Posts Tagged ‘endangered languages’

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Language Misperceptions in Spain. The language problem in monolingual communities

May 18, 2013

by michelle (talkingpeople.net)

Because for 40 years we were told that in Spain people should speak Spanish, and people who belonged to bilingual cultural backgrounds were persecuted and banned from speaking their other language (which terrified everybody all the same), there is a Spanish-nationalism tradition in monolingual communities in Spain that exhibits (and exposes) this fact: those people’s very-aggressive hostility to bilingual communities. Why should they feel like that? Why such self-justified bellicose outrage? And what if there is resent among people’s whose language was banned? (Obviously, those who feel that need to overcome it, after decades of language revitalization policies and the end of past persecution.) What’s the big deal their heart warms more when they speak the language that was once persecuted? (If you were forced to stop speaking your family’s language, how would you feel?) Why should their heart necessarily love more Spanish than their community’s language? (I don’t mean to justify intolerance on anyone’s side, of course. I’m a free thinker and as such, I’m critical of all nationalisms, because nationalism is not — in my view — about collective identities but about collective impositions.)

In monolingual communities we are confronting a problem and people consistently refuse to tackle it: we need to consider, at least in Madrid, the kind of monolingual people who are always accusing bilingual people of intolerance are not aware that they are perpetuating a tradition which we should have already long overcome — the Spanish democracy re-started in 1976 and the 1978 Constitution included the acknowledgement that Spain was a multilingual country, a country where different cultures coexisted with the Spanish culture.

The 1978 Spanish Constitution recognizes the linguistic diversity in Spain in Article 3.3 where it states: “The richness of the linguistic varieties in Spain is a cultural heritage that will receive special respect and protection”. Co-official languages in Spain: Aranese (in danger of extinction), Basque, Catalan/Valencian and Galician. Other languages in Spain

Since the 1990s I’ve been bringing up this issue in my lessons, especially when I had Advanced level English students. I’ve tried to make people think critically about the biased opinions monolingual people help spread, distorting in this way the educational process of language and cultural respect to diversity in Spain. To this day (2013), I’m still shocked at the strength of people’s misperceptions, at how they defend these biased opinions as if this was a fundamental ideological issue in their lives, yes, a question of patriotism… Why should someone living in Madrid, an Autonomous Community in Spain, have a say about whether a Catalan person should not prefer to speak Catalan in Catalonia, another Autonomous Community in Spain? Why should they feel they can actually say / they have a “right” (!) to say that Catalans have to speak Spanish in Catalonia, when we’ve had Autonomous Communities – protecting cultural diversity – since the 1970s and 80s? From a democratic or linguistic stand, there is no way language and cultural diversity can be seen as threatening or negative for any community or any part of a community.

2009 Languages of SpainBy-default-mentality people (“ordinary” people) in monolingual communities in Spain say things as false, unfair and openly impolite as this — and it makes me feel so ashamed and overwhelmed that I can’t even react properly in spite of my knowledge and my role as a language teacher: “Galicians don’t know how to speak / write Spanish” (!! against ALL evidence!), “Catalans / Basques have to speak Spanish whether they like it or not because we are in Spain” (!! Francoist mentality!). Just two grotesque examples (grotesque, if we consider it from an informed and democratic standpoint). The fact is that monolingual communities speak only one language, and bilingual communities speak two, and they do. Why should monolingual people be unable to understand that there exists bilingualism in Spain? And that speaking your mother language or languages is a human right? And that languages that have been banned (!!) have needed language revitalization policies – which we have fortunately had since democracy started? Shockingly enough, in Madrid the educational authorities are pursuing bilingualism – not Quality Foreign Language Education, bilingualism they call it — with… English!, a language which is not in people’s cultural background, except people like myself, children from culturally-mixed marriages at the time when Franco, the dictator who isolated Spain from being in touch with the world (with the social movements in the 1960s for instance) welcomed US American airbases in the country. Except minority cases like my own, English is and will be a Foreign Language in Madrid (which doesn’t mean people can’t learn it well and also in the public education system, where we have qualified teachers like myself!)

People in monolingual communities in Spain like the Autonomous Community of Madrid should stop making the ignorant “jokes” and comments on bilingual people we hear every day. This shames us all. This speaks of people’s ignorance and prejudice, it does not “defend” any legitimate Cause. When we tackle the language issue we should exert some minimum respect, and express our questions and comments as such, rationally and with empathy (tactfully at least), because in our past there has existed a terrifying language reality that has made a lot of people suffer and we should not pretend Nothing happened. We should not use our questions and ideas as weapons for showing despise for a different language community. We should question our own perceptions and feelings (in monolingual communities), too, admitting we also have a trauma, the trauma of believing there are languages which are more important than others and should be imposed, if necessary.

