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Economy and wealth in the maintenance of endangered languages.

A sociolinguistic perspective

Economy and wealth in the maintenance of endangered languages. A sociolinguistic perspective

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Abstract

This dissertation aims to discuss the dissimilarities between the sociolinguistic approach to endangered languages revitalisation and the approach adopted by legal instruments and will suggest that the latter fails to address the issue of economic disadvantage of minorities, which Sociolinguistics identifies as a central player in the process of language loss. The main linguistic ideas concerning the solutions to the extremely accelerated language death phenomenon will be discussed and then compared to what has been codified about the issue. After determining precisely that the issue of economy and wealth is absent when treating linguistic minorities, this paper will discuss the works of both Hudson and Edwards, as well as others, to understand the consequences of this omission. This discussion is partially explained by the existence of language-based prejudice, which created a hierarchy of languages. Hudson wrote about the subjective inequality of accents and that theory will be adapted in this paper to help understanding the ideas of advantage and disadvantage in a situation of linguistic conflict. The supremacy of some populations over others can and does change the way linguistic minorities see their language and, once that feeling of humiliation, embarrassment and shame about their language is felt, the direct outcome is that they tend to decide not to transmit it to future generations, bringing the language to a risky and almost certainly fatal situation. This work understands that international human rights do not currently address this economic matter and this brings about two consequences. The first is that the lack of compulsion on Governments to spend money on these groups makes all the other granted rights weaker and extremely difficult to implement. For instance, it is impossible for poor and disadvantaged communities to set up schools, translate official documents, engage themselves in cross-border communications or name streets in their languages without governmental help. The second and most important consequence is failing to acknowledge the economic fragility of the linguistic minorities. This makes all the effort to recuperate languages inefficient, as it misses the main point to be considered. The cost of this lapse is severe. All the efforts to build up minority speeches might have been in vain as the evidence demonstrates that a poor economy is the one factor that links most of the dying languages. The languages which do not match this scenario tend to be spoken by isolated communities with little contact with outsiders.


1.Introduction

Languages have always died. They disappeared as a consequence of a variety of reasons, from wars and invasions to natural phenomena that killed most of the speakers of particular communities [01]. Throughout human history they have emerged and ceased to exist as the cultures in which they were used have come and gone. That is not necessarily considered as a negative phenomenon, but rather as a normal episode of the times. It is known that a vast number of languages from the classical times are no longer alive, such as Bithynian, Cilician, Pisidian, Phrygian, Paphlagonian, Etruscan, Sumerian, Elamite and Hittite [02]. There are probably a large amount of others which have not left clues behind and therefore are not counted as extinct or ever existent. But, if on the one hand language death is common, on the other hand the scenario shown in the last decades may be too extreme, with a large number of languages dying out in a short period of time.

Having precise numbers for languages that face extinction has been a challenge. Surveys have been made with no pre-established method and were subjected to the interpretation of the researcher, which has obviously led to over and underestimations. Indeed, a number of issues can influence the final results. Some languages are known by several different names, while other names describe a number of different languages. For example, one language in the Nigerian district of Plateau State is known by 12 alternative names: Berom, Birom, Berum, Gbang, Kibo, Kibbun, Kibyen, Aboro, Boro-Aboro, Afango, Chenberom and Shosho. Quechua, in contrast, is said to be a cover-name for a dozen languages. Another issue is the distinction between a language and a dialect. Two speech systems are considered to be dialects if they are mutually intelligible, but this pure linguistic ground can be distorted by political criteria. As an example, the mutually intelligible Swedish, Danish and Norwegian have statuses as separate languages [03]. Despite these and a number of other difficulties, the approximate size of the problem is thought to have been reached. The Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project (HRELP) based at SOAS, University of London, estimates that there are 6,500 languages currently spoken in the world, half of which are under threat of extinction in the next 50 to 100 years. [04]

This widespread phenomenon of endangerment of minority languages, allied with historical events such as the fall of Communism in the former Eastern Bloc and the ensuing outbreak of ethnic tensions in Central and Eastern Europe [05] gave rise to the need for a movement of revival of linguistic rights. After 1990, with intensified work by the Council of Europe, OSCE and EU [06], the protection of minorities have occupied permanent place in international law debates. In 1992 the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages drew attention to the linguistic rights of minorities, functioning as a milestone in the safeguard of multilingualism in general. Europe was, then, leading the world awareness about the threats to cultural richness if enough was not done to save languages at risk. The preamble of the mentioned charter illustrates this concern and states that "the protection of the historical regional or minority languages of Europe, some of which are in danger of eventual extinction, contributes to the maintenance and development of Europe's cultural wealth and traditions".

