which purposely leaves off Native Americans and their traditional territories.

  20. David Marjanović:
    > Still the old fallacy that there’s only space for one language in one head.

    This is victim-blaming. Colleges might test certain subjects assuming they’re representational of students’ overall aptness, but in fact, that forces parents to in a way “game the system” and overly focus on certain subjects, and as a result in fact lowering their children’s aptness. But can you really blame them?

    Eidolon:
    > Bilingualism isn’t cheap

    What isn’t cheap is teaching kids something they have no interest in learning. Teaching, say, Danish kids English is worthwhile because it gives them (better) access to a lot of English-language material which they’re often interested in accessing. I don’t know if ethnic Russians in Tatarstan are interested in learning Tatar, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this were in fact a waste of time.

    I’m not making a statement about whether minority languages are worth preserving, just pointing out that blaming individuals choosing what seems like the best option for them is hardly fair, a point I’ve tried to make before. (Yes, I’m biased, I’m a (partial) ethnic Dane who isn’t teaching his kid Danish.)

  21. Eidolon: Certainly not, but space in the brain, and perhaps more importantly, in the duration of a person’s education, *is* limited.

    His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

    “You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

    “To forget it!”

    “You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

    A Study in Scarlet

    (Later tales indicate, however, that Holmes must have been trolling Watson here.)

  22. Bathrobe says:

    But I’ve yet to see a country truly succeed at multilingualism, by which I speak of having multiple languages exist at the same level of prestige at *every* level of society, from government to academia to corporate. It doesn’t seem possible.

    So what? Of course it is more “efficient” (by some kind of metric) to have only one language for each country. Your metric, a very narrow metric, appears to be the amount of time kids have to spend learning a language at school.

    There are, in fact, examples that contradict your belief that it is all just too hard / too much trouble / not worth it. Kazakhstan, for instance, where for historical and demographic reasons kids learn both Kazakh and Russian at school. Admittedly the two languages use(d) the same alphabet, but they are very different languages, much more different than, say, German and French.

    Of course, if Kazakhstan had remained part of the USSR, Kazakh would have continued its slow decline and you could have declared triumphantly that it’s not only better to have only one language within a country, it’s also “inevitable”. But Kazakhstan got out from under Russia and now has two functioning languages, although with somewhat different functions within that society. And kids of both ethnicities learn both. Many (maybe most) get very good at, or at least proficient at both, and what is more, many of these bilinguals go on to learn a third language, such as English, and can become very good at that, too. If Kazakhs can do it, why can’t people in other countries? Does their ability to speak two or three languages really impoverish their lives and pose an intolerable burden on their childhood?

    Much, of course, depends on attitude. For some reason, Russians appear (from what I understand) to have pretty chauvinistic attitudes to language. In fact, if Russian speakers had had their way, I have no doubt that Kazakh, Tatar, and the rest would have been consigned to the dustbin of history long ago. But they got their sovereignty and Kazakh has been rescued from oblivion. Perhaps you feel that to be a pity. I don’t, because I believe that languages are more than just tools for getting on in society, and that, far from posing a huge, unwelcome, unwanted, unwarranted burden on students, they can be a tool for expanding their mind and horizons beyond the (defeatist) monolingualism that you seem to hold so dear. Where you see nothing but huge costs, it’s useful to also consider the benefits.

  23. I would also be interested in seeing one of these maps which purposely leaves off Native Americans and their traditional territories.

    Any ordinary U.S. political map does this, unless it happens to be a map of the Navajo Nation. Of course, physical (geographical) maps, road maps, and so on, do the same.

  24. Bathrobe says:

    From China, you might like to read this (downloadable): What constitutes quality in minority education? A multiple embedded case study of stakeholder perspectives on minority linguistic and cultural content in school-based curriculum in Sunan Yughur Autonomous County, Gansu.

    Among the findings were that:

    Yughur parents broadly supported increased achievement and promotion to post-secondary study, and did not mention the place of Yughur language and culture, until specifically asked, when a different picture emerged. In all three school sites, the preponderant majority of Yughur parents state that Yughur culture and language should be taught to their children in schools.”

