Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Three situations to consider

OK, guys, this is especially for you. There are three situations to consider, and I want you to post your thoughts on the questions at the end, or your thoughts on anything you read here.

As we all know, most white people came to the U.S. of their own free will, seeking freedom of religion or escaping a bad economic situation at home (e.g., the Irish potato famine). Most black people did NOT come of their own free will but were brought as slaves. Today, after wars and conflicts, the black minority has something of its own culture apart from the mainstream culture. (Think soul food, for example, or Kwanzaa, or first names.) This is not unique to the black minority (the culture in the south is different from that in the north, for example), but probably because of the difference in skin color, that difference is more noticeable. In certain areas of the South, relations between black and white are sometimes strained. The vast majority of black Americans vote for liberal politicians, while white Americans are divided (although the majority--not such a large majority) vote for conservative politicians. There is no notable difference between the religions that are practiced by the majority of both races, although there is a difference in style.  In spite of the fact that no black people came here speaking English, it is now the only language spoken by black Americans who are descended from slaves.  There is a dialect of English called Black English ("Ebonics"), but it isn't spoken by all black inhabitants and has no relationship with any language spoken by the slaves that were brought here.

Northern Ireland (the link will take you to my longer posting on my experiences in Northern Ireland) was part of Ireland until 1921.  For years the British had fought to hold onto the island.  In 1609, in an effort to strengthen its control over the island, Great Britain began the plantation of English and Scottish settlers in the area now called Northern Ireland, so unlike the U.S.'s black immigrants, the newcomers came of their own free will.  They were supposed to force the Irish off the land, but the settlers needed workers.  The Irish workers considered themselves Irish, but the British immigrants still considered themselves British.  To this day, their descendents still consider themselves British.  When Ireland gained its independence from Great Britain in 1921, six of the nine counties in the north, those that were populated primarily by descendents of the British who had been planted there, became Northern Ireland and remained part of Great Britain.  (Great Britain--England, Scotland, Wales--and Northern Ireland together form what is called the UK or United Kingdom.)  Ireland had always been Catholic, and the British during the time of the plantation had become Protestant and continued to embrace Protestantism.  To this day, in Northern Ireland, Catholic is virtually synonymous with "nationalist" (wanting to be independent of Great Britain), and "Protestant" is virtually synonymous with "unionist" (wanting to remain part of Great Britain).  You can talk about the conflict between unionists and nationalists or between Protestants and Catholics--it's exactly the same thing.  Irish Gaelic had always been spoken in Ireland, but the British tried various means of suppressing it throughout history.  When Ireland (called the Republic of Ireland to distinguish it from Northern Ireland) gained its independence in 1921, it began taking measures to revive Gaelic.  It is a mandatory course of study in Irish schools.  About 50% of the citizens of the Republic of Ireland consider themselves fluent in Gaelic (although some are fluent because of having learned it in school, not because they grew up speaking it), while only about 10% of the Northern Irish are fluent in Gaelic, in spite of the fact that approximately 40% are Catholic/nationalist.  (Gaelic is optional in Northern Irish schools.)

Most of the European continent was divided into small kingdoms during medieval and into Renaissance times.  Instead of Italy, for example, you had the kingdom of Rome, the kingdom of Venice, etc.  Catalonia was one of the kingdoms of Spain, and Catalan, a descendant of Latin (like Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian), was the language spoken there.  Catalonia had its high points and low points during its history, and it had at one point conquered the island of Mallorca and the region of Valencia, so Catalan came to be spoken in those regions.  On the losing side of wars and marriages/alliances, Catalonia, along with a number of other regions, became part of what is now known as Spain.   In spite of the fact that the influx of conquerors and settlers is virtually identical in Catalonia and all the rest of Spain and the fact that their histories are virtually identical in nature, Catalans consider themselves Catalans first and Spaniards second (if at all).  Like the rest of Spain, Catalonia was Catholic until recent years. Now religion all over Spain is unimportant. There is no geographical separation between Catalonia and the rest of Spain.  (I.e., unlike the Pyrenees that separate France and Spain, and unlike the sea that separates Ireland from Great Britain, nothing separates Catalonia from the rest of Spain any more than anything separates Georgia from South Carolina.) Catalan continues to be spoken in spite of the fact that there have been attempts to suppress it.  Franco (1937-1975) forbade people to speak it in public, but when he died, there was a push for a revival of the language.  Now it's the language of instruction in all public schools.  It's also still spoken on Mallorca and in Valencia, but the people of Valencia are adamant that they don't speak a dialect of Catalan but rather a language called Valenciano.  (Like it or not, "Valenciano" is, in fact, a dialect of Catalan, and people from Catalonia and people from Valencia understand each other perfectly well.)  There are currently only about 9 million speakers of Catalan, and everyone who speaks Catalan also speaks Spanish, but there are at least three all-Catalan TV channels that have 16-24 hours of daily programming in Catalan.

