Re: For Our Favourite Russian Chauvinists
- From: holman@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Eugene Holman)
- Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 21:41:28 +0300
In article <1125054778.593800.29150@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "vello"
> Eugene Holman wrote:
> > In article <cUtPe.1432$Rc.431981@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "=ABPas de deux=
> > <kamouraska3@xxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> > > "Dmitry" <klapkalnciems@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
> > > news:1125017460.599897.271140@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> > >
> > > > I do feel strongly about disappearing languages. I don't know why, but
> > > > I do.
> > >
> > > So should we all. If we try to do something about disappearing bird,
> > > animal and plant species, then we should sure as hell do something about
> > > languages threatened with extinction.
> > Agreed.
> > > I have no time for Eugene's prattle about "national vanity languages",
> > > and "letting the market decide". The market always decides in favour of
> > > what's "cheapest". Markets have no morality.
> > I used those terms value-neutrally. Anybody knows that maintaining a small
> > language such as Estonian or Latvian is an expensive and
> > resource-consuming business that is ultimately a matter of national
> > vanity.
> Here you are totally wrong, Eugene. Estonians get their language from
> parents and use it exactly the same way germans, britons or norvegians
But there are only about one million native speakers of Estonian. This
means that developing terminology, keeping the language up to date,
producing experts who can mediate between Estonia and the world beyoind
its boundaries, and producing such items as encyclopedias and software is
far more expensive on a per csapita basis than it would be if there were
10,000,000 or 100,000,000 native speakers. Estonians do, IMHO, *not* use
their language in precisely the same way as German or British people do
because every Estonian knows that *eesti keel* is virtually worthless
outside of *Eesti Vabariik* [Elagu!], and that virtually no scientifically
new information first appears in Estonian. In order to keep up with what
is happening in the world, Estonians have to know at least one, usually
several, foreign languages. Speakers of English, and, to a lesser extent,
of French, German, or Ruyssian, do not have this problem if it is a
> How you imagine that "maintaining" - and what it is?
Maintaining a language means doing everything necessary to ensure that the
language can function as the means of communication of a modern nation and
state. I remember back in the early 1990s when our *Pangloss* company was
just getting started. We got a translation job from a Finnish ice-cream
company that wanted to sell mango sherbet in Estonia. At that time Estonia
had been isolated from the world long enough that it lacked words for both
'mango' and 'sherbet'. This is a trivial example, but it adequately
illustrates that languages develop by actively and goal-directedly
interacting with other languages. If they do not, they atrophy and become
a burden to their speakers.
> What would
> happen without that "maintaining"?
The language in question would atrophy and show an increasing lack of
ability to have the words, phrases, and concepts needed to deal with
current events, world history, developing technologies, and the
> What is basically different with use
> of estonian and, say, portugalian?
There are *major* differences.
1. Portuguese exists in several national varieties. Even though an effort
is made to standardize written usage, European, Brazilian, African, and
Asian usages of Portuguese differ considerably in speech as well as, to a
lesser extent, in writing. Estonian, in contrast, has only one national
2. Portuguese is used by close to 200,000,000 people. Even if they use
different national varieties, such a large block of language users means
that the cost-per-person of producing encyclopedias, movies, television
programs, computer software, etc. is far cheaper than the cost of
producing analogous material in Estonian. Your field of expertise is
automobiles. How many automobiles come equipped to work in Portuguese, or
at least have Portuguese language instruction manuals, compared to
automobiles with analogous Estonian functionality? If you buy a piece of
technological equipment, you can expect the instructions to be in
Portuguese, but not in Estonian. If the material is in Estonian, it is
usually cheaply printed and poorly translated, whereas the material in
Portuguese is properly translated and printed as well as the material in
English, Russian, or German. Believe me, this is something I have been
studying for years.
> For sure some things are more
> expencive due small print volumes, but same is true for portugalian v
> english or chinese.
No, Vello. Portuguese with 200,000,000 speakers worldwide is a *major*
world language, in the same class with English, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish,
Arabic, and Russian.
> That does not mean that it should not be done; if it weren't, we
> > would all speak English, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, or Spanish.
