Scaling Linguistic Diversity

The conference panel, “Scaling Linguistic Diversity: Language Standardization as a Scale-Making Project,” which I organized together with Sonia Das, was accepted for the 112th AAA Annual meeting to be held at the Chicago Hilton November 20-24, 2013.

Session Abstract

Language standardization can be usefully understood as a “scale-making project” (Tsing 2000). Standardization and linguistic differentiation (Irvine and Gal 2000) can solidify existing sociolinguistic hierarchies at the level of the nation-state, or they can challenge them, redrawing the map so as to link the local with the global in new ways. The metaphor of “sociolinguistic scale” (Blommaert 2007), based on the notion of “indexical order” (Silverstein 2003), rejects the simplistic micro-macro dichotomy, instead measuring processes of typification and framing through linguistic practices. This allows scholars to talk about the role of language in social as well as geographic mobility. Also, by treating scale as a “project,” it becomes possible to articulate its contested, ideological nature. Doing so opens up new possibilities for productive exchange between work on “language ideology” (Woolard and Schieffelin 1994) and “language and political economy” (Irvine 1989), as well as for interdisciplinary exchange around issues of heteroglossia, mobility, and indigeneity. In situations of linguistic “superdiversity” (Blommaert and Rampton 2011), scale accomplishes a lot of the work done by ecological approaches (Mühlhäusler 1996) without the burden of biological metaphors. Viewing language standardization as a scale-making project also helps to focus discussion of “linguistic fields” (Bourdieu 1977) onto processes by which official and “alternative linguistic markets” (Woolard 1985) are created. Finally scale has a temporal dimension, bringing together language trees and language maps to create vertical linkages that can either reinforce or transcend horizontal boundaries. Whether working with minorities, migrants, vernacular or endangered language communities, the papers on this panel treat language standardization as a scale-making project to explore contestations and debates surrounding language ideologies, interdiscursive processes, code-switching, and acts of sociolinguistic boundary-making. Through their attention to various scalar dimensions, metaphors, and processes, each of these papers breaks away from teleological views of language standardization that envision the authoring and institutionalization of dictionaries, religious texts and pedagogical materials as unilinear processes whose end results are a foregone conclusion. Some highlight how orthographic standards index competing language ideologies at different scales (Falconi), or how similar ideologies of scale index contradictory language ideologies pertaining to standards (Friedman). Others destabilize ideologies of diglossia (Fenigsen) and challenge simplistic notions of code-switching (Spreng) by revealing actors’ ability to negotiate evaluations of standards at multiple levels of scale. Another highlights temporal dimensions of scale by exploring how standardization naturalizes globalized pasts and futures (Das). In doing so, each of these papers raises important questions about the role of language standardization in social reproduction and social change: How do linguistic boundaries map onto geographic and temporal boundaries at different scales? How do language practices deploy scalar metaphors to index local, global, primordial, modern, and other identities? How do official language ideologies shape and, in turn, get shaped by scaling processes? How does one characterize standardization projects that cross multiple dimensions of time and space? Such questions relate scale to standardization by demonstrating the contested ideological natures of both.

Individual paper abstracts below.
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Kotahi Mano Kaika, Kotahi Mano Wawata 中文翻譯

學習瀕危語言(七) [Click for English version.]

作者:傅可恩/Futing; 翻譯者:施永德 DJ Hatfield.


其實,很多方面,這一次參加母語教學活動,使我想起當時準備 bar mitzvah(猶太教的成年禮)上希伯來文學校的日子。希伯來語雖然算是一個現用語言, 不過1970年代末80年代初改革派會堂的希伯來文教學方式,接近一個死語言(如拉丁語)的課程,卻沒有日常生活利用希伯來 文的期望,學生懂得如何發音,如何將簡單的祈禱文翻成英文就夠了,那樣就可以在朗誦經文時,知道我們在說些什麼。

讓我想到這一點,是那天跟一位同學聊天,當我提到我想要加強會話技能,就費了很多時間才能解釋,這樣使我慢慢體會,我的同學其實不會想要在 日常生活講阿美族語,他們想要的是,通過語言教學,獲得更多有關他們自己的文化的知識。這項母語課程,也剛好為了他們的目標而設計,我們每週先讀一篇訪問部落耆老的田野紀錄,再學習新詞,然後翻譯課文,最後我們一起朗誦課文。這種課程並沒有要求學生構造合乎阿美族語文法的句子。

這樣以來,我很高興花蓮部落大學以及國立東華大學原住民民族學院能夠邀請紐西蘭基督堂城理工科技學院毛利及太平洋研究中心 (Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology Center for Maori and Pasifika Studies) 的兩位毛利族語活動家,Hana O’Regan和Megan Grace,來花蓮分享他們珍貴的經驗以及想法。Hana和Megan兩位老師 語言復振途徑,跟台灣常見的教學方式有點不相同,他們強調現用語言的建構過程,因此,他們工作地點在於家庭而不限於課堂。

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Consider the word ‘balti’

Consider the word ‘balti’ for instance; derived from the Portuguese ‘balde’, it probably referred originally to ship’s buckets: today, no Indian household is complete without a set of tin or plastic baltis, just as no English town is without its supply of  ‘balti chicken‘, which was probably also a Laskari invention.

via Amitav Ghosh.