Previous to this legal support, sociolinguists had put a great deal of effort into trying to find out the reasons for language death and how this could be reversed. This study aims to discuss the dissimilarities between the sociolinguistic approach to endangered languages revitalisation and the approach adopted by legal instruments and will suggest that the latter fails to address the issue of economic disadvantage of minorities, majorly discussed by sociolinguistics as a fundamental point in language maintenance. It will also be discussed the consequences of this omission. While there is now open debate and even a certain amount of achievement about schools operating in minority languages, use of minority languages in the access to justice and street signalisation in minority languages, Governments have been excused from the responsibility of empowering these communities through economic development, therefore making their lives unviable amongst the mainstream society formed by the speakers of the majority language.

In order to understand the current questions and concerns about language revitalisation, the main theoretical contexts will be discussed next, exploring the linguistic approaches to what might be the solutions to the extremely accelerated language death phenomenon. After that this paper will present the understanding rights have about the theme and what was in fact codified in order to protect linguistic minorities. This will be followed by the actual analysis and discussion about how the sociolinguistic doctrine differs from the practical linguistic rights and how the economical disadvantage of minorities influence their self-esteem and makes them opt not to teach their languages to future generations. It will also explore how the empowerment of endangered language speakers is believed to effectively strengthen languages and the consequences of the lack of this economy-related factor in law. Subsequently there will be a summary of the main findings, as well as points of consideration for further research.


2.Literature review

After identifying language death as a problem, scholars started the search for solutions. David Crystal points that there are many obstacles to succeed in the long journey towards language revitalization. He states that "we know a great deal about why languages become endangered and die, and why people shift from one language to another, but we still know very little about why they are maintained and why people stay loyal to them". [07] In reality, different languages respond differently to stimulus, making it difficult to theorise and generalise a safe policy to ensure their maintenance. In the case of the Maori of New Zealand, a strong ethnic community involvement since the 1970s seemed to do the job, with a long-established literacy existence among the Maori and the adoption by the Government of policies that included their language into the curriculum of schools. The Ugong of Thailand, on the contrary, has died in the places where the interaction with Thai was bigger and has survived in geographical areas which are relatively isolated, where the community was more likely to be economically self-sufficient and had little contact with outside groups.

In fact, everything seems to change from group to group. Willem Fase, Koen Jaspaert and Sjaak Kroon explore the different attitudes an ethnic group may have in a language contact situation. They divide the behaviours in four, as follows:

1.The ethnic group might decide not to communicate if not in their own language, avoiding contact with non-speakers;

2.The ethnic group can opt to use their own language to establish communication. In most cases the dominant group will reject this option, but it might happen that it accepts this choice as a legitimate form of contact;

3.The two groups can choose to communicate in a third language;

4.The minority group adapts and uses the dominant group language to communicate, which is the most frequent situation [08].

But what do these behaviours depend on? After all, what can be done to preserve endangered languages? Sociolinguistics tried to answer this question and, in spite of small divergences between the academics, some factors turned up so frequently that they could be recognised as postulates for a theory of language revitalization. This study is going to use David Crystal’s important work to illustrate what Sociolinguistics believes the solutions are. The first five points are related to the themes of education, media and law. The last one, to economy and wealth.

It has been repeated thoroughly that an endangered language will survive if its speakers have a strong presence in the educational system. [09] It is known that the presence of the language in the home is the priority, but if it is not also present at school, the future of the language tends to be bleak. Crystal explains that the role of the school in helping the child using its mother tongue is now well understood, after decades of study and research. The school setting provides a wide range of opportunities for children to use the language in all its facets: speaking it to their colleagues, learning new vocabulary and engaging with literacy, which will broaden the range of knowledge accessible to them. Bilingual education is to some extent a mixed blessing. It makes it possible for children to practice their mother tongue with others in a natural way, but also introduces them to the very foreign influences that threatened their language in the first place. Nevertheless, the key point about being taught in the endangered language tends to hold, which is the increase in the pupils’ self-confidence that comes with the knowledge of their language’s history, folklore and literature.

