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Claude Hagège at MIT, 2001 – Endangered Languages: Birth, Death and Resurrection

Claude Hagège at MIT, 2001 – Endangered Languages: Birth, Death and Resurrection

[MUSIC PLAYING] HAGEGE: According to a
widespread assumption, the topic on which I’m going
to deliver a talk today does not belong in
linguistics proper. As a matter of fact,
giving this talk here, in the MIT environment,
is not quite irrelevant. Why? Because this is the
place from which, four or five years ago, a
new trend in linguistics originated, the MIT as you know. As you may know, among the
tenants of this new paradigm was the idea that language
is a phenomenon whose study is part of the
cognitive sciences and ultimately of biology. I am not among those who
work within this theoretical framework, which appeared
in linguistics in the middle of the 20th century. Therefore, I do not think
that languages can fruitfully be studied, only in cognitive
thought of being studied also in– let alone in biological terms,
short of being studied also in sociological terms. To me, language is
also, to a great extent, is social phenomenon. We also need social linguistics. Thus, I am going to
treat here language death as a social-linguistic
phenomenon. This talk takes most of
its ideas from this book. Where did I put it? [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] Whose English translation will
appear, as far I am informed, in contrary to what
she announced– she was not supposed
to know it– will appear in Stanford
University Press within, hopefully, one year or
probably, I am afraid, more. Under the title– I don’t know. [INAUDIBLE] title I suggested
halting language death. But this was frowned
upon as quite un-English. Well, so anyway, it will
appear in an English version within more or
less than one year so that, right now, I am drawing
the main of my inspirations and ideas from the
French version, which I wrote two years ago. I would also like to mention
the name of my friend and colleague, Ken Hale, whose
untimely death two weeks ago, three weeks ago– AUDIENCE: One. HAGEGE: One week ago
is a terrible loss for us professional linguists. Language death happens
to be– turns out to be also one of
the many topics which is studied very brightly. So he will be mourned and
this great loss for us. All the more since,
as you know, this was the place where he taught. OK, let me announce
the plan I will try to follow during much
more than 40 minutes. [LAUGHTER] First, the state of the art,
the situation of languages, as being on the brink of
extinction for most of them; then, the causes
of this phenomenon; then, the results of these
causes; then, the attempts at a sudden revival attempt to
revive some languages according to processes in which I will try
to give you some indications; and then, some exceptions,
which can be studied in the framework of a so-called
Resurrection, which has been announced in the title. So state of the art, what is the
situation today under our eyes? Oh, very simple. [INAUDIBLE] presented 25
languages die every year. And the result of this cool
calculation is that in 2100, considering that we have– this is a strict assessment– 5,000 languages, without taking
into account their dialects. I mean, this is– it’s probably more. Considering this number of 5,000
languages, since 25 of them die every year, in 2100, we
will have 2,500 languages. Which for me, a language lover
since childhood, is a tragedy. Of course, some
of you, probably, and some of my colleagues,
even, although they are professional linguists like
me and many people in the mass don’t care. This does not prevent
them from sleeping very– quite fully. It does, as far
as I am concerned, and I will explain why. We could consider the
situation normal, but I do not. You probably know that
in the 19th century, there used to be what we can
call a vitalist tradition, V-I-T-A-L-I-S-T, which
consisted of studying languages in biological terms. And since the notion of death,
just like the notion of life, are biological notions
applied to living species. They were born, they live,
and then they disappear. Not quite, not
completely, but they disappear as entities,
which are succeeded by new entities, which
they produced or generated. So this formulation, language
death, language life, the life of language,
the title of many books in linguistics in this century
and also in the 19th century, can be frowned
upon as metaphoric. But they are not
quite unscientific. They correspond to a
certain part of the truth. So speaking of
language death, though metaphoric to a large extent,
is not quite to be ruled out. And what does it mean? What is the lifespan of a
language, of human language? It begins when it appears,
then it leaves for some time according to the circumstances
and the environment in which it appears. And then, it
generally disappears. However, these
properties which allow us to study languages
in more or less metaphorical biological
terms are not, all of them, particular features
of languages. There is one which does not– which has never been mentioned
as far as living species are concerned and which must be
mentioned as far as language are concerned, and
this is the possibility not to die completely. Languages can be resurrected. And this is what I will
try, if she leaves me time for that, to refer to
at the end of this talk. Well, OK. When languages
appear, their life, the lifespan, the
way they develop, has many features,
which, as I said, are common with other
species, since I accept this metaphorical
formulation, this wording. Like other species,
living species, of zoology, of
biology, of botanics, and of various sub-branches,
etymology, and so on, the study of insects,
of other living species. And to that extent, languages
can be characterized as species which live and which change. When do we think languages
should not be confused with language as a faculty? Language as a faculty,
as you may know, is a defining property
of our species. Human species is characterized,
if not defined, practically, exclusively, by possessing,
in its genetic code, what Chomsky himself here refers
to, using the French terms, as [FRENCH], language faculty. This [FRENCH],, which was used
by the French philosopher, Descartes, whom
Chomsky knew as well, and to whom he devoted one
whole book, is what defines us. This means that in minus
two millions 2 thousand of hundred years,
which is reputed to be the probable date
when our species appears in a particular niche in
East Africa, as you may know. Since this time, minus– before the Christian
era, we have language. It defines us because it
appears in our genetic codes. But languages, English,
which has the same word, does not permit us to distinct
distinguish, as French does, which says [FRENCH]. So [FRENCH],, are
not the same term. English is forced to use either
the singular or the plural in order to refer to
these two notions. And language, as a defining
property of human species, is something which
does not necessarily result in languages at once. So although this is
quite hypothetical, I suppose, I think,
languages in the plural appeared much later
than the species itself. But as soon as the species
appears, the only thing which characterizes it as distinct
from other– we are a species. We are an animal
species, of course. But the only thing
which distinguishes us from other animal species is
the inscription of language in our genetic code. And the last apes,
which are still apes, and the first hominids,
which are really humans, are distinguished not by
their capacity or their skull, not by measures of their
morphological being, but exclusively by the
possession or not possession of the fact that they
possess or do not possess this faculty,
language, in their code. Well, later, much later, I
mean, close to our period, probably end of
the Neolithic era, minus 10-12,000 before
Christ, we probably had– this is a hypothesis, but it
is probably propped by many arguments, which I cannot
mention here, for lack of time, for lack of time. [LAUGHTER] It was the period in which
many languages appeared. And the reason is
not far to seek. Why do so many languages
appear in the beginning of the Neolithic? Just because this is the period
when human societies become societies. In fact, by becoming
sedentaries, they were nomadizing so far. And approximately
at that period, they begin to build cities. And building cities
means to become peasants, to have an activity, which is
agriculture, and also to seize, to stop, to a large
extent, without completely stopping being what we
call hunter-gatherer. A hunter-gatherer
is a characteristic, still represented in Australia
in some parts of New Guinea and other parts of
the world, which characterizes very old
societies, the first ones. I do not– I am reluctant– I am loath
to call them primitive. Of course, as so many
people do, because this would be a value judgment
against which I am completely– but I would just say,
that the societies which are, which were,
which used to be, and which, for some of
them, still existing are yet still hunter-gatherers
are of course nomads, nomadizing societies. Because they just live from what
they hunt and what they gather. Gathering– a hunter-gatherer
implies fishing. Or when you hunt,
you don’t fish. But fishing is just put
together with hunting as a means of subsistence. And these societies were
the most ancient we know. As soon as they become sedentary
and stop to some extent and for some of them,
completely, being nomads, stop nomadizing, then
they build cities. We can’t say without
