Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers, part 2

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Half a day after the first part of this series, "Cantonese is not the mother tongue of Hong Kongers" (5/4/18), was posted, someone unhelpfully and snarkily asked, "…but are we sure he used the English word 'dialect'?"

That's not the point.

For the record, here is how the matter of "Cantonese cannot be the Mother Tongue of Hong Kongers because it's only a dialect" arose (see below in the Appendix for plentiful documentation).  It started with a prejudicial statement in Mandarin against Cantonese on the part of a mainland scholar that was adopted by the Hong Kong Education Bureau.  Naturally, Hong Kongers were offended by the statement and challenged it.  The situation only became worse when the head of the Hong Kong government essentially reprimanded the people of Hong Kong by saying that the issue was of no consequence.

The allegation started in Mandarin, and was disseminated in Mandarin, in Cantonese, and in English.  What matters is not the language in which such a disparaging anti-Cantonese view was being propagated.  What matters is the prejudice itself.  It behooves honest citizens, and above all responsible linguists, to counter such contumely with correct terminology, precise facts, and convincing reasoning.

Readings

"Mutual Intelligibility of Sinitic Languages" (3/6/09)

"Linguistic diversity in Greater Tibet" (5/3/14)

"Zazaki: a West Iranian language" (9/22/13)

"Spoken Hong Kong Cantonese and written Cantonese" (8/29/13)

"Uyghur as a "dialect" — NOT" (10/1/13)

"English is a Dialect of Germanic; or, The Traitors to Our Common Heritage" (9/4/13)

"What Is a Chinese 'Dialect/Topolect? Reflections on Some Key Sino-English Linguistic Terms", Sino-Platonic Papers, 29 (September, 1991), 1-31 (pdf)

Appendix

Links to relevant articles in the Hong Kong press and government publications or websites may be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Some of them include videos of government and legislative spokespersons as well as concerned citizens declaiming on various aspects of the subject.  (I hope that I did not repeat or miss any of the many significant sources that I encountered during the course of research on this post.)

In the May 3, 2018 Apple Daily article with the headline cited in part 1 of this series, the following quotations are attributed to an article by a researcher on Pǔtōnghuà 普通話 ("Modern Standard Mandarin") at the Chinese University of Hong Kong:

“.. `Xiānggǎng Hànzú rén de mǔyǔ shì Hànyǔ', Yuèyǔ zhǐ shǔ Hànyǔ de fāngyán,`yī zhǒng yǔyán zhōng de fāngyán bùnéng shì wéi mǔyǔ'..“.

“. . .「香港漢族人的母語是漢語」, 粵語只屬漢語的方言 ,「一種語言中的方言不能視為母語」. . .”

"'The mother tongue of Hong Kongers of Han ethnicity is Sinitic.'  Cantonese is only a topolect that belongs to Sinitic.  'A topolect within a certain language may not be viewed as a mother tongue…'."

The researcher in question is Professor Song Xinqiao 宋欣橋教授 (Y. K. Sung).  Here is Song Xinqiao's full article (pdf).  It may be downloaded from this Education Bureau website.

Bob Bauer:

The mainland scholar Song Xinqiao had written his paper in Chinese, and it was circulated among some HK primary schools by the HK Education Bureau. My understanding based on what I've been reading is that his paper was just one of several intended to offer different points of view on the issue of mother tongue in language teaching, and it was not intended as a policy directive.

I'm trying to get folks here in HK to stop saying Guǎngdōng huà / Gwong2 dung1 waa6*2 廣東話 and Guǎngzhōu huà / Gwong2 zau1 waa6*2 廣州話. Given the sharp decline of and official disinterest in the language there, Hongkongers do not need to take the mainland as their reference point. They speak their own unique variety of the Cantonese language, so I'm suggesting Hongongers say Xiānggǎng yuèyǔ / Hoeng1 gong2 jyut6 jyu5 香港粵語 instead.

Finally, for those who read Cantonese, here is a brilliant and correct exposition of the relationship between Cantonese and Sinitic (Hànyǔ 漢語) by the artist, Ah To 阿塗, who painted the fantastic Brueghelian 81 Cantonese proverbs:

Posted by 阿塗 on Saturday, May 5, 2018

[Thanks to Robert Bauer, Zhu Qingzhi, Abraham Chan, Shengli Feng, Sophie Wei, and Norman Leung]



56 Comments

  1. Philip Taylor said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 8:00 am

    To be fair, I don't think that the question was snarky; rather, I think it was badly put. The question, as I understand it, should read "…but are we sure [that] he used a term for which the only possible English translation would be 'dialect' ?". That, surely, is a reasonable question, and one that one is entitled to ask.

  2. Jenny Chu said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 8:33 am

    One of the other comments put the main topic on the table: the distinction between the understanding of "dialect" as a different, but acceptable, variant of some language ("English has many dialects, of which the best known are American and British" or whatever) vs a new understanding of "dialect" to mean a degraded form of the "true/proper/pure" language, often related to disparagement of the group who speaks it ("Ebonics isn't a real language ; it's just a dialect")

  3. Hans Adler said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 9:39 am

    "Cantonese cannot be the Mother Tongue of Hong Kongers because it's only a dialect."

    I am probably just stating the obvious, but it appears to me that this is intended less as a statement of linguistic fact than as a political vision which the Chinese government probably intends to enforce. And read as such, it doesn't seem to be completely baseless, whether you agree with the vision of destroying literary Cantonese or not.

    Max Weinreich's definition appears to be wrong in the case of Cantonese, which has its own standard variety with mass media, a school system and a rich literature. But in this case I read it as a prophecy about the future of Cantonese rather than its current situation. After all, it is perfectly normal for the political conditions to change faster than the language.

    Having seen how the Catalan government managed to turn what was functionally a dialect of Spanish into a full language, I actually expect that the Chinese government will ultimately succeed. Catalonia uses Catalan consistently in the school system. Even Spanish teachers can get into trouble if they speak Spanish with pupils outside Spanish lessons, and even if they speak Spanish with parents who immigrated from South America and don't speak a word of Catalan yet. University lecturers who grew up in Barcelona when Spanish was still the standard language there are required to take Catalan tests to be promoted. These methods have been very effective, to some extent even with the large number of young people from exclusively Spanish speaking families.

    If the Catalan local government could pull this off without an army and a navy, then I think the Chinese government has a good chance to succeed with the opposite project, even though that's probably harder to do and they need to take it slow. I imagine that one tool they may be going to use at some point is a complete switch to writing Mandarin in Pinyin. If the Chinese mass media switch to Pinyin and the schools, including those in Hong Kong, teach only Mandarin and severely restrict the number of (simplified) characters taught, support for Cantonese may well be split into traditionalists trying against all odds to teach the traditional writing system outside the public school system, and modernists trying to romanise Cantonese as written in Hong Kong.

