East is East and the West is Whatever

"Questioning the dominant geography of the East-West divide" has itself become such a cliché of the Academe by now that I sometimes can't take it seriously anymore. Sometimes there's a real there there. But often it merely posits an illusory distinction so as to appear transgressive in overcoming it. Sometimes it is little more than a sign that something really wants to pass for radical, but doesn't know what to do beyond bandying about the same old recycled shibboleths.

Again on Orientalism

Whatever it may once have been 30+ years ago, Anti-Orientalism has now become an all-access pass for various kinds of nationalism, and a ready-made rhetorical device employed by writers in order to manufacture for themselves the credentials they think necessary for entering into an emotionally and politically charged area of research. The "Orientalist perspective" opposed in this manner is in fact scarcely more coherent than "the Orient" subject to deconstruction. Orientalists may love the Orient or hate it, be apologists for imperialism or dogged anti-imperialists, be hostile to the study of languages or devoted to it...Regardless, their failure to present what the writer deems to be the authentic state of affairs is what earns them the label of "Orientalist." Hostility to an "Orientalist perspective" is an identity marker as much as anything else — specifically an identity marker for a self-legitimizing interest in some part of the enormous array of regions which at one point or another, in one language or another, were referred to by Europeans as the Orient. Some recycle it as a token of self-exculpation from potential criticism of bias. And there are others for whom it is an important component in the legitimization of whichever brand of nationalism tickles their fancy.

On Postcolnial Language Ideologies

"....the native population is forced to adopt the colonizer’s language"

Woah. Hang on.

I sympathize with some few of the concerns of many post-structuralists, post-modernists and even straight-up deconstructionists. But I have little regard for them. One reason is the constant mistake of attributing a power to language that it often simply does not have. In doing this, one is apt to neglect a lot of what does make language such a precious thing.

The matter of language's usefulness as a communicative tool, as a practical means to achieve a desired task, is often forgotten when not treated with outright suspicion. Emphasis on the difficulty when not impossibility of conveying meaning out of context, especially across cultures, seriously seems to falsify (or "suppress") the degree of novel expression which takes place in everyday life, and how frequently, how readily novel expressions are conveyed linguistically.

It leads also to so much falsification of history.

"The native population is forced to adopt the colonizer’s language" is a standard received notion. It is not without truth. Many believe it to be truer than it is, however.

The idea that the native population is always forced to adopt the colonizer’s language is a dangerously severe mischaracterization of what went on in much of the colonial world. It is dangerous to forget that a subject population is disempowered and disenfranchised when it lacks access to the language of the people ruling them.

Colonial administrators knew this well. The ideal language for rulers is one that is both highly prestigious and highly inaccessible to all but a few.

There are conditions under which the languages of subject populations are suppressed, and that is when they come to constitute a real or perceived threat, whether symbolically (e.g. as vehicles of nationalism) or otherwise (e.g. serving as a way of communicating information secretly.) To my knowledge, such conditions tend not to arise unless and until the language of the ruling power is widely-known to, or easily acquired by, a large proportion of the subject populace. To put it in paradox: it seems that for a colonized population's original or ancestral language to appear emancipatory to them, or threatening to their rulers, they must first adopt or at least have potential access to their rulers' language.

Such conditions do not always obtain. Which is why respect for cultural and linguistic integrity has often been a substitute for, and a means to remove from consideration, such things as political liberty or access to resources. The first generation of anti-colonial thinkers had understandable contempt for colonial governors and administrators who routinely and insistently encouraged the vast majority of their subjects to stick to native languages.

Almost everywhere in Africa it was segments of the colonized populace that achieved hard-won access to the colonizer's language by prevailing against the wishes and interests of colonial authorities. Those interests could and did exist in comfortable contradiction, especially in French colonies, with a civilizing mission more proclaimed than practiced.

That this fact should so strangely escape the many postcolonial theorists who display great preoccupation with the relationship of language to power, is an indictment of the highest order. It is ironic that these of all thinkers should maintain the elision by recycling the same old cherry-picked texts (e.g. Macaulay's blathering about English which became far more significant to postcolonialists than it ever was to colonialists) which were unrepresentative of — and often completely divorced from — how actual colonial administration operated, or the attitudes which Europeans actually living in colonized territories often expressed about natives speaking European languages.

It is an irresponsible historian who operates as if something as complex as language ideology and language policy, could be abstracted from the polished writings of literateurs, intellectuals and statesmen of the colonizing country, often disregarding or ignoring the written evidence of what their own contemporaries among the colonized populace thought, and never once thinking to sift through an unsexy but informative mass of tedious and dry administrative communiqués.