    Non-Yughur parents interviewed were generally quite positive towards the inclusion of Yughur language and culture in the Sunan County schools’ curriculum. Tibetan and Mongolian parents were particularly supportive, expressing a desire that not only Yughur, but also their own heritage languages be included in school curriculum. Many Han parents also supported Yughur language curriculum in schools, and in some cases, supported their children learning Yughur in school. Thus, Sunan County residents seem to have their own implicit language policy of mutual tolerance, multilingualism and multiculturalism, exhibiting a “language as resource orientation”.”

    Yughur students are generally enthusiastic about the prospect about learning traditional songs, stories and poems in the Yughur languages. Their explanations for their interest are of two basic types, related to esthetics and identity. Students describe Yughur oral literature as beautiful, in other words, as “pleasurable” to hear, and by implication, to learn. Students also report that they would enjoy learning traditional Yughur literature in school because they are Yughur.”

    Non-Yughur students expressed generally favourable perspectives towards learning Yughur in school. Among Grade 1 and 2 students, there was a near universal enthusiasm for Yughur stories and songs, which were seen as beautiful. Older non-Yughur students took a positive or neutral stance towards learning Yughur, although among a few older Han students (Grades 4 to 5; 7 to 8), particularly those who had moved from elsewhere, minority language learning was seen as appropriate only for minority students.” (My underlining.)

    Language orientations of minority and Han teachers interviewed also differ somewhat. The proportion of statements of minority and Han teachers consonant with a “language as right orientation” is virtually identical. However, there is a notable contrast when the proportion of minority and Han teachers’ statements exemplifying a “language as problem” and a “language as resource” orientation is compared. The minority teachers exhibit a moderate “language as problem” orientation, while the Han teachers exhibit a strong “language as problem” orientation. The contrast between the two groups is even starker, however, when we examine statements conforming to a “language as resource orientation”: slightly over half of all statements of minority teachers conform with a “language as resource” orientation, while less than 5% of Han teachers’ statements show this orientation.”

    “Thus, minority teachers’ overall perspective seems to be that it is the right of minority students to learn their heritage language in school, and despite somewhat problematic to do so, there are great benefits to this that justify the effort. The Han teachers’ overall orientation seems to agree that it is the right of minority students to learn their heritage languages in school, but that there are enormous problems in so doing and relatively little apparent benefit.”

    It is attitudes like these that appear to dictate policies — especially when the view imposed from above is the Han view (or in the Russian case, the Russian view). Especially notable is the strong tendency among Han Chinese to view minority languages as conferring little benefit — that they are, essentially, useless.

    I assume from your comments that you belong to the “language as a problem” camp. Since you assign very little value to languages and cultures per se, you appear to see the teaching of multiple languages to children as a huge imposition of very little value. Your realism is admirable, but in the end does not represent any kind of objective argument. It merely represents your own attitudes and values, and (may I add) possibly the values of the particular society you belong to.

    We have discussed this many times at Language Log. In the end, your arguments boil down to a basic attitude that “languages don’t have much intrinsic value”, “having more than one language within a country is just too much trouble”, and “these languages are going to die, anyway”. I regret that I cannot agree with any of your attitudes, nor can I agree with your apparent conclusion that we should just let nations get on with the job of imposing monolingualism. I would also submit that making bilingualism the norm rather than an oddity would help remove some of the cultural and linguistic chauvinism that seems so prevalent in many monolingual societies — chauvinism that further reinforces blinkered attitudes and tendencies to monolingualism. That in itself would be a blessing.

  25. Stu Clayton says:

    Every president should have a bathrobe !

  26. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ordinary political maps, of the U.S. and other places, tend to be synchronic — just as they do not show historical territorial ranges/claims of indigenous polities, they don’t show you which territory was or wasn’t historically part of New Sweden or the New Netherlands, they don’t show you that West Florida went so far west as to include the southernmost bits of current Alabama and Mississippi etc. But we generally don’t understand a map that shows the current political situation without overlaying prior history to be deliberately trying to erase or obscure the past out of sinister motives — rather, we assume that the “historical atlas” is a specialized subgenre of cartography and we do not expect maps-by-default to convey the sort of non-synchronic information a historical map does, because that information is not relevant to what the common-or-garden map is trying to convey. Now, a current political map of some part of the U.S. might well show the boundaries of current tribal territory (i.e. “reservations”) that has current political significance, at least if it had sufficiently granular detail for other political boundaries, i.e. showing not only state lines but county lines, township lines, school district lines, etc. I haven’t surveyed a wide enough range of current maps to know what the range of practice is.

