New Words for Ojibwa and Oji-Cree.

From the Sault Star, Indigenous language experts make new words:

Elders, translators and master speakers of Ojibwa and Oji-Cree gather in Sault Ste. Marie this week to translate 2,000 words into the Indigenous languages. Participants from remote fly-in communities in northwestern Ontario, including Sandy Lake and Big Trout Lake, the Kenora area, Manitoba and southern Ontario will gather at Quattro Hotel and Conference Centre for three days starting Tuesday.

Each of the four groups will be assigned 500 words, including math and science terms, household items such as coffeemaker, blender and garlic press, and one that especially stumps Patricia Ningewance, a member of the department of modern languages at Algoma University. “Insurance is a bad one,” she said following a group photo of attendees at Shingwauk Gathering and Conference on Saturday afternoon. “How do you describe insurance?” […]

“Sometimes we have trouble,” said Ningewance. “We phone each other. ‘How should we say this?’ There’s a lot of us who translate, we don’t have the words, so this conference will help us.” There’ll be a variety of dialects in each group to ensure words are standardized and can be used by Indigenous speakers in different parts of Canada. […]

“I’m hoping that these words will be the ones that are used, let’s say, 20 years from now,” said Ningewance, a member of Lac Seul First Nation.

She plans to post the new elements of speech online, but doesn’t have a specific site identified yet. Her grandson, Aandeg Muldrew, will be one of the recorders noting the words created by the four groups in the Roman alphabet.

Ningewance is pronounced, unexpectedly (for me at least), /ˈnɪŋgˌwɑns/ (NINGG-wahns); you can hear her say her own name about forty seconds into this episode of Ojibwe Stories. Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. That is a very sad article. Coming up with new vocabulary for moribund languages strikes me as being similar to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Of course it is a worthy exercise, but with a shrinking pool of speakers, many of them bilingual, it is somewhat pointless. Making up the words is one thing. Getting people to use them (or even just use the language) is quite another.

    In Mongolia, since the country came out from under the Russian shadow, there have been continued efforts to phase out Russian loan words and bring back (or coin) Mongolian equivalents. This has had very mixed success. They managed to get people to say алим alim ‘apple’ instead of яблоко javlak, but for cucumber the Mongolians still say огурец ogortsii instead of өргөст хэмх örgöst khemkh. Apart from supermarkets marking cucumbers as өргөст хэмх, the only other consequence of note is that ogortsii can’t be found in dictionaries, despite being in almost universal use.

    In Inner Mongolia, where the language is facing a steep decline, whole dictionary projects were sponsored in the 2000s to create standard Inner Mongolian terminology in many fields of science and law. Needless to say, usages in (Outer) Mongolia were scrupulously avoided. But widespread adoption of this terminology isn’t very apparent, partly because when they write about these things, a lot of people will be writing in Chinese anyway. And with the very small Mongolian-language Internet in China, it doesn’t seem that this vocabulary is really going anywhere.

    My point is that coming up with standard vocabulary may be a highly visible gesture but it is almost meaningless without stemming the tide of language decline and death.

  2. Kevin Bryan says:

    Very unusual orthography in Ojibwe. The town of Eabametoong in Northern Ontario is pronounced “Yeah-ma-toon”! (Incidentally, I would love to read an essay about the orthographies created post-linguistics-as-a-field and their unusually academic spelling practices. Why did we wind up with all these previously oral languages filled with unbearable numbers of apostrophes, umlauts, and other diacritics, when organic written languages, or even pre-linguist modern written languages like Cherokee, have no such craziness?)

  3. There is also the question of spelling.

    Mongolian official orthography hates loanwords which are mangled to fit Mongolian pronunciation (and it’s really different from Russian).

    So they attempt to make everyone pronounce terms borrowed from Russian as close to the Russian spelling as possible. Which is easy to people who know some Russian, but rather impossible for the rest.

    Examples:

    Pursh (pruzhina – spring), arjator (radiator), humlyator (accumulator), guper (no idea from what Russian word it was borrowed, but it means bumper), perda (from “perednie tormoznye kolodki” – front brake pads), irmen (remen’ – driving belt), amarjin (amortizator), shalank (from Russian shlang – hose), krop (koropka peredach – transmission) and so on and on.

    Ugly as hell and I agree that replacing them with some Mongolian calque translation would be best.

    Unfortunately car repairmen are a conservative lot and I am afraid these abominations will remain in Mongolian as long as there are cars around to repair.

  4. The oldest layer of car terminology in Mongolian is of English origin – because first cars in Mongolia were American Fords.

    My favorite is “maniul” – from “manual start” (with hand crank), I guess.

  5. salf’etka –> saleftek (serviette, napkin)

    astma –> astam (asthma)

    biotekhnologi –> biotekhenlog (biotechnology)

    futbolka –> putbolok — I think I have that right (T-shirt)

    etc.

    The list is very long.

    I assume ‘shlang’ is from German? Needless to say, ‘shlang’ becomes ‘shlanak’ because a vowel needs to be inserted between ‘shlan’ and ‘g’.

  6. David Marjanović says:

    “How do you describe insurance?”

    You could calque it, like Versicherung…?

  7. One wonders whether their native linguistic sensibilities might not have been dulled. Perhaps they use the English word ‘insurance’ so habitually that they can’t think of a natural way to express it in their own language — which their ancestors might not have had any trouble with.

    These things are not insurmountable. For insurance, the Chinese (or maybe the Japanese) came up with 保险 bǎoxiǎn / 保険 hoken ‘protect (against) danger/risk’. The Mongolians use даатгал daatgal, from the verb даатгах daatgakh ‘entrust one’s fate to another’.

    ‘Life insurance’ (or ‘life assurance’) in Japanese is 生命保険 seimei hoken, literally ‘life insurance’. But the Chinese had a problem with that because banking on the prospect of your own death is a most inauspicious thing to do. So the Chinese renamed it 人寿保险 rénshòu bǎoxiǎn, where 人寿 rénshòu meaning ‘life’ contains the character for ‘long life’.

  8. That is a very sad article.

    I don’t think it’s sad to try to provide support for an endangered language. You talk as if Ojibway were inevitably doomed, but you don’t know that. We’re all going to die; is it somewhat pointless to try to prolong our lives and make them as comfortable as possible?

    These things are not insurmountable.

    Exactly. People will use whatever words they like, but there’s nothing wrong with offering them possibilities. Maybe the Ojibwa will just say “insurance”; that’s fine, although linguistic purists will rant as they always do.

  9. I don’t think it’s sad to try to provide support for an endangered language.

    I think it’s great to provide support for endangered languages. The article was sad because of the poor state the language appears to be in.

    You talk as if Ojibway were inevitably doomed, but you don’t know that.

    It is doomed if young people aren’t learning it. And the old people mentioned in the article have their hopes pinned on one young man…

    We’re all going to die; is it somewhat pointless to try to prolong our lives and make them as comfortable as possible?

    I don’t believe in palliative care for dying languages. I want to see them restored to life.

    Maybe the Ojibwa will just say “insurance”; that’s fine, although linguistic purists will rant as they always do.

    I wonder whether linguistic purism is not a reflex action, a desperate attempt to shore up the ruins of a dying language? That is sad to me. The language needs to be revitalised, not embalmed.

  10. I wonder whether linguistic purism is not a reflex action, a desperate attempt to shore up the ruins of a dying language?

    No, I think it’s just human nature (for a certain subset of humanity). I mean, English is hardly dying, and yet its peevery is world-class.

  11. A question. How dead languages acquire new words? What is Latin for “insurance”? Unnecessary explanation: this question does not imply anything about imperiled, but still living languages.

  12. For Latin, there’s a committee that decides on and publishes such vocabulary (I’m too lazy to look up the details). I’m not sure there’s a need for new vocabulary for other dead languages.

  13. And of course the very fact that there’s a need for new vocabulary for Latin shows that it isn’t actually dead (it’s not dead, it’s, it’s restin’!).

  14. D.O. says: A question. How dead languages acquire new words? What is Latin for “insurance”?

    According to the Cassell’s Latin Dictionary: “render by phrase, such as fides de damno resarciendo interposita.”

    Latin is probably an exception among the so-called dead languages. It was used as a vehicle for European culture right up until the 20th century and in all sorts of official and learned publications, and still continues to be used as the official language of the Catholic Church as well as in some scientific contexts. Modern day concepts are translated into Latin by members of its community of users. Latin has words for guns, cannon and gunpowder, which have been used since the Middle Ages when those technologies were imported into Europe. Similarly, there are Latin words for steamships, cars and trains.

    To that extent, Latin is not as dead as some languages that no longer have native speakers, like Hittite or Akkadian for example.

  15. unbearable numbers of apostrophes, umlauts, and other diacritics

    The chữ quốc ngữ orthography of tiếng Việt has those, and it’s pre-linguist (and replaced a Chinese-character orthography, so the language was not entirely oral). When you need them, you need them. (The circumflex, breve, and “horn” diacritics encode vowel quality, whereas the acute, grave, tilde, dot below, and hook above, which are written outside the quality diacritics, encode tone.)

    I wonder whether linguistic purism is not a reflex action

    Which is better off, Serbian with its phonetically respelled loanwords, or Croatian with its calques?

  16. Minnesotan Ojibwe had a similar conference back in 2009 and produced a document of the results, which is interesting to peruse. As it mentions in the introduction, a large part of this is to support immersion schools: “A language lives when it can be used for everything in life, not just certain parts of life.”

    Anton Treuer (one of the producers of said document) has been a major productive/archival source in the Minnesotan Ojibwe language community. His book “Warrior Nation” gives an historical look at the last bastion of US Ojibwe speakers in Ponemah, as well as being the editor of Oshkaabewis Native Journal, which often has audio recordings of the Ojibwe stories published.

  17. When you need them, you need them.

    Where “need” means “have a strong, basically irrational objection to digraphs and other solutions that don’t involve expensive fonts.”

  18. Thanks, Hat and zyxt.

  19. languagehat says: Where “need” means “have a strong, basically irrational objection to digraphs and other solutions that don’t involve expensive fonts.”

    History of writing systems is a fascinating subject, and it would be difficult to say that there is anything inherently advantageous about using digraphs v new letters or diacritic marks.

    Indeed, it may be the case that the alphabetic principle requires that new letters be introduced for sounds peculiar to a language, rather than using digraphs. Examples are:
    – Greek, with its ypsilon, phi, chi and omega – all new letters that did not exist in Phoenician.
    – Etruscan with its 8.
    – Latin with G, and then the subsequent reintroduction of X, Y and Z.
    – Old English, with its ash, yogh, wynn and thorn, then subsequently W.