  4. APOLLO WU said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 9:51 am

    Cantonese is the mother language of many people living in Hong Kong. It is a regional language or regionalect (topolect) of China. Putonghua is also a regionalect spoken in large part of China. However, with widespread usage, Putonghua has become the defacto national language of China. Many regionalects coexist with the national language. Cantonese travelling in other part of China would use Putonghua as the means of communication.

  5. Ellen K. said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 10:06 am

    Hans Adler, my impression is that Cantonese and Mandarin are too different to be considered dialects of the same language whether or not Cantonese has a written form. Yes, sometimes having a written form or not affects whether something is considered (by the general public) a language of it's own or a dialect of another. But not having a written form does not make something not a language. So I don't think Cantonese can be made into a dialect and not a language by having it's written form suppressed.

  6. Coby Lubliner said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 1:12 pm

    Hans Adler: Max Weinreich's comment about language and dialect was not a "definition"; it was a sarcastic boutade (made by someone who specialized in Yiddish) aimed that the educational authorities of his day (whose successors are now found in China).

    Also, in what sense was Catalan "functionally a dialect of Spanish"?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 2:20 pm

    "Draft act promoting Taiwan’s national languages likely to pass soon"

    The draft act outlines the government’s obligation to preserve and promote national languages, which are defined as spoken or sign languages long practiced by ethnic groups in Taiwan

    By Teng Pei-ju,Taiwan News, Staff Writer

    2018/05/07 17:30

    https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3424192

    VHM note: Compare this enlightened policy toward indigenous and minority languages with the assimilationist policy in China, where Putonghua (Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM]) — a deracinated, artificial language to begin with — is displacing all other forms of speech, including important languages (not so-called "dialects") with tens of millions of speakers like Cantonese and Shanghainese. If the PRC were ever to take over Taiwan, the Taiwanese language (Hokkien) and all other languages on Taiwan would be under immediate threat of vanishing within decades.

  8. David Marjanović said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 3:56 pm

    Hoeng1 gong2

    There we go calling it Hongkong in German, and we could've been calling it Hönggong all along…

  9. Bathrobe said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

    is displacing all other forms of speech, including important languages (not so-called "dialects") with tens of millions of speakers like Cantonese and Shanghainese.

    Not to mention Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazakh, and Mongolian, among others.

    It's all part of creating a big, powerful, united, glorious China that will never be bullied again. The loss of a few "dialects" and "minority languages" is considered acceptable in order to achieve this goal.

    The true loss will only be understood later, long after uncultured men like Xi Jinping have turned into dust.

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 7, 2018 @ 10:48 pm

    The question was both highly apropos and also, as suggested by Prof. Mair, a bit of a dead end, as technocrats' approaches to such problems are always "semantics, stupid." The semantics, such as they are, are bandied about in Song's original (linked) article, excerpt below… and rather remind of several commenters' remarks on the German situation in the other thread (terms I find relative to the question in bold).

    "The [character~morpheme] 語 '≈language' of mǔyǔ 母語 '≈native/mother language' refers to a particular language (yǔyán 語言), not to the geographical variants (dìyù biàntǐ 地域變體) of a language — i.e., to topolects~dialects (fāngyán 方言). How, then, are we to designate the intimate relationship — [that of] xiāngyīn 鄉音 (lit. native-village tune/sound/lilt) — that obtains between ourselves and Yuèyǔ 粵語 (Yue language; i.e. Cantonese) if we are not to employ the notion of mǔyǔ? In order to provide a distinction from this notion of mǔyǔ, those who study language (yǔyánxuézhě 語言學者) reference it [i.e., this relationship] by use of the character~morpheme yán 言 (also '≈language/lect') and [the neoligsm] mǔyán 母言 ("mother-lect"?). In his [title of article] of 2003, [BLCU Party Committee Secretary] Mr. Lǐ Yǔmíng 李宇明 offered a penetrating analysis of [the concept of] mǔyǔ from a theoretical linguistic standpoint, specifically addressing the question of the mǔyǔ of the people of Hong Kong. He explains: 'The mǔyán of the majority of Hongkongers is the Yue topolect~dialect (Yuè fāngyán 粵方言), and yet their mǔyǔ should nonethleless be regarded to be the common~shared language (gòngtóngyǔ 共同語) of the Han people (Hàn mínzú 漢民族).'"

    — Song Xinqiao, "Cursory remarks on the nature and development of Putonghua instruction in Hong Kong", pp. 227-228

    […]「母語」的「語」 是「語種」,是指一種語言,而不是指一種語言的地域變體 —— 方言。那麼,如果我們不用「母語」這個概念,我們如何稱說「粵語」和我們之間親密的「鄉音」關係呢? 語言學者為了與「母語」這個概念區別,取用了「方言」的「言」字,即「母言」來表述它。李宇明先生在 2003 年發表的《論集思廣益(四輯):普通話學與教經驗分享 228 母語》中對母語作了語言學理論層面的深入分析,也專門論述到香港人的母語問題。他說:「香港多數人的母言是粵方言,但其母語仍然應當看作是漢民族共同語」[…]。

    宋欣橋 〈淺論香港普通話教育的性質與發展〉

  11. Bathrobe said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 5:35 am

    Li Yuming (李宇明), born 1955, was formerly Secretary of the Party Committee of Beijing Language and Culture University.

    I'm dubious of 'scholars' like this. They are trying to come up with a 'formulation' or 'wording' (提法) that will satisfy political requirements. 母言 is just one such way of delegitimising topolects and asserting the unalloyed primacy of putonghua. Historically it is an untenable formulation but it expresses succinctly China's political standpoint on the role of 'standard Chinese' and 'topolects' in modern times. It's an ideology — a political stance — not an attempt at an objective description of reality.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 5:41 am

    Bob Bauer, a specialist on Cantonese whose views were cited in part 1 of this series, was interviewed by the Hong Kong news outlet HK01 this past weekend. The subject of the interview was precisely the brouhaha over whether Cantonese is the Mother Tongue of the people of Hong Kong or whether it's "only a dialect" that we've been examining in these two posts.

    Here's the link to the interview, published on 5/6/18:

    Some of the prefatory material translates as follows:

    =====

    Isn't the language spoken by the people of Hong Kong Cantonese?

    It's neither a topolect / dialect nor Sinitic. The correct designation is Hong Kong Jyut6jyu5 /
    Yuèyǔ

    One's Mother Tongue is what one learns from one's father and mother after one is born.