An endangered language is also said to progress if its speakers can write their language down, which is perceptibly part of the previous point but requires separate attention due to its importance. There is no guarantee a language will survive because it can be written down, as one can infer from the classical languages that disappeared and left nothing behind but written records, but it is enormously more assured if it can. The reason is not only to preserve data for posterity, in which case a large number of audio and video recording would suffice. The writing down of a language requires a very elaborate linguistic work to analyse the best way to turn the sound system into symbols and to prepare material such as grammars and dictionaries. It is an extremely bold maintenance policy with several difficulties. First, the community itself may resist. If literacy was never part of a culture, the speakers might see it not as a gain, but rather as a loss of ownership and a surrendering to the outside world. Some peoples have a very strong oral tradition, in which dynamism, tones of voice, melodies, gestures and facial expressions play an important role. Once written down, these stories become static, reduced in form, imprisoned in the alphabetic system and lacking the dialogue element. A second problem is choosing which variety of the language to write down. When a particular dialect is chosen it inevitably acquires a higher status, which can result in community divisiveness and accelerate the loss of the other varieties. Although risky, literacy programs have been implemented with success in hundreds of endangered language situations and are a priority in the majority of revitalisation projects [10].

Another factor discussed in the maintenance and promotion of language on the verge of death is the use of electronic technology. This is to a large extent a hypothetical postulate, as many parts of the world with language loss problems do not have access to electronic technology and, at times, not even to electricity. This is also an expensive investment and usually only wealthier speakers can afford it. However, whenever possible, the Internet showed to be a good means of spreading the language and making it available to those interested, with the cost of a web page being the same for all. This is particularly important because it overcomes geographical barriers and allows speakers to communicate from distant places, whereas it is acknowledged that the dissolution of communities via migration has been an essential aspect of language deterioration [11].

An endangered language will progress if its speakers increase their prestige within the dominant community [12]. For that to happen, the dominant community needs to notice the endangered one. Increasing its visibility or profile can only happen, according to Crystal, through access to the media, from churches and community centres’ news to television. The mainstream speakers need to have access to the language to be revitalised. The aim is to move from the initial domain to be explored in the media, such as arts or religion, to more and more sectors. With political support, the minor language can be used in law, business, public administration, advertising, place names, road signs and on public signs in general. It is believed this connotes the acceptance of the minority language by the majority language speakers.

The other factor said to help the minority languages to progress is the increase of its speakers’ power in the eyes of the dominant community [13]. This point is interesting as it refers to the attention legal statements drew to minority languages. Crystal notes the trend of sympathy to indigenous languages in the last decades all over the world, with emphasis in Europe. He points to the rise in linguistic rights documents as responsible for this behaviour. In 1981, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that proposed a Community charter to deal with regional languages and cultures and the rights of ethnic minorities. In 1992, the Council of Europe adopted the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which came into force on 1 March 1998. Likewise, other parts of the world also made efforts, with the USA passing two Native American Language Acts in 1990 and 1992, the 1991 Colombian Constitution giving indigenous languages official status in their own territories, etc.

The last factor pointed by Crystal discusses the issue of language loss from the point of view that the minority speakers are less wealthy and economically disprivileged. He believes an endangered language will progress if its speakers increase their wealth relative to the dominant community. He quotes Grenoble and Whaley when they observe that economics "may be the single strongest force influencing the fate of endangered languages" [14]. A change in the economic fortune of a community has the most certain impact in their self-esteem. The strong economy of certain minority language communities backs them in their will of using their mother tongue. Crystal believes the strengthened economy of Catalonia, for instance, has been the strongest reason why Catalan is still widely spoken there. The relationship between economy and the loss of minority languages discussed by Crystal is present in every relevant work on sociolinguistics. This presence is not recent. Classical authors such as Fishman and Edwards had already examined it.

Gellner, quoted by Edwards, defends the idea that the change in the importance of language is due to the rise of nationalism and that men do not become nationalists from sentiment or sentimentality, atavistic or not, well-based or myth-founded; they become nationalists through genuine, objective, practical necessity, they become nationalists grounded in economics. Gellner does not consider language especially important and states that "if switching of language were the only problem, no new divisive nationalism need ever arise" and that "changing one’s language is not the heart-breaking or soul-destroying business which it is claimed to be in romantic nationalist literature". [15]Edwards names more authors who discussed linguistics as an economy-dependant field. He states that Dorian wrote that "language loyalty persists as long as the economic and social circumstances are conductive to it", William observed that "language allegiance is firmly rooted in economic order rather than in any independent cultural order", that Fishman has protested against "economic reductionism" and Ridler has questioned the "priceless" nature of language and identity. [16]

Edwards identifies three distinct groups when it comes to the relationship between economy and language [17]. He affirms that there are indeed cases in which economy does not explain language shift or retention. Some groups have their language tied to their main activity in life, such as religion. In fact, some groups are even willing to undergo privation, suffer persecution or die for their religion, which is surely not an economical behaviour. Such communities, however, are increasingly rare and, even within them, those behaviours are limited to a small number of members.