    However, there is no hard and fast rule. In Polish, for instance, the same sound can be written using the diagraph rz as well as the letter+diacritic combination ż.

  20. Indeed, it may be the case that the alphabetic principle requires that new letters be introduced for sounds peculiar to a language, rather than using digraphs.

    And the alphabetic principle is what I meant by “a strong, basically irrational objection.” It’s exactly like saying “We can’t do that because God/Lenin said it was wrong.” Use whatever writing system makes sense for the people who have to learn it, write it, and set it in type; “principles” are useless (and expensive) baggage.

  21. And of course the same goes double for nationalistic principles: “We can’t write it that way because Those Bad People Over the Hill write it that way.”

  22. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW there are in southeast/insular Asia some major national languages with millions of speakers that appear to use transparent Western loanwords for “insurance” rather than calques or local inventions, e.g. Bahasa Melayu (“insurans”), Bahasa Indonesia (“asuransi,” presumably from Dutch assurantie, itself probably a loanword from French and either a synonym or near-synonym for verzekering), and Tagalog (“seguro,” from Spanish). Although I can see the argument that because those languages are in excellent health they don’t have to worry so much about loanwords increasing the risk of the next generation just ending up monolingual in the locally-dominant source of loanwords.

  23. That’s not really a thing any language has to worry about. The whole “we must root out foreign borrowings, they are like invasive species that will destroy us!” thing is nationalistic nonsense. Virtually every language is full of loan words, many of which are no longer recognized as such. The good people of Indonesia are not suffering in any way because they say “asuransi.”

  24. So, Latin word for “insurance” is ‘securitas’?

  25. nationalistic nonsense

    I can’t quite agree. If you are trying to bootstrap a culture by introducing lots of neologisms for hitherto foreign things, I think the language you get if you calque such words carefully is easier to learn than one in which you borrow them. We all have to learn technicalities as an L2, and it seems to me better if they are made of the same morphemes that our L1 uses than if we borrow them as wholes and maybe eventually go to the trouble of factoring them into new morphemes. English works okay with kingly, royal, regal, but it certainly doesn’t make it easier to learn for either L1 or L2 speakers (other than Romance-speakers) than if we just had kingish or kinglike and left it at that, like our relatives.

  26. The “expensive fonts” objection is now bogus. The 1700+ Latin characters in Unicode are pretty much available on all standard computer fonts nowadays; only if you are using a bespoke font like The Economist are you in the position of being able to correctly spell Portuguese but not Italian.

  27. J.W. Brewer says:

    Um, computer ownership and usage may be asymptotically approaching 100% in the circles where John Cowan and I tend to move, but for much of humanity, including many speakers of marginal/endangered languages, a useful orthography still needs to be easily compatible with pre-Unicode technologies like pencil-and-paper or chalk-and-blackboard. If the need to make typesetting/typewriting easier was your only excuse for not using diacritical marks, maybe that’s now obsolete, but to the extent diacritics are systematically at greater risk of being omitted in practice in handwritten contexts, relying on them too heavily in your orthography may still be imprudent.

  28. The “expensive fonts” objection is now bogus.

    In the first place, we’re not talking about now, we’re talking about when these stupidly elaborate scripts were chosen. The world is littered with such scripts, most of which died a quick death and are only available in the yellowing journals where they were published by proud inventors who cared a great deal about logic and consistency and nothing at all about practical considerations. In the second place, what JWB said.

  29. There was a time when having your own script (or at least a few special characters) was something to be proud of and cherished. That practice lasted at least until the 1980s, when the Unifon script was current among Northwest California language practitioners (Yurok, Tolowa, and Karuk, at least), impractical and inexact though it was.

    Early 20th century proposals to “modernize” Hebrew by adopting a Latin script died a quick death. It was by and large a matter of pride in the Hebrew script as a unique treasure attached to the language. I don’t know how Cree and Inuktitut speakers think of their script, but I won’t be surprised if they have similar sentiments. Arguing for an ASCII-based script as a matter of practicality is not that different from arguing for using English as a universal language.

  30. Actually, it is. And a feeling of attachment can hardly occur before a script exists. I’m talking about the moment of creation, when the Founding Genius says “Well, I could write that sound with a double g…. or, I know, I could use a backward capital G with a diagonal slash through it! Brilliant, if I do say so myself!”

  31. but to the extent diacritics are systematically at greater risk of being omitted in practice in handwritten contexts, relying on them too heavily in your orthography may still be imprudent

    Fair enough, but practice seems to differ here. Germans have a workaround which they seem to use religiously, but only when the diacritics are unavailable, and they always use diacritics in handwriting. Scandinavians (including Finns) insist on their diacritics. French seems to be intelligible enough with just é and è and maybe even without those.

    Vietnamese, on the other hand, seem to depend on their diacritics to the extent that at least three independent technical solutions were developed for writing them on computers in the pre-Unicode era. Granted, they could have used a Gwoyeu Romatzyh tonal spelling system, but GR is clunky enough for just six vowels and four tones; extending it to eleven vowels and six tones over a script designed for five vowels and no tones is hard to imagine.

  32. The Unicode Technical Committee actually does push back hard on things like REVERSED CAPITAL G WITH STROKE, though it is more typically committees trying to write minority languages that come up with such things nowadays rather than crazed individual inventors.

  33. Right, but the committees of the 21st century get their principles from the crazed individual inventors of the 19th and earlier.

  34. See my excerpt from Ivan Derzhanski’s history of Bulgarian orthography. Note that he wrote it at Edinburgh, which motivates some of the examples as well as some of the prose style.

  35. I agree with Bathrobe: A very, VERY sad article.

    Hat: In answer to your comment that-

    “I don’t think it’s sad to try to provide support for an endangered language. You talk as if Ojibway were inevitably doomed, but you don’t know that”

    -I would answer that this neologism-creating activity is utterly irrelevant to the future of Ojibway. It would be relevant, indeed quite beneficial, if Ojibway were a vigorous language (i.e. with a stable community of L1 speakers) which needed to be used more widely, on a broader range of topics, than it hitherto had. But such is not the case: Ojibway is a language which may well in the near future entirely cease, *everywhere*, to be acquired as an L1 by children.

    Whether or not there exists on paper somewhere an official Ojibway word for “quantum physics” will be irrelevant, I suspect, to the matter as to whether those remaining Ojibway speakers who are young enough to start families will transmit the language to their offspring or not.

    Well, unless, that is, these activities speed up the loss of Ojibway! After all, most fluent speakers regularly incorporate loanwords in their speech, and as a result of this creation of official neologisms these fluent speakers may come to believe that what they speak isn’t “Real Ojibway” and hence that its extinction is nothing to be concerned about.

    This sort of schizoid behavior is found with many, many minority language communities: For example Breton nationalists, in the twentieth century, spent most of their time and energy coining neologisms and arguing passionately over which spelling to use, *totally* ignoring the (near-) total collapse of inter-generational transmission of Breton.

  36. Yeah, good points. I certainly don’t know enough about the Ojibway situation to know if it’s anything like the Breton one.

  37. Maybe those of you who know Native American languages can set me straight here. I was told repeatedly elsewhere on the internet that at least the speakers of polysynthetic Native Northern American languages use almost no loanwords, but coin own words for all concepts, so it could be that this conference is about agreeing on standardizing ad hoc or locally used coinages, not about replacing loan words. I assume Marie-Lucie or Etienne know whether there is any truth to that?

  38. I’ve read an article on language extinction which made an interesting point.

    Russian linguist Vakhtin noted that 19th century antropologists described Itelmen language as moribund – everybody now speaks Russian and surely the language will cease to exist in the next generation.

    Fifty years passed, Soviet linguists of 1930s made the same observation – the language is dying, the younger generation doesn’t speak it, the language will die out very soon.

    Another fifty years passed, Vakhtin himself visited the Itelmens and saw the situation – the language is dying, the younger generation doesn’t speak a word of their language, surely it will be dead in a generation.

    Another forty years passed and the Itelmen is still dying and still haven’t died yet.

    What exactly is going on? How can language death get prolonged over century and a half?

    It turns out, the process is linked to generational shifts.

    When everyone in the older generation of native speakers dies out, it’s the next generation which becomes the real native speakers.

    Because everyone who could speak language better than them is already dead. So their version of the Itelmen becomes THE Itelmen language. It doesn’t matter if it’s not as pure as the language of their parents, it doesn’t matter if it has many Russian loanwords, their language is the Itelmen language now and it is this new Itelmen language which is moribund.

    And the process continues with each new generation.

    Vakhtin described the end result – a conversation between two speakers of Siberian Eskimo language which he believed was in Russian (all words being Russian with a few Eskimo inflections inserted).

    But the speakers – mother and daughter – insisted that it was in Siberian Eskimo.

    Perhaps something like this will happen to Ojibwe. As long as there are people who identify themselves as Ojibwe, there will be people who are going to insist that they speak Ojibwe – even if to the rest of the world it sounds Canadian English….

  39. marie-lucie says:

    JC: French seems to be intelligible enough with just é and è and maybe even without those.

    Just é and è would be enough, but without at least one of them you would have a large number of words with plain e’s and would not be able to indicate (in writing) which of them are not schwa’s. Old French (centuries ago) did not use them, so at first one was introduced, then the other, to solve this very problem. Here is an example: desespere : is this a verb form in the present (désespère) or a past participle/adjective (désespéré) ? And see also these forms of the verb créer: present crée, past participle créé (masculine, the feminine is créée.

  40. marie-lucie says:

    Hans: I was told repeatedly elsewhere on the internet that at least the speakers of polysynthetic Native Northern American languages use almost no loanwords, but coin own words for all concepts

    Not all of these languages are polysynthetic (with long “words” made up of recognizable bits and pieces which together may constitute the equivalent of a sentence), but in such languages the constituents of a noun, verb or sentence are identifiable to the speakers, so that many nouns, for instance, transparently indicate what their components are, thus making them immediately understandable. English does this to a certain extent (except that it does not form whole sentences in this way): there are many relatively new words the meaning of which is very obvious, such as bottle-opener which could be defined with a long phrase such as ‘something which lets you open a bottle’ if translated into a language which did not make such words. You could further extend the same word into beer-bottle-opener to be even more precise. German is considered a champion in this type of word-formation because it writes all the components together, while English keeps at least some of them separate. Anyway, speakers of a language which easily forms new words “on demand” out of its own resources tend to dislike opaque words in which they don’t recognize any formants, as often happens in borrowings. English speakers have a similar reaction when they complain about “words we can’t pronounce”, such as the strange long words appearing at the end of a list of otherwise known ingredients for many processed food products. It is quite noticeable that the names of new English gadgets intended for household use are largely made up of English (or long-nativized) components so that each new word’s meaning is obvious, while the names of complex scientific objects and machines are largely made up of Latin and Greek roots opaque to the average untrained person.

