Archive for the ‘language policy’ Category

Scottish Languages in the Census

28 March 2011

Scotland is a country within another country: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Tied to England through the monarchy four centuries ago, Scotland has a rich linguistic history involving English and French for hundreds of years before that.

And of course it has its own language as well, Scottish Gaelic (gla). Scottish Gaelic is a branch of the Celtic language family, while English is a branch of the Germanic family. (The Celtic and Germanic language families are sister families under Indo-European (family).) According to the Ethnologue, Scottish Gaelic had over 58,000 speakers as of 2003. This has experienced a boost through the devolution process, which gave Scotland a parliament that, while primarily using English, uses Scottish Gaelic as well.

Another language used by the Scottish Parliament is Scots (sco), said by the Ethnologue to have 100,000 speakers as of 1999. Scots sounds a lot like English with a strong accent, but the meaning cannot be discerned by people not familiar with it. In contrast, non-Scottish speakers of English can understand Scottish Standard English much more easily. Scots and Scottish Standard English may be considered as a linguistic continuum, where Scots is quite different from English and Scottish Standard English is quite close to English, and most people use speech patterns somewhere in between.

Because most people speak somewhere in between Scots and Scottish Standard English, it is not always clear to speakers which one they are speaking. (It is a fuzzy area for linguists as well, who consider “dialect” and “language” to be relative terms.)

In the census underway in Scotland right now, question 16 asks whether individuals can understand, speak, read and write English, Scottish Gaelic and Scots. To aid people in determining the answer, the census has set up a site that provides speech samples in 10 varieties of Scots speech and reading samples as well.

This is the first time Scots will be included on the census. The results of the census should help language planning, including revitalization for Scottish Gaelic and Scots.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

14 November 2007

On 13 September, the UN passed its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

While the term “indigenous” is not defined, its 46 articles affirm the right to self-determination including the pursuits of economic, social and cultural development (Article 3). Other rights include:

  • Maintaining distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions while participating in those of the state (Article 5),
  • Not being forcibly assimilated (Article 8),
  • Revitalizing and developing their language and educate in their language (Articles 13-14),
  • Redress for past injustices (Article 28),
  • Access across international borders (Article 36), and
  • Financial and technical assistance from the state to achieve these rights (Article 39)

With Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States voting against, and 11 countries abstaining, the Declaration passed with 144 countries in favor.

Analysis at the Jurist: The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Towards Re-empowerment by law professors S. James Anaya and Siegfried Wiessner.

This post prompted by an entry on the Declaration at Turtle Talk.

Language Policy and Aboriginal Languages of Taiwan

10 April 2007

It’s somewhat confusing, but according to Monsters and Critics,

“Under the revised Language Development Bill, Taiwan will stop defining Mandarin Chinese, the lingua franca of China, as the ‘national language.’

Instead, it will list Mandarin Chinese, Taiwanese, Hakka and Taiwan’s aboriginal tongues as its national languages, Chiu Chuang-liang, director of the cabinet’s council for Cultural Planning and Development, said.

It seems that Mandarin Chinese is being demoted from _the_ national language to _a_ national language. While such a move doubtlessly has international political ramifications, it also means greater recognition of the local peoples.

The number of languages in Taiwan appears to be dependent on the person counting, with the article citing “about a dozen tribes”, Travel in Taiwan counting nine mountain tribes, and Taiwan Tribes counting 13. The latter, moreover, with its tribal breakdown and count of 21 languages, makes it clear that it is the ethnic complexity causing the disparity in numbers. Wikipedia counts 25 tribes with only 14 living languages. Ethnologue gives 22 living languages including three Chinese varieties, Japanese, and Taiwan Sign Language, plus four extinct languages.

Also, check out the excellent ethnic map of Taiwan provided by Philip Diller.