A second and more common instance are the groups who support the retention of language and cultural markers where this does not represent an economical advance and where there is no link to religion or to something as crucial. With no economical or metaphysical pay-off, it is thought that the key factor for these groups is that their language might not contribute to them economically, but, equally, it does not lead to material loss. Groups in this category tend to be secure enough and have some psychological and economic capital to spare. This usually appeals to those who are strongly positioned within society, forming a minority intellectual group different from the ordinary majority members, on behalf of whom they believe to speak.

Finally, Edwards states that "For most groups and for most individuals within them, pragmatic or economic issues have top priority. It is for this reason that language shift occurs and that calls for the retention of language (or other markers of groupness) are usually without broad appeal." [18] This grip on reality is not a conscious one, differently from the conscious attention to language which is so much part of nationalistic appeals. Again, Gellner reminds us that "The self image of nationalism involves the stress of folk, folklore, popular culture, etc. In fact, nationalism becomes important precisely when these things become artificial. Genuine peasants or tribesmen, however proficient at folk-dancing, do not generally make good nationalists". [19]

A region that is economically depressed has its language unavoidably linked to penury and backwardness. A non-economic intervention in the language situation would not attack the problem at its root and would therefore produce ephemeral results. Similarly, economic interventions on behalf of linguistic and cultural goals usually manifest themselves in temporary or isolated measures. Edward explains that success would require an effort of sustained political will from those most directly involved. [20]

With sociolinguistics identifying economy as a central player in the fate of languages, one would expect this to be adopted as a main principle in language maintenance, employed by Governments on the protection of the linguistic minorities and with a strong presence in every treaty and convention on linguistic rights. This paper argues that this has not happened yet.


3.Methodology

The participation of law in the process of language revitalization could be analysed in three different ways: (1) there is no possible action able to stop language loss, therefore a rights based approach is irrelevant; (2) it is possible to diminish language loss but this is responsibility of a different field of science, in which case a rights based approach is again inappropriate; (3) Rights should take important part in language recuperation and are partially responsible for its failure.

Why was it decided here that options 1 and 2 are not correct? Why should legal instruments be targeted when discussing this problem? The first option cannot be accurate and the literature review above provided plenty of material to explain why. It is not a simple and easy task, but it is possible to stop language loss. Any linguistic guide found in libraries or on the Internet can illustrate this with cases of languages that were saved. As an example:

"Probably the most heart-warming case is in Paraguay, where Guaraní has come to be the chief sign of national identity, with official status (since 1992), enjoying widespread prestige, attracting great loyalty, and spoken by over 90% of the population. Paraguay was formerly considered to be a Spanish-speaking country in which Guaraní had a presence; today, some commentators reverse the description, talking about a Guaraní-speaking country in which Spanish has its place". [21]

Option 2 should be equally refuted. Dunbar states two theoretical approaches to explain this. First, language is a fundamental constitutive element of personal identity. [22] Second, language rights have an "ecological" side, under which linguistic diversity, like bio-diversity, is valued in and of itself. [23] Therefore, rights cannot be silent when it comes to protecting languages, both because it is part of protecting people’s identities and it is part of protecting diversity. These two reasons exemplify why language maintenance should be the object of concern for Rights and, consequently, points position number 3 as the one adopted by this paper: law should take an important part in language revitalisation.

However, numbers indicate that languages are currently dying very rapidly even after different acts and conventions came into force, which indicates that revitalisation has not been successful. This study points out a fault in the development of legal statements on linguistic rights, which is the omission of the economy-related factor when trying to revive endangered languages. This omission will be detected using the method of comparison. The doctrine provided by sociolinguistics on the theme is extensive and always identifies the economy as one - if not the major - point to be considered in the promotion of languages at risk. Below, it will be discussed in which way the law responded to the theory provided by linguists and what was in fact codified.

The reason for this contrast between Sociolinguistics and Law is to determine precisely that the latter is missing the issue of economy when treating linguistic minorities. After that and most importantly, this paper discussed the works of Hudson and Edwards to understand the consequences of this omission. The basic method used is, then, theoretical, contrasting authors who wrote in two very different fields of science to find out what one could learn from the other; in this case, how Rights could benefit from the existent linguistic doctrine.


