Linguistic facismSep 07, 2009 by libjpn
Sep 07, 2009, 22:11:26 JanieM wrote:
lj, I have mixed feelings about this. Let's see if I can sort some of them out.
1. The incivility here, as in so many other ways in our current political life, is dismaying and scary. But I have also read that the media refuses to cover anything that isn't inflammatory, so it's hard to know how pervasive the nastiness really is. Even if it's not as dominant as it seems, that just makes the [i]media's [/i] role all the more disgusting.
2. I don't know about "fascism." There was a lot of applause when the bishop finished, and I took that to be supportive. Did you read it as hostility? People also applauded Himesís response, which I also took to imply support (Himes supporting the bishop, the audience supporting both of them). So the overall sentiment didnít even seem to be hostile, much less fascistic. A few assholes donít make it fascism.
3. I just flat out don't get why the people running these events can't lay down some ground rules (a la Russell's description at the mother ship a while back of the New England town meeting) and enforce them. You're an asshole, you get kicked out. When the Maine marriage bill came before the judiciary committee in April, there were 3000+ people in the Civic Center, a couple hundred of whom (wild guess) testified (the hearing took 13 hours). Rules were laid down at the beginning and enforced unhesitatingly. As rancorous as the issue can get, only a tiny handful of people went outside the bounds, and they were quickly reined in. I suppose someone would make more political theater -- ďoh, look at the fascistsĒ -- if order and civility were enforced, but I suspect a huge majority of people would appreciate it.
[I have something to say about language, too, but my comment was rejected as too long so I'm splitting it in two.]
Sep 07, 2009, 22:13:57 JanieM wrote:
4. As to language -- my motherís family has been on this continent for almost 400 years. (At least some of them; I have genealogical information for a couple of lines.) On my fatherís side, my grandfatherís parents immigrated from Italy to Ohio when he was 10; my grandmotherís parents brought her to Brooklyn when she was 6 (?). Iím sure my motherís family thought the Italian newcomers should go back where they came from and firmly believed that it was [i]their[/i] America, not the Italian [i]Catholic[/i] (gasp) immigrantsí America. When my mother told her mother she was marrying my dad, my grandma had one of the few out and out crying tantrums of her life. (She got over it. ;)
I also know from family lore that one thing everyone on both sides agreed on (not that they talked to each other; there wasnít much group mixing between the rural Baptist ďoldĒ Americans and the Italian Catholic newcomers in town) was that the immigrants should learn English ASAP. My grandfather said of his kids: ďTheyíre American, they can talk American.Ē
My generation came along and wished our forebears had handed on fluency in Italian -- along [i]with[/i] English -- but they didnít, so we were out of luck.
As someone with vivid memories of the immigrant generation in my family (and for many other reasons), I am all in favor of allowing massive immigration into this country. But I also feel strongly that we need one common language, and that we should encourage that in every way we can. As a linguistics groupie, my dream would be to take some chunk out of (letís say) the military budget, and devote the money to teaching languages, so that all of us -- not just immigrants -- could be bilingual or better. I would love to see native English speakers paired with immigrants helping [i]each other[/i] learn each otherís languages: i.e., the learning would go both ways. (Fat chance.) But even then, we should have one common language for doing public business and for interacting with each other across ethnic (and other) boundaries. For immigrants too new to have become fluent in English, we could also devote some of that diverted armaments money to having translators present at public meetings. But even that gets unwieldy; I read a few years ago that there were 90 (90!!) native languages among the children in the public school system in Portland, Maine. I think that number was probably exaggerated, but still, Maine is a small and poor state; itís not an easily solvable problem to serve all those children -- and their families -- well.
I have read -- but am not going to try to track down the article -- that someone did a study in Southern California and concluded that immigrants are learning English in much the same way they always did. Adults who immigrate find it harder, the next generation finds it easier, the generation after that (which would be my dadís or mine, depending on how you count generations) takes it for granted. It seems different right now (said this article) because there has been a constant stream of Spanish-speaking newcomers for a long time, so the supply (so to speak) of non-English speakers is constantly replenished, giving the illusion that people arenít learning English, when in fact they are, more or less as they always have.
lj -- if they have such a thing as public meetings in Japan, what would the audience do if someone came up to the microphone and started speaking English?? I mean, no matter how bad the US gets, we are still a nation of immigrants. Japan ... isnít.
Sep 07, 2009, 22:29:36 JanieM wrote:
Further addendum: with that last question, I didn't mean to suggest that some people in a Japanese audience would heckle someone speaking English in an analogous situation, but rather just that I find it hard to even imagine an analogous situation in Japan. It whatever would come closest, I would guess that Japanese people would be polite in the public setting, just as people would have been polite in American settings until recently (and maybe still are, the media hype notwithstanding)
Sep 08, 2009, 10:09:41 libjpn wrote:
Thanks for the comments, lots of food for thought. I'm not sure if this was covered by the media, this seems to be a youtube uploaded video rather than something from the media.
Re your comments about fascism, I should point out that comes from the video, not from anything I said. I can see your point, but I can also see the point that fascism is all about creating an us v. them atmosphere, which this seems to be a prime example of.
About immigrants learning English, the thing that bothers me about that is that it seems structurally designed to always keep them down. My Japanese is pretty good, I can be mistaken for one on the phone, but the range of my fluency will never be that of a native speaker (or of my daughters) There is always something to trip me up on and some of those things are things that are mistakes when they come out of my mouth, but not mistakes when they come out of a native speaker's mouth. This creates a structure where discrimination is going to flourish.