    [VHM: That is restated thus later on in the article: "One's 'Mother Tongue' should refer to the first language one learns after one is born.]

    =====

    It is noteworthy that in the heading of the article, just before the dateline where he talks about the "politicization of Jyut6jyu5 / Yuèyǔ by a mainland scholar", Bob is characterized thus:

    gwai2 lou2 caang1 jyut6 jyu5! 鬼佬撐粵語! ("Caucasian guy supports Jyut6jyu5")

    From Revolvy, "Ethnic slur":

    =====

    Gweilo, gwailo, or kwai lo (鬼佬)
    (used in South of Mainland China and Hong Kong) A White man. Loosely translated as "foreign devil"; more literally, might be "ghost dude/bloke/guy/etc". Gwei means "ghost". The color white is associated with ghosts in China. A lo is a regular guy (i.e. a fellow, a chap, or a bloke). Once a mark of xenophobia, the word is now in general, informal use.

    =====

    https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Ethnic+slur&item_type=topic

  13. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 9:17 am

    Agreed, what I meant by "semantics" was these elaborate 提法. How and to what extent to regard them seriously may be debatable.

  14. languagehat said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 9:48 am

    Having seen how the Catalan government managed to turn what was functionally a dialect of Spanish into a full language

    What on earth are you talking about? Catalan is not and never was a dialect of Spanish; it is an entirely separate language that developed independently out of Vulgar Latin.

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 10:19 am

    Maybe the more relevant thing about Catalan is that it survived some previous historical periods, up until not all that many decades ago, where the government of the day had a rather different language policy that was actively hostile to it. It no doubt lost ground during those periods, but still came out in good enough shape that it could benefit pretty effectively from a pro-Catalan/anti-Castillian government policy when the political circumstances changed. I am not in a position to predict whether and, if so, when the authoritarian and centralizing tendencies of the regime now controlling mainland China will abate in a fashion similar to how things changed in Spain after the death of Franco, but never say never.

  16. ngage92 said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 10:51 am

    " a deracinated, artificial language " wow….you're a living parody of yourself

  17. Rodger C said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 11:34 am

    In the Middle Ages, Literary Catalan was, if anything, functionally a dialect of Occitan, to which it's more closely related than to Castilian.

  18. Victor Mair said,

    May 8, 2018 @ 11:17 pm

    From Bob Bauer:

    Here are links to three SCMP articles on Cantonese as HK's mother tongue from the past two days.

    http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2144681/debate-over-cantonese-and-handover-highlight-hongkongers

    http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2145001/you-could-never-replace-cantonese-language-hong-kong

    http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/2145075/benefits-knowing-three-languages-speak-themselves

    This third one is a down-to-earth, reasonable editorial in yesterday's paper.

    The second one on Cantonese as being "unstoppable" is the most lively, gung-ho enthusiastic, deeply and personally-heartfelt description of HK Cantonese I have ever read.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    May 9, 2018 @ 6:13 am

    Before calling someone a parody of himself, you should first educate yourself by reading the following (for a start):

    "The world's only speaker of standard Mandarin in 1923"

    https://dpb.bitbucket.io/the-worlds-only-speaker-of-standard-mandarin-in-1923.html

    S. Robert Ramsey, The Languages of China (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).

    David Moser, A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language (Penguin, 2016).

    https://www.penguin.com.au/books/a-billion-voices-chinas-search-for-a-common-language-penguin-specials-9780734399595

    "Sinitic is a group of languages, not a single language"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=34933
    (10/12/17)

    "How Mandarin became China's national language"

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=20317
    (7/31/15)

  20. Victor Mair said,

    May 10, 2018 @ 6:39 am

    "Taiwan’s laws on language are showing China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country", Nikhil Sonnad, Quartz (5/9/18)

    https://qz.com/1271795/taiwan-china-language-taiwans-language-policy-is-showing-china-what-it-means-to-be-a-modern-inclusive-country/

  21. Eidolon said,

    May 11, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

    I find articles like "Benefits of knowing three languages speak for themselves" to be idealistic. Yes, it would be better, not just for the people of Hong Kong, but for people every where, to know multiple languages. Yet, the practical issue is simply that learning multiple languages take time and effort, and sustaining their practice in everyday use is similarly arduous. Language loss would not be so much of an issue, across the world, had it been easy to get people to learn and sustain multiple languages throughout life. A more crass way of saying it is: people are lazy.

    Language loss is a fact throughout the world, whether by government design, or simply because people no longer find it useful to speak their local tongues in an increasingly global – or at the minimum, national – context. It's a tough loss for linguists and people dedicated to the preservation of languages, but it's also one that has happened countless times in history. Cantonese is the mother language of Hong Kong, but it was not the mother language of the people who used to live in Hong Kong, before Sinitic speakers started colonizing the area about a thousand years ago. In this respect, it too functioned like Standard Mandarin, once upon a time – as a regional Sinitic lingua franca that mediated between the locals and the colonists.

  22. Bathrobe said,

    May 11, 2018 @ 9:12 pm

    An article that might help clear away some of the 19th century attitudes here:

    Taiwan’s laws on language are showing China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country

  23. Bathrobe said,

    May 11, 2018 @ 10:24 pm

    Language loss is a fact throughout the world, whether by government design, or simply because people no longer find it useful to speak their local tongues in an increasingly global – or at the minimum, national – context.

    So you are on LL to champion the death of languages? Despite your breezy generalisation, strict monolingualism of the type that you appear to be partial to may be more a product of modern Western-style nation-building than it is of human laziness. (I linked to the article on Taiwan, which had already been linked to, because it helps debunk the notion that all states must be monolingual. Of course monolingualism is good for maintaining control….)

    Re your comment on "single descent models of language organization" (other thread), strangely enough some have proposed models of linguistic fluidity (as opposed to 'single descent') in Southeast Asia based on community multilingualism. I guess those people just aren't lazy enough.

    You also appear to have a distinct sympathy for the Chinese state and its linguistic and cultural policies. On several occasions I note that you have expressed outright contempt for the non-Han ethnicities of China. I'm curious: is this attitude integral to your enthusiasm for the spread of mega-languages, or is it just an unfortunate by-product?

  24. Ellen K. said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 8:56 am

    Seems to me how much effort is involved in being multi-lingual depends on circumstances. I do get the impression people are comfortable having one language used at home, and another as an out in the world language. Or a regional language and a national/international language. I think one way languages are lost, or lose speakers, is when people of different first languages marry and so one or both first language isn't passed down to the kids, because they parents don't speak it to each other.