contradiction, without provocation,
that building cities is the same as becoming peasants. Because when you build cities,
you build them in the lands. So the French humorist,
Alfonso Allais, said, [FRENCH].. But of course, this is not. This was a provocation. But in fact, where can we build
cities if not in the land? I mean, within the landscape. And then when we build cities. The ones which are
cited by the Bible, like Jericho, reputed
to be, probably wrongly, one of the most ancient
one, it remotes to– it goes back to a much
remote antiquity, but not the most remote one. I mean, probably 9,000
years before the beginning of the Christian era. Anyway, whatever the first known
city, Jericho or any other one, building these cities implies
necessarily that people– these societies were
becoming agricultures. And therefore, they
seized nomadizing. And due to the complications
of their relationships, they multiplied the
number of their languages. So we are quite sure, very sure,
that the number of languages grew considerably when
human societies became sedentary societies. This implying that relationships
are more and more complex when societies– once they are established,
settled in a place, have new kinds of
relationships which force them to build new kinds
of conception of the worlds and to study it
and to express it with a much more
refined communication means, which is language. Well, this concerns
the Neolithic. But then after this
birth and development, at a period which is
very close to ours, a Renaissance or beginning
of the 16th century, there was a sharp decrease
in the number of languages. And this is essentially
due to the discovery of new worlds, which is a
warlike, a hawkish discovery. People do not
discover a new world just by observing
its characteristics. They murder other people. And this is one of the first
causes of language death. They lead them to the
brink of extinction. I mean both ethnically
and linguistically. The ones which escape Western
violence lose the languages. And the ones who do
not lose their life and in the same time, the
languages and their cultures. So we know that the
number of languages is submitted to a sharp
decrease in the beginning of the 15th century,
which is, by the way, the beginning of what
are called the most beautiful discoveries
of the world by, most of the
time, Westerners. Well, this implies
that in America, three parts of
America, in Australia later, in New Zealand,
in Russia also, languages after having
thrived, after having been extremely numerous,
become decreasing at very rapid speeds. And in Africa, Nigeria,
Tanzania, Kenya we also see many, many
languages disappearing for causes which I’m
going to study now. So I have just to begin with– presented a situation where
I call a state of the art. And now, let me
propose some causes. The first cause, which is
quite easy to understand, is, as I said,
physical extinction. Of course, when
there is slaughter, when you kill people,
they disappear and their languages
disappear at the same time. So this is the history of
the great part of the world. We can say that the discovery
of North, Central, and South America is the discovery
of continents in which Europeans are not mingling most
of the time, with an exception. The Spaniards mingled much more
regionally than the Anglo-Saxon Puritans with the Indians. Of course, they needed women. So not mingling in general
with the native populations, but pushing them further
away from their settlements or killing them more by the
spread of old world diseases than in wards,
led their language and themselves to extinction. This is one of the chief causes. Now we also have social
and professional causes. I mean, when the language is
presented as providing new jobs or as being the vector of new
values, social values, even cultural values, which
correspond to enrichment and the possibility to
affirm oneself more readily, then people switch from
their ancestral language, from their vernacular
language, to this new language, which is imputed to bring
a new kind of living judged preferable. So this is what
happens in many places and especially in
America and in Africa. So the second cause
of language extinction after physical
extinction itself is social and professional
changes under a contact. In Africa, for
example, this example will illustrate the
way languages are led to the brink of extinction,
not necessarily by Westerners but also by Africans themselves
in their relationship with other Africans. When– if I am a nomad, I am a– I have nothing to live off,
and I just hunt and gather. And I marry a woman
whose father has cattle. Since I buy her– women
are bought, of course. In these societies,
women are bought. And since her father,
in order to negotiate this commercial act
with me, gives me some heads of
cattle, which he has, if she belongs to a family
in which people are pastors, then I change my way of life. And from this normadizing
life, which I had formerly, to the new life which is
brought to me by my marriage, I become a new kind of man. That means that I give up
my former nomadizing life. Then, the question which
appears as the main one is, what language will be
transmitted to the children? Of course, the woman,
whatever kind of feelings she has for her husband,
will not learn his language. What will she do? She will transmit the
language of her father, the one of her
tribe, which is hers, and then the children
will be brought up in the language of the mother. And this is one of the main
social and professional causes of the disappearing
of languages. So marriage is a very
dangerous thing for languages. [LAUGHTER] It depends. It depends what
kind of marriage. But in that particular
case, it’s, unfortunately, totally counter-indicated. Another cause is the models
provided by urban life. Therefore, the
previous one which I was referring to
just some minutes ago, I will illustrate probably
by the example of Kwegu, who are a nomadizing population–
who were, used to be formerly, but they have changed
their way of life in Kenya. And most of them, by these
kind of marriages to which I was referring, become pastors. And in some kinds,
they are cultivators. And then their language dies,
because they won’t transmit it. And this is the
case of these Kwegu marrying Maasai women in
Kenya and south of Tanzania. As far as the other cause
is concerned to which– models which are provided by
a new urban life, a case which I could mention is the one
of the Nubians of high Egypt. These people belong
to an ethni which has a Nilo-Saharan language,
Nubian, well studied by linguists. Myself, I did field work on
this language some years ago. And they are Muslims. And since they are Muslims,
they are very regularly submitted to the religious
emissions of broadcasting’s of Cairo in Arabic. So they become bilinguals. They speak their Nubian,
vernacular language, and they also speak Arabic,
which is the vector of Islam, and which they catch
when they listen or watch their broadcasting and
television programs in Arabic. So this they do
in urban centers. Because in their
countries, it is difficult to catch these media. But when they go to Cairo or to
other important cities of Egypt and Sudan, then
they progressively abandon, give up
their own language. And this is the way by
which life in urban centers is threatening– is a very
big threat for the maintaining of languages. So this is the way
most of them die. Another one, which I
would like to refer to, although it does not
belong as the previous ones to those which can be
studied scientifically. I mean using
scientific concepts, such as professional life,
change of lifestyle, marriage, and so on, is a reason
which I am, to some extent, hesitant to mention. But I don’t see any other
reason for the extinction of many languages in the modern
world that what I would call– I would refer to as snobbishry. In many cases, the adoption
of English, precisely, by populations which
do not need it. Neither in their social life nor
in their professional life nor for commercial or
economic reasons. Is not explainable
short of referring to reasons of snobbishry. This is the case in
many European countries in which English is
promoted not by the pressure of British or
American authorities, not by people who are
themselves bearers, I would say, or speakers of English,
but by the very populations of European countries, Western
countries in Europe who consider, which is by no
means my case of course, that speaking English is
something which is prestigious. I cannot share this ridiculous
attitude, of course, but it is the one
we see in many, many Western milieu and
especially in the bourgeoisie in France, Germany,
Spain, Italy, and so on. And the reason why I mention–
at the end of this sub-chapter on causes of
language extinction– the reason why I mention it
at the end is that snobbishry, as I said, cannot be proposed
as a scientific cause. But it is. At any rate, it is the only
one I see when I don’t– when I can’t
mention other causes to explain switching
from one language to another one which one
does not really need. As far as commerce and
profit, the only care of these kind of
people is concerned, selling or buying in English, as
they think they are forced to, does not, by any means,
improve their business nor leads them to a better
kind of invention or creativity and so on. But nevertheless, they think
that switching to English is something which
is to be praised. Well, now let me present the
results of such a situation. I will give some examples to
illustrate the set of causes and to show what these
causes have brought about as a result.