Unfortunately, in the US, Spanish is generally a marker of lower class, and that encourages people to take the attitudes they do.
Sadly, I've had to deal with some people who have complained about speaking English in Japan, drunks in a bar sort of encounters. Speeches and public events are more formalized, so you wouldn't see that, but if English were used, it is more a marker of sophistication (look at me, I can speak English!) so the conversational motive (which may have been involved here) is more to show that the Japanese person being questioned is sophisticated enough to be a fluent English speaker. Of course, I do remember the media fawning of W's high school English as being fluent, which again underlines the 'I'm a man of the world if I speak Spanish, but if you do, you are a wetback'
Sep 08, 2009, 11:23:32 JanieM wrote:
[i]About immigrants learning English, the thing that bothers me about that is that it seems structurally designed to always keep them down. [/i]
To the extent that it's "designed" at all, I think it's designed for a lot of things, some good and some bad.
But I also think that there's a lot besides language that keeps immigrants "down," some of which is "structurally" inherent in their situation.
I spent a month in Brussels last fall, for work. It was a revelation to me, because in every other case where I've traveled outside the US I've loved being a foreigner. But I had only traveled for significant periods in English-speaking countries (Ireland, England, Scotland). In Brussels (unlike Amsterdam, where I spent one of my weekends while I was over there), not all that many people on the street and in stores speak English. I struggled along with my few phrases of revived high school French, and of course at work everyone spoke fluent English (and most of them spoke fluent French and Dutch too). But I was pretty lonely, because I couldnít do the thing that I most love to do when I travel, which is to get into interesting conversations with people about their lives, my life, our countries, etc. etc.
If I were to emigrate to Brussels, even if I somehow (at my advanced age ;) managed to become reasonably competent in French and/or Dutch, I would [i]never, ever, ever[/i] be in the same position as a native. Never. I am too old to assimilate to the extent it would take to make me feel that I really belonged there. I can see kids doing it, but I kind of think that almost any person well on into adulthood who emigrates, especially to place where s/he doesnít know the language, is putting her/himself into a position of being [i]in some ways[/i] ďstructurally downĒ from then on.
I guess what Iím saying is that thereís some level of difficulty thatís just built in, especially for the first generation of immigrants, and that isnít totally curable. It can be moderated if we can foster a welcoming culture, and this is a horrible time period in that regard in the US, although again I think the unwelcoming assholes get all the coverage, and the many many people who work to make immigrants welcome, and to somewhat smooth the roughness of their path, donít get any press at all.
Iím not saying the conduct of those people in that video wasnít deplorable. Like a lot of other things, though, as a practical problem to try to solve, itís huge. As I once said (mostly to myself) when a woman in the church I was going to for a while (UU, thatís as close as I could get to ďchurchĒ) made a passionate speech to the effect that ďwe have to do something about BosniaĒ (this was a long time ago): I donít even know how to get my kids to stop squabbling. Wtf am I supposed to do about Bosnia?
This problem is kind of like that. ďUs and themĒ is (I believe) built-in. Itís important to try to moderate its effects in every way we can, but sometimes the task seems overwhelming.
Sep 08, 2009, 11:24:11 JanieM wrote:
P.S. You're giving me a lot to think about, too. E.g. that the status of speaking not-the-dominant-language can work both ways depending on the context.
Sep 09, 2009, 14:46:10 libjpn wrote:
You know, I just saw that my title was linguistic fascism, so I guess I was thinking of fascism in some form. Or this reveals that I am in no way cut out to blog...
Sep 10, 2009, 02:07:46 nous wrote:
JanieM - [i]I have read -- but am not going to try to track down the article -- that someone did a study in Southern California and concluded that immigrants are learning English in much the same way they always did.[/i]
I can speak to this some, since I teach at a SoCal University where whites are a minority.
Our students have a wide and interesting range of language skills, and in many ways it is like it used to be in that local dialect is shaped by the linguistic histories of the community. Where I grew up that meant a lot of Scandinavian and Finnish patterns and idioms got transferred into English. Here it's any number of Asian languages and a healthy dose of Spanish. In any given class I'll likely have three Mandarin speakers, two or three Vietnamese speakers and a couple of Korean-American kids who were sent back to Korea for school, a couple of Spanish speakers, a couple Indian or Indian-Americans and either a Thai or a Filipino speaker. It's really hard to identify the non-native speakers because even those who do not speak their grandparent's language have picked up their grandparent's linguistic markers. Academic English frowns upon linguistic markers.
I think, however, that where things *are* changing is that the enclave communities are rapidly on their way to becoming a majority in the US, and that is putting pressure on notions of what assimilation and accommodation mean. The Spanish enclave can challenge for sheer numbers and the Chinese and Indian enclaves (already used to dealing with their own linguistic splits) find themselves with more global economic and political power to go with their growing numbers. It makes for an interesting negotiation of a changing linguistic power center.
I don't think that English is at risk for its global hegemony, but the eventual form of the English might eventually make some native speakers feel alienated.
Sep 10, 2009, 10:50:41 JanieM wrote:
nous -- that's totally fascinating. I have hours of work to do tonight so I can't linger here, but I'll try to come back tomorrow. Suffice for the moment to say that maybe US-ian English will become more like world English already is -- many Englishes. My son had a good friend in college (in the US) who was from Singapore (not an immigrant, he went back home after he graduated). His 2 native languages were Mandarin and English, but quite a different variety of English -- in something like the way you're describing, perhaps -- than American English, or British or etc.