Ecolinguism in Israel: Another place where languages go to die

How many languages can Israel allow to flourish?
How many languages can Israel allow to flourish?

The modern State of Israel recognizes two official languages: Hebrew and Arabic. Nearly all of its Jewish citizens came from somewhere else within the last 2-3 generations. When these immigrants came, they brought their language. Pressure from Israeli society eliminated the vast majority of their languages.

While 49% of Israelis over 20 claim Hebrew as their native language, according to Wikipedia, 18% claim Arabic, and 15% Russian. The other 18% speak Yiddish, French, English, Spanish, and “Other” languages, which include Romanian, German, and Amharic.

The language picture is more complex than at first glance. A language may include multiple dialects, each living its own dynamic. Some of the last speakers of certain language dialects live in Israel. Active violence has also taken place against other languages.

As Hebrew was chosen as the official language, its proponents put in place a system that does not give other languages space to live and grow.

Let’s look at a few of the examples of languages in Israel today.
Language survival

Can the Welsh save Inuktitut?

Their language is as useful as we make it.
Their language is as useful as we make it.

The Inuit of Northern Canada are worried that their language, Inuktitut, will die. They looked to the example of another language, Welsh, that managed to come back from the brink, thanks to some creative and forceful measures. Inuit language specialists sat down recently in Wales to learn about language-revitalization efforts.

I don’t know if the secret is this simple, but here’s one of the most important things that the Welsh are doing:

It’s mandatory for schools in Wales to teach in Welsh from preschool to grade 10.

That means that the language is the means to an end. Welsh is not a subject in school; it is school.

Inuktitut, like any language, will only succeed when it is the most natural end to the most natural ends.
Giving language life

Refugees are a blessing: Unlikely allies for ecolinguists

A lover of language and culture (from the church website)
A lover of language and culture (from the church website)

Over the holiday weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to a relative from Amarillo, Texas. She informed me of the recent controversy over refugees in her city.

The facts show that Amarillo receives the highest ratio of refugees per resident in any city in Texas. In 2012, for example, Amarillo received 480 total refugees, in a city of 195,000 residents.

To put this in perspective, the US accepts around 70,000 to 80,000 refugees each year since the number was reduced in 1996, and Texas receives the largest amount: 11% in 2015.

A controversy is raging in Amarillo. I will discuss here two local voices, one on each side of the issue in the Amarillo Globe-News: David L. Smith, a resident of Amarillo, and Pastor Howard K. Batson, head pastor of First Baptist Amarillo.

Natural allies for ecolinguists dwell in unexpected places…
Value of refugees

Looking for differences: Polyglots have a solution

There are a billion people in China. A BILLION people! That means that if you’re a one-in-a-million guy, there are a thousand people just like you.
Jerry Seinfeld

Don't always get stuck with people just like you!
Don’t always get stuck with people just like you!

Now that everyone can meet anyone they want, we can fall more easily into a group of people who think just like us. Through the internet and global mobility, people can meet anyone of any background or any point of view from any country. We have a giant pool to draw from. Liberal Muslims in Baghdad can discuss with liberal Christians in Seattle. Hindu nationalists can find sympathetic minds among anti-Muslim Nigerians.

This ability is morally neutral. For the isolated queer kid in a small town, connecting with someone of like mind can literally save their life. At the same time, Daesh can recruit among disaffected youth anywhere in the world.

Either way, our ability to live in an echo-chamber increases exponentially year by year as it’s easier to find people just like us.

Our opportunities to hear challenging or opposing views simultaneously becomes more and more difficult as we surround ourselves with people we agree with. This happens in spite of how easy it is to find opposing views.

As humans, though, we prefer to surround ourselves with people similar to us.

Polyglots, however, tend to surround themselves with people different from them. In order to learn languages, they have to find people from somewhere else, with different assumptions and world views.
Calling all polyglots!

Love and language

When two come to the table, they must submit to the other in love.
When two come to the table for a dispute, they must submit to the other in love.

I’ve recently been attacked as a “cuck” for being a “pro-diversity pro-immigration liberal.” Another person, described as a “liberal and a first amendment fan,” respectfully disagreed with me. (I appreciated the latter much more than the former, I have to say.)

What was the position that got me stuck between two sides? I believe that dialogue between opposing sides has to take place as a prerequisite for the two sides to come to an agreement. The winner can’t be chosen ahead of time according to ideological criteria. We can’t decide ahead of time that the immigrant is right, or the person of color is right, that the anti-immigrant or racist is right. They have to sit and work it out.

Tyranny of the majority is just as bad as tyranny of the minority or even of the one. The majority, even the “just,” may be on the side of one or the other, but it doesn’t matter when the two are at the table together. Might does not make right.

