linguistic imperialism

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wojtek
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May 2 2016 17:09
linguistic imperialism

do you take it seriously? if one should, how do you counter it?

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fingers malone
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May 2 2016 17:56

Are you thinking about the role of the English language?

wojtek
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May 2 2016 18:56

Sorry yeah, in ESOL/TEFL, but I guess you can broaden it out since it's not confined to just European languages...

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Pennoid
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May 2 2016 20:02

I don't comprehend. Do people suggest that teaching english is imperialism?

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fingers malone
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May 2 2016 20:41

If you're worrying about the tefl and the spread of English, well, I wouldn't worry about it as in I don't think teaching English is doing something bad, (well, you would say that wouldn't you...)

The spread of the use of English can end up excluding people in quite a few ways. For example in universities in Spain they now insist that students pass language exams at fairly high levels, but the level of English that you get at an ordinary high school doesn't equip you for that, so this disadvantages people who couldn't afford private lessons or trips abroad. A lot of jobs started demanding English which previously didn't, so not just jobs in tourism and hotels but a really wide range of jobs now demand English, which people have to access through paying for classes. This is quite shit, but part of the problem is lack of provision in the public system.

In day to day life in England there's a problem with people demanding that everyone speaks English all the time in ways that are really unreasonable. My mum's neighbour being in high indignation because two supermarket workers were speaking their own language for example. I've heard loads of people seriously complaining if people speak their own language in public anywhere, on the bus, anywhere. So in that context I'd say, this is a really multi lingual place now, and English shouldn't always automatically be the only acceptable means of communication.

wojtek
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May 3 2016 12:08

I ask out of intellectual curiosity after reading this article and thread. My early thoughts are that it depends on how it is taught, the learner's motivation and how they interact with the language.

Edit:

Quote:
I don't comprehend. Do people suggest that teaching english is imperialism?

Some e.g. Phillipson suggest it is.

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Devrim
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May 3 2016 07:18

I don't really care about the reduction of language diversity. I can understand how it could be upsetting for the last speakers of a language, which is sad, but I'd also assume that most of the last speakers of a language would be bilingual.

For those who do care though the question emerges of how to make people speak a language when speaking the dominance language is for some reason preferable. This country used to have a massive variety of languages, which is decreasing year by year. The state has at times had campaigns to criminalize minority languages, which of course communists must be opposed to, but even here, much of the loss of diversity comes from assimilation. If you want your kid to get a good start in life, you bring her up speaking the majority language.

Devrim

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Is There No Alt...
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May 3 2016 07:39

i have a mate who reads french po-mo all day who said something along the lines of chomsky's work in lingustics being conservative and repressive. is there any truth to that? maybe it's just tosh.

cactus9
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May 3 2016 12:33

Language extinction is more than sad, it's a tragedy in my opinion. A language is a living thing like a species of animal and every time a language goes extinct we lose so much. Plus language extinction and linguistic imperialism almost always goes hand in hand with cultural imperialism.

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Auld-bod
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May 3 2016 14:04

I think cactus #9 makes good points.

My understanding is that language structures our ways of thinking. Anyone who understands more than one language has a way of understanding beyond the limits of their mother tongue. Unfortunately translation adds and subtracts, no matter how skilled the translator. I wish I was multilingual, as it would enrich my experience and understanding of the world. So I make do with translations, movies with sub-titles, and be glad that Shakespeare wrote in English.

The loss of a language cannot be adequately measured, any more than we may know the sound of voices from the past, before the invention of recording equipment.

ajjohnstone
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May 3 2016 14:37

Whatever happened to the popularity of those international languages like

Esperanto
http://www.worldsocialism.org/esperanto

Glosa
http://www.worldsocialism.org/glosa

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Devrim
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May 3 2016 15:12
Auld-bod wrote:
My understanding is that language structures our ways of thinking.

I think the consensus of scientific opinion today is that this isn't actually true.

Even if it were though how can you protect languages in the modern world?

Devrim

augustynww
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May 3 2016 17:12
wojtek wrote:
do you take it seriously? if one should, how do you counter it?

na przykład można zbojkotowac angielski i pisac po polsku, ale nie wiem czy ktoś zrozumie smile

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May 3 2016 17:27

Devrim #12

I don't think it is possible to protect a language artificially. Though it is possible to give minority languages respect.

Even if language does not actually structure our ways of thinking, the loss of a language cuts off much of our historical knowledge. Ancient texts from forgotten languages may be decipherable, though how much understanding is lost? Is it important? It's an open question.

P.S.
Is the modern opinion you refer to based on the idea that some mathematicians think in numbers?
I read of a mathematician being bored with Bach until he 'translated' the score into a mathematical form and recognised its beauty.

Years ago I heard a similar argument made for the artistic iconography of the middle ages being a form of language (its original meanings argued over by art historians, though widely understood by the population at the time).