4.Legal approach to linguistic minorities

The most basic protection for speakers of minority languages is the principle of non-discrimination, expressed in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. (...)". This same right was guaranteed by Article 14 of the ECHR and in Article 2(1) of the ICCPR. In the 1990s it has been reinforced by several instruments, such as Article 4(1) of the Framework Convention, Articles 31 and 32 of the Copenhagen Declaration, Articles 3(1) and 4(1) of the UNGA Minorities Declaration and in Article 2(1) ad 2(2) of an Additional Protocol to the ECHR on the Rights of Minorities (the "Minorities Protocol"). [24]

Another guarantee to linguistics minorities in the principle of protection and non-assimilation. This principle can be found in a negative aspect, where a State only has to guarantee the freedom from assimilation, as determined in Articles 3(1) of the Minorities Protocol and 5(2) of the Framework Convention; or in a positive aspect, found in many of the recent minorities instruments, which contain legally binding obligations to protect minorities from violence and other forms of aggressive behaviour based on hatred. As an example, the Framework Convention provides in Article 6, paragraph 2, that "The Parties undertake to take appropriate measures to protect persons who may be subject to threats or acts of discrimination, hostility or violence as a result of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity." [25]

There is also legal protection of language and basic civil and political rights, such as the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association. Article 5 of ECHR guarantees freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, providing that "Everyone who is arrested shall be informed promptly, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for his arrest and the charge against him." Understanding the language is also guaranteed in the right to a fair trial. However, this only applies if the member of a linguistic minority does not understand the language being used. There is no right to choose his mother tongue otherwise.

Educational rights are perhaps considered the most important factor in promoting minority languages. Following this trend, Article 32.2 of the Copenhagen Declaration states that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to establish and maintain their own educational institutions, with private or public assistance. Article 14, Paragraph 1 of the Framework Convention safeguards the right of every person belonging to a national minority to learn his or her minority language. Art. 8(1) of the Minorities Protocol to the ECHR provides that "Every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right to learn his/her mother tongue and to receive an education in his/her mother tongue at an appropriate number of schools and of state educational and training establishments, located in accordance with the geographical distribution of the minority." [26] The Minority Languages Charter contains a wide range of provisions with respect to teaching the minority language and teaching through the minority language at the pre-school, primary, secondary and tertiary levels, as well as the training of the teachers and the monitoring of performance. [27]

As for the right to use a minority language in official contexts, Article 10(2) of the Framework Convention provides that "In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities." [28] This is echoed by Article 34 of the Copenhagen Covention, Article 7(3) of the Minoritities Protocol to the ECHR and Articles 9 and 10 of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Persons belonging to a national minority have the right to use the minority language in personal and place names. Article 11(1) of the Framework Convention provides that they have the rights to use their first names and surnames in the minority language and that these forms of the name should be officially recognised. Article 11(2) also gives them the right to use their language in signs, inscriptions and other information of a private nature visible to the public, while Article 11(3) requires the State to display traditional local names, street names and topographical indications intended for the public in both the minority language and the majority or official language. [29]

The right to access to media is guaranteed by Articles 19(2) of the ICCPR, that provides that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.". Article 9 of the Framework Convention and Article 11 of the Minority Languages Charter give similar provisions [30].

Various minority instruments provide for a right to cross-border communications, facilitating contacts between minority groups or with members of the same groups in other States. This right is present in Article 2(4) of the UNGA Minorities Declarations, Article 32.4 of the Copenhagen Declaration, Article 10 of the Minorities Protocol to the ECHR, Article 17(1) and other of the Framework Convention and Article 4 of the Minority Languages Charter. [31]

Another important right guarantees that linguistic minorities participate in decisions which affect them. This is provided by Articles 2(3) and 5(1) of the UNGA Minorities Declaration, Articles 33 and 35 of the Copenhagen Declaration, Articles 11 and 13 of the Minorities Protocol, Article 15 of the Framework Convention and Article 7(4) of the Minority Languages Charter.

Having discussed what sociolinguistics and what rights say about minority language recuperation, what stands out is the issue mentioned above: the lack of economic responsibility of the State in protecting languages.


5.Analysis and discussion

Comparing the rights conferred by the minority instruments and the solutions indicated by Sociolinguistics doctrine, it is possible to verify that the basics are similar. The key points recommended by linguists were codified and transformed into word of law. The presence of education in language revitalization was indeed converted into a right for linguistic minorities, the cross-border communication issue was addressed and the access to media had its importance recognised. However, wealth and economy-related factors seemed to have been somehow mislaid in the process.