    To what extent a current political map should show actively disputed territorial claims is a tricky question for map-makers and I expect it gets resolved on a rather ad hoc basis. Sovereignty/boundary dIsputes that are super high-profile and attract tut-tutting at the UN level (the West Bank, maybe Kashmir, or the Western Sahara) may get indicated, but less high-profile ones (has the boundary dispute between Venezuela and Guyana ever been resolved?) less so. And sometimes mapmakers may just defer to the position of their country’s government as to whether an unresolved claim is serious/legitimate — the world is full of separatist movements that don’t get the boundaries of their would-be autonomous homeland shown on standard maps, and in the case of e.g. Burma/Myanmar there are chunks of territory that have been de facto independent from the central government for decades that don’t usually get shown on standard maps. And it also depends on scale. A big-picture map of Europe-and-the-Mediterranean may choose to ignore the separate de facto Northern Cyprus polity and depict Cyprus as if it were a unified whole, since that is a polite fiction maintained for political reasons by most governments. But a map intended for tourists who may be driving around Cyprus that doesn’t show its reader where the de facto frontier is between the two regimes that share the island is not well-suited for its intended purpose.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    But I’ve yet to see a country truly succeed at multilingualism, by which I speak of having multiple languages exist at the same level of prestige at *every* level of society, from government to academia to corporate. It doesn’t seem possible.

    …well, add geographic separation within the country, and there are always Switzerland and Belgium…

    This is victim-blaming.

    Yes and no.

    On the “no” side, I was taught three foreign languages in school. (I’m counting Latin because I had it for six years, starting with five hours per week and gradually reduced to no less than three.) Each of them was taught to a level where I was reasonably functional in the language and could have become fully fluent with just a bit more exposure (as happened with English); in the one taught for the shortest time (four years), which is also the one I’ve used the least since then (Russian), I can nonetheless read scientific papers (slowly, with a dictionary). So I can’t see what’s supposed to be unusually onerous about being taught one foreign language (or two, I guess, with English).

    Still on the “no” side, universities testing applicants for aptness is IMNSHO a sign that something has gone wrong in secondary education and/or in the financing of the universities. (Or even elsewhere; perhaps there’s some pressure that pushes people into universities even though they never wanted to go into research or teaching or suchlike.)

    (Later tales indicate, however, that Holmes must have been trolling Watson here.)

    I hope so, because that was the least realistic part of the entire series! The bandwidth of how much we can learn in a given amount of time is of course limited; the storage space seems to be unlimited for all halfway practical purposes.

    Yughur students are generally enthusiastic about the prospect about learning traditional songs, stories and poems in the Yughur languages.

    That’s not a typo at the end here; although the Yughur are a single one of the PRC’s official ethnicities, Western Yughur is a Turkic and Eastern Yughur a Mongolic language.

    (My underlining.)

    Underlining doesn’t work here; did you mean “particularly those who had moved from elsewhere”?

    Every president should have a bathrobe !

    I approve.

  28. @LH: The Putin regime tries to keep an eye on popular resentments, especially the kinds it sees as potentially explosive, and can be quite flexible in accommodating popular demand when it’s cheap and no loss of face is involved. However, its true motivations are not always obvious. In this case, it might have responded to the angry mothers who believed their kids were being disadvantaged by having to study something “useless” (the key constraint here is time, not mental capacity). On the other hand, the Kremlin could be after broader political goals in this shift away from compulsory minority language education. Most likely, it was a mix of tactics (playing up to the tiger moms) and strategy (broadly assimilationist).

  29. The Putin regime tries to keep an eye on popular resentments, especially the kinds it sees as potentially explosive

    Sure. I’m just saying that any imputation of idealistic motives (as opposed to “better toss a crumb to the plebs so they don’t cause trouble”) would be criminally naive.

