Posts Tagged ‘john lyons’

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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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