The omission of the most important issue on language revitalisation is more that it seems when first looked at. The State is consistently freed from any kind of financial responsibility for its minorities, which makes it unviable for most rights to be put into practice. It was stated above that minorities have the right to education in and through their languages, however, Article 13(1) of the Framework Convention also provides that "The exercise of this right shall not entail any financial obligation for the Parties."

About this, Robert Dunbar writes that "At the end of the twentieth century, where universal public education is the norm, at least in developed States, the right to set up schools without any guarantee of State support is a hollow right at best, particularly in the context of minority language communities, which are often economically as well as linguistically weak and vulnerable". [32]

The incentives for State financial omission go further. In the Explanatory Report of the Framework Convention, Paragraph 74 provides that "(...) this paragraph does not imply positive action, notably of a financial nature, on the part of the State.", while Paragraph 75 that "This provision concerns teaching of and instruction in a minority language. In recognition of the possible financial, administrative and technical difficulties associated with instruction of or in minority languages, this provision has been worded very flexibly, leaving Parties a wide measure of discretion. The obligation to endeavour to ensure instruction of or in minority languages is subject to several conditions; in particular, there must be "sufficient demand" from persons belonging to the relevant national minorities. The wording "as far as possible" indicates that such instruction is dependent on the available resources of the Party concerned."

The same happens to other conventions and to other rights. The access to media depends on similar fragile support, with Article 9(3) imposing no obligation on the State to fund such efforts.Clearly too many conditions are imposed for the protection of minorities and, even if all of them are met, States only need to go as far as "possible", accordingly to the resources available.

Apart from this extreme benevolence to States when dealing with the rights that were granted to linguistic minorities, it is easy to realise that the right to be economically empowered was completely missed. This paper understands that this hits at the heart of the question. Being economically weak is a great part of the reason why languages disappear, which is why this omission in law is so significant.

To understand more about this, it is necessary to go deeper in the linguistic work done by R.A. Hudson. He writes on the correlation between linguistic and social inequality, classifying three types of linguistic inequalities. Hudson names them subjective inequality, strictly linguistic inequality and communicative inequality [33]. The first one is particularly worth a look as it helps explain the artificially-created hierarchy between languages.

Hudson describes the subjective inequality as being concerned with what people think about each other’s speech [34]. The "right way of speaking" would be nothing more than a mirror of the virtues the society values the most. In that sense, the way the intellectual or the rich people speak, for instance, would be considered the standard way, according to which of these features are most esteemed in the society. That classification, however, does not account different languages. This work is using an extended interpretation and including languages as well as accents, as this distinction is still not vital at this stage.

The subjective inequality explains why one can easily be tricked just by a difference of accents. One person can draw conclusions about another person simply by the way that person speaks. Someone with upper-class accent tends to sound more interesting than someone with working-class accent, no matter if what the latter is saying is actually more remarkable. Even if an ideal world could probably be free of all prejudice, jumping to conclusions in this way is a fact in the real world. This happens with accents and, going beyond Hudson, this happens with languages too. A disadvantaged minority language speaker will hardly ever be given a chance in a circumstance where the standard speech is different.

The explanation for this phenomenon is, in a larger degree, psychological. One needs information about people’s personality because if affects one’s own behaviour. When knowing the person for a very short time, one has to gather enough information about them to decide how to behave: Shall one speak to this person or not? Shall one lend one’s notes? Now, how can this information be collected without hardly knowing the person? Hudson suggests that people do it either by what we hear about them from others or by intelligent guess work [35].

The way someone speaks transmits a great amount of information about them and it would be surprising if hearers ignored this information. In fact they do not and this helps greatly in the intelligent guesswork Hudson suggests. It is possible to reach certain conclusions about gender, social class or education by the speech of the interlocutor. And finally, the gap from social classifications to value judgments is filled through the notion of prototypes, association with what one already knows from previous experiences. That elucidates why someone, judging only by the way another person speaks, can easily make the assumption that that person is, say, dishonest.

So, this is a positive mental process that helps people live in society, but, on the other hand, it is also a prejudice of the dominant language speakers, who basically assume they are in a superior position in relationship to the minority language speakers.