  25. languagehat said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 9:40 am

    I think one way languages are lost, or lose speakers, is when people of different first languages marry and so one or both first language isn't passed down to the kids, because they parents don't speak it to each other.

    Yes, of course, but I can't help but find it irritating when every discussion of how governments suppress languages inevitably gets derailed into people talking about how languages can be lost perfectly naturally. It's like a discussion of mass murder being responded to by "Well, people die every day, you know — death is part of life!"

  26. Philip Taylor said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 10:56 am

    (Languagehat) — But this is a forum whose universe of discourse is language, not politics. Therefore, in my opinion, discussions about how languages might be lost naturally is at least as germane (and arguably more germane) to the underlying raison d'être of the forum than discussions about how governments deliberately suppress languages. Would you not agree ?

  27. Chas Belov said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 11:30 am

    Thank you for the link to the 81 (83) Cantonese idioms article. I followed to the full explanation and was surprised/pleased to notice that some had picked up secondary senses. This one was the most productive:

    執死雞 [jāp séi gāi](To pick up a dead chicken)
    1. To take something which someone else has lost or thrown away
    2. To take advantage of a situation
    3. To start off a relationship with someone who has been rejected by their former lover
    4. To get the benefit of someone else’s hard work
    5. To score an easy goal after a shot has been blocked by the goal keeper.

    The Dictionary of Cantonese Slang: The Language of Hong Kong Movies, Street Gangs and City Life by Christopher Hutton and Kingsley Bolton is huge and rich and full of such terms and phrases.

    I've had a few Hong Kong immigrants over the years tell me that when they go back they can't keep up with the changes in vocabulary.

    It is disturbing to me that government policies would try to stamp this linguistic diversity out.

  28. languagehat said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 11:43 am

    But this is a forum whose universe of discourse is language, not politics. Therefore, in my opinion, discussions about how languages might be lost naturally is at least as germane (and arguably more germane) to the underlying raison d'être of the forum than discussions about how governments deliberately suppress languages. Would you not agree ?

    I didn't say it wasn't germane, I said I find it irritating, much as I find it irritating when discussions of problems women face invariably turn into discussions of problems men face.

  29. Ellen K. said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 12:49 pm

    Languagehat, I feel like you are quoting me out of context. I was responding specifically to the issue brought up by Eidolon and responded to by Bathrobe of how easy or difficult it is to be multilingual. And you are certainly welcome to join the conversation by connected to that thread to politics and language. Those political issues don't exist separate from other language issues. But neither do those other issue exist apart from political issues.

  30. Ellen K. said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 12:50 pm

    Correction "by connected to" in my comment just above should be "by connecting".

  31. languagehat said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 1:01 pm

    Ellen K.: I didn't mean to single you out as an offender; your comment was, as you say, responding to another. It was just right there and quotable to represent the trend, and it is the trend that irritates me. I'm not saying political issues exist separate from other language issues, I'm saying it seems to be hard to talk about government suppression of languages without people wanting to talk about why it's perfectly natural, and maybe even desirable, for languages to die out. ("Why can't we all talk one language, then everyone would get along!") I see that dynamic every time I post about such things at LH. While everything is connected to everything else, the connection between government suppression and those other things is really pretty minimal. Governments don't suppress languages out of a philosophical conviction that a universal language would help mankind, and I really don't see how people using one language at home and another out in the world is relevant at all.

  32. Philip Taylor said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 1:47 pm

    Well, I find it irritating when politics are allowed intrude on fora where the forum theme is intended to be language and linguistics.

  33. languagehat said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

    In other words, you're objecting to the post itself (along with a great many of VM's posts)?

  34. Chas Belov said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 2:35 pm

    I noticed đặc biệt and, according to Wiktionary, its from Chinese 特別. In Cantonese, it's pronounced approximately "duck beat" which is how I recognized that the two are related (in its use on menus). But I see it's not specifically a Cantonese word.

  35. Chas Belov said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

    Sorry, posted to wrong thread.

  36. Philip Taylor said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 2:41 pm

    I did not say I was objecting to anything (any more than you did); I said I find it irritating. And that is true no matter how eminent the writer. In my very humble opinion, politics intrudes on this forum rather more frequently than I would wish. Politics are a matter of belief, just as is religion, whereas language and linguistics are matters of fact (even if some of the facts adduced are open to challenge).

  37. languagehat said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 3:17 pm

    Ah, gotcha. Well, I pretty much feel the same way, which is why I try to steer clear of politics at LH. But different sites, different rules…

  38. Bathrobe said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 5:19 pm

    Politics are a matter of belief, just as is religion, whereas language and linguistics are matters of fact

    I think this is an overly narrow formulation. Both politics and society have a fundamental impact on language. If the outcome of politics in Hong Kong and China happens to be that Cantonese is no longer taught in Hong Kong schools, this is not just a "matter of belief"; it is a hard fact of language with major implications for language use. It is of a completely different magnitude from (say) wrangling over whether you should end sentences with prepositions in English.

    Needless to say, arguing personal political views is a fruitless and distracting activity on linguistic fora. But discussing the ways in which politics, policies, and society impact on language is not merely a valid topic for discussion; it is of fundamental significance.

  39. Bathrobe said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 5:41 pm

    "Cantonese is no longer taught in Hong Kong schools" is probably too broad.

    I don't think Cantonese as such is taught in Hong Kong schools. But Cantonese pronunciations are recognised (they appear in Chinese-language dictionaries in Hong Kong alongside Mandarin), and Cantonese is the medium of instruction, with no use of Mandarin. The language that is taught is, if I understand it correctly, "Written Mandarin using Cantonese pronunciation".

    A change in policy would presumably do away with Cantonese readings of characters and encourage (or, later on, mandate) Mandarin as the language of instruction.

  40. Bathrobe said,

    May 12, 2018 @ 6:18 pm

    @ Philip Taylor

    Let me put it another way with a hypothetical scenario. If it was reported that a submission was made to the UK Department for Education that American spelling should be adopted for teaching in British schools, would that be a linguistic issue or a political issue? If it is just a political issue (a "matter of belief"), would you be happy to sit on the sidelines and say nothing on Language Log?

  41. Philip Taylor said,

    May 13, 2018 @ 2:44 am

    (Bathrobe) — fair question, point taken. It does not affect my view that "Politics are a matter of belief, just as is religion, whereas language and linguistics are matters of fact" but brings home the fact that some beliefs can be so powerfully held that one feels obliged to speak out in their defence, even on fora where such matters are not the primary concern.

  42. Eidolon said,

    May 14, 2018 @ 7:42 pm

    "So you are on LL to champion the death of languages? Despite your breezy generalisation, strict monolingualism of the type that you appear to be partial to may be more a product of modern Western-style nation-building than it is of human laziness. (I linked to the article on Taiwan, which had already been linked to, because it helps debunk the notion that all states must be monolingual. Of course monolingualism is good for maintaining control….)"