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The Pigeon
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May 3 2016 20:02

About language affecting our ways of thinking... I feel that's pretty true... because, with the completely different sets of vocabulary alone, which are filled with so many different associations and shades of thought within each language. And syntax is important too no? In English we pretty much always say I do such and such... in Spanish you do rarely say Yo on itself, it is always conjugated. How can we say that does not affect our sensibility of our ego? Plus the fact Romance languages don't believe in possessing their own body parts... No wonder those Latins are so decadent!

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May 3 2016 20:32

I just re-read fingers malone #5, and was reminded that two weeks ago in Tesco the young woman behind the till was having a joke with the couple in front of me. They were chaffing away in Russian (I think). My attention was caught because this lass had served me a few days before and I’d not realised she was ‘foreign’. The couple left, and she turned to me with a smile and spoke in perfect English with no traceable accent. I was totally filled with admiration.

Later the lyrics of ‘Pirate Jenny’ sprang to mind:
‘But you'll never guess to who you're talking
No
You'll never guess to who you're talking’

wojtek
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May 3 2016 21:05

augustynww - hey, that's cheating! tongue

ajjohnstone
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May 3 2016 22:09

Auldbod

Quote:
I don't think it is possible to protect a language artificially.

I think we can see that clearly with Irish and Scots Gaelic.

When Ireland got its independence a lot of effort was put into reviving the language, much of it discriminatory against non-Irish speakers such as speaking Irish being a government job requirement. English is still the main language in the Republic.

Similarly you can start a tv station and change all the road-signs in Scotland but it won't stop the decline.

With Welsh, it was always a bit of geographically division in Wales.

Has Cornish been revived despite a campaign?

Quote:
Ancient texts from forgotten languages may be decipherable, though how much understanding is lost?

Liturgical Latin and Sanskrit Buddhist chants might still be considered alive, but are they really?

We have the case of India, with 22 languages (spoken by at least a million people) which means a lingua franca is required - Hindi and/or English. It has led to a nationalist debate. In Tamil Nadu, more people speak English as the second language than Hindi. In Mumbai there was a campaign against Hindi and English by Marathi speakers led by Thackeray, with shops having their windows stoved in if signs were not in Marathi.

But the differences in languages in India has created a vibrant movie industry not just Bollywood but elsewhere, too (music diversity, also)

ajjohnstone
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May 3 2016 22:24

Nearly half of almost 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will disappear by the end of this century - one of them does every two weeks...

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/05/tracing-ancient-europe...

wojtek
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May 4 2016 07:00

There's still unrest in India:
http://morungexpress.com/linguistic-imperialism-is-alive-and-kicking-in-...

I've read some material on academia edu on political economy of tefl and also the example of the Phillipines. I find the notion of appropriating/colonising English appealing.

augustynww
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May 6 2016 06:37
wojtek wrote:
There's still unrest in India:
http://morungexpress.com/linguistic-imperialism-is-alive-and-kicking-in-...

I've read some material on academia edu on political economy of tefl and also the example of the Phillipines. I find the notion of appropriating/colonising English appealing.

only if appropriated properly smile

wikipedia wrote:
Demonstrators in non-English-speaking countries often use signs in English to convey their demands to TV audiences around the globe. In some cases, the demonstrator may not even understand what the sign he is carrying says.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_imperialism#Appropriation

cactus9
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May 8 2016 12:41
wojtek wrote:
My early thoughts are that it depends on how it is taught, the learner's motivation and how they interact with the language.

I just came to post something similar before reading this.

I was going to say, with regards to what I think your original question was, feeling some guilt or concern about being involved in tefl due to linguistic imperialism. I think there are some industries that are indecently pretty evil, say big oil, and some that are inherently fairly decent, say working pro bono as a lawyer in asylum, but many where it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it as they say. And tefl is probably one of those I think. So if someone wants to learn English, for whatever reason, maybe because they want to travel to or move to an English speaking country, for work, or just to read Shakespeare in the original, if they learn in a good environment with a teacher with a good attitude, that will have a positive impact for them and their community. Although now I mention community I am starting to question whether the community impact of the English language teaching industry is positive or negative. I'm speaking from a culturally imperialistic western perspective so I could be wrong.

Something that I think is interesting about the tefl industry, and I have known a lot of people who work in it, my old housemate taught efl and I got to know many people at her school and another friend travelled for a bit teaching english, is that yeah it's a fairly dodgy industry I think in a lot.of ways but for people who stick at it for a little while and who stay in the industry as a career it always looked to me like a pretty good gig. You'll never be rich and it's not a hugely stable career but the wages are relatively quite high, although without many (any?) benefits. You can travel quite easily and have the freedom to pick up work. As long as your students are learning and not complaining I think you generally have quite a bit of autonomy. Once you get good at it I would say, as far as work goes, it's ok. Again this I mainly from what I've seen in one city and a small amount of experience teaching English myself. I guess all of that generally applies to middle class people who have had a good education so that's not ideal.

This post is very specific to tefl so I hope you don't mind that.