  41. David Eddyshaw says:

    @SFReader:

    Elena Maslova reports something very similar with Kolyma Yukaghir: an actual increase in the number of self-identified L1 speakers, associated with a conscious choice to keep on using the language even if it’s in a form which previous generations would have regarded as very Russianized, rather than abandoning it altogether.

    I recall a previous discussion suggesting that something similar may be happening with Irish.

    While this certainly seems a worthwhile strategy in highly adverse circumstances for language preservation, I suppose you run the risk that your language will eventually end up like Anglo-Romani, basically just a special vocabulary for the use of the in-group. On the other hand, if people are highly enough invested in preserving their distinct identity, and if they also feel that that should be expressed by language (not a cultural universal), they can not only preserve but create languages (like Michif, for example.) That seems analogous to what the Yukaghir and the Itelmen may be doing.

    I get the impression that the parlous state of so many indigenous American languages is really a side-effect of profound irreversible damage to complete cultures. In such circumstances it seems unlikely that even very vigorous and well-conducted linguistic work could save a language alone. But I suspect I’m just stating the obvious for those actually involved in trying to save these languages. Marie-lucie must know all about such things.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    Latin is probably an exception among the so-called dead languages. It was used as a vehicle for European culture right up until the 20th century and in all sorts of official and learned publications, and still continues to be used as the official language of the Catholic Church as well as in some scientific contexts.

    The only scientific context I know of is the official diagnosis of a new plant species, which had to be in Latin last time I checked (but the botanical code of nomenclature changes so often that… I might try to look this up tomorrow). In practice, even this diagnosis is highly formalized, in a verb-free telegram style, and followed by a much more detailed description in the language the paper is actually in (i.e. English).

    diacritics are systematically at greater risk of being omitted in practice in handwritten contexts

    Is that so? The German ones don’t seem to be omitted any more often than the i dot. Interesting things do happen to them – I’ve seen handwriting where äöüi become āōūī – but nobody just drops them, not even the people who don’t use ß by default because they can’t imagine that the spelling reform made things less confusing on that front.

    And yes, the official ASCIIfication as ae oe ue is religiously followed whenever it’s necessary or people think it might be, no matter how difficult that makes things to read (äu as aeu always takes me a while).

    In Polish, for instance, the same sound can be written using the diagraph rz as well as the letter+diacritic combination ż.

    That’s because ż is historically short for zz, and because rz and ż merged in pronunciation after the orthography was more or less fixed – no different from ó and u, and about as confusing to native speakers.

    There was a time when having your own script (or at least a few special characters) was something to be proud of and cherished.

    Still the case in India, where the common perception is that if a language doesn’t have its own script (basically its own very distinctive font of pretty much the same script, in most cases), it doesn’t real.

    that at least the speakers of polysynthetic Native Northern American languages use almost no loanwords

    That was the case in Navajo in times when most speakers didn’t know enough English words to borrow a lot of them. In recent decades they’ve innovated a construction that lets them fit English words into their morphological framework.

    In German, many English adjectives/participles are being borrowed right now as adverbs and predicative adjectives (all endingless), but use as attributive adjectives (inflected for gender/number/case/definiteness) is scrupulously avoided, because adding German endings would sound too awkward (code-switching within a word…) and the concept of indeclinable adjectives doesn’t exist.

    (…Well, you’ll find the much earlier loans rosa “pink” and lila “purple” used as indeclinable adjectives at least in writing. But even in writing you’ll also find the workaround of adding -farben “-colored”, which is inflected normally. Colloquially, people let a /n/ drop from heaven and inflect rosane(-), lilane(-) normally at least to mark the plural.)

    (Oh, further complication: I find English past participles in -ed declinable and thus usable as attributive adjectives in my dialect, where the regular ending for past participles is |d|, but not in the standard, where it’s |t|. Fun!)

  43. Stu Clayton says:

    Die geloggten Stacktraces… eine deployte Anwendung …

    Barf !

    For years I have conducted a low-key war of attrition on this kind of thing in German. I simply persist in using different locutions until the opposition caves in by adopting them. Instead of arguing about merit, I silently fight laziness with stubbornness.

    So far I have had a few moderate successes with transgendering: das Codereview, das Tag (pronounced like, and with the meaning of, Eng. “tag” in the sense of label, to distinguish it from “der Tag”).

    Currently I am pushing “aufgezeichnet” for “geloggt”, and “aufgestellt” or “postiert” for “deployt”.

  44. Savalonôs says:

    But the Ojibwe orthography that I’m familiar with is exemplary in its ASCII-friendliness, making ready use of digraphs. It also tends to be intuitive for English-speakers, which is possible because of Ojibwe’s fairly limited phoneme inventory. It even happens to be the case that the short /o/ has the long equivalent /uː/, so the digraph “oo” as in words like boozhoo, happens to make sense to Anglophones (if not to anyone else).

  45. Savalonôs says:

    And of course the same goes double for nationalistic principles: “We can’t write it that way because Those Bad People Over the Hill write it that way.”

    This seems to contradict your previous comment. What if the people who have to learn it, write it, and set it in type have nationalistic principles? An attachment to a particular script is not uncommon; I doubt a repulsion to somebody else’s script is a lot ess common.

  46. But the Ojibwe orthography that I’m familiar with is exemplary in its ASCII-friendliness, making ready use of digraphs.

    Sure, and I wasn’t complaining about it.

    What if the people who have to learn it, write it, and set it in type have nationalistic principles?

    They can do as they like; I’m not the boss of them. But I despise nationalism and nationalistic principles.

  47. @Marie-Lucie: Just to avoid any misunderstanding, I was aware that not all North American Native languages are polysynthetic, I just had heard that claim I mentioned being made about the ones that are. So you seem to confirm at least a tendency to avoid loans and to prefer transparent coinages. Merci!

  48. @Hat:“principles” are useless (and expensive) baggage.
    > “principles” are useless (and expensive) baggage.

    I couldn’t disagree more. The 26-letter limit is expensive baggage. English orthography suffers heavily from it. I’m glad other orthographies don’t have to.

    Returning to language preservation, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the motives. When looking up “language preservation” on Wikipedia and scrolling down to “Importance of preservation”, it says:

    > When a language dies, the knowledge of and ability to understand the culture who spoke it is threatened because the teachings, customs, oral traditions and other inherited knowledge are no longer transmitted among native speakers.

    Well, then focus on transmitting those teachings/customs/oral traditions/knowledge in whatever language available. Creating a new word for “molecular science” doesn’t help a bit.

    > As each language dies, science in linguistics, anthropology, prehistory and psychology lose some diversity in data sources

    That’s the scientists’ problem. It’s hardly fair that the speakers of the language have to be responsible for that.

  49. concept of indeclinable adjectives doesn’t exist

    Googling [German “indeclinable adjectives”] brings up examples like Berliner and Budapester. Apparently these began life as genitive plurals: Berliner Pfannkuchen was originally Pfannkuchen der Berliner.

  50. I couldn’t disagree more. The 26-letter limit is expensive baggage. English orthography suffers heavily from it. I’m glad other orthographies don’t have to.

    The problem with English orthography is not that it uses only 26 letters, it’s that it’s mind-bogglingly inconsistent. I would have thought that was obvious. And if you think orthographies that use one-off characters for which special Unicode symbols have to be created and which most publishers won’t reproduce accurately are better than orthographies that don’t, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  51. David Marjanović says:

    It even happens to be the case that the short /o/ has the long equivalent /uː/, so the digraph “oo” as in words like boozhoo, happens to make sense to Anglophones (if not to anyone else).

    Similar phenomena are also exploited in Tlingit and in Bardi (spoken on Australia’s north coast).

    examples like Berliner and Budapester

    Oh yes. These are indeclinable, and they’re weird in general – so noun-like that they’re capitalized.

    The -er used to be wer as in “werewolf”.

    one-off characters for which special Unicode symbols have to be created

    As mentioned above, there are so many Latin characters in Unicode already (even if we just count the precomposed ones) that this is an issue of the past. Behold this proposal for a Latin orthography for Chechen, a language with such a large sound system that the current Cyrillic orthography produces pretty confusing results; by design, this Latin orthography fits entirely on an existing keyboard layout despite its large number of diacritics and even the letter ŋ (which is exclusively used in, wait for it, digraphs that indicate nasal vowels).

  52. It’s only “an issue of the past” if everyone agrees to create orthographies that fit entirely on an existing keyboard layout; if you think this is likely given the nature of humanity, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I direct you to the long history of geniuses who have taken pride in creating one-off characters that are not used by any other writing system. I know you’re a creature of logic and rationality, but you surely realize that humankind at large does not follow your sterling example.

  53. David Marjanović says:

    I’m merely suggesting that this history may now be over – partly by design as in this one instance, partly just because almost any Latin-based character people could think of is already in Unicode.

  54. The end of history rears its optimistic head once more!

  55. But “may now be over” is a definite improvement over “an issue of the past,” so I’ve pushed the Overton window on David Marjanović comments.

  56. Returning to language preservation, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the motives.

    Any particular reason?

  57. @Hat: The problem with English orthography is not that it uses only 26 letters, it’s that it’s mind-bogglingly inconsistent.

    It’s a lot harder to be consistent when your orthography has a lot less graphemes than your language has phonemes, and if I’m not mistaken, a big part of the inconsistency of the English orthography is historically related to the fact that this applies to English.

    @Hat: if you think orthographies that use one-off characters for which special Unicode symbols have to be created …

    Unicode symbols for lots of diacritics already exist. So is it OK if they just use them?

    @Hat: … and which most publishers won’t reproduce accurately …

    Who are these publishers you speak of? I’m not trying to be snarky. People have already described how lots of European orthographies use diacritics heavily and are published (and handwritten) fairly accurately. Do you have any examples of new orthographies that faced this problem?

    @Hat: Use whatever writing system makes sense for the people who have to learn it, write it, …

    I would think the alphabetic principle makes quite a bit of sense. An orthography honoring it is indeed easier to learn and write. It’s hard for me to see why you think worrying about mistakes publishers might or might not make makes more sense.