  30. Yes, I meant particularly Han Chinese who had moved from elsewhere. Very common mentality among many Han, especially more recent arrivals. They have the “this is our country and our standard is Chinese” mentality. Similar to the Russian “We’re Russians and we’re not going to learn some shit local language” mentality. It’s about mentalities, not brain capacity, so let’s start framing it that way.

    And what Putin was saying was, I agree with these good Russian people, why should they have to learn some shit local language?

  31. J.W. Brewer says:

    Switzerland is sui generis, but Belgium’s deep dysfunction hardly seems like a model anyone else ought to want to emulate, other than in a better-than-available-alternatives sense of “if you’re already stuck with the problem, here’s how to muddle along and manage it without actually descending into bloodshed.” But if you were a non-Western regime not concerned overmuch with minority rights for their own sake, the French example of illiberally squelching speakers of Breton and Basque and Alsatian and etc etc might seem more appealing to you than the Belgian example of, in hindsight, failing to have crushed Flemish so decisively it could no longer be a source of political complexity and distraction. (NB also that the dynamic that led to Belgium originally being a thing was that as of 1830, religious solidarity still seemed more salient than ethnolinguistic solidarity, but subsequent generations of secularization have diminished the power of that rival organizing principle – this may have lessons for multiethnic polities that were previously organized around pseudoreligious principles like Leninism or Maoism.)

  32. David Marjanović says:

    Already has: Yugoslavia.

  33. The problem with multilingualism within a present-day political entity, it seems to me, is not so much its practical implementation as the fact that most individuals in a position of authority within such entities are typically so ignorant of the most basic findings of linguistics and cultural anthropology that attempts at implementing any kind of stable multilingualism within society would strike them as evil, absurd, or at best pointless.

    I once had a conversation with a doctoral student in Education (who had previously been a student of English) at a University in British Columbia (De cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, as the man said…) which drove this point home forcefully: this student claimed that the extinction of aboriginal languages in the province was of no concern, as none of these languages had any kind of written tradition and thus were of no real value as they could not express complex thoughts (verbatim quote).

    When I pointed out (as politely as I could) that, according to this logic, BEOWULF should not be taught within Universities, or indeed anywhere (after all, although it was written down, it was the product of a largely oral culture where writing was about as marginal as it had been among aboriginals in B.C. a few generations ago) I was answered with a kind of “deer in the headlight” blank stare I have gotten used to since: the student could not give me a clear answer, and I now realize that this is because to her mind the notion that there could be anything in common between British Columbia aboriginal culture and any European culture, *especially* hers, was quite simply impossible to parse.

    So: she then repeated her “argument” that only a language with a written tradition had any value, and the older the tradition, the better! I then tried applying this logic and asked her if she would, hypothetically, accept a scenario whereby English in British Columbia would be driven to extinction through a policy of either Chinese or French institutional monolingualism: after all, both languages have written traditions, which (if we push back French all the way to Latin) are both substantially older than English. The older the tradition, the better, right?

    I was rewarded with yet another “deer in the headlight” look before she went away. And she wasn’t angry at me, I think: she simply did not understand the point I was trying to make. To her English as a language is Good, English literature is Good, and the notion that English eliminating Aboriginal Languages in British Columbia might not be a Good Thing was literally incomprehensible to her mind.

    And the reason I am telling this story is because A-The student in question did obtain her doctorate and, last I heard, was working as a consultant for the Ministry of Education of British Columbia, B-Before this topic came up in conversation, my impression was that she was definitely of above-average intelligence (which caused plenty of problems and generated many frustrating situations within her program), and more importantly, C-Her attitude was probably quite typical of most educated non-linguists’ attitude, of ANY nationality, regarding minority languages anywhere. Until C changes quite radically, I see no reason to hope that multilingualism will be deliberately and systematically promoted anywhere.

    So: COULD a genuinely multilingual political entity exist? I think so, but sketching out such a hypothetical entity is something science-fiction writers, and not political scientists, will have to do, I suspect…

  34. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: none of these languages had any kind of written tradition and thus were of no real value as they could not express complex thoughts (verbatim quote).