    No, I simply find the idealism regarding linguistic preservation lacking in practical dimensions. The community of language conservationists need to come up with better solutions than expecting individuals to learn three languages and to sustain them all in daily use. The average number of languages spoken by people across the world is between 1.5 and 1.7, but that's including lingua francas like English. Minority languages, especially those with limited numbers of speakers, are increasingly going extinct. The reason is as much globalization, as it is nation-building and political policy – simply put, people learn languages that are useful, politically and economically, and their mother tongues are changing, and have been changing, throughout history.

    Chinese history is actually a perfect example of this process, outside of any Western nation-building influence. The Sinitic languages weren't always as widely distributed as they are today – language groups like Yue, Wu, and Mandarin spread through prestige diffusion and Chinese colonization. They displaced local languages absent any Communist policy. But this process isn't limited to China. From the Indo-European speakers who overran Europe and India, to the Semitic speakers who established linguistic hegemony in the Middle and Near East, language death has been the inevitable consequence of cultural interactions and mixing.

    But languages don't just die. They are also born – ie through mixing, influence, and shift. Insofar as the single descent model of mainstream linguistics is limiting, it gives off the impression that when languages become extinct, they can have no descendants; and thus when a branch is pruned, it is gone forever. I don't believe that to be the case. People *are* lazy, but that's precisely why societies prefer to mix disparate languages into a new language, over time, than to maintain them separately in perpetuity. This also applies to culture.

    "You also appear to have a distinct sympathy for the Chinese state and its linguistic and cultural policies. On several occasions I note that you have expressed outright contempt for the non-Han ethnicities of China. I'm curious: is this attitude integral to your enthusiasm for the spread of mega-languages, or is it just an unfortunate by-product?"

    You should cite those occasions, because I don't remember expressing contempt for any ethnic group. I do, however, believe that the establishment of a lingua franca in China is inevitable, and that no amount of moral out rage will change that conclusion. Do I approve of the Chinese government's methods? No, not really – I think there are better ways to promote a lingua franca than heavy handed restrictions, which are more likely to produce grassroots resistance and entrenchment than the desired results. But ultimately, I see no purpose in resisting the effects of mass communication, nationalization, and globalization.

    Linguistic differences were, for the most part, the result of human groups isolating themselves from each other culturally, geographically, and politically; it is only natural that as those barriers are eroded, so, too, will those differences disappear.

  43. Eidolon said,

    May 14, 2018 @ 8:08 pm

    "Governments don't suppress languages out of a philosophical conviction that a universal language would help mankind, and I really don't see how people using one language at home and another out in the world is relevant at all."

    Governments suppress – or even more commonly, fail to promote – minority languages out of the conviction that uniform language use would increase national cohesion, while reducing the costs brought about by having to maintain dozens, or even hundreds, of official languages. You can take issue with both of these contentions – I certainly do, especially the former – but too often conversations are bogged down by appeals to ideological sentiments, ie "any government that isn't doing its best to preserve all of its minority languages is guilty of evil."

    However, just so there is no confusion, my attitude is that language suppression is wrong, but language death is natural, and language preservation – outside of academics – isn't a moral obligation. Languages do not have a *right* to survive. They never did. They will survive, or die, as a matter of expediency. If Hong Kong Cantonese dies as a result of Hong Kong's political integration into China, so be it. Suppressing either the language or its promoters actively is wrong; but failing to promote it is not a crime.

  44. languagehat said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 7:46 am

    "Thou shalt not kill; but needst not strive officiously to keep alive." I'm not sure whether you're being disingenuous or truly don't see the problem with conflating government suppression with the results of natural processes, but it doesn't really matter; you're objectively (as the Bolsheviks used to say) on the side of the devil. You remind me of those Victorians who said it was a pity that millions were dying in the colonies, but after all it was natural selection and/or God's will. Enjoy your Olympian heights!

  45. Bathrobe said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 9:55 am

    @ Philip Taylor

    I am gratified that, despite our differences, you could see my point. While adopting American spelling in the UK might be a heavy symbolic blow, it would be a mere cosmetic change compared with what the Chinese government is now doing. China is currently engaged in what can only be described as a "final solution" for ethnic cultures whereby the literate traditions of the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Koreans, etc, which stretch back centuries (and in the case of Tibetan over a millennium), are being stamped out. They may survive as languages of the home but possibly face final extinction.

    China is doing this by mandating that all school classes should be taught in Mandarin, with only a few hours a week for literacy in the students' native languages. This policy is being surreptitiously but ruthlessly implemented. As mentioned on LL some years ago, a Uyghur trying to set up private Uyghur classes for Uyghur children (which is quite legal) was arrested for the unlawful solicitation of funds.

    China is clearly contemplating a similar policy in Hong Kong.

    In addition, China is deliberately encouraging mass migration of Han Chinese to ethnic homelands, further destroying the viability of these languages.

    At the same time as it is doing this, China is exploiting the ethnic minorities for its own "national aggrandisement". LL recently mentioned the staging, in Chinese, of the Kyrgyz epic Manas as a "Chinese" classic. Chinese publicity barely mentions that it belongs to the Kyrgyz people. Needless to say, a Chinese version can only be a plastic imitation. Further back, LL mentioned a grandiose project to digitise all the scripts of China, including a vast number from the ethnic minorities. While digital preservation is preferable to total extinction, the whole project is clearly one of national aggrandisement by ambitious bureaucrats. The languages themselves are expendable.

    Coming up with a comparable analogy in the West is difficult. Imagine if a secret decision was made in the top echelons of the Canadian government to stop Quebec schools from teaching in French, apart from a few hours of "French literacy classes", which would later be phased out. This would effectively remove French as a language of literacy in Canada, possibly sending it into terminal decline. At the same time, imagine that the Canadian government says it is "promoting" Quebec culture by having all major Quebec works translated into English. Moreover, a huge "Museum of Canadian Culture" is being erected with a special corner at the back featuring the grand contributions of Quebec culture to the greater culture of Canada – all in English.

    China's planned extirpation of at least four literary languages – and moves to enforce Mandarin in Hong Kong — is not a small matter. Political or not, these moves should not go unremarked.

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 10:59 am

    (Bathrone) "China is currently engaged in what can only be described as a "final solution" for ethnic cultures whereby the literate traditions of the Tibetans, Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Mongols, Koreans, etc, which stretch back centuries (and in the case of Tibetan over a millennium), are being stamped out". A point of which I am not unaware, having visited Tibet less than two years ago, and one which was most definitely borne in mind in designing the polylingual "Welcome" sign for my wife's hotel in Cornwall. Despite my wife being 75% Chinese, she was completely in agreement with giving Tibetan pride of place on the second loop of the involute.