Here are three different historical/cultural/political/linguistic situations.  Why do you think the African languages were completely lost in the United States while Gaelic and Catalan are still spoken?  Why has Catalan (within Catalonia, not even counting the other two regions) flourished while Gaelic has to be pushed forward, in spite of the fact that there's a geographical divide between Ireland and England and there's not between Catalonia and the rest of Spain?  Why is Gaelic in danger of dying out in Northern Ireland, in spite of the fact that 40% of the inhabitants have Irish ancestors and traditions, just as the inhabitants of the Republic of Ireland do?  Why go to the expense of creating programming in Catalan when there are 300 times more Spanish speakers in the world and therefore more programming in Spanish than in any other language besides English?


  1. African language hasn't been lost. There are more Spanish speaking people in the United States than there are people that speak an African Language. Just because it is not as dominate as the other languages spoken here does not mean it is not there or has been compeltely lost in the US like you stated.

    *Alot of our words derive from African words
    _for example_
    1. most commonly used word: O.k. or okay;
    derived from the Wolof culture, located in Western Africa (o ke- meaning "all right")
    2. banana: the Wolof word for fruit
    3. chigger: derived from Yoruba located in West Africa (jiga: meaning "insect")
    4. dig (used as a verb.. I dig that shirt.. blahblah etc): derived from the Wolof culture (dega: "to notice, appreciate, like")
    5. slim: an Afrikaans word meaning "slim, inferior"
    6. others include many of the animals such as chimpanzee, zebra, gorrilla etc...

    *The most commonnly used language throughtout Africa (Afrikaans) is still taught throught out the states
    _for example_
    1. Alexandre Monot teaches it in west palm beach and miami, FL
    2. Berlitz Languages is a school/company in Dalas, Texas that teaches Afrikaans along with many other various languages (not all African)
    3. Johann Smit teaches Afrikaans in Lake Beach, Illinois and also holds lessons over e-mail (how? i dont know.)
    4. Michigan State University has an African Studies center teaches in and offers the study of 30 different African languages.

    *Kru is the 36th most commonly spoken language in the U.S...

    *35th most common according to this site

    *Duke, Harvard, Cornell, and Dartmouth all recieve African newspapers and journals in their libraries

    there are many languages in American besides African languages that are spoken but so uncommon that it is usually unnoticed. so i dont think that african languages "were COMPLETELY lost in the United Sates", they just aren't as dominate as enlgish and spanish.

  2. Wow, Melissa--impressive research! Extremely impressive research!

    But there's a big difference between borrowing words into an existing language and maintaining the language from which you borrowed them. As I mentioned in class, English has hundreds of words with French origins, but that doesn't mean you can claim French survives in a place where only English is spoken. Also, you can't compare teaching a given language at a handful of universities in a country of 300 million people when most of the students will never speak it with more than two or three people if they stay in this country with teaching mandatory Gaelic classes in a country of 4 1/2 million people, where at least a small percentage (approx. 30,000 people) speak it as their native language and where another 49% of the population care enough about it to learn to speak it fluently.

    I would question whether Kru has survived or if it came over after slavery. It is spoken primarily in Liberia, which was founded by freed American slaves. The 65,000 people who speak it could be immigrants from Liberia or descentants of such immigrants. I would assume they're all in the same small area of this country.