    @Bathrobe: Any particular reason?

    I’m just a hobby linguist and have most of my information from what I read here and elsewhere on the Internet, so I haven’t had any direct exposure to language preservation. I just get the nagging feeling that some linguists cheering for language preservation are more concerned about the languages themselves than the well-being of their speakers.

    Of course, linguists, being linguists, have to focus on what they’re good at, and I can definitely see how preserving a language can be a meaningful part of empowering its speakers and preserving their culture. But speaking about language death as being sad without touching on the bigger picture of whether the death of a language comes with any suffering of its speakers, seems a bit meaningless to me.

    For example, Canada, being a nation with many immigrants, must have quite a few people who learn English and lose (or never gain) the ability to speak their heritage language (well), with whatever that means for their ability to connect to their heritage culture. It’s not immediate obvious to me that their situation is any less sad than that of the Ojibwe speakers. Of course, that heritage language is probably alive and well in the ancestral country, so we don’t need to worry about that, but again this line of thought seems to focus more on the languages themselves than the people in question.

    It’s a bit hard for me to explain well, I hope I’m making some sense.

  58. Dixon and Kroeber, Linguistic Families of California:

    In short, the other languages and families of California have occasionally borrowed, or appeared to borrow, a stem from one another: Athabascan has reacted toward all of them like a jet of oil shot into water.
    […]
    The only interpretation that remains, accordingly, is that there is something in the character of Athabascan speech that causes it to cling with conservatism to its existing forms, and show a tenacious resistance to foreign elements and ideas.

  59. I just get the nagging feeling that some linguists cheering for language preservation are more concerned about the languages themselves than the well-being of their speakers.

    This is perhaps true. Just as there is a conflict of views between conservationists who want to restore wolves to their range and ordinary people who are glad they were stamped out. I’m sure similar views exist about tigers.

    But I do think that language preservation has an aspect that can’t be ignored. Language death is not just a ‘natural process’, as speakers of major languages sometimes blithely point out. In particular, the huge drop in linguistic diversity in the past few centuries is the result of a veritable linguistic holocaust, not a natural process. It seems to be concentrated in vast swathes of territory that were conquered and settled by white colonists — North America, South America, Australasia, Russian Asia. The concerned linguist sees this as a huge loss for humanity, given that some of the most interesting and unique languages spoken by human beings were found in those areas.

    In the past few centuries, people in many of those places were killed, herded into reserves, forcibly assimilated, and at times violently forced to abandon their languages and cultures. For many of those people, surviving in the new circumstances was the main priority. This meant accommodation to the new arrivals and their culture, and (in parts of Australia, at least), disrespect for and rejection of their own elders.

    There is no doubt that integration into the larger society is desirable for people who have been and still are often marginalised. That means they have to learn Spanish, English, or Russian in order to leave their marginalised status behind. But make no mistake, that status was forced on them by others. It is not something they chose themselves.

    I don’t know how strong these language revitalisation movements are. For many of these people, reclaiming something of their original culture and language is already too late.

    I have had very little contact with indigenous people in Australia, but I have spoken to one young woman who is attempting to learn her original tribal language — a difficult process since it appears to have died out (although there are people who claim to still speak it). This young women told me that when they took part in meetings with indigenous people overseas, the Australian contingent was saddened to discover that they were the only ones who could not speak their own original native languages. They knew only English. She also told me with some emotion that she had spoken at an event in Australia where she used the traditional greeting of her people, the first time that this greeting would have been heard in the area for maybe a century.

    If linguists are helping to revive some of what was lost, helping give these people an identity beyond ‘assimilated indigene’, I think that is a good thing. It is not a waste of time or resources. When you consider how much time and resources are spent in our society producing short-term consumer rubbish or imbibing intoxicating substances, I really can’t see that, by comparison, language preservation is a waste of time or resources. When you consider how much concern people had for the relics of the Middle East when they were being destroyed by ISIS, and how much money some people are prepared to pay to get possession of these pieces of stone, why is there such lack of concern about the catastrophic loss of something more complex, organic and alive — human languages?

    Your point about immigrants losing their own language is taken. Personally I think that the circumstances are so different that it’s hard to fully equate the two cases. But there is a common point: the assumption that appears to be common in Anglo societies, that these people should all just speak English. This is not natural at all. It is an aggressive, narrow-minded, intolerant social attitude that appears to be entrenched in such societies. That is not to deny the need for people to learn English to function in the larger social environment. But native-born social attitudes play a role in stamping out immigrant languages. In an abstract sense I’m sure educated people are reasonably tolerant of people who speak different languages, but in Australia I know that attitudes towards people who speak non-English languages in public are generally uncomfortable. If you are a schoolchild, I’m sure it’s much worse.

    Of course the linguistic situation anywhere changes over time. This is natural. But the linguistic holocaust that has been visited on much of the world is not natural at all, and I don’t think that encouraging people to try to reclaim some remnants of their own people’s pre-holocaust world is just a linguist’s wet dream. Unfortunately, most monolinguals in such settler societies are quite indifferent to this because they’re fine with everyone being monolingual.

  60. marie-lucie says:

    Y; As you probably know, Athabaskan languages are extremely different from most other Amerindian languages, and their structure makes it difficult to borrow foreign words. “Conservatism” and “tenacious resistance” imply a psychological attitude, but the structural character of the language family is likely at least one cause, not a consequence, of this attitude on the part of speakers, as D&K acknowledge.

    Have you seen Victor Golla’s book on California languages? I have, but not read the whole thing, I wonder if he has an update on this particular section of D&K.

  61. m.-l., Dixon and Kroeber’s book represents the infancy of the study of California languages. Golla represents the state of the art. At the time of D&K, very little was known about any California language, and the book is largely impressionistic. I put in the quote because the “jet of oil” simile is so vivid.

    Golla’s book doesn’t talk about Athabascan in particular being resistant to borrowing or to lending words. I think that claim is exaggerated. In any case, California Athabascan and other polysynthetic languages indeed are very much at ease with new coinages, e.g. Hupa ‘gills’, misah-sa’a:n [=‘inside its mouth-(round object) lies’], ‘deer’, k’iłixun [=‘something that tastes good’], etc., which makes borrowing less necessary.

  62. Stu Clayton says:

    But “may now be over” is a definite improvement over “an issue of the past,” so I’ve pushed the Overton window on David Marjanović comments.

    I had not heard of this window. The WiPe tells me:

    # The Overton window, also known as the window of discourse, is the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse. #

    It seems to be assumed that the idea of the Overton window is always within the Overton window at any given moment. Arguing that it isn’t still invokes the idea as meaningful. Has another self-justifying idea been discovered ?

  63. Further to my preceding passage, I find it interesting that linguists who are in favour of preserving native languages are so casually accused of caring only about the languages (you are certainly not the first person to suggest this), whereas the responsible, respectable people who were in favour of stamping them out (educators, missionaries, etc.) are never accused in the same way. All too often these are the people who made the decisions that destroyed indigenous cultures. Of course, they were only doing so in the “interests of the children”, who should be brought up speaking civilised tongues rather than primitive tribal dialects. The great bias is that these people saw great value in education in English and very little value in indigenous languages. On the other hand, the linguist who is concerned with linguistic preservation perhaps sees something of value that is not visible to other people. Preserving it both for the descendants of the speakers and for the whole of humanity does not seem to me narrow, selfish, or uncaring.

    In any case, much of what we call ‘education’ is forced on children who don’t know the value of what they are learning until much later. Much of what we call the appreciation of art and culture is grafted onto people who only ‘know’, for instance, that the Mona Lisa is great because the whole world tells them that it is. Otherwise it would just as likely be seen as a nice painting of a woman.

    I think my point is that there are many things in the world that only have value because value has been assigned to them by educators or society. Within that scheme, languages appear to be one of those things that are valueless unless you can prove otherwise. Compared to the oceans of ink that have been spilt in defence of trivial peevery, I find it amazing how little has been spilt in defence of human languages that have so much more to tell us than whether we should split infinitives or not.

    End of rant.

    Incidentally, why the huge gap between nighttime on the US West Coast and the early morning chirpings from Europe? I feel like I’m almost the only one writing in this big time gap.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Y, I agree with everything you say, there is nothing controversial about what either of us is saying.

    California Athabascan and other polysynthetic languages indeed are very much at ease with new coinages, … which makes borrowing less necessary.

    And people probably have fun making up new words, which every speaker will understand, instead of using foreign words which are just meaningless sound sequences.

  65. I finally looked at pc’s link to the Ojibwe vocabulary project. Rather than just trying to come up with a list of standard vocabulary, the project involves immersion teaching in Ojibwe. One problem encountered was the lack of vocabulary for concepts like algebraic formulae, scientific principles, abstract ideas of government, grammar, etc. Without the terminology, it was very difficult to teach these subjects in an immersion class.

    If they were less ambitious they would probably have confined their teaching to ancient legends and aspects of Ojibwe culture, but this would effectively have cordoned the language off from modern life, with poor results in the long term. As the paper notes, “many fluent speakers complain that when speaking about the language or certain subjects, that the conversation slips into English because of vocabulary challenges. A language lives when it can be used for everything in life, not just certain parts of life”.

    The lists arrived at are quite fascinating. They have names of countries and continents (Europe Agaamaki ‘land across the ocean’, Asia = Aniibiishikewakiing or Aniibiishikewiniiniiwaki, Germany = Angongosaki or Agongosiwaki), mathematics (count = asigagim, number = asigibii’iganens, mathematics = asigibii’igewin or asigigindaasowin or asigagindaasowin (note lack of standard)), language (semi-colon = aazhawibii’gan, space between written words = aanzwebii’igan, subject (grammar) = endoodang, object (grammar) = endoodagod), medicine (projectile vomit = aayaagadese, have chlamydia bookazaawi), to zip-lock bag = giboobijigani-mashkimodens, altogether 114 pages.

    There are many expressions related to farting but I couldn’t find insurance.

  66. Incidentally, why the huge gap between nighttime on the US West Coast and the early morning chirpings from Europe? I feel like I’m almost the only one writing in this big time gap.

    Languagehat is the empire on which sun never sets.

    Zero hundred hours on US Pacific coast is 7 UTC. Should be OK to cover everything even ignoring the better part of the world.

  67. a nice painting of a woman

    Pretty much my view, actually. I’m a philistine about portraits, though I can tell a pretty face from an ugly one (but not whose it is).