    It is a strange opinion that only a written tradition can “express complex thoughts”. Many of the books of the Bible were originally transmitted orally, so were the works of Homer and other ancient poets composing in Greek, Sanskrit, Sumerian, etc. Introduce writing, to put down what have been words transmitted de bouche à oreille, and presto! the language now expresses complex thoughts!

  35. Trond Engen says:

    Arguably (and this could be a nice experiment in psycho-some-ology) the ability to express complex thoughts linguistically should be expected to fall with the availabilty of writing, just as the ability to perform mathematical operations mentally falls with the availabilty of computational aids.

  36. Trond Engen says:

    (Insert footnote: If indeed it does, but let’s say so for the sake of argument. Or we could make it an argument about common expectation.)

  37. Her attitude was probably quite typical of most educated non-linguists’ attitude, of ANY nationality, regarding minority languages anywhere.

    And of many linguists too: plenty of them don’t think there’s anything much to be learned from aboriginal languages, as you know. It is the People of the Boas Totem, as Le Guin called them, whether linguists, anthropologists, or science fiction writers, who truly comprehend that Tevaran language and culture have just as much to teach humanity as (future) English, and that the Council of the Terran settlers and the stone-pounding of the locals differ only in detail, and neither in kind nor in degree of sophistication.

  38. > So I can’t see what’s supposed to be unusually onerous about being taught one foreign language (or two, I guess, with English).

    I must not have made myself clear. I completely agree with you. I studied 2 foreign languages as part of my education, and spent lots of time studying languages myself to varying degrees of fluency, and I don’t regret any of that.

    But that’s partly because I grew up in a country where this was encouraged, and where society and the educational system have a more holistic view of what constitutes valuable qualities. In societies where more narrow qualities are valued (and rewarded), I don’t think one can blame parents for wanting what is best for their children.

    I now live in a country with a more competitive/elitist mentality, and as much as I try to hold myself back, it’s hard not to get sucked into the whole “I have to plan every last minute of my children’s education, preferably many years ahead” mindset.

  39. https://www.intechopen.com/books/multilingualism-and-bilingualism

    For some reason the system refused to let it through the first time.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    Bilingual education seems to be fairly popular among German-speaking parents in partly or formerly Slovene-speaking parts of Carinthia.

  41. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne: Her attitude was probably quite typical of most educated non-linguists’ attitude, of ANY nationality, regarding minority languages anywhere.
    JC: And of many linguists too: plenty of them don’t think there’s anything much to be learned from aboriginal languages

    It is not necessarily the fault of non-linguists to have this attitude, if they have never been exposed to anything to the contrary. But the linguists who should know better are probably those who got their training after about 1970 and were irremediably marked by Chomskyan linguistics (only a few were able to resist the onslaught). The reason they “don’t think there’s anything much to be learned from aboriginal languages” is that most of those languages do not offer much in the way of confirmation of Chomskyan theory, which is what a lot of ‘theoretical linguistics’ has been about. Fortunately there are now competing models, or at least searchers after different models, but meanwhile many aboriginal languages have disappeared.

  42. Reading Tatar media, I learned that they hold in great esteem the education system the Tatars had in the Russian empire.

    It was pretty much entirely run by Tatars and for Tatars and the attitude of the Russian government was of benign neglect. All costs were borne by parents or Tatar philanthropists.

    And Russian state simply didn’t care – if Tatars were getting education and without cost from the government, so much the better.

    The only thing they watched was extremist propaganda (of socialist or Jihadi variety).

    The problem was that this system ensured ethnic segregation – Tatars went to Tatar schools and Russians went to Russian schools and they never mixed.

    Russian empire was OK with segregation, but probably any modern state in 20th century would have objections.

  43. irremediably marked

    At first, I read it as <irredeemably.

  44. @SFReader

    Essentially, that is Eidolon’s objection. In realistic terms, modern “Westphalian” states find it hard to live with bilingual solutions.

  45. marie-lucie says:

    juha: I thought I had made a spelling error, but both adjectives would be suitable for what I was trying to say.

  46. both adjectives would be suitable for what I was trying to say.

    And that struck me as remarkable.