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Languages in Europe

November 18, 2012

Protecting minority languages in Europe: If you don’t use it, you lose it!

Protecting Eureopean Minority Languages. In 1998 the European Union agreed to take action to protect minority languages in its Member States. Why do you think this happened?

Why a European Day of Languages (Sept. 26)

Language Facts

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On the Language Situation in Spain & Endangered Languages

November 6, 2012

Today, in class, with the Avanzado 2 group, suddenly, I can’t remember why, Lyons came to my mind (the linguist, the author of Introductions to Theoretical Linguistics, a book I read when I was at university, ages ago!!), and his blues on how speakers of a language feel no curiosity, no need to listen to what linguists can say about their language. It was the same kind of complaint Cynthia Enloe, for instance, a feminist, posed coining the notion “feminist curiosity,” hers a blues on how little feminist curiosity people had in spite of centuries of evidence on what life was(is) like for women on the planet. And well, suddenly I found myself speaking about the language situation in Spain from a linguist’s point of view. When I realized, I apologized, for we had used up the time to do one of the textbook activities. But people were really nice and said it had been interesting, that it was OK. So I got all excited and of course, tried to make the moment last longer! 😀 I continued with my blues on why considering the fact that our country includes various cultures with their own language and that we Madrilians moved to other Autonomous Communities on holidays, it was so hard to learn any of those languages in the Autonomous Community of Madrid.

Why can’t we learn any of the languages in Spain in Madrid, when our democracy (our Constitution) has acknowledged their existence and — obviously — protects them? (as compared to what the previous dictatorship did to those that weren’t Spanish). Why, if we live somewhere where 14 languages are spoken, are we monolingual in the Autonomous Community of Madrid? How much richer would our life be if we managed to be bilingual* and trilingual* as most of the population on this planet is?

*with 2, 3 mother languages to start off!

I hope the Occupy Movement, called 15M in Spain, manages to pick up this topic, and manages to move beyond the nationalistic standpoints that have made us feel people speaking a different language are not worth our curiosity, our willingness to learn. The most dangerous and beautiful and relevant thing this movement has done for us is precisely that — break the taboo and start discussing politics, because it concerns us all.

From my very insignificant place in my society, in the same constructive spirit as 15M, I’d recommend the exercise of listening to people who were not allowed to speak their mother language, to develop the ability to feel some curiosity that will allow one to listen to those people, or read about the subject. People who have not been subject to this cannot really imagine what it is like. I think this exercise could help the population to move on, approach the topic with better insight, a greater sensitivity. At least it would help us (as a group) to know that banning languages in dictatorships has nothing to do with intense language revitalization policies in democracies, that recovering a language (policies voted in Parliaments and validated by a Constitution) is not the same thing as trying to eliminate a language (acculturation war – part of modern Low Intensity Warfare).

One of the saddest things for me is how little we seem to remember what “dictatorship” means. I hear so often today! Let me pick up again the topic Dictatorships & Languages/Cultures. Do we know what it felt like for people to have their mother language banned? However, nowadays people speak about language policies as “a dictatorship.” We should be more accurate when we speak. We should love and respect words more. They mean things. We should develop a curiosity, a love for being more accurate. We shouldn’t use “dictatorship” even as a metaphor because it contributes to maintain unfounded perceptions and because metaphors are a source of great discovery in poetry, in literature, but a tool connected to ideological manipulation — whether intended, for the case of politicians, or unintended, for the case of ordinary citizens –when used to analyze political issues. And with these reflections I’m not thinking of we today in class, but on the wider picture of social pressure in Madrid, the region where I live.

Here is a little workshop On The Importance of Languages, in case you want to read David Harrison, a linguist! And if you want to listen to him, and get some very interesting information about languages in this planet and their rate of becoming extinct, listen to the National Geographic “Endangered Languages“.

Well, if people in the discussion wish to post their insight, you are certainly welcome. We do live in a democracy and this shows when people are able to speak about any kind of issues!

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A Workshop on the Importance of Language(s)

September 19, 2012

NEWS: Sorry, there were a few mistakes, and I fixed them on Sept. 26 (plus enlarged the font!) in case you want to print the improved version!

Dear people, a little workshop I designed on the Importance of Languages and Human Language. I hope you enjoy it! and get a copy of David Harrison’s book, When Languages Die!

If you were in any of my old groups of Avanzado 2, you probably listened to the interview to a Linguist, by National Geographic. The exercise was note-taking and re-telling. Well, you will find some of that info! Have a lovely day!

WhenLanguagesDie_01+activities – 7 pages, pdf file

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