    “The Sun never sets on the British Empire because the Sun sets in the West and the British Empire is in the East.”

  68. Apparently these began life as genitive plurals: Berliner Pfannkuchen was originally Pfannkuchen der Berliner.

    Similarly, the name of the city of Canterbury started life as Cantwaraburg ‘fortified town (burgh) of the people (wara) of Kent’. As David M said, the German -er started as the genitive plural of the same Germanic root.

  69. “The Sun never sets on the British Empire because God can’t trust the British in the dark.”

  70. > But I do think that language preservation has an aspect that can’t be ignored. Language death is not just a ‘natural process’ …

    Neither were wolves going near extinct.

    > It seems to be concentrated in vast swathes of territory that were conquered and settled by white colonists — North America, South America, Australasia, Russian Asia. … In the past few centuries, people in many of those places were killed, herded into reserves, forcibly assimilated, and at times violently forced to abandon their languages and cultures.

    There is indeed a common denominator here, and between this, and what happened to wolves and tigers…

    > If linguists are helping to revive some of what was lost, helping give these people an identity beyond ‘assimilated indigene’ … I don’t think that encouraging people to try to reclaim some remnants of their own people’s pre-holocaust world is just a linguist’s wet dream.

    This is strangely patronizing. Surely you can’t believe that what makes a Native American marginalized, in today’s society, is whether he knows his mother tongue? Don’t you think the fact that they’ve been reduced to a mere 1% of their population, and confined to just 3% of their former land, is a much bigger deal?

    Aboriginal communities are on life support, not because their languages are dying out, but because of much larger sociopolitical forces, which were set in irreversible motion by the decline of their societies relative to those of the incoming settlers. You speak of assimilation as a terrible outcome, but what choice would you offer them? Continued segregation and marginalization in reservations?

    It is arrogant and supercilious for Anglo-Americans to tell everyone to speak English, but it isn’t arrogant and supercilious for Anglo-Americans to tell everyone to speak their mother tongues? That seems wild to me. In both cases, a more powerful group is dictating what a less powerful group does, according to their own values, and through the exercise of their own disproportionate influence. In both cases, the underlying power difference aren’t addressed – only the ideological whims of the ruling group.

    Marginalization isn’t the result of language death. Rather, language death is the result of marginalization, which is the result of power disparities – in any society. A ruling group dictating a separate identity for a marginalized group, and telling them to hold it tight, doesn’t do them any favors in the long term, not unless that group can actually equalize the playing field. Yet, aboriginal groups today have no hope of ever doing so, because despite all the talk about helping the weak, nobody is actually willing to give up real power, as measured in land, wealth, and influence.

    The Ojibwa language wouldn’t be dying, had its speakers been just as powerful, or more powerful, than the societies around them. Be as it is, preventing its death doesn’t do much for the Ojibwa, beyond prolonging their marginalization. A much better expenditure of effort would be to actually address the causes of that marginalization – ie why the Ojibwa, as a society, have so little power relative to other groups. That may ultimately save the Ojibwa language, too, but even in case it doesn’t, its people would be better off.

  71. All this may be true.

    But when indigenous people try to reclaim the original languages of their people in the face of the monolingual power holders, you don’t have the right to say that people who support this are “patronizing”, “arrogant”, or “supercilious”.

    “A much better expenditure of effort would be to actually address the causes of that marginalization” — totally agree. With all the negativity about maintaining indigenous languages that you are expressing here, I hope you are standing out there on the front lines. Otherwise…

  72. You appear to be filled with a seething hatred for minority or indigenous languages that outweighs anything positive you have to say.

    What you appear to have to say is this: complete assimilation is the only way to a better life for marginalised people, in fact, any people. And it’s better for all concerned if they, and everyone else, speak the same language and only the same language. You’ve expressed this viewpoint many times. This is just gainsaying. There is nothing positive here at all.

    In a world that is trying to come to terms with growing ecological and social/political issues, your great rallying cry is: “Get rid of all these minority languages”. I see little worth engaging with here.

  73. marie-lucie says:

    The first person to use the term “language death” was the linguist Nancy Dorian who researched a community in Scotland where Gaelic speakers were now a minority and were not transmitting the language to their children although they might still speak Gaelic with their elderly parents. When I read the book I realized that the situation described was very similar to that of my Occitan-speaking grandparents, who had not passed on the language to their Parisian children (my mother and her brother). Many years later, when I found myself working in a Canadian indigenous community, the bilingual people I was working with spoke mostly English to each other, and only English to their children. There were still a few monolingual elders, and the odd teenage speaker whose monolingual great-grandmother lived with the family.

    In all these cases the bilingual generation had gone to school, been taught in the dominant language and bullied in various ways to use it exclusively. Bilingual indigenous parents would say “I remember how hard it was to learn English, so I did not want my children to have the same bad experiences, that’s why I did not speak to them in our language”. The older people also expected that the children would naturally start speaking in the local language when they were a little older, since it was easier, warmer, more natural, etc, as well as needed in order to participate fully as adults in traditional functions. But the adult children who had been brought up in this way were mostly resentful that they did not speak “their” language at all, although many of them had some passive knowledge. I myself much regret that I had too little exposure to Occitan to pick up more than a tiny smattering of the language.

  74. @Bathrobe: responsible, respectable people who were in favour of stamping them out (educators, missionaries, etc.) are never accused in the same way.

    OK, let me hereby accuse them. The reason I didn’t was that I think this is so indisputably wrong that it wasn’t even worth mentioning. I brought up what I brought because I’m more undecided about it and thought it would give rise to a discussion which would enlighten me more.

    But…

    > The concerned linguist sees this as a huge loss for humanity, given that some of the most interesting and unique languages spoken by human beings were found in those areas.

    If they had spoken Mandarin or a Germanic dialect, would it have been OK? I can imagine the cartoon: People are being slaughtered. Enter the linguist: “Stop! STOP! They speak an endangered language!!!”. Sorry, I know this is not completely fair, but I can’t help cringing a bit.

  75. I think that is a ridiculous caricature. It is standing the whole question on its head.

    But let’s face it, people do things like that all the time.

    “Don’t build a dam here! There might be irrecoverable treasures of civilisation!” (Three Gorges Dam)

    “Don’t let these rare plants die out! They might hold the cure for cancer!”

    And when it comes to saving the Yazidi, I did notice a lot of articles focusing on their ancient culture and religion. Of course, they were persecuted as a minority precisely because of that, but why is their suffering any more special than all the other people who suffered under ISIS?

    As for evaluating human life, other considerations invariably come into the equation than the simple sacredness of life.

    We still talk about the soldier who murdered Archimedes after the passage of more than two thousand years. Why is the murder of Archimedes any more significant than the murder of innumerable beggars or witches? Because a powerful general wanted him taken alive? No, he didn’t speak an endangered language; he was a mathematical genius. And even now people seem aghast at the loss. At the hands of an ignorant Roman soldier, no less! Give me a break!

    There have been lots of occasions through history when the decision of who to slaughter came down to value judgements like that. (Kill the men, spare the women. Kill the aristocrats, spare the men of talent. Kill the landlords, not the common people. Kill our opponents, spare our allies. Nothing to do with the sacredness of their lives by merely being human.)

    If indigenous people were killed or enslaved in the past because they were subhuman, what is wrong with modern-day linguists pointing out that they might have something valuable? Linguists might be the only ones to think they have something valuable.

    People throughout history have been so good at making judgements about the value of people, I can’t see why a linguist’s concern at the loss of languages is so reprehensible. It is not as though linguists actually get much say in who gets slaughtered or saved. All they can do is get people to realise that what most people regard as worthless might actually have some value.

    Cornering power and wealth is one of the great themes of our time. Another, less ruinous one might be discovering value where others didn’t see it before. Is there anything wrong with that?

    Before you make further observations, I urge you to read Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us by Nicholas Evans. Yes, he is deeply concerned about dying languages. But he is the opposite of the caricature that you presented. The book is well worth reading.

  76. “The Sun never sets on the British Empire because the Sun sets in the West and the British Empire is in the East.”

    The sun, in fact, has yet to set on the British Empire. https://what-if.xkcd.com/48/

  77. I expect this discussion to trail away as they all do, and before it does I just want to make clear that I am entirely on Bathrobe’s side here. I’m not sure how much point there is in continuing it, since nobody’s mind is going to be changed.

  78. Of course, they were persecuted as a minority precisely because of that, but why is their suffering any more special than all the other people who suffered under ISIS?

    Because it is a crime on a different level and attacks a different entity.

    To start with, why do we punish some harms that we call crimes, and other harms are matters only for civil lawsuits? When I negligently knock you down and you break your leg, you may (if you wish) sue me for direct and indirect damages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and so on. You alone are wronged, and compensation is due to you alone, though society will assist you in getting it as a matter of justice.

    But if I intentionally knock you down and you break your leg, both you and the community are wronged: you may sue as before, but the community may (if it wishes) punish me for the crime of assault and battery or the equivalent. I have broken the social order and declared myself an enemy of the community, someone who is willing to use lawless means to obtain my ends, if only for the time being. I have also put the rest of the community in fear that I may do it again or worse. And so I am justly punished in proportion to what I have done.

    Now just as communities are made of individual persons who are not all alike, so it is the most elementary fact about humankind that it is made of communities that are not all alike; indeed, they vary much more than individuals. Furthermore, though we all die soon enough, our communities or nations or ethnicities die, if at all, on a far longer time scale. To intentionally damage or destroy a society, then, is not only a wrong against individuals, and a wrong against the society being harmed, but a wrong against humankind: one of its members is being harmed, and it is for humankind as well as the society (if it survives) and the individuals (if they survive) to punish as well as exacting compensation.

    (I owe this theory to Hannah Arendt.)

  79. I should add that the first part of the theory is due to Locke.

  80. @ John Cowan

    Thank you for the explanation. I certainly didn’t intend to play down the persecution and suffering of the Yazidi people, which, like most people, I found distressing, disgusting, and horrifying. I chose a bad example to make my point and I apologise for my insensitive and (frankly) offensive comment. I find all kinds of persecution and genocidal behaviour sickening, especially when it is so ruthlessly and savagely focused on one group.