Let me tell you these examples in various
parts of the world. And let me begin
with an example, in the United States of
Norwegian, which you might– some of you might know,
probably some of you who have Norwegian background
have heard of that. After an initial migration
of 1,925 persons, very few, Norwegians emigrated to the
United States in such numbers that they were able to
create a Norwegian America. And this Norwegian America
flourished from 1850 to 1940. During most of this
period, the chief medium of internal communication,
oral and written, was the Norwegian
language, which served as an in-group identity marker. Widely spoken in
several parts of, as you know, of Minnesota,
Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, South and North Dakota,
and some other states. Research on informant
usage shows that– I have myself done
some fieldwork in some of these states
which I have just mentioned– shows that in the more
conservative and isolated rural settlements the language
persisted well into the second, that is, the first
American generation as late as the 1940s,
which means very recently. One could still
find speakers who claimed to be using Norwegian
regularly in the United States at least one half of their time. However, among these
bilinguals, Norwegian became typically a family
or neighborhood language, gradually abandoned as contacts
with American institutions and individuals grew. Several informants reported
that they had first learned English at a
school after speaking only Norwegian in their home. The discipline
could be traumatic. An informant told me that
at the district school– I am mentioning what he said– we were not allowed
to speak Norwegian. Another puts it that,
when we were little, we could not talk Yankee, and
the teacher would keep us after school if we didn’t– if we did. The school was, of course, not
alone in promoting English. Several mentioned contacts
with the Norwegian neighbors, especially Irish and
Germans, though there was an occasional German
who learned Norwegian from surroundings, are also to
be mentioned among the causes. After World War II,
Norwegian almost disappeared as it was as a
result of all the factors which I have mentioned. The scenario here
outlined does not seem to be very
different from that which applies to most immigrants
languages in the United States, and also in Canada, to
some extent in other parts of the world which are now, for
the majority, English speaking. There are special
profiles, however. For example, for Pennsylvania
German where immigration was early and massive. In a comparison, very small
modern groups, numbers, and religious
boundaries may lead to greater retentiveness,
as with a million Germans, or less, as in the
case of American Danes. English is not only the
proto-American language of choice, promoted by
official and private usage, it is also the lingua Franca
of all the earlier immigrants who are sooner or later driven
to communicate with each other. And this is the fate of
Norwegian in this country. Let me mention
another example which has to do with Castilianized
or Hispanized South and Central America. In these countries,
as you know, we had a very great number
of local languages, especially in Mexico,
Nahuatl in the north and the Mayan
languages in the South, as well as some other
ones, Chinantec, and so on, which can still be studied
by people doing field work, like myself, but which are
more or less, a great number of them, on the
brink of extinction today, unfortunately. These languages, these
people lost their languages and their cultures to
the Spanish culture, to the Spanish language. And this was, to a
large extent, due to evangelization
to Christianization and also to the fact that
just the same colonial habit of which we see so many examples
all over the world, people when they colonize or when they
arrived in these countries, took the best lands, took
the best places to cultivate and pushed away
farther and farther the original inhabitants,
who of course either died because
they had nothing to eat or because they did not
develop and tie elements to defend themselves against the
diseases brought by Europeans. So what happens to their body,
happened to their languages. Another case is the
formation of new languages, which is not the same thing as
the one I am referring to now. I mean, either language
is imposed upon, foisted on people who are
deprived, by the same token, of their own language. And in that case, it
is a substitution. Or another way, another
process by which we can say that we
have language death, language splits into
other languages. And by splitting, it
becomes other languages which do not
necessarily replace it but are its outgrowth
or its products. This is exactly
what I am describing in my own, very poor terms,
what has happened to French, Italian, Spanish,
Romanian, and Portuguese, the so-called new Latin
or Roman languages, which are as you know, the results
of the splitting of Latin. Latin split into these
five, in fact, much more, but these five main
so-called Latin languages. In that case, will we
say that Latin is dead? This I will– how long is left? AUDIENCE: 10 minutes. HAGEGE: Well, I’m
going to mention now, in the chapter which is
devoted to resurrection. I’m going to talk
about that now. Well, has Latin disappeared? No, to the extent that
Latin has given way and has been the source from
which other languages have developed. Yes, it has disappeared
to the extent that Spanish is not Latin,
French isn’t either. In spite of that, I’d like to
call your attention to the fact that the reason for me– I have also delved
into books which confirm this
position– the reason why America was called Latin,
why would America be Latin? Of course, we are so used
to such a designation that we do not wonder why. But why did the
Spaniards, when they invaded it, the conquistadors,
why did they call it Latin? The reason is that they consider
themselves bearers of Latin. In other words, in spite
of the fact that Castilian, the purest termination
of Spanish, was no more, was no longer, since
centuries and centuries Latin, they still believed–
they were still convinced that what they spoke was Latin. It had been transformed
to some extent, but Latin. And this is the way, the reason
why Hispanized America was called Latin America, although
it was not Latin by any means. But it is the way the
Spaniards viewed it. Well, now in other
cases, languages try to defend themselves against
the assaults of languages of invaders and to resist
and to try to avoid dying. Well, now let me– as one of the last
parts of this talk– let me, as I announced, say
what I think about the attempts to revive some languages. There are some attempts
to revive languages and some of them are successful. Some are less. Some are not at all. What are these attempts? Many people, mostly
missionaries and linguists, do not satisfy themselves
with the samples taken that language is being
extinct and progressively dying. They try to revive them and in
some cases, against the will of the population themselves. I mean, to the extent
that, as I said in the beginning of
this talk, populations, for various causes
which I referred to, consider that they do not have
to translate their vernacular languages to their
descendants or their children. To that extent, when a linguist
or a missionary, a missionary who translate the Bible
in order to evangelize the population in
their own vernacular, a traditional language,
and the linguist who is, as myself, a
language lover and who mourns the death of a
language as a catastrophe, those two kinds
of man who do not coincide, as you can imagine,
except that some missionaries have had linguistic
training of late because formerly they did not. They translated without
knowing the language. I don’t know how they
manage, but anyway. So these two kind of persons
exert a certain pressure on the populations
who are tempted to abandon the languages. And as a result, they
try to find arguments. Here is the plan
of action, which is proposed to help
protect against the loss of indigenous languages in many
Indian Reservations in America and also in Australia. Promoting ethnic self-awareness,
confronting apathy among young people,
identifying social contacts in which traditional
language use can be fostered, fighting against the
perception that multilingualism is cumbersome and
without great benefits. This is what I
myself very often do. As a result, there