    The origins of "OK" are highly debatable. I'd never heard this one. The most common "story" of its origin is "Old Kinderhook," the nickname of President Martin Van Buren. The final word is ... nobody is sure.

    Incidentally, Afrikaans is spoken in Africa, but it isn't actually an African language. It's descended from Germanic--just like another language we know!

    As I said, excellent, excellent research and thought. I'm thoroughly impressed. You made me do some digging myself!! If you didn't already have your paper three quarters done, I'd suggest you use something you found here for your paper.

  3. ok you win. i'm not arguing cause that took two hours so i dont wanna have to think of anything else :) think i did my fair share of posting and have completed my food haha :)

    & i need a 100 on my paper cause i need an A in your class and i bombed a test or two and i NEEEEEEED to get in to GA Tech soooo i'm finishing my paper today and i need to you proof read it one more time :)

  4. @Melissa--Hey, this is a discussion, not an argument!!! And your points were very well thought out and researched. You can't help it if I know a lot more about linguistics than you do! (It would be pretty sad if I didn't, wouldn't it?)

  5. The Reason the African languages were totaly lost here in America is because there were so many diffrent languages. The slaves that were brought to America were taken from several diffrent tribes all over Africa. Once in America they could not understand eachother. There for they had to learn a common language, which happened to be english. English became the lingua franca for the slaves. Had there not been so many diffrent African languages maybe some of them would have survived.

  6. Excellent, Crystal! You nailed it. Also, good use of the new term!!!

  7. I have to agree with crystal on the fact that the reason all black people speak English is because when they came to America as slaves, they had to learn English so that they could communicate. All of the slaves that came were from different parts of Africa and different parts, speak different languages, so when they came they had to speak the common language which was English. They still incorporated some of their african language into the English language and that is how Ebonics was formed. Ebonics is English with some of their native tongue incorporated.

  8. @Maggie--Why do you say that "their african language" (which one, by the way?) was incorporated into Ebonics? What's your source?

  9. I feel as though the Gaelic language is in danger of dying out because the people of Northern Ireland may want a new way to communicate. After being introduced to new languages will urge people to want to learn more about the new language. Also learning new languages show an intelligent side of a human being. The Irish may just want something new to the table. The point of the media is to try and make everyone happy. Servicing Catalan channels in Spain would benefit those who want to learn a little more about the Catalan language. Fact is language is always changing therefore it's not really important why the language is changing, but that everyone would be able to adjust to the new language that'll be spoken. Overall African language is lost, but because of that, there are classes to take to learn more about the language all over the United States. Just as any that has existed or about to become nonexistent, it will account for as a language that died out and could possibly be spoken angain years from now.

  10. @Leshia--Quite the contrary: Gaelic is on artificial life support, and they're doing everything possible to keep it alive. They don't need a new way to communicate--they all already speak English.

    As for the media wanting to keep everyone happy, that's generally so they'll watch and keep the ratings and therefore the station's income up. If these channels have relatively few viewers, wouldn't it be more practical to do Spanish broadcasting, since more people could understand those programs and would therefore tune in?

  11. I don't believe that a language can completely disappear or be lost. There will always be some type of form of incorporating any language. As Crystal said, there are many different African languages and if they would only use one common language the languages not used often would die out. As Maggie mentioned that Ebonics is a form of African language mixed with English. I think that speaking English with an African accent is a form of speaking African because the African accent shows that the African language is still in use even in the U.S.. There will always be a use of any language in this country. People can mix languages or just speak one language. It would make it easier for everyone to speak one common language, but everyone has their own idiolect and people want to be different from others.

  12. @Tori--I still question whether Ebonics is English mixed with anything African. That would make it what's called a pidgin, and it definitely isn't a pidgin. It's an English dialect.

    Please explain this statement: "There will always be a use of any language in this country." I don't understand it.

  13. Dr guffey i think waht maggie means is the language of the people from the carribean islands for example with the Rastafari movement people implemented african words into thier language

  14. @Christian--No--because Ebonics is a dialect of American English, not Caribbean English.