  47. If you want to get an idea of the indigenous territories of Mesoamerica, you’d be better off looking at Google Maps. Many indigenous polities still exist in some form — mostly towns and villages, since Mesoamericans tended to think very locally and identify most strongly with their local community, rather than any sort of ethno-linguistic groupings. Though notably, the larger indigenous states of Michoacan and Tlaxcala are now states of Mexico.

  48. And Mexico-Tenochtitlan is Mexico City (formerly Distrito Federal)

  49. > Surely there are more positive things to campaign for, such as ways of reducing the cost of learning languages — e.g., simplifying English spelling, abolishing Chinese characters, reducing time spent on useless subjects (like literature), or introducing better methods of education.

    I don’t think you quite appreciate what full-scale bilingualism entails. I spelled it out in my post, but maybe you didn’t realize it. Full-scale bilingualism implies going *beyond* the education system, and into the domains of government, business, entertainment, etc. No country I know of has implemented multiple languages equally in all these domains. Not even Switzerland, where four languages are official, in theory, but English and Swiss German are the most spoken languages in practice, and English increasingly over the others. This isn’t an “attitude” problem, it’s a human habit problem.

    Full-scale bilingualism isn’t how people like to function. Obviously, you cannot speak two languages simultaneously, but people also don’t wake up and think, “I want to speak German today, instead of English. But tomorrow, I will speak English, instead of German!” Social spaces have well-defined mediums of communication, ones that might differ between communication among members within the space, vs. towards the outside, but they are, in either case, not a random, day to day choice, but a function of convention. I do not see these conventions across society changing, no matter how hard you work to reduce the burden of education in multiple languages, because the problem is not even language learning, but language use *after* learning.

    > Does their ability to speak two or three languages really impoverish their lives …

    Of course not, and should that be the natural state for everyone, there wouldn’t be an issue, arguably not even for governments! But is that what really happens? Do Kazakhs still learn Russian as enthusiastically as they did under the Soviet Union, do they still happily maintain a state of multilingualism? Recent reports, I’m afraid, argue otherwise, from the decision to switch from Cyrillic to Latin, to the banning of Russian in cabinet meetings, the new Kazakh nation-state is promoting speaking Kazakh, on one hand, and English, on the other. Just as you might expect from a country transitioning towards primary language use in the national lingua franca, and secondary language use in the international lingua franca.

    > I regret that I cannot agree with any of your attitudes, nor can I agree with your apparent conclusion that we should just let nations get on with the job of imposing monolingualism. I would also submit that making bilingualism the norm rather than an oddity would help remove some of the cultural and linguistic chauvinism that seems so prevalent in many monolingual societies — chauvinism that further reinforces blinkered attitudes and tendencies to monolingualism. That in itself would be a blessing.

    Then you would have to argue much more convincingly than you already have, because as far as I can see, no country is taking this route – successfully, in any case, and the problem exists not just in countries with “attitude” issues like China and Russia, but also in the West, where de facto common languages are slowly but inexorably wiping out linguistic diversity.

    Language education, as I said, is only one aspect of it. Giving speakers the right to learn their own languages, all well and fine, but telling businesses about what languages they need to support in the work place? Dictating to professors that they must be able to lecture in five different languages? Requiring studios to provide competent voice acting in dozens of languages? It’s a different story altogether. Much of society cannot function with the requirement that it must function in every language that any member can possibly speak. This is a practical matter, not an attitude one, and becomes all the more obvious when you look beyond the situation in “autonomous” regions and towards the requirements of an increasingly mobile and interconnected society, in which it isn’t just a matter of whether the language is Tatar or Russian or both, but rather, whether the language is one of a hundred or a thousand different languages, where even you must agree that it is humanly *impossible* to achieve equitable multilingualism.