are some cases in which languages escape or at
least provisory escape death. Let me mention some examples. One of them concerns Indian
reserves in the United States. At the beginning of the 16th
century in the lands that are now the United States, I
mean the 48 contiguous states plus Alaska and
Hawaii, there must have been many hundreds
of distinct languages. Did you know that? Imagine that. This is not what the
teachers tell you. Well, fewer than
200 still remain. And the future of these
is decidedly insecure, even where the remoteness
of the location– in the case of the Inuit,
Eskimos, of northern Alaska– or the large size of the speech
community in the case of whom– Navajos of Arizona–
should normally or seem to protect the
community from language loss. So people launch
programs of revival in order to help these
languages not die and to make populations
aware of the danger which threatens these languages and
threatens them to extinction. And this has the result
that some of these languages have been revived, although
to some extent artificially, but not without success. I can mention the
case of Mohawk. You have heard of Mohawk? Which is still spoken as well
as other Iroquoian family because it belongs to the
Iroquoian family, which was formerly spoken around the
Great Lakes and the Chicago and Detroit region. Thanks for the Mohawk
language immersion program, the children learned many
of the positive facets of Mohawk culture, beyond
the sounds and phrases of the Mohawk language. Emphasis is also placed on
traditional spirituality and respect for teachers
and elders, which makes part of their culture. The children can identify
with Mohawk role models, along with completing all
that is required academically. The children have
a feeling of pride of knowing their own language. The feeling of security
of knowing their heritage and culture. And the confidence
of a strong identity. It has taken 25 years to
arrive at where people are now. It has been a struggle, but
tremendously satisfying. And my informants
say we still have to contend with getting the
community more involved. So we are far from being able
to sit back on our laurels. So this is a kind of
fighting, almost a warlike, campaign against death. Now some of them have
succeeded in making the political
authorities conscious. Before I mention this
fact, let me also mention another case
of successful fighting against language death. This applies to Peach
Spring in Arizona. You may have heard of that. This is the place
where the Hualapai language used to be spoken. And at the beginning
of the 20th century, it was very, very
severely threatened. So people reacted and now
almost all of the teaching staff have of the Peach
Springs program have attended the American
Indian language Development Institute, which was co-founded
by the program’s director. And as a result of access to
highly trained consultants and researchers, this
Peach Springs bilingual, bicultural program has produced
a great many highly accurate, culturally relevant, and
attractive books and materials in the Hualapai
language, one of the most threatened among these languages
which belong to the [INAUDIBLE] family. The program’s
publications include books on Hualapai ethnobotany,
cattle ranching, hunting, traditional foods, and
traditional Hualapai history and stories. The children in the
school have also been involved in creative
writing programs, creating contemporary short
stories, life experience writing and poetry in their
vernacular Hualapai language. Now people have
gone even farther. In 1979, an American Indian
Language Development Institute, AILDI, was founded. And in June 1988, the
International Conference of this– off the Native American
Language Issues Institute held a conference
in Tempe, Arizona. This conference, in the
course of the conference, all Indian and
non-Indian participants, including Hawaiian
representatives, worked together to
formulate resolutions concerning Native American
languages and cultures. In September, a copy
of these resolutions was sent to the select
committee of Indian Affairs. And later, in 1990,
October, a bill was passed by the
Senate and the House. And it was signed by President
Bush, the other President Bush. The legislation is known
as public law 101 or Native American Language Act. What does it contain? Let me just mention
some articles. It says, it is the policy
of the United States to first preserve,
protect, and promote the rights and freedom
of Native Americans to use, practice, and develop
Native American languages. Second, encourage
and support the use of Native American languages
as a medium of instruction in order to
encourage and support Native American
language survival, educational opportunity,
increase students’ success, performance, and so on. The bill, unfortunately,
in the end in a last and little
visible chapter, also states that
nothing in this title shall be construed as precluding
the use of federal funds to teach English to
Native Americans. This is enough to– for me not to have to comment
upon what this implies. Now let me, in order
to say my last words, hopefully, say the
reason why the situation, as a matter of fact, is not so
dramatic as it might appear. This is because the
comparison which I referred to as, to a
large extent, metaphorical and consequently not
quite scientific, between languages
and living species has its limits to the extent
that, one, as I announced, property of living species. I mean, the fact that they die
is not shared by languages. Languages, in fact, do not die. What does that mean? Very simple thing. In order to understand
what it implies, you have to know that this
is a professional language distinction, to some extent. It’s technical, but
I think everybody– are some of you linguists,
major in linguistics? None of you? Some of you? So you must know
that we distinguish since the great Swiss-French
linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, of whom
you may have heard, we distinguish between
parole and langue, language as a system and speech as
the use of this system. Lang, or language,
as an abstract notion means any instrument
of communication which possesses a phonetic system– because you need sounds in order
to make, to fabricate words, a morphology, which is a study
of the external form of words, because you need words
made of sounds in order to be the vectors of
semantic contents, then syntax because you
need an environment in order to build sentences in the
framework of which these words will be put. So it is the job of
syntax to study this. And finally, you
need semantics, which is the study of the content
of these words, which are made of sounds which are– which these sounds constituting
together the morphemes, and these morphemes together
according to a certain word order, constituting sentences. So this is the
system of language. You can study this in any
language of the world. And another parameter,
another direction of language is speech, what the
French call parole. What does it mean? It means the way you
put all that into use, the way you utilize these
performance possibilities in order to communicate. And this is the only things
which, in fact, dies. But language is a system,
phonetic, morphologic, syntactic, and
semantic, does not die. Why does it not die? For a simple reason,
why should it die? When we say that a
language is dead, we mean that parole is dead. It means that it
is out of usage. People do not use it any longer. But provided we have kept a
description of this language, of course, in the opposite
case it is completely dead and without any
hope, hopelessly. However, when we have
kept descriptions written, as is often the case, either by
missionaries or by grammarians, what used to be
grammarians formerly, and what is to be
today linguists, professional
linguists like myself. When we have descriptions, then
provided we can explore them. Provided we can tap
them and see what they describe the language,
which is called dead, which is assumed to
have disappeared. We can revive this
language because we know on what basis to revive this. And this is what has been done
in at least one very special case which I cannot not
mention to end my talk. And this is the case of Hebrew. I cannot avoid mentioning
it because it is, although reconstituted revived
in a very special and probably difficult to reproduce, in
very special circumstances, it has been revived,
as a matter of fact. And this, of course, cannot