This language-based prejudice is a two-way process. Not only does the majority language acknowledge itself as superior, but also the minority language feels inferior, confirming the problem. There has been a gradual but steady move away from the view that disadvantaged language is substandard and an increasing recognition that it is a valid language variety [36]. That means that a language is not considered substandard anymore, but only nonstandard, if the conditions indicate so. The academic view that there is no better or worse language and that they all reach their communication targets, although attractive, may not correspond to the real feeling of those who speak minority languages in a situation of conflict with the mainstream one.

This process is intimately associated with economy and wealth, as the sense of pride of the mainstream speakers, confirmed by a sense of shame of the minority language speakers, are directly related to how rich they are. The sense of shame caused by language is not uncommon and should be addressed by law. Testimonials associating language with humiliation are rather frequent, such as these two examples. The first is a testimony of a Canadian Indian-descendent:

"Because they associate punishment, abuse and shame with speaking their language, my parents were prevented from teaching our language to my generation. I cannot speak our language, and as a result I was never able to communicate with my grandparents. Many indigenous peoples say they still associate punishment and fear with speaking our indigenous languages." [37]

The second one is about multilingualism in Pakistan and the oppression dominant Urdu and English exercise over more than sixty smaller languages:

"Moreover, there are many literary works in Urdu and other languages—not to mention one’s own observation—that show how embarrassed the poor are by their houses, their clothes, their food, their means of transportation and, of course, their languages. In short, the reality constructed by the rich and the poor alike conspires to degrade, embarrass and oppress the less powerful, the less affluent, the less ‘gifted’ of the human race. This relates to language-shame—being embarrassed about one’s language—and hence to possible language death." [38]

The sense of shame is undoubtedly a sign of economical disadvantage. John R. Edwards cites Houston to detail major contentions about disadvantaged languages, among them: 1. the language of the disadvantaged children is deficient; 2. the disadvantaged children do not use words properly; 3. the language of the disadvantaged children does not provide them with an adequate basis for thinking; 4. to the disadvantaged children, language is superfluous as they prefer to communicate non-verbally [39].

These arguments are only founded on prejudice and are easily refutable, but even if false, they circulate in people’s minds and cause real damages to indigenous societies who will rather learn a different language than be seen as deficient. Mainstream groups that discriminate against and put down ethnic groups will contribute definitively to the feeling of shame about their languages and will stop parents from teaching them to future generations.

It is in this pressure situation that the old language is slaughtered by the new. The first phase is a decline of the number of the people who speak the language. Usually, just a few rural speakers remain. If these isolated groups come into close contact with a more socially or economically useful speech, then bilingualism becomes vital for survival. The first generation of bilinguals is frequently fluent in both languages, but the second generation becomes less proficient in the dying language, in part though lack of practice. For that reason, the old language is spoken mainly by the old people. The few residual speakers are semi-speakers. They can still communicate, but they forget the words for things, get endings wrong, and use a limited number of sentence patterns. In the next stage, the younger will recognise just a few words in the dying language, such as plants, foods, names of towns. At this stage, the language is said to have died. [40]

The community "decision" to shift its language to an economically advantageous one is unquestionable proof that economy matters and, in fact, a lack of help in this sector can determine if a language will endure or not.


6.Conclusion

As a preliminary assertive for this work, it was concluded that languages are dying in a much accelerated speed and that this had already been the subject of intense studies by sociolinguists. A second main conclusion is that, amongst the various means for language revitalization, economy should play a key role as it is considered vital to the self-esteem and viability of minority groups in contact with a mainstream groups who speak a different and more advantageous language.

This study proposed to analyse what is missing from the legal instruments on linguistic minorities when compared with the sociolinguistic doctrine. This comparison paid off as it was clearly noticeable that the important economic factor was absent from the law. It has pointed out here that this omission is, if not alone, one of the main reasons for the failure to revitalise endangered languages and this happens in two ways.

The first way is that the extreme benevolence to States in relation to financial responsibilities towards minority groups made all the granted rights weaker and very difficult to implement, as it is impossible for poor and disadvantaged communities to set up schools, translate official documents, engage themselves in cross-border communications or name streets in their languages without governmental help.

The second and most important way is failing to acknowledge the economic fragility of the linguistic minorities. This makes all the effort to recuperate languages inefficient, as it misses the main point to be considered. The cost of this lapse is drastic. All the efforts to build up minority languages might have been in vain as the evidence demonstrates that a poor economy is the one factor that links most of the dying languages. The languages which do not match this scenario tend to be spoken by isolated communities with little contact with outsiders.