  47. Bathrobe said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 11:01 am

    Very nice sign!

  48. Philip Taylor said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 1:34 pm

    Thank you !

  49. Eidolon said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 5:39 pm

    "I'm not sure whether you're being disingenuous or truly don't see the problem with conflating government suppression with the results of natural processes, but it doesn't really matter; you're objectively (as the Bolsheviks used to say) on the side of the devil. You remind me of those Victorians who said it was a pity that millions were dying in the colonies, but after all it was natural selection and/or God's will. Enjoy your Olympian heights!"

    See, this is the problem with ideologues – you are so preoccupied by moral indignity, that you don't see the poverty of your analogies. I would encourage you to read my response again, because I most certainly did not conflate government suppression with the results of natural processes. I explicitly said that I disagree with the Chinese government's heavy handed suppression of minority languages.

    But I don't disagree with their promotion of a common tongue. Every country needs one, and it is practically required to be successful in modern society. I am also not so naive as to believe that promoting a common tongue comes at no cost to minority languages. After all, people are lazy, and especially in a developing country, there are more valuable ways to spend one's time than learning local patois. Solutions offered by language conservationists, in this respect, completely ignore this economic reality – and so logically fall on deaf ears.

    I once read an article by John McWhorter arguing for why we ought to care about saving endangered languages. It boiled down to two contentions: first, because language is identity, and we want people to preserve their separate identities, not assimilate; second, because they offer variety, like diversity in flora and fauna. The article was almost like an eureka moment, in the sense that it showed me just how deeply ideological the whole project is. So the benefit of saving languages is … ethnic segregation and diversity for diversity's sake? Why should I support this?

    To use a common expression, I don't think I'm on the wrong side of history, here, and I am confident that as the world becomes more connected and more global, this process will only continue. Because ultimately, neither ethnic segregation nor diversity for diversity's sake are strong arguments, when compared to the human desire to seek better opportunities and stronger connections. It is, ultimately, not practical to force a child to speak her father's tongue, her mother's tongue, as well as the tongue they use to communicate with each other, and so, languages will die, inevitably so, as societies integrate and unions are built.

    This isn't the same as saying I support language genocide, but then it is the nature of ideologues to think only in black and white.

  50. Bathrobe said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 6:57 pm

    Thank you, Eidolon, for setting out your philosophy so clearly. I think we can summarise your thinking as:

    1. Language death is inevitable. Resistance is futile.
    2. One language per state is a desirable end-point.
    3. New languages will arise (by creolisation, mixing, etc.) so there is no great loss.

    But this is not the whole story.

    First, your attitude has set your priorities for you. I submit that you personally are interested in big, powerful languages (you appear to know or have some knowledge of Chinese and Japanese) but you have no interest in learning or knowing about smaller languages. You appear to have already written smaller languages off, especially languages that stand in the way of monolingual states. They are insignificant and uninteresting to you. Perhaps it would be useful to state this premise when you comment on languages or ‘dialects’ you are not personally interested in.

    Secondly, your attitude is not a neutral one. You appear to have a virulent personal antipathy to the "ideology" of language preservation. Your antipathy itself is something of an ideology, justified by being “on the right side of history”. You are very quick to advance personal theories that help support your vision, like “multilingualism is too much trouble” and “new languages will arise through mixing”. But you don’t appear to have a great deal of interest in language per se, only in language as a force in your personal view of history.

    Thirdly, your antipathy is largely negativism. I have seen plenty of pushback at defenders of linguistic diversity but nothing particularly interesting about your brave new world of mega-languages and their subcultures.

    Fourthly, a barely disguised attitude of “Chinese rules!” lurks behind your statements. You do like to analyse Chinese history with what appears to be an approving emphasis on mainstream Chinese culture. While you reluctantly admitted that the Chinese are appropriating Kyrgyz culture by making a Chinese Manas, you also made the very illuminating remark that China did not plan to make it part of its core culture. This was delivered in straight tones but subtly suggested that you approved of Xi’s promotion of the core culture. When I commented at one thread that Han Chinese tend to be dismissive of ethnic languages, your response was that I was insulting “mainstream Chinese culture”.

    Fifthly, you do appear to have a dismissive attitude to non-Han languages and cultures. I’m not sure I can find your derogatory posts in LL, although I do remember some because they stood out so clearly. In response to “China is trying to impose Chinese on Tibetans”, you made a comment to the effect that the Tibetans have made a poor job of teaching their own children. At another point you dismissed Manchu rule as “apartheid”. Given your approving views on the blind forces of history, it was interesting that you advanced a value judgement on a foreign-rule dynasty – especially when it was the Manchus who conquered the vast territory that made an expansion of Chinese possible. Again, this appears to be in support your own personal views on Chinese history and core Chinese culture.

    At any rate, these are not the remarks of a dispassionate observer of the march of history. They are the remarks of someone who is cheering on the advance of mega-languages (especially Chinese) as something desirable, and dissing what he regards as the losers in history. You admit that Chinese methods are objectionable but cheer their progress in imposing a single common language because it seems that monolingual nation states are an inevitable and desirable end point. Since Canada isn’t very important, I assume that you don’t care either way about Quebec.

    I am glad that you have set out your views in this way. We can at least see where your superficially objective but strangely troll-like remarks are coming from. Perhaps it is a good thing that we have you to present your dissenting (although at times disingenuous) viewpoint because it prevents LL from becoming a mere echo chamber. For this I thank you.

  51. Eidolon said,

    May 15, 2018 @ 8:50 pm

    Thank you, Bathrobe, for your psychoanalysis, but I submit that you should not resort to guessing when you could just ask. It doesn't usually work. I will address each point in turn, but keep in mind that this is no longer about linguistics, necessarily.

    1. Language death is indeed inevitable, but not all languages, and not in the same time scale. I have an utilitarian view of language, not an emotional attachment – it is a medium of communication, and its value comes from its utility. Neither English, nor Standard Mandarin, are my mother tongues, but I recognize their present day status as lingua francas. Their usefulness comes from their ability to foster communication, socialization, and integration at a mass scale, and I regard that as a positive, not a negative, because I believe that language and geography driven parochialism was, to a large degree, responsible for much of the wars of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Insofar as I have a personal bias, this is the root of that bias.

    2. One language per state is neither ideal, nor a realistic goal. Linguistic pluralism, like multiculturalism, is a fact of life. But states should have a *common* language, which the citizens of the state should have knowledge of. Look up civic integration, and you'll have a rough idea of my political perspective on how to approach multicultural societies.