  15. The only reason the africcan language died out when they came to america was because of all of themany languages they heard over in the US. Today African language still exist but just not as strongly as it was back in slavery times.

  16. Dr. Guffey,

    I must say that it is very interesting to read the comments that have already been posted. In my opinion, there are so many languages that were once all over the world that only so many of them were really going to survive. After immigrants and slaves came into the U.S. they may have been forced to learn english. I believe that people are the ones who make the decisions based on culture, and language is a part of culture. If someone feels strong enough to continue to use and teach a language, then those who are tought may continue. So, like spanish, many people are still eager to learn therefore the language grows. But if interest is lost, then how can it still be spoken. Like the African language, no one obviously cared enough to continue to speak it or it would still exist as an active language.

    Location too, I believe, has a lot to do with it. If the population is small, then the language is less likely to survive among the people. The africans in this case, could have lost their language due to the population of slaves that came over into America. No american was willing to learn their language, but they slaves were eager to learn to read and write in english. English was what was spoken at the time and it was all they had to read.

    I find this a very interesting topic of discussion. It would have made for an interesting paper!

  17. ---->Noah<-----November 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    Not trying to be redundant, but I see that is pretty much unavoidable at this point, I believe everyone has somewhat of a good idea of why languages die out. I can't single out one reason why a language would die out, but i believe that it was a mix of all of these unfortunate scenerios that killed the language. The fact that there were so many languages to preserve, and that the intitial slave population was limited to those that who were transported here, and it would not have been practical for slaves to preserve their language in in a new nation and society, because that would only further the distaste for those who were already on the bottom of the social ladder. It's a part of the resiliance of our human nature. New needs were created, and the answer was to learn and adapt as best as one could. So i'll go on the books saying that the languages died out of necessity.On their hierarchy of need, survival of the people proceeded the survival of the language, so it goes...

  18. Noah-this better post...November 24, 2009 at 12:32 AM

    Just for the record, I posted my comment at 11:58, and to my surprise my text dissappeared and it was not posted. Frustrating to say the least. I'll do my best to remember Everything I just typed:

    Not to sound redundant, but i suppose at this point it is unavoidable, but I believe that it's everything that has been said plays a part in the unfortunate death of these languages. I believe that if we look at the fact that there were many languages to preserve, and that these slaves were being introduced to a new nation and society, and essentially changing their way of life, did not bode well for the survival of these languages. Also, I'm sure that the fact that the population was limited to those who were transported here played a part in the dying process. Let's also look at the language losing its practical use. Their languages was probably not looked on upon as something that would ensure their survival. It would be just one more way that they could be descriminated against, and who needs that when you're already on the bottom of the social ladder. I believe we can look at this as a testament to the resiliance of human beings. I believe most would like to preserve the culture from which one came, but when push comes to shove, we are able to cut our losses and move forward.It came down to the slaves heirarchy of need, where the need of survival and the desire to make a status shift on the social ladder, which is no easy feat, trumped the the need to preserve the languages. One of the down sides to adapting to a given situation is that people cannot take everything they would like to. THis is unfortunate, in a sense, but a fact of life. It's not unfortunate because adaptation is something innate and wonderful. It allows progress to be made so that you survive if nothing else. So it goes...

    I'm praying that i don't have to do this for a third time.....

  19. WHAT!!!!!! are you kidding ME. BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP>. WOW, why me... and my computer said 11:58 for the first one.s;gj; gsasg ajl ;gsa ;s ;gdaxjg..g

  20. The advantage to posting early is that you get to take your pick of vantage points. But if you put as much time into it as Melissa or as much thought as some like Crystal, then it doesn't matter.

    You all seem to think that people decide to let a language die, and it just ain't so. That's not how languages cease to exist. On the other hand, people can decide to keep a language from dying. But why would they want to do that if they already have a language that everyone can speak?

  21. I just think that the ebonics is a form of using a language in your own way, not actually having an african disent. I think i kind of confused my self on that one. hahaha. I so think though that having an african accent when speaking English shows that the African language is still in use.