Two come to the table to work out their dispute on equal terms. This assumes that neither sees himself as greater than the other, but each seeks to submit to the other. This is the ideal that I aim at, one where each seeks to become wise by loving the other in humble service.

Language helps us achieve the goal of resolving disputes. The people at the table cannot come to an agreement without a common language.

As for me, I want to love others in wisdom. I submit to the other in order to love him, even my right to speak my own language. I serve the one I’m discussing with by conceding my language.
Language and loving

Does Spanish have a chance in the US? Language in American politics

He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.
He speaks Spanish! And he uses it to make a good point.

Spanish makes an appearance in the US presidential campaign. I first became aware of it when I saw the famous George Takei speak it in a plea that immigrants not vote for Trump.

In the ad, he addresses Spanish-speaking Americans, comparing verbal attacks by Trump against Latino immigrants to the US government’s forcing Japanese-Americans—like Mr. Takei himself—into internment camps during World War Two.

I was fascinated to see how he used Spanish as a way to connect with immigrants. He understood that using a language besides English would connect immediately with and show solidarity with immigrants. Moreover, he expressed how he learned Spanish: by living alongside Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles growing up.

Politicos take Spanish seriously. As a result, Spanish-speakers possess power. Spanish may have a future in the US, in spite of the normal forces that eliminate languages other than English from our country.

As I looked further, I found that Spanish political ads are common this season, and they have a history in our country.
Other Spanish ads

How vital is our Minnesotan multilingualism?

What roles do the languages in your community play?
What roles do the languages in your community play?

Multilingualism provides vitality to cities, not just a problem to be solved. As a result, cities must preserve and promote this vitality through policies and services.

Recently, Michael Erard, author of Babel No More, made this claim in an article about multilingualism in cities. He followed the studies by a European consortium called Languages in Urban Communities: Integration and Diversity for Europe (or LUCIDE) in the book, The Multilingual City.

The researchers, Erard explained, studied some of the unofficial ways that languages are used in a cosmopolitan area, such as graffiti, posters, and trash—the “detritus” of less visible communities.

The studies focused on Europe, with some further research in Canada and Australia. They also tended to focus on “European” languages—more highly valued than perceived “foreign” languages like Romani and Arabic.

How would Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota, USA, measure up to the multilingualism of these studies?
Minnesota ecolinguism

Hating Swahili: The cost of bilingualism in the US

Hatred of language: What can you do?
This happened for speaking the “wrong” language.

Advocating for a multilingual public space may seem abstract or a “nice-to-have” feature for an ideal society. A recent event shocked me into the realization that language tolerance matters for life and death. Hatred towards languages begets real violence against others. We must all embrace and engage in public use of multiple languages for the sake of those who would be discriminated against on the basis of language.
The reality of language hate

I want my children to learn Somali

How can my children learn her wisdom?
How can my children learn her wisdom?

My children are not “heritage learners.” Our family does not have roots in Africa. We are white mixes of American European culture. No living relatives have ever spoken to each other in a language other than English. Yet nothing could serve my children more than fluency in this beautiful, complex East African language.

I previously lived in Seattle where, in order to learn more about the local refugee community, I volunteered to help with the orientation of a family from Eritrea (in East Africa). My children would occasionally accompany me to visit them in their impoverished Seattle suburb. The very different lives of these people enriched my children. At the ages of nine and ten, they ate popcorn and sat in a living room with two people’s beds and a second-hand coffee table to listen to the stories of shepherds, of men who served as child soldiers, and of children raised in refugee camps. These intelligent, motivated, kind people offered them an education they never received in school—an education not of knowledge but of wisdom.

Once in Minnesota, I quickly learned about the extraordinary Somali population here. My next question was how my children could gain wisdom from these new brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts who surround them every day. (I use “uncle” and “aunt” not as titles for blood relatives but as translations for Somali terms of address to elders.) They would need to acquire the language to really hear these people and learn the most important lessons from them. Somali language will make my children wiser and more intelligent people.
What my children will learn

Myth: Our ancestors happily learned English

America's multilingual past, forced into monolingual present
America’s multilingual past, forced into monolingual present

A common language brings people together. Historically, learning English was a priority for German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Japanese immigrants (to name a few) because it helped them participate in the communities they joined. And because the United States is still predominantly an English-speaking country, that practice should continue today.
From Dear Abby, “Sharing Common Language Is Simply Common Sense,” Jan 23, 1997

Because the United States was at war with Germany, those of German heritage were the main target of suspicion. Soon German language instruction was banned in public schools. Then, parochial schools were forced to use only English in their classrooms. The churches were next, and eventually Iowa’s Governor Harding declared that only English was legal in public and private schools, public places and over the telephone.
From “It’s the Law—Speak English Only!”

How English was actually established in the US