    3. If I were not interested in the different "dialects" of China, I would not be reading or commenting about them. I will freely admit, however, that I am more interested in processes of language change and shift, than I am in any language as it currently stands. To me, languages are not static concepts, which makes preserving them, contradictory. What is preserved in books and tomes are the fossils of languages, snap shots in time. Like a biography, the totality of a language's existence can only be seen through charting its course, and its preservation is, in fact, the recording of its history. Beyond that, I don't know how you would really preserve a language – tell its speakers to stop changing the way they speak? To stop importing foreign words and manners of speech? None of these seem to be relevant to the current task of language preservation, so I can only conclude the language preservation is actually just an aspect of identity politics, which indeed, makes it deeply political, not academic.

    4. I don't resent linguistic diversity, but I find it patronizing make an argument to the effect that we should support linguistic diversity because it broadens our mental horizon. Peoples and communities aren't lab rats. Linguistic diversity doesn't exist for the benefit of providing superior vistas in the garden of Babel. There are real economic, social, and political consequences to advising a community that they should stick to their roots and resist integrating with the wider linguistic community around them. This is as much the case with Quebec and Catalan, as it is the case with Hong Kong, and it is the reason language preservation cannot be separated from politics, because it never is just about language.

    5. I think your readings of my comments says more about you, than they do about me. As an example, you read this: "it is interesting that Xi uses "传承" – inherited – to describe the relationship of 我国 "our country" to the epics of Gesar, Manas, and Jangar, but "创作" – created – for the more classically Chinese cultural works of Shijing, Chu Ci, Tang poetry, etc. Even though the inclusion of the minority works is an obvious play at the idea that the cultures of Chinese minorities belong to China, there remains that separation between what Xi views as orthodox Chinese tradition, and what he views as minority traditions. It is still cultural appropriation, but it speaks of a more subtle and deeper nuance. Perhaps Xi was just trying to be historically accurate in recognizing that the epics of Gesar, Manas, and Jangar were created by states that were not part of China at the time, and so could not have been created by 我国. But given the habit of the Chinese government to trace their claims of Tibet, Xinjiang, etc. as much back as possible, I'd be surprised to learn that this is what Xi intended. More likely, Xi is drawing his own line at what he considers proper Chinese tradition and what he considers minority contributions; which would resonate with his revival of Confucian ideals and traditional values" as a "reluctant" admission of Chinese cultural appropriation and a "subtle approval" of Xi Jinping's promotion of traditional Chinese values? I don't think any objective reading of the above statements can be used to support your interpretation. More likely, you simply attributed to the text the bias you assumed for the author.

    6. "You made a comment to the effect that the Tibetans have made a poor job of teaching their own children." – I don't remember making such a statement. Once again, you should cite it, because I am almost certain it either doesn't exist, or there is context that you are missing. Reading it out of context, it doesn't accord with my beliefs at all.

    7. " At another point you dismissed Manchu rule as “apartheid”. Given your approving views on the blind forces of history, it was interesting that you advanced a value judgement on a foreign-rule dynasty – especially when it was the Manchus who conquered the vast territory that made an expansion of Chinese possible. Again, this appears to be in support your own personal views on Chinese history and core Chinese culture." – I didn't know citing the common view ala Mark Elliott et. al is now considered a value judgment. So if I were to call the modern Chinese rule of Uyghurs apartheid – which it is, I'm not hesitant to say – would that indicate I am also being judgmental and partisan against the Chinese?

    8. No one, least of all here, are dispassionate observers of the march of history. Even though much of what you said about my views is basically inaccurate, I will give you this one – the advance of common languages, integrated communities, and globalization in general are, indeed, positive signs of progress, in my eyes. At the same time, however, there are much better ways to facilitate this process than banning local languages from schools and putting people in labor camps, as the Chinese state is currently doing. If it were up to me, I'd suggest dual language education policies based on region – ie, in Hong Kong and most of Guangdong, it'd be Cantonese + Mandarin; while else where it might be Tibetan + Mandarin, Uyghur + Mandarin, etc. But ultimately, it's up to the locals as to how they wish to implement a common language. That is my political bias – I believe a nation-state needs a common language, and an integrated civil society, and failure to do so, will have dire consequences in the long-term, as cases like the recent Catalan protests and its subsequent suppression showed.

    9. As disparaging as your comment – and previous comments on this subject – have been, at least you were willing to make an attempt at understanding a different perspective. For that, I thank you.

  52. Bathrobe said,

    May 16, 2018 @ 2:39 am

    To be honest, I can't see a single point that we disagree on. Perhaps only this one:

    If it were up to me, I'd suggest dual language education policies based on region – ie, in Hong Kong and most of Guangdong, it'd be Cantonese + Mandarin; while else where it might be Tibetan + Mandarin, Uyghur + Mandarin, etc. But ultimately, it's up to the locals as to how they wish to implement a common language.

    I do not think that 'the locals' quite describes those responsible for these policies. The real locals (or at least the original locals) in places like Tibet, Xinjiang, etc. do not necessarily want the central government to marginalise their languages and cultures. I believe it is a relatively small group of powerful, hard-line men in the central government employing traditional Chinese tools and embodying traditional attitudes towards ethnic minorities that is relentlessly pushing this program. Most criticism here is directed at such policies and attitudes. Perhaps it is your avowed emotional dislike of 'language-preservation-ideologues' that makes your responses seem to end up defending the Chinese government.

    You say I should have asked. To be honest, it is difficult to ask when your responses are couched in (I'm sorry) what strikes me as a supercilious, superior tone. Perhaps this is your usual tone, or perhaps you just reserve it for 'ideologues' — I really don't know. But while it might encourage people to either push back against your comments or just ignore them, it does not encourage questions.

    To reiterate: I don't disagree with anything you said above. I am not a language-preservation 'ideologue'. I believe that language preservation should be encouraged for linguistic and cultural reasons because too much has been lost already through past violence and intolerance. The world has been impoverished by what has happened. I do not see a global monoculture as a desirable end. But I am also not advocating parochialism.

    I disagree that mega-languages are merely utilitarian tools. They bear too many of the historical legacies of their original cultures and societies. This goes for English as much as Chinese. And 'communication, socialization, and integration at a mass scale' in large blocs, à la 1984, is not necessarily a positive force. It just makes the competing blocs bigger.

