THE PAIN OF LANGUAGE REVIVAL.

Lameen of Jabal al-Lughat has a thoughtful post pointing out that “Not everyone welcomes language revitalisation efforts”:

Apart from anything else, it often implies that a major decision taken by you or your parents – to speak to the children in a different language – was wrong, and, by increasing your exposure to the endangered language in question, puts you in a position where you can’t help but notice that this decision’s implications are nearly irreversible. (I have speculated that this might be one reason for the less than enthusiastic reaction of some of the first speakers to have brought up their kids as Arabic monolinguals to my arrival in Tabelbala.)

He goes on to quote a moving post by the Scottish writer Ken MacLeod that moves from Gaelic-English bilingual roadsigns to a meditation on “forgetting the language, leaving it to dwindle in the Sunday-morning sermon and the ceilidh and the old folks’ private talk.” Well worth the read, as are Lameen’s recent posts on Kwarandzie.

Comments

  1. It’s a good point he makes, especially in his last paragraph. If I can generalize, the pain (or, more likely, awkwardness) comes with the realization that unless you transplant yourself into a pre-modern/separatist existence, revitalizing your language comes at the cost of numberless calques or misbegotten coinages. From my experience: if you want to say “download” or “tax deduction” in Yiddish, and do so using word choices internal to Yiddish (whether this is necessary is debatable, but never mind), you get made fun of by the old folks *and* the premoderns, and you feel like you might as well speak English where these words and the whole modern sensibility have a natural home.

  2. Excellent point.

  3. @”If I can generalize, the pain (or, more likely, awkwardness) comes with the realization that unless you transplant yourself into a pre-modern/separatist existence, revitalizing your language comes at the cost of numberless calques or misbegotten coinages.”
    I’m not a linguist, just a market research field supervisor, but in 2006, my firm was involved in a study on the health of the Maori language here in NZ. Reactions like the ones you describe were common, but overall the tone and outlook were much more positive than that. As a non-speaker, I’ve been listening to Maori news broadcast on TV since the early 80s, and have noticed a very significant decline in the number of English words being used. Not only are these coinages being used by the journalists and the young speakers who might be expected to be more comfortable with them, but even by older speakers, the same age demographic that recorded resentment at the “newfangled” Maori being foist upon them. This might be because of an awareness of the importance of such coinages in keeping the language relevant, or it might be because they are well thought-out, I don’t know. What I do know is that biggest groundswell of resentment at the increasing bilingualism here in NZ is from non-Maori non-speakers, not from the “lost generation” of the sort Mcleod is part of. Those who were of that lost generation, the ones in their 40s through early 60s who did not learn to speak Maori because their parents had it beaten out of them, tend to be more wistful than resentful.

  4. I forgot to post some links to the study in my earlier comment.
    Summary: http://www.tpk.govt.nz/publications/docs/factsheets/fs-tpk-maori-lang-2007.pdf (1MB PDF)
    Full report: http://www.tpk.govt.nz/publications/docs/tpk-rep-health-maori-langfinal2006.pdf (4.8MB PDF)
    Sorry about the long links, but it seems that my preferred link shortener is is non grata in these parts. Even the name of the service which contains the words “snip” and “url” together, is enough to prevent posting of a comment.

  5. @Stuart: try tinyurl.com – that one generally gets by
    Excellent meditations – thanks!

  6. David Marjanović says:

    You don’t need a link shortener*, you can do HTML here: <a href=”URL“>text</a>
    * Interesting new coinage, that term.

    if you want to say “download” or “tax deduction” in Yiddish, and do so using word choices internal to Yiddish

    This phenomenon applies to some degree to all borrowings. In German calquing is popular as always: herunterladen (except if you’re Microsoft), von der Steuer abziehen.

  7. “You don’t need a link shortener*, you can do HTML here: text
    Thanks. I normally do, but didn’t know this blog had HTML enabled for comments.

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