  81. J.W. Brewer says:

    The Arendtesque theory perhaps suffers from the need to pick the appropriate level of generality for the “community” that has rights (including some sort of right to survival-as-identifiable-community) distinct from those of its individual members. Applied to language, as suggested above, we often implicitly use a higher level of generality. The loss (via language shift over multiple generations to English) of the Francophone enclaves in colonial New York seems much less tragic to us than the loss (via ditto) of the Scottish-Gaelic-speaking enclaves in North Carolina (complete) and Nova Scotia (fairly far advanced before preservation efforts found favor with the government), because French-as-such is doing fine in the wider world, while Gaelic is not doing so well. Yet I suspect we are more likely to view persecution/oppression of a racial or religious group in a single country quite negatively even if the “same” racial or religious group is doing just fine in other countries. And perhaps part of that is the irony (if that’s the right word) that large nation-states like the U.S. and France and Australia have evolved historically to a certain commitment to e.g. toleration of wide religious variation among their citizens at the same time they have viewed a single common language as an important component of national unity and democratic self-governance.

  82. Part of that may be from a kind of unconscious racism. We regard Francophone Americans as basically Anglophone Americans who happen to speak a different language (and one that a lot of us know) but are otherwise pretty much the same. So what’s lost when a Francophone New Yorker is replaced by an Anglophone one? Nothing much.
    But we regard speakers of rarer languages as fundamentally different in some way; who knows what mystical insights, no doubt handed down through millennia by her Highland ancestors, were lost when the last Gaelic-speaking Carolinan dies?

  83. J.W. Brewer says:

    @ajay I would agree that “Celtic-ness” tends to get treated mystically in Anglophone cultures in a quite different way from Frenchness (and of course the 17th century Huguenots who came to the Hudson Valley were not notable for haute cuisine or sophisticated fashion or sexual libertinism or any other such quality thought stereotypically French in modern Anglophone cultures!). But I don’t know that carries over to individual Celts. When my L1-Gaelic-speaking great-great-grandmother (1836-1922) was an old lady in Ann Arbor Michigan, a long way away from the Cape Breton of her girlhood and with no one else to speak Gaelic with, I doubt she struck the neighborhood children as any different ethnically or mystically than any WASPy/Yankee old lady in the neighborhood who’d been a monolingual Anglophone from birth.

  84. Donald Trump’s mother was Scottish Gaelic native speaker.

    I wonder if she taught her son some

  85. People are really good at finding ad hoc explanations for just about anything. That includes their moral intuitions. Me, I am OK with everyone living simply by their intuitions, if they include “live and let live” for a wide variety of situations. Linguists concerned with the fate of indigenous languages will surely find a lot of sympathetic people and the rest can just don’t care, but because no one is really getting harmed there is no need to try to actively prevent it.

  86. Well, there I move from Arendt to Sjéra Tomas Saemundsson. There’s a lot of discussion there at the link, but I’ll repeat the actual quotation here:

    Málin eru höfuðeinkenni þjóðanna – Languages are the chief distinguishing marks of peoples. No people in fact comes into being until it speaks a language of its own; let the languages perish and the peoples perish too, or become different peoples. But that never happens except as the result of oppression and distress.

    Based on Gwenllian’s remarks, I would change the last sentence to “begins to happen”; once language death begins, it can accelerate even if oppression ceases.

  87. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: I would agree that “Celtic-ness” tends to get treated mystically in Anglophone cultures in a quite different way from Frenchness

    At first (rapid) reading I thought the last phrase referred to how “Celtic-ness” is treated in French culture. Unless attitudes have changed significantly, basically our ancestors the Gauls are safely in the past, and only Bretons are conscious of their “Celtic-ness” which links them to the Welsh, Irish and Scottish speakers.

    The Huguenots were not “typical” French people as they were rather puritanical, and the stereotypical, hedonistic “French” cultural features were attributed to the Gauls (at a time when the latter were mostly known as Cesar’s “barbarian” adversaries). The Huguenots who were able to move away mostly assimilated to local cultures in largely Protestant countries such as Switzerland, Prussia, England, and the Netherlands, including the Dutch colonies in South Africa, as well as the still separate American colonies. Their input into those countries concerned intellectual, economic and technological matters rather than lifestyles.

  88. David Marjanović says:

    No people in fact comes into being until it speaks a language of its own;

    Slight oversimplification.

  89. J.W. Brewer says:

    The late Mr. Tolkien seems to have been unaware that, to take one example, a new people came into being across the Atlantic from him in or about (very approximately) 1776 who did not bother to devise a new language for the occasion.

  90. I can see how my previous comments can be seen as if I disapprove of what language preservers do, or their motives for it, which was not my intention. I find it quite a noble cause. I apologize.

    What I intended was just a comment that those motives might not quite be what I’d ideally like them to be, and even if they are, they’re sometimes stated in ways that I find unfortunate.

    @Bathrobe: people do things like that all the time. […] “Don’t let these rare plants die out! They might hold the cure for cancer!”

    The difference is that a cure for cancer might actually be the most important reason to save a rare plant, while saving a language can never be the most important reason not to oppress people (in my book).

    > As for evaluating human life, other considerations invariably come into the equation than the simple sacredness of life.

    Yes, and those other considerations are often given far more importance relative to the sacredness of life than I find reasonable. (Which side the casualties are on, for example. I won’t get into details, but the examples are endless and should be obvious.)

    @John Cowan: To intentionally damage or destroy a society, then, is not only a wrong against individuals, and a wrong against the society being harmed, but a wrong against humankind:

    I find wrongs against human individuals to be wrongs against humankind, whether those individuals are members of a society under attack or not.

  91. I shall not deny it; indeed, I affirm it, for the community of humankind is one of our many communities. Arendt says it came into practical existence in 1945, for a collection of individuals that may share a common fate is a community.

  92. Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

    -John Donne-

  93. Quite so. But before 1945 no one catastrophe could destroy us all, not even a sufficiently large volcanic eruption. That is no longer true.

  94. @Dainichi

    No need to apologise.

    I don’t think any profession or job is free of that. I’ve heard men of the cloth speak self-deprecatingly of the “mission to save souls”.

  95. But before 1945 no one catastrophe could destroy us all, not even a sufficiently large volcanic eruption. That is no longer true.

    Meteorite impact, supervolcano eruption, gamma ray burster, and a whole lot of others. What you mean is that no single human-caused catastrophe could destroy us all. And for that the key date is more like 1955.

  96. Life of Sart-Kalmaks in modern Kyrgyzstan is not so easy: political, economic and social instability
    that characterizes the current situation in Kyrgyzstan promotes the growth of tension in international relations and
    title people of the country is trying to lay the blame for many problems in Kyrgyzstan to ethnic minorities, among which are Sart-Kalmaks.

    Karakol Sart-kalmaks (in Russian, pp. 128–150, Tartaria Magna / issue 2-2012)

    https://imbt.academia.edu/JournalTartariaMagna

  97. Poor guys lost their religion and language and are completely assimilated into Kyrgyz society.

    Why am I not surprised that this didn’t stop them becoming victimized scapegoats for problems of that country?

  98. Toba was awfully big, and yet we survived that. There may have been a GRB as recently as the year 774, based on the shift in C12/C14 in Japanese trees. Meteorite impact I grant you, though again, humans are incredibly numerous, widespread, and dug in.

  99. There are huge methane deposits under the Arctic Ocean north of Russia just waiting for the ice to melt enough to break through. End of civilization in a few years…

  100. Meteorite impact, supervolcano eruption, gamma ray burster, and a whole lot of others. What you mean is that no single human-caused catastrophe could destroy us all.

    “Human-interveneable” might be the more natural category.

  101. David Marjanović says:

    There may have been a GRB as recently as the year 774, based on the shift in C12/C14 in Japanese trees.

    If that’s all it did, it was evidently too far away to do more harm.

    There are huge methane deposits under the Arctic Ocean north of Russia just waiting for the ice to melt enough to break through. End of civilization in a few years…

    Methane is in clathrates, a kind of ice that melts when temperatures rise, whether on the seafloor or in the permafrost. Clathrates on the seafloor have no relation to ice on the sea surface.

    Why would that end civilization so quickly? The temperatures would rise faster than they’re already doing. The only globally catastrophic outcome of that would be that the sea level would rise faster than it’s already doing, and that still wouldn’t be fast enough to end civilization in a few years.

  102. Methane: That was in a recent post from the gau lady. She’s a bit fruitcake, I’m afraid.

  103. David Marjanović says:

    The only scientific context I know of is the official diagnosis of a new plant species, which had to be in Latin last time I checked (but the botanical code of nomenclature changes so often that… I might try to look this up tomorrow).

    Silly me, “Latin” was changed to “Latin or English” in 2011, effective 1 January 2012. That’s also when it was extended to all taxa that the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants covers; before that, fossil plants were not so restricted. Algae were restricted to Latin in 1958.

    “English or Latin” will also be required for definitions by the International Code of Phylogenetic Nomenclature once it’s implemented, which could happen next year or the one after. But then, most definitions of clade names can be stated with just two or three symbols and no language at all.

  104. > But when indigenous people try to reclaim the original languages of their people in the face of the monolingual power holders, you don’t have the right to say that people who support this are “patronizing”, “arrogant”, or “supercilious”.

    That would depend on the source of their movement – ie whether their quest to reclaim their “original” languages is autogenetic, as opposed to being the product of influence by a dominant culture motivated by a belated need to comfort its own guilty conscience.

    > You appear to be filled with a seething hatred for minority or indigenous languages that outweighs anything positive you have to say.

    What an ignorant and unwarranted ad hominem.

    > What you appear to have to say is this: complete assimilation is the only way to a better life for marginalised people, in fact, any people. And it’s better for all concerned if they, and everyone else, speak the same language and only the same language. You’ve expressed this viewpoint many times. This is just gainsaying. There is nothing positive here at all. … In a world that is trying to come to terms with growing ecological and social/political issues, your great rallying cry is: “Get rid of all these minority languages”. I see little worth engaging with here.

    There are many ways to address marginalization. But do you know what doesn’t address it? Putting marginalized peoples in reservations where they can be “out of sight, out of mind”; where their societies can be fossilized for the benefit of tourism; where the objective costs in poverty, violence, unemployment, substance abuse, etc. are ignored for subjective measures of cultural authenticity; all so that the host society can claim that, after all, it’s preserving their traditions; that therefore, it can’t be called “genocide.”

    Indeed, the parallel with putting wolves and tigers in zoos is quite striking. What’s depressing is that the motivations also seem to be similar.

    Unlike you, I don’t find such situations positive or hopeful. I find them insulting, more than anything else. Perhaps you aren’t aware of the well-known phenomenon of ethnic ghettos, but I am; and their connection to misguided public policies that don’t so much as help people, as make politicians look trendy and progressive.