  53. Eidolon said,

    May 16, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

    Bathrobe, we may disagree on many issues, or we may not, but I appreciate your willingness to at least reevaluate initial assumptions. I don't see that very often, online, where judgments are often passed quickly and with supreme finality. As a matter of tone, I recognize the fact that I can be obnoxious, and pretentious, and supercilious; it's a consequence of decades on the internet and probably too late to change. But I make it a policy to treat respect, with respect. Even if my initial tone in a comment appears disrespectful, it doesn't mean I'll carry that tone to anyone who asks. I always try to match the tone of the response.

    Moving onto the substance – I didn't mean to imply that the locals, in those cases, are responsible for current policy. I am well aware of the fact that the Chinese government imposes its will on Tibetans, Uyghurs, etc. and that policy in minority "autonomous" regions is more or less set by Han dispatchers. I was saying that, were it up to me, the locals would have more say in the matter, and governments should have to negotiate the implementation of civic integration with the various ethnic and linguistic groups living in its territory, ultimately reaching a compromise that both sides can live with.

    But this also assumes a set of historical circumstances that are far more cordial than exists between the Chinese government and its subjects. When faced with active independence movements that threaten the security of the state, and which cannot be easily appeased, governments often become ruthless and intransigent, making negotiations intractable. We see this phenomenon not only in China, but also in places like Turkey, Russia, Israel, and Spain, all of whom have resorted to violence and repression, over the years. The history of relations between the Chinese government and its peoples, particularly its minority peoples, is a sordid narrative, and it maybe that there was never a chance for cooperation, to begin with. Still, from a moral stand point, the growing repression in China is a black mark that cannot, in all conscience, be excused, and I doubt there is much to disagree about, here.

    For the record, though it may seem otherwise at times, I do not subscribe to an "ends justifies the means" school of moral logic. I may defend the ends, and I may take issue with ideologues, but that does not imply I support or am willing to accept the means. But this is, after all, an internet blog, and insofar as I am powerless to change political policy around the world, I don't find it particularly useful to repeatedly signal my moral indignation. This may come off as apathy, or even tacit approval of the Chinese government's policies, but it's more a recognition of futility. I can't change what's happening in Tibet, or Xinjiang, or Hong Kong – but I can talk about the implications and the effects, and place it in the larger context of language death, nation-building, globalization, etc. Perhaps that makes me an accomplice, in the sense that reiterating the banality and universality of abuse generates a false sense of comfort and lulls the reader into accepting it. But in that case, historians and journalists are guilty of the same.

    To conclude, there are a few points on which I think we do disagree. For one, I do not think a global monoculture is a legitimate threat – because no monoculture is, in fact, monolithic, and the larger a culture is, the more diverse its sub cultures. People naturally generate diversity through their unique experiences, and if the whole world were suddenly conquered by, say, Japanese culture and language tomorrow, I do not think the end result will be a global monoculture, for though external richness will be lost, internal richness will be gained. The more people that contributes to a culture, the more rich and diverse it becomes. But the benefit of a global culture is that everyone will be able to participate in and enjoy its fruits, whereas right now, this is simply not possible.

    I am also of the opinion that where culturalism retreats, individualism advances. It's hard to explain, but when people identify strongly as members of a distinct ethnic or cultural group, they tend to structure their behavior and their relations according to the tendencies of that group. Consequently, freedom of choice, association, and belief are all sacrificed. While such a scenario may seem like it is preserving group diversity, it comes at a severe cost to individual liberty and person to person diversity. A global society, by virtue of not dividing people along cultural, linguistic, and ethnic lines, should be more liberating, in this respect. I have no doubt people will divide themselves into groups, any way – and thus, no risk of monoculture – but these will be based more on share interests, beliefs, and inclinations, than consequences of birth.

    Lastly, and to keep this shorter than it would otherwise be, my view of the transition to larger cultural and political blocs is that this is a step in the process. You're right, at the present time, it just makes the competing blocs larger, and their potential conflicts, more disastrous. But a child must learn to walk, before she can run. If people can't even form blocs with their cultural neighbors, then there is no hope of them forming blocs with those from distant lands. Putting aside, for a moment, the coercive and immoral aspects of unification policies – can you really say that Europe isn't a better place today, than it was in the 19th century when the region was engulfed in wars over differences in race, culture, and language?

  54. Bathrobe said,

    May 16, 2018 @ 6:26 pm

    Thank you for the explanation. It puts many of your comments in a completely different light.

    I am not unaware of many of the points you make, particularly the disastrous consequences of nation-state nationalism in 19th century Europe. While I support respect for ethnic cultures and languages — which are, of course, not static or unchanging — I am also aware of the extremes that can be generated by ethnic ideologies. One example that comes to mind is an extreme view, has apparently been expressed by some Uyghur separatists, that the Mongols should be driven out of Xinjiang. Sometimes it seems that the only thing that stops some of these ethnicities from tearing the others apart is Chinese control. I do think, however, that the Chinese government is only making things worse with its current policies. It will take many decades before we know whether these repressive policies actually work.

    As for culturalism and individualism, I understand perfectly what you mean. Living in Mongolia I notice the confining effects of an ethnic-based culture. While a majority of Mongolians live in the capital city, the myth of 'horses and yurts' seems to have a lingering effect on the culture and many people have surprisingly conservative attitudes. Since there is a much smaller population base, there is far less, what should I say, variety of thinking and lifestyles than you might encounter in larger societies like Japan or China (something LBGT activists are happy to point out).

    I am sure that we will continue to have fundamental disagreements (your comment on lab rats uncharitably but accurately points out the dilemma faced by linguists pushing for linguistic diversity because they love language, maybe more than the actual speakers do) but I am glad that you have come out and explained your viewpoint.

  55. Bathrobe said,

    May 16, 2018 @ 6:32 pm

    Belated analogy: Living in small culture may be like living in a small town.

  56. Philip Taylor said,

    May 16, 2018 @ 6:40 pm

    (An aside, inspired by the current exchange between Bathrobe & Eidolon, in re linguistic diversity). When I knew that I would, at some point, be moving to Cornwall, I became quite excited by the idea of learning the Cornish language, inspired in no small part by John Maidment's interest therein. But having now been in Cornwall for some eight months, and having listened to a few Cornish speakers, my disappointment is unbounded. Nothing I have heard so far in any way mirrors my expectations — what I have heard, on every occasion so far, is Cornish words pronounced as if they were English. The effect is much the same (and with no disrespect intended) to that which I experienced on my first exposure to Québécois — the words were French, but the accent was 100% American (well, Canadian, I suppose). Somewhere, I imagine, there must be Cornish speakers who are trying to re-create the sounds of the language as it once was, but all of those I have heard so far appear to limit their interest to the acquisition of a working vocabulary and have little or no apparent interest in the phonetics or phonemics.

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