> Also hard to agree with you. Language is dam natural thing,
> portugalians speak portugalian without thinking is it "profitable" or
> not - just as english-speakers in both UK or US. Most ordinary folks
> in the world are really able to communicate just in their own language,
No. Most people in the world have to be able speak several languages in
order to survive. Monolingualism is a relatively recent luxury. If you
investigate exogamic tribes in some of the more "primitive" parts of the
globe you will find that multilingualism is and has long been the norm.
> so by me extinction of language is possible just when something is
> "maintained" in this direction - mostly I mean occupation and
> colonization of territory of particular nation. Finding himself as a
> part of imperial body living on different language, it is for sure
> possible, that locals will lose their original tongue (Ireland,
> minorities in North Russia and North America). But never heard that
> some independent nation state had turned from their own language to
> english or esperanto in hope to get cheaper ABC-books from abroad.
India is in the process of doing that now. It is arguably the country with
the largest body of native English speakers.
Ireland is a well-known example of a country that was cajoled into giving
up its native language, but eventually regarded the unwanted necessity to
be a longer-term virtue. Ireland would not be the economic powerhouse that
it is today if English were not its major language.
> > It only
> > means that the people who are doing it are making a considerable sacrifice
> > by
> > investing valuable time and effort in a project that is not strictly
> > utilitarian. The market does not always decide in favor of what's
> > cheapest, rather it uusally decides in favor of what gives *best value for
> > money*, not quite the same thing. In the case of Estonian and Latvian,
> > maintenance of the language means nurturing a key attribute and symbol of
> > national identity, the burden for doing so being willingly shouldered by
> > the
> > speakers of the two languages in question because they know that if they
> > lose or neglect to cultivate their language, they are likely to eventually
> > lose their ethnic specificity and identity as well.
> Eugene, how you imagine it in real life? Well, we forget to "cultivate"
> our language from today - what happens next?
If you do not cultivate your language, it quickly atrophies.
> There are thousands of
> foreign books in our shops, english and russian books among them.
> Russian books are 20% cheaper in average - but sales are minor, coz
> there are not so many people knowing russian or english enough well not
> only to understand but read and enjoy literature. This is "market". How
> market can change here anything?
Russian is still a language in which original scientific information is
produced. Although it is far less important now than it was twenty years
ago, Russian remains one of the handful of languages in which
fundamentally new scientific information regularly appears. How many
dissertations, patents, and scientific articles appear in Russian compared
to, e.g. Estonian or Latvian?
> > A concrete example
> > is provided by Vepsian, a minor Baltic-Finnic language. A generation ago
> > Vepsian was dying, and the majority of the people who regarded themselves
> > as ethnic Vepsians had Russian as their first language. A determined
> > effort was made to ensure the survival of the language, this including
> > using it as a medium of primary school instruction, and creating a
> > standardized written form of Vepsian so that material could be published
> > in Vepsian that people would want to read. The number of people who now
> > use Vepsian to conduct their everyday affairs has doubled, and the
> > language is in no immediate danger of dying, even if the written standard
> > which now unites the three rather divergent and geographically
> > non-contiguous spoken varieties of Vepsian has not been seen as an
> > unqualified success by many speaker of the language (see
> > http://www.veps.org/Kieli/Kirjakieli/KIRJAKO.HTM). Obviously, the
> > resources that speakers of Vepsian invested to keep their language alive,
> > including sacrificing symbols of local identity for a compromised
> > pan-ethnic one, could have been used for other purposes, but the users of
> > the language decided that maintaining and cultivating Vepsian was in the
> > interest of their "national vanity" and thus a sound investment. Ivar
> > Aasen's Nynorsk as an alternative to Bokm=E5l can be viewed in a similar
> > light as an economically unjustifiable, emotionally satisfying investment
> > in "national vanity", see
> > http://www.olavsrosa.no/en/redaksjonelt.aspx?id=3D146729.
> Here you make the same mistake: Vepsian in Russian Empire and Old Norsk
> in "Danish Empire" suffered as local minority languages in ocean of
> "imperial speakers". For nation state, there I see just one possibility
> to lose language - to die out, physically. Nynorsk, for sure, as
> new-hebrew, is something about national pride and identity - partly
> successful attempts to redo imperial injustice of past.
I do not disagree with you. However, there were other alternatives
available. Resurrecting Hebrew and creating Nynorsk were exercises in what
I would call national vanity. Yiddish and Dano-Norwegian could have
fulfilled the tasks that Ivrit and Nynorsk were assigned to implement far
cheaper, at least in market-forces terms.
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