not be cited as a model. What does this consist of? You probably know that
when Jesus of Nazareth, the Jewish way of calling him. He was Yeshua and Nazareth was
the city in which he lived. He was born in
Bethlehem, but Bethlehem which means the house of bread. Beth is house and
Lehem is the bread. He was born in the
house of bread. But he spent most of
his life in Nazareth. And the Jewish way
of calling him– of course we do not
recognize Jesus Christ. Christ means anointed. This is Christ Catholic, it
does not belong to our culture. So I call it the Jewish
way, Jesus of Nazareth, which was his name for
his contemporaries. When he appeared, Hebrew
was already a dead language and had been such for
500 years, 600 years. Why? Because in minus 594,
the Jews were exiled in– you know where– in Babylon. Why? Because Nebuchadnezzar,
whose name [INAUDIBLE] in a very well-known
Verdi opera, Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar in
a Syrian language, had fought against the Judea and
defeated the Jews and the Jews [? Eretz, ?] the aristocracy,
the king himself, and all the ones who ruled,
and high [INAUDIBLE].. All these people
were exiled and they were forced to go to Babylon. And of course, then,
six centuries before the birth of Yeshua of
Nazareth, they spoke Hebrew. But then, being
exalted in Babylon, they progressively
adopted the language, which was very
widespread then in what we call Middle East today. And this language,
you know what it was? It was Aramean, not Armenian,
Aramean, which is not yet dead, probably the oldest still
remaining, still living language in the world,
which is still spoken today, of course in a new
form, in modern form, in the heights of some
Lebanese mountains. And this Aramean
language became– although originally it did
not belong to the Jews, it became a very Jewish
language, in a way, because it was adopted
by Jewish Eretz. After the exile, when they
came back to Jerusalem, they did not speak
Hebrew anymore. What did they speak, Aramean. So Jesus of Nazareth
spoke Aramean like all his contemporaries. And he very probably– we are pretty sure– that the
way, the language in which he answered the accusations
when he was sued was Aramean. Of course, he– the rabbis
asked him whether he knew the prayers, he did. And he probably said
the prayers in Hebrew because Hebrew was and still
is, in Jewish communities today, the language of
liturgia, the language which is used in the
synagogue and which is a religious language. But as soon as the
birth of Christ, let us call him
the Christian way, as soon as the birth of Christ,
Hebrew was already dead. And it was so since
six centuries before. So in 1948, the
state of Israel was created by a vote in the United
Nations, which unfortunately, as soon as it was
published, brought about the dramatic departure
of all the representatives of Arabic countries. They all stood up and they left
the hall in which this election had taken place as a kind
of symbolic rejection at the very beginning of
the creation of Israel. This of course, you know
the results still today under our eyes of
this situation. However, when the state– in such a difficult context– was created by an
international resolution, then the Hebrew language had
already began to be revived. How? Because there was a man– of course, it’s not the
work of a single man. You have heard
probably of Ben Yehuda. Ben Yehuda was a
Jewish Russian who, at the end of the 19th
century, all of a sudden became aware of the
fact that it was not enough– most of these
people were Zionists, not in the very derogative
sense of today, unfortunately. Zionist then meant an
ideal of liberation. To be Zionist at the end of
19th century, as Ben Yehuda was, implied to be
inhabited by a desire to free the Jewish people from
slavery and from anti-Semitism and all its negative
aspect of its history. So they were Zionists in this
meaning, to which in order to free themselves
from their binds. And then he, all of a
sudden, became aware that in order to be
able to go in Palestine, the Jews had to speak
a language which was– which should be
common to all of them. And then many Jews– this was far, very long
before the creation of Israel, it was in the beginning
of the 20th century. And of the 19th and
beginning of the 20th. Many Jews made what we
call in Hebrew aliyah. They went to Palestine. Many of them came from
Russia because as you know, Czarist Russia had
many, many programs and the Jews were obliged
to flee from Russia in order to avoid murder or slaughter. And then they went to
Palestine, which was then a Turkish province administered
and ruled by Constantinople, by the Turks. Then in 1948, when the
state of Israel was created, Hebrew was already a spoken
language thanks to the efforts of Ben Yehuda and other ones who
spent almost their whole life looking for words of the Bible,
modernizing the language. Of course, the Bible
does not contain words to say atomic bomb or
airplane or terrorism and so on, notions which belong to
our context, cultural context. But they made up these words. They invented. They coined new words. And this neurological work,
which was extremely important, took years and
years, during which a new language, not quite new,
but a modernization of Hebrew finally was possible. And this– which is
called Israeli Hebrew– was in fact a revival of Hebrew. Why? Because the syntax,
the morphology, of course, the vocabulary
as I said, is renewed. But the core of the language,
syntax morphology, and also phonology, to the extent that
we knew how they pronounced three millennia
ago, were the same as those of a biblical Hebrew. So BI, Biblical Hebrew, and IH– BH, Biblical Hebrew,
and IH, Israeli Hebrew, are more or less
the same language. Of course with differences
which can be explained easily when you think
of the period of time which separates them. So this language was revived. When I say revived, I mean
that not only was Hebrew a dead language as soon as the
beginning of the Christian era, as I said, due to
the Babylon exile, but also Hebrew
had never been used except in quite an
exclusively religious context. It was the language
of Talmudists, of rabbis, and their
scientific correspondence, of learned people, but not
the language in which we say to a girl, I love
you, or to your father, please give me a fork or a
spoon when you are eating. So it was the language
which was used exclusively in very solemn and very
religious circumstances, never in everyday life. This is the reason why
I said it was dead, because the language
which was used extensively between learned people
and in written form but not in other form
is a dead language. However, I mentioned the
example to terminate this talk as a proof that when the
language has been described, when we have many, many
texts, the main of them being the Bible itself, then in
spite of its having appeared, in spite of its
having never been used during [INAUDIBLE]
and [INAUDIBLE],, it is not quite dead
because it can be revived since we have the testimonies. We have the elements. Of course, this is one
thing which is requested. Another one is a certain
will, a collective will, a very strong will
shared by many people to revive a language,
of which we have at our disposal the materials. This will, as far as I know,
to the best of my knowledge, has never been illustrated,
excluding among the Jews. But I think this is a
model to be exploited, to be utilized as things to be
imitated by other communities. The inhabitants of
Cornwall in England, in the south of England,
have tried along this model to revive Cornish. Cornish was dead at the
end of the 17th century. And the Corn– how
to say Cornwalls? AUDIENCE: Cornish. HAGEGE: Cornish, who of
course speak English and have done so for centuries
and centuries said, we are not Jews. In fact, they’re not. It’s true. But why wouldn’t we try to do
the same thing as the Jews did. And so they have succeeded
against all expectations, a very, very queer,
an odd success. They have succeeded
at dazzling speed to reviving their language
along the model of Hebrew. We have some other
cases which are Creoles, such as the one used
in the east of Timor and also the one
Nagamese used in Nagaland which is a Himalayan states at
the extreme Northeast of India. We have some other examples. But the only one we can
mention and which is a sure one is Hebrew, revived Hebrew. And this illustrates,
once more, as I said, the fact that when
parole I mean, the use in everyday speech