Seven Ways to Talk to a White Man

…over the years I’ve compiled a mental inventory of the various ways in which people [in Taiwan] respond to the challenge of having to talk to a foreigner. What follows is a list of seven ways strangers react when they have to talk to me…

Agamben on Bandits and Werewolves

Agamben on bandits and werewoves:

The medieval ban also presents analogous traits: the bandit could be killed (… “ ‘To ban’ someone is to say that anyone may harm him”…) or was even considered to be already dead (…“Whoever is banned from his city on pain of death must be considered as dead”…). Germanic and Anglo-Saxon sources underline the bandits liminal status by defining him as a wolf-man (wargus, werwolf, the Latin garulphus, from which the French loup garou, “werewolf,” is derived) : thus Salic law and Ripuarian law use the formula wargus sit, hoc est expukus in a sense that recalls the sacer esto that sanctioned the sacred man’s capacity to be killed, and the laws of Edward the Confessor (1030-35) define the bandit as a wulfesheud (a wolf’s head) and assimilate him to the werewolf (…“He bears a wolf’s head from the day of his expulsion, and the English call this wulfesheud”). What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city – the werewolf – is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city. That such a man is defined as a wolf-man and not simply as a wolf (the expression caput lupinum has the form of a juridical statute) is decisive here. The life of the bandit, like that of the sacred man, is not a piece of animal nature without any relation to law and the city. It is, rather, a threshold of indistinction and of passage be-tween animal and man, physis and nomos, exclusion and inclusion: the life of the bandit is the life of the loup garou, the werewolf, who is precisely neither man nor beast, and who dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither.

Homo Sacer, p. 63

Letter from a six year old e.e. cummings

From the Wikipedia entry on e.e. cummings:

The seeds of Cummings’ unconventional style appear well established even in his earliest work. At age six, he wrote to his father:


Associate Professor Fu

When I first came to Taiwan to teach, my colleague introduced me to a local purveyor of sweetened tofu 豆花 in the night market outside of school. This woman said to me: “Fu Jiaoshou 傅教授 [“Professor Fu” – my Chinese surname]? That mean’s you’ll always be Associate Professor 副教授 [Fu Jiaoshou]!”

The pun doesn’t translate well into English, and I hope it isn’t true (I’d like to be a Full Professor one day…), but when she said it I was only an Assistant Professor and I’m happy to say that, as of today, I’m truly “Fu Jiaoshou”!

Conservative Rhetoric: Caught between Scylla and Charibdes

With regard to the economy, conservatives always preach restraint in the face of forces beyond our control, warning of unintended consequences if we overreach.

E.g. David Brooks:

But you don’t have the power to transform the whole situation. Your discrete goods might contribute to an overall turnaround, but that turnaround will be beyond your comprehension and control.

With regard to war, however, conservatives always insist on the need to act, no matter what. If you don’t support their morally, legally, politically, and strategically questionable course of action they insist that inaction is not a possibility—daring you to offer up a slightly-less-horrible course of action instead.

E.g. Christopher Hitchens:

As we engage with the horrible idea that our government claims the right to add its own citizens to a death list that is compiled by methods and standards unknown, we must concede that no government on earth faces such a temptation to invoke what I suppose we could call a doctrine of pre-emptive self-defense. Those who share my alarm at the prospect of this, and of the ways in which it could be abused, are under a heavy obligation to say what they would do instead.

Icelandic Names

Today’s New York Times article about how Swedes are choosing new names for themselves probably belongs in the large folder of non-trend trend articles in the Times. (“Last year, there were 7,257 name changes” out of a population of over nine million…) But be that as it may, it gives me an excuse to link to my favorite story from the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland:

It’s also forbidden to bestow non-Icelandic or foreign-sounding names upon Icelandic children. Even foreign immigrants must take on Icelandic names before citizenship will be granted. The only exception ever made was for conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy (which led a subsequent immigrant to request the new Icelandic name ‘Vladimir Ashkenazy’!).

(Thanks to John Emerson for pointing out the percentages.)

Love – ING

Over at Mark Swofford notices a new trend of inserting “ING” at the end of Chinese verbs. When I twittered about this, Zonble pointed me to the above song by MayDay, the title of which is 戀愛ing (Lianai – ING), meaning “loving” or “romancing.” Interestingly, if you listen to the song they don’t pronounce it the way I thought they would. Instead of saying “ing” as in English, they spell out the letters. I suppose that reflects the derivation of this practice from the written form in online chatrooms and the like.

UPDATE: Also see this 1994 study on the “Assimilation of Roman letters into the Chinese writing system.”

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