    Should it just be English, or Mandarin, or Russian, or for that matter, Kazakh, Basque, Catalan? No, it should not be. People should learn whatever languages they wish, like, identify with, etc. But they cannot expect that other people will all strive to accommodate their language choice. If you choose to learn Mongolian, and I choose to learn English, in theory we have no right to force the other to learn our respective languages of choice. But since we must communicate, a common language is chosen, or created, in the case of creoles. That is the actual situation on the ground, and no, it isn’t fair that this language is English, instead of Mongolian. But the alternative – forcing me to learn Mongolian, is just as unfair, yet much less practical. For a country where there is an obvious lingua franca spoken by the majority population, the choice of a common language comes down to this and this alone: numbers. It’s much easier to get 30% of the people to speak one additional language, than to get 70% of the people to speak a hundred different additional languages.

  50. Also, I don’t know what caused you to suddenly conclude that I am a vocal opponent of multilingualism. We’ve had enough discussions by now that it should be plain that I oppose only the following: 1. The belief that multilingualism can be equitably sustained at every level of society. This is an empirical bias, in the sense that I don’t think it can be practically achieved, not because I ideologically oppose it. 2. Any policy that furthers linguistic segregation in societies. This is an ideological bias, because of reasons I’ve already explained to you in the past.

    Multilingual education, insofar as it furthers people’s ability to communicate, understand, and sympathize with other peoples and cultures, is to be praised, not opposed. Yet, there are limits to how effective it can be, and how far it can be carried in society. That’s been my argument from the start, and it shouldn’t be understood as opposition to multilingual education.

    A much worse problem, however, is when policy makers pursue multilingual policy in a dogmatic fashion, and mistake the existence of linguistic ghettos with success. A country in which there are different languages, but where the speakers don’t share a common language but instead choose to self-segregate according to language, is a country whose language policy has failed. But this isn’t the ideal of multilingualism, either. Rather, it’s what happens when the context of multilingualism is mistaken for its purpose.

  51. @ Eidolon: on the situation in Kazakhstan – the measures you name actually show how strong Russian still is as a lingua franca. Many Kazakhs I know prefer to send their children to Russian language kindergartens and schools, due to the low quality of teaching, especially of maths and science, at Kazakh schools. Much more technical literature is available in Russian than in Kazakh. A good command of Russian opens the possibility of studying at universities in Russia, which (rightly or wrongly) are seen as higher quality and less corrupt than universities in Kazakhstan. Knowledge of Kazakh is only good for a career in the government administration, a career that is pursued mostly by those who have connections there. So a gulf is opening between those who go for a government career, mostly ethnic Kazakhs, often from the countryside and the South, who leverage their knowledge of Kazakh and their clan connections, and those who don’t see any chance for such a career, especially ethnic Russians and other minorities, but also many urban and Northern Kazakhs, who go for a career in business or science and technology, and accordingly concentrate on Russian and, increasingly, English. The increased requirements for the use of Kazakh is to a big degree an attempt of the administrative elite to exclude professionals who are better educated and less bound to clans.

  52. Kazakhstan has a policy encouraging repatriation of ethnic Kazakhs living in other countries, most notably in China and Mongolia.

    Significant numbers of them didn’t like it in Kazakhstan and chose to return back home.

    And the most often given reason is their lack of Russian language skills.

    Being a monoglot Kazakh speaker in Kazakhstan is essentially equivalent of being monoglot Spanish speaker in the United States.

    You won’t even get a job in McDonalds…

  53. January First-of-May says:

    Still on the “no” side, universities testing applicants for aptness is IMNSHO a sign that something has gone wrong in secondary education and/or in the financing of the universities. (Or even elsewhere; perhaps there’s some pressure that pushes people into universities even though they never wanted to go into research or teaching or suchlike.)

    AFAIUI, universities testing applicants for aptness is a convenient way to choose who would actually end up studying at said universities out of far too many applicants (who could hardly all be accepted). Of course this is not a thing (or less of a thing) in the less prestige universities, where the number of applicants is comparable to or lower than the number of places (though they still tend to do some testing to be able to deny the rare applicants who are legitimately nowhere near ready for university education).

    In a perfect world, I suppose, either no universities would have more applicants than they have places, or all universities would get enough funding to add the extra places so that everyone who applies there can get in anyway (if they don’t get an outright F on the test, at least).
    Of course, the former would either require all the universities to be equally prestigious, or, more likely, a system that sorts applicants to universities regardless of the applicants’ will (which, IIRC, was actually used at some point in some socialist countries), while the latter would either require one of the former two options, or be effectively unworkable for the more prestigious universities (i.e. they would need ludicrous amounts of funding, and even if they get that the education quality would probably drop).