is the only parameter which has appeared. The language itself has not
because it is described, then, if I dare say so, it’s suffices
to have a collective will to revive the language. Of course, this collective
will does not always exist. And the destiny, the
fate of the Jewish people is not a fate which is very
common, as you may know. So this is the
last thing I wanted to mention in order to show– no, my last, last
thing is that– other than Hebrew– we can
mention facts which relieve us from this despair,
from the dispiriting– from this situation in which
we see so many languages dying. We have also some languages
which appear from nothing, from scratch. And these languages are Creoles. This is well known. I am, myself, a Creolist. Creolistics, I would
like to recall, Creolistics is one of the
most vivid and most active disciplines within linguistics. I am a Creolist myself. Why? Because we see in West
Indies, in New Hebrides, in other parts of
the world, we know languages that are
extremely young, we can assign them two
or three centuries. And we know when they were
born, when they appeared. And these Creoles
are languages which have been created of late,
two or three centuries ago, for the oldest of them, by
populations which were deprived of other languages
due to slavery and to a very sad history,
which you may know. So the birth of
Creoles, of course, does not compensate for the
death of some of the languages. But it is a fact to be
mentioned as a sign of hope that when many language die,
some languages also appear. And this process might go on
during centuries and centuries, I believe. Thank you very much,
for your attention. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. HAGEGE: Yes, but
this is precisely why I say that the metaphorical
comparison of languages with living species
finds its limitations in this very argument. Species, when they are dead,
are dead, definitely, which is not the case of languages. This is exactly what I said. You cannot revive a– if you are an
entomologist, you know that a special
species of insects has disappeared from the earth
for economical, ecological reasons that you can
study, then no one will be able to revive it, which
is not the case of languages, provided you have situations
like the ones I referred to. And your other question? AUDIENCE: About
Creole languages. You think of them
as being young– HAGEGE: Yes, they are. AUDIENCE: Local creations. [INAUDIBLE] By which measure? What measure– HAGEGE: Because you know
where they were born. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. HAGEGE: Would you
like some examples? AUDIENCE: Sure. [INAUDIBLE] HAGEGE: You know the situation. Well? AUDIENCE: Haitian
Creole, as an example. [INAUDIBLE] HAGEGE: You know,
I have myself– well, Haitian, you say? Well, I know well– I know better, although
it’s more of the same because they can communicate
without difficulty. I know better the
ones which belong to French territories
still today, which are the one of Guadalupe,
Martinique, and Guyana. We know really
well, when I speak of Creole appearing
at a certain date, it is because we can
date their appearance. And why? This is related to the
history of slavery, you know. African communities were
taken away from their tribes where they lived
by merchants, who were Spanish, French,
mainly British, but also from other
countries, Portuguese. They were bought
from local chiefs. And then as soon
as they embarked in these boat which led
them to the colonies, the tribes were mixed
up and the languages were being disappearing. Then this is a well-known story. I apologize for recalling it,
but you know it is well known. Then they are obliged to create
new means of communication in order to communicate. And what they create was
a kind of new language in which they took some
things from the language of the masters, French, English,
Spanish, as the case may be, and some other elements from
their own vernacular languages. And this is why
Creolistics has become such an important
part of linguistic because we have
great controversies. We have what we call
the substratists and the anti-substratists. I am a substratists, I mean. I am among the those. I am an African, is
myself, so I have studied many, many African languages. And I recognize, I identify
in Creole as many African features, which cannot be
explained by French, English, or Spanish. And the anti-Creolists,
they retain other features which are the same as the
ones in European languages. And they say, no. You cannot be a substratists. We are anti-substratists. So the controversy
consists of saying, what are the traits,
the features which are due to the African
origin of slaves? And what are the ones which
are assignable to the language of their masters, which
are European languages. AUDIENCE: How is that different
form the history of France where you have– HAGEGE: I didn’t
say the difference. I just say it is more recent. AUDIENCE: So then why would
Creole be a new species? HAGEGE: No, no, no. I don’t say that. I understand what you imply. I’m not saying that Creoles
are something quite apart and not to be compared with
other kinds of language. They are human languages
like any other. I just say that they are,
by far, younger than the one you know. Why? Because the origin of Latin
and Greek is extremely remote and we don’t have
enough documents. The origin of Creoles
is very recent because we know when these
slavery circumstances began. We know most of the African
languages still in use, of course, which were
the ones that the tribes to which these slaves belonged. And then the only
thing I say is not that they are
different, by any means, but they are younger
because we know where and when they appeared. This is what I say. Most Creolists will have the
same language because we– the reason among–
yes, just a minute. Among the reason we
mentioned for giving to Creolistics such an important
place within our studies is that not only
this controversy between substratists
and anti-substratists is in fact a very important
theoretical questioning linguistics because it, in
fact, refers to what language is and how does a language appear. So Creoles provide us arguments
in one or other direction. The other reason is, as I said,
that we know when they appeared and then what we cannot
do for Latin, Hebrew, Arabic and other languages,
of which old documents have disappeared, we can do for
Creoles because we have documents. Missionaries who evangelized the
slaves spoke African languages with them, described them. And they saw. They were a witness of the
birth of these languages. They saw them
appearing progressively and we have descriptions,
great number. This is why Creolistics, to me,
and to many other linguists, is such an important
domain in linguistics. Yes? AUDIENCE: What’s your comment
about the multiplication of languages of
different [INAUDIBLE] that can be seen, for
instance, over the internet. Every site, every [INAUDIBLE]
has got its own language that nobody else can
understand or use. There is no oral
tradition for that, but every community
has got it’s own way of speak and communicate. So what’s your
comment about that? HAGEGE: What? AUDIENCE: What’s your
opinion about that. HAGEGE: The internet? AUDIENCE: Yeah, or
different [INAUDIBLE].. HAGEGE: I see internet as a
big chance for the diversity for multilingualism. Because in the beginning
internet appeared wrongly. We thought appeared as one
more way of promoting English. But progressively,
internet was– people became aware
of the possibility which was provided by internet
to promote their own languages. And now what I see,
myself almost every day, is that many, many
sites are occupied by languages which we
would not have expected to appear in an internet. So internet, for me, right
now, is one of the best ways to preserve language
from disappearing. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. HAGEGE: It was
not your question? AUDIENCE: Yeah, my question
is that many new languages are appearing. HAGEGE: New? What do you mean by new? Which ones? AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] that
communicate with [INAUDIBLE] developed its own code. And with the speed
of the internet, this process is really fast. So maybe you observe
new languages getting born every day on the internet. HAGEGE: You mean new human
languages or made up languages? AUDIENCE: Made up by users. HAGEGE: Yeah, but