    Tell me: what, exactly, has this policy of “preservation” achieved for the natives of the US? Has it revitalized their communities? Has it reinvigorated their cultures? Has it changed the nature of the American body-politic and what it represents? No; and it won’t, because “cultural preservation,” when practiced for the sake of the culture, rather than the people, is nothing more than a code word for “segregation.” If Americans were serious about helping the Native Americans, then they’d either abolish the reservations and treat them like any other American, or they’d give them formal independence and stop telling them what they should be doing.

  105. If Americans were serious about helping the Native Americans, then they’d either abolish the reservations and treat them like any other American

    The reservations were abolished in 1924. The reason they exist today is that Native American groups fought for re-recognition and the return of their lands to (partial) Native control. Insofar as Natives aren’t treated like any other American today, it’s a matter of racism: they have all the legal rights of any American without exception. As it is, only 22% live on reservations, and if you exclude Alaska, probably far fewer. If you think that’s segregation, you don’t understand the concept.

    As for formal independence, “formal” is what it would be. Ask Botswana and especially Lesotho how independent of South Africa they are.

  106. If Americans were serious about helping the Native Americans, then they’d either abolish the reservations and treat them like any other American, or they’d give them formal independence and stop telling them what they should be doing.

    The reservation system is a faint compromise for the lucky few tribes who didn’t get cheated out of land altogether and declared officially vanished. As it is, they give at least some limited amount of self-governance and protection from takeover of those lands as well by the capitalist system.

    You won’t find many Indians living on reservations anywhere who’ll want to give up their land and be assimilated into American society at large. A number of unrecognized tribes are battling tooth and nail for Federal recognition, so that they may be eligible for reservations of their own. If anyone wants to be assimilated, there is no law that forces anyone to stay on a reservation. Like anywhere, there are traditionalists and assimilationists and everything in between.

    I don’t know where you got the idea that the abolition of reservations is what Native Americans want, as the only alternative to independent nationhood.

  107. I would not take anything Eidolon says all that seriously; some of us have decided it’s not worth engaging with him.

  108. Thanks, I hadn’t read him in a while.

  109. marie-lucie says:

    One problem with the image of “Indian reservations” (or in Canada “reserves”) is that when they were created they were quite restrictive about what the populations could or could not do without approval from “Indian agents” (who were not Indians themselves but ruled them), both within the allocated lands and outside of them, but little by little, in both countries the restrictions were gradually abolished, the Indian people became citizens, etc. This does not mean that conditions in those places necessarily improved, but they are extremely varied. For instance, on the coasts, people who lived mostly by fishing are still fishing, but in the middle of the continent people who lived by hunting and have been deprived of vast hunting grounds (replaced by fields of corn, wheat etc as well as pastures for cows replacing the vanishing buffalo ) lost not only their main means of subsistence but the beliefs and customs that went with them and gave meaning to their lives.

  110. > The reservations were abolished in 1924. The reason they exist today is that Native American groups fought for re-recognition and the return of their lands to (partial) Native control. Insofar as Natives aren’t treated like any other American today, it’s a matter of racism: they have all the legal rights of any American without exception. As it is, only 22% live on reservations, and if you exclude Alaska, probably far fewer. If you think that’s segregation, you don’t understand the concept.

    > The reservation system is a faint compromise for the lucky few tribes who didn’t get cheated out of land altogether and declared officially vanished. As it is, they give at least some limited amount of self-governance and protection from takeover of those lands as well by the capitalist system.

    > You won’t find many Indians living on reservations anywhere who’ll want to give up their land and be assimilated into American society at large. A number of unrecognized tribes are battling tooth and nail for Federal recognition, so that they may be eligible for reservations of their own. If anyone wants to be assimilated, there is no law that forces anyone to stay on a reservation. Like anywhere, there are traditionalists and assimilationists and everything in between.

    The reservations were not abolished in 1924. The Indian Citizenship Act grants American citizenship to Native Americans, but their land was and still is in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which treats it as public land held in trust with the “tribes.” Native Americans living outside the reservations are afforded the same legal rights as other Americans, but not those living in them. For instance, those living in reservations generally can’t own property, because the land isn’t private. They also aren’t necessarily governed by the same civil laws, since tribal laws can take precedence.

    Saying Native American house holds can always abandon their lands and communities, and move to the cities like third world immigrants, and start from nothing, is not a valid moral response. Do you estimate it’s easy for Native Americans who grew up on the reservations, without competitive education and financial resources, to survive in modern American society? The fact that nearly 80% of them voted with their feet even despite the challenges is itself a testament to the poor condition of reservations life, though in most cases, judging by the performance of Native Americans as a demographic group in the US, it’s just jumping from one impoverished life style into another.

    There’s nothing voluntary about being born on a reservation. Much of this exists only because under the logic of cultural preservationists, there should be a version of Native American society that is frozen in time, like a museum of the past. It has all the trappings of a medieval reenactment society, but for the lack of a consent form. Tribal governments historically signed the treaties because the practical alternative was worse – the dispossession of *all* their land. Today, many hold onto it because of vested interests like running casinos and tourist attractions, but that’s not a substitute for the vast majority of Native American house holds, which is why they left, in the first place.

    If the reservations were so popular among Native Americans, why’d their population choose to move out? Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions? The reservations weren’t created because Native Americans demanded it. The idea came from the US government, and they pressured the tribes to sign the treaties so as to get them off of premium quality land, and into places where they can be out of sight, out of mind. It’s a move that is widely acknowledged, today, as ethnic cleansing.

    It seems people here have a blind spot when it comes to inconvenient facts that don’t support the “save the culture” narrative. Native Americans don’t have real sovereignty. They can’t make deals with foreign governments for trade or investment. They can’t sell or rent or use their land as collateral. They can’t even engage in many economic activities without federal consent. For the average native born in a reservation, it’s a life of poverty either on the reservation or off of it. Only those who have genuinely assimilated to the rest of American society have access to the full benefits of being American, yet to do that, he or she would have to leave everything behind.

    When you look at the rest of the world, to the countries that hold actual sovereignty over their territory, the trend is clear: investment, development, participation in world trade. These are the strategies to achieve modern prosperity. Native Americans are held to a different standard, not because they wouldn’t have done the same, had they their own countries, but because they aren’t *allowed* to. Because their choices are either to abandon their lands and their communities to join a foreign society, or to maintain a tribal life style in perpetuity – and this is called “justice.”

  111. > The reservations were abolished in 1924. The reason they exist today is that Native American groups fought for re-recognition and the return of their lands to (partial) Native control. Insofar as Natives aren’t treated like any other American today, it’s a matter of racism: they have all the legal rights of any American without exception. As it is, only 22% live on reservations, and if you exclude Alaska, probably far fewer. If you think that’s segregation, you don’t understand the concept.

    The reservations were not abolished in 1924. The Indian Citizenship Act grants American citizenship to Native Americans, but their land was and still is in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which treats it as public land held in trust with the “tribes.” Native Americans living outside the reservations are afforded the same legal rights as other Americans, but not those living in them. For instance, those living in reservations generally can’t own property, because the land isn’t private. They also aren’t necessarily governed by the same civil laws, since tribal laws can take precedence.

    Saying Native American house holds can always abandon their lands and communities, and move to the cities like third world immigrants, and start from nothing, is not a valid moral response. Do you estimate it’s easy for Native Americans who grew up on the reservations, without competitive education and financial resources, to survive in modern American society? The fact that nearly 80% of them voted with their feet even despite the challenges is itself a testament to the poor condition of reservations life, though in most cases, judging by the performance of Native Americans as a demographic group in the US, it’s just jumping from one impoverished life style into another.

    There’s nothing voluntary about being born on a reservation. Much of this exists only because under the logic of cultural preservationists, there should be a version of Native American society that is frozen in time, like a museum of the past. It has all the trappings of a medieval reenactment society, but for the lack of a consent form. Tribal governments historically signed the treaties because the practical alternative was worse – the dispossession of *all* their land. Today, many hold onto it because of vested interests like running casinos and tourist attractions, but that’s not a substitute for the vast majority of Native American house holds, which is why they left, in the first place.

    If the reservations were so popular among Native Americans, why’d their population choose to move out? Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions? The reservations weren’t created because Native Americans demanded it. The idea came from the US government, and they pressured the tribes to sign the treaties so as to get them off of premium quality land, and into places where they can be out of sight, out of mind. It’s a move that is widely acknowledged, today, as ethnic cleansing.

    It seems people here have a blind spot when it comes to inconvenient facts that don’t support the “save the culture” narrative. Native Americans don’t have real sovereignty. They can’t make deals with foreign governments for trade or investment. They can’t sell or rent or use their land as collateral. They can’t even engage in many economic activities without federal consent. For the average native born in a reservation, it’s a life of poverty either on the reservation or off of it. Only those who have genuinely assimilated to the rest of American society have access to the full benefits of being American, yet to do that, he or she would have to leave everything behind.

    When you look at the rest of the world, to the countries that hold actual sovereignty over their territory, the trend is clear: investment, development, participation in world trade. These are the strategies to achieve modern prosperity. Native Americans are held to a different standard, not because they wouldn’t have done the same, had they their own countries, but because they aren’t *allowed* to. Because their choices are either to abandon their lands and their communities to join a foreign society, or to maintain a tribal life style in perpetuity – and this is called “justice.”

  112. > The reservations were abolished in 1924. The reason they exist today is that Native American groups fought for re-recognition and the return of their lands to (partial) Native control. Insofar as Natives aren’t treated like any other American today, it’s a matter of racism: they have all the legal rights of any American without exception. As it is, only 22% live on reservations, and if you exclude Alaska, probably far fewer. If you think that’s segregation, you don’t understand the concept.

    The reservations were not abolished in 1924. The Indian Citizenship Act grants American citizenship to Native Americans, but their land was and still is in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which treats it as public land held in trust with the “tribes.” Native Americans living outside the reservations are afforded the same legal rights as other Americans, but not those living in them. For instance, those living in reservations generally can’t own property, because the land isn’t private. They also aren’t necessarily governed by the same civil laws, since tribal laws can take precedence.

    Saying Native American house holds can always abandon their lands and communities, and move to the cities like third world immigrants, and start from nothing, is not a valid moral response. How are Native Americans who grew up on the reservations, without competitive education and financial resources, to thrive in modern American society? The fact that nearly 80% of them voted with their feet even despite these challenges is itself a testament to the poor condition of reservations life, though in most cases, judging by the performance of Native Americans as a demographic group in the US, it’s just jumping from one impoverished life style into another.