    One way around this is to make sure you need to past a strong test just to apply to a popular university; but that of course is just the same thing with a slightly different name.
    Another common way around this that actually goes around this – which, AFAICT, happens to be the method used in the USA – is to require an excessive monetary payment for a popular university application, so that only a few extremely rich people end up applying, and there aren’t more of them than there are places. Of course, this method also happens to ensure that rich people get better educated than normal people…

    [EDIT: maybe I misunderstood what you meant by “aptness”?]

  54. @January First-of-May: The cost associated with applying to an elite university in America is a few hundred dollars (and some colleges will even waive that fee under certain circumstances), which is totally negligible compared to the cost of attendance, even for students who receive a great deal of financial aid. The fee is mostly there to cut down on the number of completely unqualified applicants.

  55. J.W. Brewer says:

    One reason elite universities in the U.S. rely on tests for “aptness” that may not apply to all other countries is that in the U.S. there are more than 35,000 different secondary schools from which applicants might come, with (due to the lack of a single national Ministry of Education controlling everything) a wide range of different approaches to curriculum content, grading, etc etc. So standardized tests provide one (no doubt highly imperfect) metric to compare candidates whose prior academic credentials are difficult to directly compare against each other.

    To Brett’s point, a disproportionate number of those admitted to the most elite universities have gone to a fairly small subset of those 35,000+ secondary schools, typically either private high schools that are more expensive than average or public high schools that are more expensive (in terms of the associated housing costs and tax bills – there ain’t no such thing as a free public education any more than there is a free lunch) than average. So the financial expense associated with maximizing ones children’s chances of elite university admission can be quite considerable, even if they are not incurred in the form of an application fee payable to the universities. Things can then get complexly ironic, of course, because the elite universities are also very eager to admit some percentage of talented applicants who do not come from the *obvious* schools that produce the bulk of their freshmen.

  56. David Marjanović says:

    [EDIT: maybe I misunderstood what you meant by “aptness”?]

    No, I didn’t mean much by it, I just copied the phrase from the comment I was replying to.

    What I’m mostly talking about is that I never had to pass such a test – I graduated, like most people my age in Vienna, from a school type that gave me the right to study at any Austrian university of my choosing. In other words, the test was drawn out over 3, 4 or 8 years depending on interpretations. (I didn’t have to pass a test to enter that school type either, I just had to stay there and not flunk.) Further differences to the US are that private universities are a tiny niche market, and that there aren’t any prestige differences between the universities – Vienna’s is the biggest and therefore offers some subjects you simply can’t study anywhere else in the country, but that’s it. As elsewhere in Europe, the budget of each public university is part of the federal budget; tuition fees are set by federal law and vary from much lower than in the UK to zero depending on whether the Social Democrats are part of the governing coalition.

    When my sister began to study medicine, the political landscape had changed, and demand exceeded supply in some very popular subjects like medicine. Thus, she had to pass a test – not about medicine itself, but a much more general one about such things as 3D visual imagination; I don’t think many people failed.

    Naturally, comparing a country the area of Taiwan and the population of NYC to the US has its limitations. But consider Germany (10 times Austria’s population, almost 3 times California’s), where tuition fees are zero (in all states as of now) and there aren’t any prestige differences between the universities either.

    Why would there be prestige differences between universities in the first place? To make universities compete is massively wrong-headed and toxic, because science depends on that not happening. Sure, if the world’s greatest expert on some subject is at a certain university, people wanting to study that subject or to research in it will want to go there, but why should that say anything about where to go for any other subject? The reason the world’s most prestigious universities are in the US* is that they’re private businesses who can afford to be unusually prestigious and are forced by their finances, their business model, to be unusually prestigious.

    * Causing enormous stomach aches to European politicians who have no idea of any of the rest of this paragraph, even though most of them do have university degrees (in law).

    Another topic is the neglect of vocational schools driving people to universities for, in the end, no good reason. But I don’t actually know how bad this is anywhere.

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