excuse me, excuse me, I am a professional linguist. I would not call these way
of communications, languages. A language, for me,
is what you know. It has a history. It has a grammar. It is not exclusively
in written form on the screen or your
internet of your computer. Its language we’ve spoken. So the codes, I would call
them codes, which appear and which are very numerous. They invade, in a way,
internet, do not disturb me. They are not languages. They are codes, or
means of communicating, which of course probably are
very useful to many people who use them. But I would not study them
within my work as a linguist. Yes? AUDIENCE: I have a question. At the beginning of
the talk, am I correct in understand that you said
that languages, plural, are associated with the
beginning of settled communities [INAUDIBLE]? HAGEGE: Associated with what? AUDIENCE: Of settled communities
and the construction of cities. Did I hear that correctly? HAGEGE: Well I say–
yes, you are correct. AUDIENCE: Can you repeat
the question please? HAGEGE: He’s quite
correct, what he said. He caught what I meant. Yes. AUDIENCE: I didn’t hear it. There was a question. HAGEGE: It was a comment. AUDIENCE: If I was
to describe how do you reconcile this with
information that came later in your talk concerning
the arrival of Europeans in North America who found
hundred of languages, hundreds of communities
spoke different languages, did not understand
each other at all. HAGEGE: To some
extent, they did. AUDIENCE: Many of
these communities were hunters and gatherers. We have the same kind of
situation in the Amazon where we have hunting and
gathering societies presumably. And communities that
live within a kilometer of each other and
they do not understand each other’s language. So I wonder where this
argument comes from and why it is going to be still
here, this kind of argument being wielded after
2,000 years hearing it, for instance, in Greek writing,
the notion that those who spoke [INAUDIBLE] who
lived in the cities, and those who didn’t were
the [INAUDIBLE] who barked, in a sense. HAGEGE: They don’t bark. AUDIENCE: At the
people in the cities. So I’m wondering about the
status of this argument. HAGEGE: Well, there is a piece
of information which is lacking and which I would
like to provide you. In fact, these people had what
we call the vehicular languages in the Amazon, in
the Great Plains among the Algonquins,
Iroquoians and so on. There were many
vehicular languages. I mean, languages
whose origin was taken from one of the tribes
and which imposed themselves on all of the tribes
and they were used as communication languages. This is what the whites
found when they arrived. In all these contexts,
we had– they had been described by some missionaries. And we have some elements
of information on them, in all these communities,
which where, it is true, split up into many, many tribes. They communicate with
each other through the use of these vehicular languages. AUDIENCE: So this has nothing
to do with the construction of cities. HAGEGE: But this is much later. AUDIENCE: And specialization. HAGEGE: But this is much later. That was a kind of anachronism. The construction of
the cities goes back to a remote antiquity
which I would assign to 9,000 or 10,000 years
before the beginning of the Christian era,
where while the period you are referring to is the arrival
of the whites in America, which is the 16th century. Between the two, we
have 10,006 centuries. So it is not the same period. So an enormous lack of
time between the two. AUDIENCE: But then
again [INAUDIBLE] contemporary societies,
quote unquote, “primitive,” as examples
of where we come from. This is still
common in sciences. So that’s why I’m asking about
the status of this argument because it sounds
like an argument that has been wielded for so long. HAGEGE: After? AUDIENCE: The argument
that essentially, the notion of the
diversification of languages is something that comes from the
appearance of settled society. HAGEGE: Yes. Do you agree with it? AUDIENCE: No, not at all. HAGEGE: What do you propose? AUDIENCE: I think
it’s a fiction. HAGEGE: What do you propose? AUDIENCE: Well, I think that
the emergence of languages has to do with a new
[INAUDIBLE] which is not exclusive of settled societies. That’s what my– HAGEGE: Well, no, no. What I say– AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. HAGEGE: What I say
is that we state something which can be
observed, that the increased number of languages
corresponds to the increased number of social relationships
is something which we know, which has been described. So of course, starting with
this point, which is recognized, agreed upon by
most scholars, what I say is to some
extent, hypothetical. It’s true but I would not deny
many other linguists also have this view, claim that sedentary
life multiplied, increased, as a result, increase
the number of languages. Because languages
are a way by which human societies react to
the complexity of life in order to communicate. So it doesn’t mean that
nomads had simple languages. They had fewer. But in fact, the
languages of Australia, which have been conserved,
and of Iroquois and Algonquin tribes in America, going back
to a very old period of time, are very complicated. So what I say is
not that when you have hunter-gatherer
societies becoming sedentary, they have more
complex languages, they have many more
languages, I say, which are not
necessarily more complex. But they multiply the
number because themselves multiply the settlements and
the circumstances in which they live. This is what I say. To some extent, I repeat,
it’s hypothetical. So you justified to
put it into question. But it is an opinion which
is shared by many linguists, and not quite
demonstrable, I recognize. Yes? AUDIENCE: So how is that theory
[INAUDIBLE] with the fact that the linguistically most richest
areas of the world are areas where we have a lot of small,
isolated tribes that have trouble reaching– HAGEGE: What areas? AUDIENCE: The
Australian Aborigines– HAGEGE: New Guinea. AUDIENCE: Sub-Saharan
Africa, and New Guinea. HAGEGE: Yes. AUDIENCE: Whereas in the
more industrial areas, where the communication
is more enhanced and you have the need to talk
and relate, and communicate with much more people,
the number of languages is of course– HAGEGE: Is much smaller. AUDIENCE: Yes. HAGEGE: What’s your question? AUDIENCE: Well, how does that
reconcile with the view that more cities and
more settlements– that the emergence of
cities and settlements– HAGEGE: Oh, it’s very
easy to reconcile. I would say for
ecological reasons because as you may know, the
part of the world in which we have many, many tribes picking
many different languages, diverging languages,
which do not allow– despite the existence
of vehicular languages– an easy communication, all of
these parts of the world, New Guinea, northern territories
of Australia, and so on, are very mountainous
places in which people– the Caucasus also–
in which people are separated by relief
accidents, which are very high. So the way
socio-linguistics tries to explain, its proposal, of
course, which can be improved, the way social linguists try
to explain this situation, as being non-contradictory,
is that this is related to the
geographical configurations of these countries. And we know– I have been myself
to New Guinea. We have a central chain, which
is extremely inaccessible and in which it turns out that
it is the very one in which we have the most, probably the most
important number of languages in the world in New Guinea. And the other one is Caucuses
for the same reasons. So these people, of
course, are sedentary. They are in cities. They are– they live more or
less in societies, which do not numerize any longer
and have not done it for centuries and centuries. But they are split up
in many, many languages because the communication
is made difficult by– as opposed to that we know,
we have the opposite example. We know that islands which
have no mountains, which are quite flat like Samoa,
like New Caledonia, like Tonga, have few languages, very few. And since these
people, even when there was a great distance
of marine territory, these people were navigators
and were always related to do commerce between them. These are places in which
we have very few languages. There is one Tongan language. There is one Fijian,
Fiji, and so on. As opposed to Caucuses, New
Guinea, and other mountainous part of the world, which are