    There’s nothing voluntary about being born on a reservation. They were created, initially, as a carrot to coerce the tribes into surrendering much better territory to the US government, but they continue today because, for whatever reason, people believe there should be a version of Native American society that is frozen in time, like a museum of the past. It has all the trappings of a medieval reenactment society, but for the lack of a consent form. To be sure, certain natives have benefited, but vested interests like running casinos and tourist attractions are not a substitute for the vast majority of Native American house holds, which is why they left, in the first place.

  113. @marie-lucie

    One of the few who gets it.

    If the reservations were so popular among Native Americans, why’d their population choose to move out? Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions? The reservations weren’t created because Native Americans demanded it. The idea came from the US government, and they pressured the tribes to sign the treaties so as to get them off of premium quality land, and into places where they can be out of sight, out of mind. It’s a move that is widely acknowledged, today, as ethnic cleansing.

    It seems people here have a blind spot when it comes to inconvenient facts that don’t support the “save the culture” narrative. Native Americans don’t have real sovereignty. They can’t make deals with foreign governments for trade or investment. They can’t sell or rent or use their land as collateral. They can’t even engage in many economic activities without federal consent. For the average native born in a reservation, it’s a life of poverty either on the reservation or off of it. Only those who have genuinely assimilated to the rest of American society have access to the full benefits of being American, yet to do that, he or she would have to leave everything behind.

    When you look at the rest of the world, to the countries that hold actual sovereignty over their territory, the trend is clear: investment, development, participation in world trade. These are the strategies to achieve modern prosperity. Native Americans are held to a different standard, not because they wouldn’t have done the same in their own countries, but because they aren’t allowed to. Their choices are either to abandon their lands and their communities to join a foreign society, or to maintain a tribal life style in perpetuity – and this is called “justice.”

    Full sovereignty would solve this problem because it’d allow Native Americans to decide to what extent and how much change they want in their societies, instead of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Abolishing the reservations – which is very different from simply granting American citizenship, as in 1924 – would at least remove the federal barrier and allow their children to receive the full benefits of American education, social welfare, business employment, development, property ownership, etc. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution, it’d need a period of sustained affirmative action, but it’d be a whole lot better than pretending that these communities aren’t suffering.

  114. > One problem with the image of “Indian reservations” (or in Canada “reserves”) is that when they were created they were quite restrictive about what the populations could or could not do without approval from “Indian agents” (who were not Indians themselves but ruled them), both within the allocated lands and outside of them, but little by little, in both countries the restrictions were gradually abolished, the Indian people became citizens, etc. This does not mean that conditions in those places necessarily improved, but they are extremely varied.

    They’re still quite restrictive.

    Let me put it this way: if the reservations were so popular among Native Americans, why’d their population choose to move out? Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions? The reservations weren’t created because Native Americans demanded it. The idea came from the US government, and they pressured the tribes to sign the treaties so as to get them off of premium quality land, and into places where they can be out of sight, out of mind. It’s a move that is widely acknowledged, today, as ethnic cleansing.

  115. marie-lucie “One problem with the image of “Indian reservations” (or in Canada “reserves”) is that when they were created they were quite restrictive …”

    In the US, at least, they weren’t created to protect native culture as much as they were created to move natives off of better land, and onto worse land where they can be contained. It wasn’t voluntary – tribes that didn’t relocate themselves were forcibly removed.

    But even now, they’re still quite restrictive. Reservations are essentially regions that are autonomous in theory, but dependent in practice. The fact that 80% of the population voted with their feet says it all.

    The reservations are repackaged and sold today as some sort of natural preserve for natives, but that wasn’t the original motivation. The original motivation was ethnic cleansing, and it largely succeeded.

  116. It is best to think of American reservations as US colonies located within national boundaries. That’s what they essentially became by the end of 19th century.

    Giving Indians American citizenship in 1924 changed their status – they are now more like French overseas territories or Puerto Rico.

    That’s the trick the colonial powers play when they don’t wish to decolonize.

    See, no problem at all if you stop thinking that America is somehow unique.

    The Indians on reservations are still the colonized oppressed people, the Indians outside of reservations are the colonial diaspora with varying degrees of assimilation.

  117. Sorry, for 1924 read 1887, the Dawes Act. The pre-1887 and post-1934 reservations were entirely different things, and I was talking about post-1934.

    It is not inconsistent to live off the reservation and still want it to exist. SImilarly, there are about as many Jews in the U.S. as in Israel, and most of them are fiercely supportive of the Jewish state. But that doesn’t mean they are all making aliyah: far from it.

  118. Eidolon: You are arguing based on your ideas, not on any observations. I will tell you that I have spoken to people who live on reservations that are doing well, that have people moving into them, and which provide desirable economic and cultural resources to tribal members. Some reservations have expanded by purchasing land. I know people who have been cheated out of a reservation and are trying very hard to gain recognition so that they may have one. Yes, there are poor reservations, but that is because they are resource-poor, not because of their political system per se.

    For the average native born in a reservation, it’s a life of poverty either on the reservation¹ or off of it². Only those who have genuinely assimilated³ to the rest of American society⁴ have access to the full benefits of being American⁵, yet to do that, he or she would have to leave everything behind⁶.

    ¹Wrong, ²wrong, ³what?, ⁴who?, ⁵wrong, and ⁶wrong. This kind of patronizing speech (“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man” etc.) was somewhat popular 100+ years ago, and has brought eternal shame on its proponents.

    John Cowan: Excellent example, and I’ll add, many Israelis leave Israel permanently, but that doesn’t mean that they think that Israel is an anachronism that should be “integrated” into some other more dominant polity.

  119. None of my earlier messages appeared after submission; I assumed it worked like Language Log, where certain key words might be automatically filtered out as spam, and so tried to post it in different ways, summarizing the points, etc. It turns out there was a delay, and the end result has become a mess, so I’m disinclined to continue “debate,” especially since the site owner has expressed indifference to what I have to say.

    So I’ll make an end to it – the reservations system is a poor excuse of an attempt to preserve Native American cultures or to “empower” them, and that was not the original intention – which was ethnic cleansing and segregation. Cultural preservation only became a convenient narrative ex post facto to promote a new fashion of patronage, where the federal government takes on the role of “protector of native lands and cultures,” all the while ignoring the systemic malaise developing underneath.

    Reservations aren’t independent nations. They’re, at best, “autonomous regions,” because the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal government has the final say on the most important matters concerning land rights, resource use, trade, investment, security, etc. The correct parallel, as such, is not with Jews and Israel, but with similarly marginalized groups in Russia and China, like the Tatars or the Uyghurs. But the situation with Native Americans is actually even worse, because as much as 80% of the population live in virtual “diaspora” – and that says all you need to know about the state of the reservations themselves.

    When I say “abolish the reservations,” this is what I’m referring to. No doubt there are native interests in keeping them around, and obviously having *some* say over *some* land is better than *no* say or *no* land. After all, in the US as else where, land is wealth, and wealth is power. But this is a false dilemma. The alternative shouldn’t be *no* land. It should be land that the people could actually use to make themselves and their communities wealthy, not land held in trust by a federal agency that keeps them, as long as they live on the reservation, in a state of permanent dependence.

    On average, unemployment is exceedingly high on reservations; they have among the worst rates of poverty, violence, drug abuse, suicide, and gang activity in America – comparable to inner city ghettos and third world countries. They live, to a significant degree, on federal subsidy. These are the facts – they’re not my ideas. Opinions vary on what the solutions ought to be, but there seems to be consensus that the reservations system is inadequate. Whether it involves giving natives the right to lease their land without the government’s approval, or whole sale privatization, is debatable. But in either case, this would entail further integration with the rest of American society – which the vast majority of Native Americans already voluntarily agreed to do when they chose to leave, despite the immense challenges they faced in doing so.

    “This kind of patronizing speech (“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man” etc.) was somewhat popular 100+ years ago, and has brought eternal shame on its proponents.”

    No, *that* speech is patronizing because it assumes that only practitioners of European culture are humans, not because of how you chose to interpret it. The debate over the civic integration of indigenous peoples in modern nation-states is ongoing, and I don’t expect it to end any time soon. You might want to check out the academic literature on the subject. It shouldn’t be hard to find studies from last year, let alone 100+ years ago.

  120. If your comment is too long and doesn’t appear, cut it up into shorter comments. That will usually fix the problem.

  121. Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions?

    Ireland during the potato famine comes to mind: it was also a “dependent nation” at the time. But it is misleading to suggest that all urban Natives are emigrants: many of them have lived there for generations now. My Irish ancestors arrived somewhat later, but I’m not Irish except in a sentimental sense. (My brother, however, lives in Ireland and has assumed the Irish citizenship that I also could have.)

    that was not the original intention – which was ethnic cleansing and segregation

    Absolutely. But historical origin is independent of current use: ask any biologist. To take a random example, the common law, one of the great inheritances of the Anglosphere, began as a royal mechanism for undermining the barons’ authority over their tenants and serfs. That raison d’etre is hardly relevant today.

    The correct parallel, as such, is not with Jews and Israel, but with similarly marginalized groups in Russia and China, like the Tatars or the Uyghurs.

    Any analogy can be stretched too far, and your analogy is also sound.

    But the situation with Native Americans is actually even worse, because as much as 80% of the population live in virtual “diaspora” – and that says all you need to know about the state of the reservations themselves.

    Perhaps that’s better than the Russian situation, where the “titular nationality” may be a minority, even as small as 1-2%, of the people who live in the autonomous area.

    They live, to a significant degree, on federal subsidy.

    Israel survives, to a very significant degree, on U.S. federal subsidy and the remittances, if you want to call them that, of U.S. Jews. Netanyahu is where he is substantially because of Sheldon Adelson’s money and influence.

  122. So now we know where the crusader zeal comes from. Language revitalisation movements are a poor butt for your anger.

  123. David Marjanović says:

    So now we know where the crusader zeal comes from.

    That’s several steps of interpretation ahead of me; I don’t understand.

  124. Eidolon has been a consistently scathing critic of language preservation/revitalisation movements, which (I believe) he regards as imprisoning people in their marginal status and impeding them from attaining the economic and social benefits that the mainstream enjoys. His comments here go a long way towards explaining his passionate advocacy of this view.

  125. Have you ever known a country where 80% of the population emigrated because of poor economic conditions?

    Britain? I’m pretty sure that 80% of people with British ancestry no longer live in Britain, once you’ve counted up the British-descended populations of the US, Canada, Australia etc…

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