language links, ling-anth links

Language links 6/19: endangered languages and bad linguistics journalism

Every Monday, I share some of what I’ve been reading in the past week.

Yet another example of how language matters: using person-centered language to talk about addiction improves treatment and policy: “clinicians — from the least educated up through doctoral-level professionals — take a more punitive stance when patients are described as ‘substance abusers’ rather than ‘people with substance use disorder.'”

Southern Baptists have published a new gender-inclusive Bible translation.

Chris Christie gave a half-hearted defense of Trump’s comments to James Comey as “normal New York City conversation.” As a New Yorker and a linguist, I’m flummoxed by what he meant — and I’m not the only one. (I’m also fascinated by the language ideologies on display in these person-on-the-street takes on “normal NYC conversation.”)

Taking on bad linguistics journalism! (And I must admit I’m happy to be part of one of the examples of doing it right.)

Last week, Kamala Harris was interrupted … for doing her job. Here’s a reminder about women’s role in public discourse: “Tali Mendelberg, professor of politics at Princeton University, … and Christopher F. Karpowitz, associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University, found that, at school board meetings, men and women did not speak as long until women made up 80 percent of the school board. When men were in the minority, however, they did not speak up less.”

“We love stories about dying languages and their last speakers for the same reasons that we love stories about the last buffalo, the last passenger pigeon, or the last cowboy: They confirm an evolutionary story we tell ourselves about what’s fit for the modern world. Sure, we might seem to be mourning the passing of these worlds gone by, but the eulogies implicitly tell a social Darwinist story in which minority languages succumb to modernity because they’re unsuited for the times.” — Michael Erard


2 thoughts on “Language links 6/19: endangered languages and bad linguistics journalism

  1. ኔቢያት መንገሣ says:

    I absolutely love the ending quote because it reminds me of an argument made by a Tewahedo Church deacon that Ge’ez — a language in dormant liturgical state since the 10th century — could be used for the modern day but people would be reluctant to do so because it’s surely not Amharic. It’s really interesting how we perceive languages as “modern” and “pre-modern” in so many cases.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That quote is very apt. Unfortunately, these disparaging notions of languages are often self-fulfilling prophecies. The languages do become less effective for discussing modern subjects because they are never used to discuss modern subjects, because that role is perceived as ‘belonging’ to the majority language. As an Irish speaker, people often think that we have difficulty with modern subjects because we ‘don’t have a word for it’. As many minority languages speakers will tell you, it’s usually because we have too many words for it and nobody can agree which one to use. For example, Irish has eighteen recorded words for telescope. The modern official word is teileascóp, simply because it was actually used in a poem in the 1860s. Unfortunately, a lot of native speakers are also reluctant to use these words because they think they are made-up and artificial – they’ve internalised a negative view of the language and contribute to its demise.

    Liked by 1 person

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