a proliferation of languages. This, for me, is precisely
a social linguistics itself. We explain language
differentiation and multiplication by
ecological conditions. It is a way we
try to explain it. Yes? AUDIENCE: I would like to
ask about the relationship between the language
loss and cultural loss. And I think if we
think of language as a repertoire of cultural
notions and values, and also a focus of
culture in itself, in its aesthetic use
of one’s own language, it’s self conscious and
within culture, that’s why we feel that
the loss of language is tragic because it
represents the loss of culture. However, it seems to
me there is a case to be made that language is
sort of flexible over culture, that they don’t coincide. They’re not homologous. There are cases of obliteration,
the American Indian case, where language and culture
loss are sort of coincidental. You get obliteration of culture
followed by language loss. But there are also many cases– and I think some of
the evidence for this is linguistic areas or
cultural areas where you get cultural
forms that include lexical fields, grammatical
forms, and even aesthetic forms like poetic genre that spread
across language boundaries. Southeast Asia is of great
cultural convergent center, for example, where all the
languages like Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, and so on,
all have common features, suggesting that somehow these
features that we associate with particular cultures are
spreading across language lines. The Hebrew case you mentioned,
is another interesting case where Hebrew was
replaced by Aramaic and then replaced
by Hebrew again, which suggests that something
survive through this. And I’m wondering
if indeed we have– and you might use
English as an example, in which the various
Englishes of the world seem to, for
instance, Singaporean, which is a kind of
Creole English, I guess. Seems to preserve within it
many of the things that– many of the notions,
the semantic notions, the cultural notions that
survive out of Malay, Chinese, and the other components
that went into Singapore [INAUDIBLE]. So is it the case that you
have, sort of, various kinds of language death? That you have the
tragic kind of death, which eliminates
culture with it. But you have other
kinds where we might not feel that it’s quite so tragic. In fact, we might not
want to call it death. That what we feel is
so valuable somehow survives in the new language. HAGEGE: Well, there are many
things mixed up together in what you say. First of all, I will– by the way, if I may ask,
will you be here tomorrow? Tomorrow I will give a talk in
which I will mention Englishes. And it will be due
to this very subject, to what extent English
and other languages. I will talk about that in this– I am very interested
in this subject. However, in what you say,
when you started speaking, I wondered whether
you were going to say that if languages appear,
culture does not disappear. But you switch it
to another subject. And this is the beginning
of your question. And I quite agree that
language death, when it is the loss of a
language by population, does not imply necessarily
cultural death. I thought you were
going to mention gastronomy, dancing, poetry. There are many cultural
forms which belong in culture but we do not coincide
with language. And in this country, we
know, that the only ones who are able to cook things
which we can taste are people coming from
old countries in which one knew how to cook food. And in that case, I
must say, that even in those cases in which
people lose their languages to English, they do not lose
other parts of their cultures, including gastronomy,
which you know, French people are
very interested in. But you then switch
it to another aspect which is also very
interesting, which has, excuse me, nothing to do
with what you started with, which is borrowing
between languages, transmitting by borrowing. This is quite true. I quite agree. You mentioned southeast
Asian languages, Thai, Khmer, Burmese, Chinese
are languages whose bearers, whose speakers were
always in relationship during centuries and centuries. And of course, we know
Vietnamese is it mixing up of Thai and Chinese. It is a Creole as Thai with
many Chinese borrowing. I myself, I taught
Chinese very long. And I lived in China
during years and years. And of course,
during this time, I was a so-called
senior Tibetanist, or Tibet or Burma [INAUDIBLE]. And I studied this
aspect of the things. And what I saw, I can say, is
that then, as you yourself say, these languages constituted and
still go on, considering today a kind of set between the
parts of which were saturated and where borrowed or
given back, and so on. As far as Hebrew
is concerned, which is a third part of
your small talk, I would say, speaking Hebrew
as the Jews did, up to or down to the Babylon exile,
then switching to Aramean, then reviving Hebrew in the
first half of the 20th century is a special case of
language death and language resurrection. But if the core of
your argument is that there are various types of
language death, I quite agree. It’s true. And if it is– it was
not clear in my talk, it is because my talk
was bad because it is exactly what I wanted to say. I quite agree that we have
various versions of language death. This is quite true. And thank you very much. AUDIENCE: One last question? HAGEGE: Another question? AUDIENCE: I wonder
[INAUDIBLE] European, do you think that
European integration will be good or bad for
minority languages in Europe. Some people think– HAGEGE: European expression? AUDIENCE: European integration. You know, with the EU. HAGEGE: In what
meaning, integration? AUDIENCE: Well, perhaps
the clinical integration, you know, perhaps as the nation
states become less important relative to Brussels,
it will be less important to speak Spanish as
opposed to Catalan or English as opposed to Welsh? HAGEGE: What’s your question? AUDIENCE: Well, do you think
that we’ll see a boost– or we’ll see good prospects for
survival and growth of minority languages in Europe? Or do you think that
they’re on the way out and everyone will be speaking
a few central languages? HAGEGE: You know, I
am a language lover. And a minority languages I love
as much as any other languages. So Catalan, Basque,
what’s the name of this language in
therefore, these languages, of course, I am
for their defense. And I don’t think
their fate is so dim. It might be a brilliant future
which is in front of them. Why? Because as you
may know, the ones who promote these
languages have understood that what the central
government refused, Brussels and unified
Europe can accept. And this is reason why most
of the defenders and promoters of these regional
languages, they are called regional languages,
address themselves to Brussels when they don’t obtain a
fulfillment of their requests from Paris, Madrid, or Rome. So I think that the future of
regional language in Europe is by no means threatened
as much, probably, as the one of the great
languages themselves. This might sound contradictory. But I’m afraid it might
turn out to be true. So I’m not afraid for– as far as these languages
are concerned, not as much as for French, Spanish,
and German or Italian. AUDIENCE: That segues
right into Dolores’ talk. I just want to remind
you that Dolores’ talk is [INAUDIBLE] Normal Language
Real or Imagined Threat? And it’s in Building
2, room 105. [APPLAUSE]

2 comments on “Claude Hagège at MIT, 2001 – Endangered Languages: Birth, Death and Resurrection


    M. Hagège, du collège de France, linguiste pas trop génial, est invité à lire :

    – Le Livre Bleu de la Bretagne.
    – Théorie des nations, par louis Mélennec.

    Bonnes lectures, cher monsieur Hagège !
    Et soyez modeste ! Vous sentirez un mieux être …. jusqu'au bout de vos orteils ! Cela vous évitera la pédicurerie, et même la manucure.
    Vous seriez plus sympha si vous renonciez à cet accent de faux seizième arrondissement ! Trop de chic, aujourd'hui, ça fait plouc …. et plouf !
    Voyez notre amie Elizabeth, de Londres : à 90 piges, elle parle maintenant comme tout le monde !
    Quelle distinction : ça, c'est la vraie classe !

    Bien cordialement tout de même : je ne vous en veux pas : la France vous a formaté par ses sottises : vous aussi êtes une victime.
    Vous voila rééduqué sur les Bretons, par un Breton de surcroît !

    Quelle agressivité, quel mauvais goût !


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