There are artificially-created hierarchies and economically-based supremacy of some populations over others that can and does change the way linguistic minorities see their language and once that feeling of humiliation about their language brings embarrassment and shame, the direct outcome is that they tend to decide not to transmit it to future generations, bringing the language to a risky and almost certainly fatal situation.

This discussion is partially explained by the language-based prejudice, which created a hierarchy of languages. Hudson wrote about the subjective inequality of accents and that theory was here adapted to help us understand the ideas of advantages and disadvantages in a situation of linguistic conflict. No community would spontaneously choose to abandon its language if not under very dramatic circumstances and it is clear that those circumstances are related with staying in a low position in the language hierarchy usually brought by financial misery and lack of perspectives.

This work demonstrates that the economic bleakness of ethnic communities as a problem not properly addressed by law. It also has to be considered that the condition of poverty and the law-making process are independent from each other. It is not being said here that legal gaps are responsible for the misery of linguistic minorities and therefore killing their languages, but that because these communities are generally poor and this is unquestionably killing their languages, legal instruments on the theme that miss this economic situation as a subject to be addressed also miss the whole point about keeping languages alive.

Identifying weaknesses in minority instruments is only a small step towards resolving the problem. More needs to be researched about how to encourage fresh and bold approaches in new treaties, conventions and instruments on linguistic minorities. Additionally, a means needs to be found by which the State addresses the economic need of endangered communities and acts positively to protect them.


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Note

  1. CRYSTAL, David. Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. P. 71.
  2. Ibid. P. 68.
  3. Ibid. P. 6-8.
  4. Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project. Available at: http://www.hrelp.org/ [accessed 29 August 2009]
  5. DUNBAR, Robert. "Minority language rights in international law" in "The international and comparative law quarterly",Vol. 50, No 1 (Jan., 2001), pp. 90-120. P. 90.
  6. PENTASSUGLIA, G. Minorities in international law: an introductory study. Strasbourg:Council of Europe Publishing, 2000. P. 119.
  7. CRYSTAL, Supra note 1. P. 127.
  8. FASE, Willem; JASPAERT, Koen; KROON, Sjaak. "Maintenance and loss of Minority Languages: introductory remarks" in FASE, Willem; JASPAERT, Koen; KROON, Sjaak (eds.) Maintenance and loss of Minority Languages. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1992. P. 75.
  9. CRYSTAL, Supra note 1. P. 136.
  10. Ibid. P. 140.
  11. Ibid. Pp. 141-142.
  12. Ibid. Pp. 130-132.
  13. Ibid. Pp. 133-136.
  14. Ibid. P. 132.
  15. EDWARDS, John. Language, society and identity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985. P. 92.
  16. Ibid. P. 93.
  17. Ibid. Pp. 93-94.
  18. Ibid. P. 94.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Ibid. P. 95.
  21. CRYSTAL, Supra note 1. P. 135.
  22. DUNBAR, Supra note 5. P. 93.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid. P. 101.
  25. Ibid. P. 104.
  26. Ibid. Pp. 110-111.
  27. Ibid. P. 112.
  28. Ibid. P. 113.
  29. Ibid. Pp. 114-115.
  30. Ibid. Pp. 115-116.
  31. Ibid. P. 117.
  32. Ibid. P. 110.
  33. HUDSON, Richard A. Sociolinguistics. 2. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Pp. 205-206.
  34. Ibid. P. 205.
  35. Ibid. P. 207.
  36. EDWARDS, John. Language and disadvantage: studies in language and disability and remediation 5. London: Edward Arnold, 1979. P. 70.
  37. FONTAINE, Lorena; PINTO, Anna. Rights of indigenous peoples, 24 June 2004.(Online) Equitas. Available at: http://www.equitas.org/english/programs/downloads/ihrtp-proceedings/25th/Eng_Rights-Indigenous-Peoples.pdf [accessed 03 September 2009]
  38. TARIQ, Rahman. Language policy, multilingualism and language vitality in Pakistan. (Online) Academy of Punjab in North America. Available at: http://apnaorg.com/book-chapters/tariq/ [accessed 03 September 2009]
  39. EDWARDS, Supra note 36. P. 136.. Pp. 73-74.
  40. AITCHISON, Jean. Language change: progress or decay? 2. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. P. 204.

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PASSOS, Daniel Nogueira. Economy and wealth in the maintenance of endangered languages. A sociolinguistic perspective. Revista Jus Navigandi, ISSN 1518-4862, Teresina, ano 16, n. 2885, 26 maio 2011. Disponível em: https://jus.com.br/artigos/19180. Acesso em: 8 ago. 2022.