Bit of a brain dump there, I hope some of that makes sense.

cactus9
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May 8 2016 14:05

I think one thing that protects language diversity and people's language rights is protecting people's private lives and private time. I think that people probably mainly end up speaking a majority language in public, somehow commodified, spaces like work, education, commerce and some others that I can't think of. People pass down and along language and other skills such as maybe crafts in a much more personal and private way. Within the family, with their friends, in leisure and other activities that they chose to do.

And maybe something about the delicacy of holding a dual or multiple culture, or living in a minority culture or speaking a minority language as a first language without losing access to privileges held by the majority or more public culture.

I haven't done much reading about this so these are thoughts. It seems there is a term, proxemics which is about this notion of private space, mainly physical space but some people seem to use it to discuss private cultural space.

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May 11 2016 20:41

I heard this last night on the World Service and though it was very interesting:

'Benefits of Bilingualism - Part One' (27min)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03stqfh

EDIT:
More than half of the world's people speak more than one language. Some people may have been forced to learn a language at school or had to pick up one because they moved to a new country. Others may just love learning new tongues and do so before they visit a new place. Recently, psychologists have discovered that knowing more than one language helps us in some surprising ways. The skill of bilinguals to switch focus by filtering out or inhibiting one language to concentrate on the relevant one is the one that is thought to bring wider benefits. Schools that teach in a second language have found that their students do better in tests in their original language.
Gaia Vince explores the research that shows the benefits of bilingualism.

apoi_viitor
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May 12 2016 07:27
Devrim wrote:
Auld-bod wrote:
My understanding is that language structures our ways of thinking.

I think the consensus of scientific opinion today is that this isn't actually true.

Out of curiosity, do you know any links or sources for this? Linguistic relativity has always interested me.

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jef costello
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May 12 2016 08:06

I've tried to write something here a few times.

Basically I think losing languages is a shame but largely inevitable. I think we should be against discrimination and obligation but even without that languages will disappear. There is a long history of linguistic imperialism but the ubiquity of English is not really an imperialist project these days, just a product of economic imperialism.

BIlingualism is a good thing, I don't think it necessarily shapes your thought but the structure of languages can create ambiguities or express ideas and make connections that simply don't exist in another. I do think a second language does improve thinking skills, but that is learning it as a subject and it it might also be that those who are good at learning languages have better thinking skills to begin with. There are also a lot of bilingual people who aren't partiicularly thoughtful or intelligent, a language is a tool after all.

Bilingualism should be encouraged, but making the study of languages compulsory is pointless, I have taught masters students who have failed English every year since they were 12. They just get passed to the next year because they can't fail "just because of a language". It's completely pointless. Making English compulsory for jobs where it won't be used is another bad thing. I don't think it's imperialism though, I think it's partly a way of discriminating by class and it's partly just a sign of a job market where a degree is now demanded for jobs that less than twenty years ago would go to school-leavers.

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May 12 2016 09:35

jef Costello #26

‘Bilingualism should be encouraged, but making the study of languages compulsory is pointless…’

I agree with you, even further, compulsory teaching renders just about anything pointless (or at lease appear to be pointless).

I think it was Chomsky who recognized that there was a great ‘window of opportunity’ at an early age, which allows very young children to learn languages relatively easily. The radio documentary mentioned above appears to confirm this idea.

On the question of ‘language structuring thought’ this is good:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29language-t.html?_r=0

Rurkel
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May 12 2016 09:41
apoi_viitor wrote:
Devrim wrote:
Auld-bod wrote:
My understanding is that language structures our ways of thinking.

I think the consensus of scientific opinion today is that this isn't actually true.

Out of curiosity, do you know any links or sources for this? Linguistic relativity has always interested me.

Guy Deutscher's 'Through the Language Glass', John McWhorter's 'The Language Hoax'.

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May 12 2016 16:20

The John McWhorter book looks really good.

EDIT:
Just ordered both these books. Looks like I'll have to rearrange my mental scaffolding!

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jef costello
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May 12 2016 10:58
Rurkel wrote:
apoi_viitor wrote:
Devrim wrote:
Auld-bod wrote:
My understanding is that language structures our ways of thinking.

I think the consensus of scientific opinion today is that this isn't actually true.

Out of curiosity, do you know any links or sources for this? Linguistic relativity has always interested me.

Guy Deutscher's 'Through the Language Glass', John McWhorter's 'The Language Hoax'.

I enjoyed Deutscher's 'The Unfolding of Language' which, coincidentally, was lent to me by Devrim.

infektfm
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May 13 2016 20:29
5 percenter W.A.S.P. wrote:
i have a mate who reads french po-mo all day who said something along the lines of chomsky's work in lingustics being conservative and repressive. is there any truth to that? maybe it's just tosh.

The reasoning behind this sentiment on Chomsky's linguistic work, from what I gather, is that its conservative because it appears to imply some sort of universal human nature and moral code rather than all language (and thought) being structured by social construction. I personally think a mixture of Chomsky's ideas and those of the more constructionist schools is probably what's going on -- there likely is some evolutionary hard-wiring that imposes limits -- which may be the thing that makes linguistic creativity possible -- but I don't know clear or how narrow those limits are.