I quote below from Vanessa Pupavac' Language Rights: From Free Speech to Linguistic Governance

British colonial language thinking followed relativist perspectives on language identity: each people had its own culture or way of life; language expressed the soul of a people and its culture; colonial peoples needed to retain their vernacular languages because these reflected their way of life. 
The English language, belonging to another people and way of life, was not considered an appropriate medium for most colonial peoples with different cultural traditions. Its widespread adoption would alienate people from their cultural traditions. There was broad consensus among colonial officials, academics and missionaries for an adapted curriculum, synthesising the old and the new, that respected local cultures and languages and did not tear young Africans away from their old traditional ties (Oldham and Gibson, 1931). The model Achimota College in Accra was praised for taking ‘Special care ... not to alienate the African from the praiseworthy features in his own tribal heritage’, and promoting ‘Gold Coast history, tribal drumming, native vernaculars, and indigenous music’ (Wallbank, 1935, p. 245). Colonial advisers constantly raised concerns over education in the colonies not being sufficiently culturally adapted, although they admitted that African criticism was the reverse (Wallbank, 1935, p. 245). 
Overwhelmingly, colonial language policy papers associate English language instruction with fostering instability, and vernacular instruction with fostering stability. The ‘political situation will be considerably aggravated in those situations where the Europeans have actively discouraged the native language’, advised an article on ‘The teaching of African Languages in African Schools’ (Elliott, 1938, p. 76). Colonial officials complained of English-speaking colonial subjects being a nuisance, even though colonial administration and trade inevitably promoted the need for English. Vernacular vocational education was advocated to exorcise ‘the fanatical spirit’ and discourage ambitions centred on government service (Lord Lloyd in Currie, 1935, p. 41). White settlers were particularly suspicious of English-speaking Africans because of the social threat their knowledge represented. 
Vernacular instruction was seen as important for the psychological stability of individuals. Arguments emphased linguistic emotional needs: ‘For emotional thought in particular an imported language of totally foreign structure can be no substitute for the mother tongue, or an allied vernacular’ (Elliott, 1938, p. 75). Even where it was impractical to provide instruction in every mother tongue, it was considered more appropriate for children to be taught in a native vernacular for their cultural affinities (Hussey, 1932, p. 174; Schmidt, 1930, pp. 139–43). In the words of Westermann, ‘it is flesh of his own flesh, it is an expression of his own material and mental world’ (Westermann, 1929, p. 346). Instruction in the vernacular complemented education, ‘to train and fit them, not for the life in big centres, but in their own small communities’ (Westermann, 1929, p. 350). 
Conversely, European education led Africans to disparage a rural way of life, and fostered a disaffected intelligentsia (Pickard-Cambridge, 1940, pp. 147–52). Only a minority of colonial subjects involved in colonial administration or trade required European languages, but their education in the vernacular could not be neglected without grave social risks. Neglect of the vernacular and too much instruction in European languages risked making Africans ‘conceited’ and receptive to ‘pretentious, radical and revolutionary’ ideas (Schmidt, 1930, p. 140)..... 
Neither African teachers nor parents were enthusiastic about instruction in vernacular languages. Westermann and other supporters of vernacular languages acknowledged that English instruction was ‘ardently desired by the people – there will always be plenty of children in a school which promises English’ (Westermann, 1929, p. 349). Conversely, it was observed, ‘insistence upon teaching in the vernacular would, in some regions drive pupils from the schools’ (Journal of the Royal African Society, 1927, p. 78). The aspirant African middle classes objected to receiving a dumbed-down curriculum inculcating menial skills and being expected to speak simplified ‘kitchen kaffir’ English as opposed to literary English (Whitehead, 2003, p. 20).  
So, while post-colonial writers spoke movingly of being forced to learn English (Ngũgĩ, 1986, pp. 10–12), their English education was secured by local pressure against official colonial education thinking. English education was officially recommended for only a minority of colonial subjects (East Africa Commission, 1925). Attempts to impose a non-European curriculum in the vernacular were perceived ‘as an attempt to keep the African down or to treat him as in someway inferior’ (Elliott, 1938, p. 147). The African Teachers Association in Rhodesia attacked separate native education in vernacular languages and demanded a universal education system (West, 2002, p. 54). Equally, the Gold Coast Teachers’ Union called for English to become a lingua franca.  
Such was the importance attached to having an academic education equal to Europeans that Latin was insisted on at Achimota College by Africans, against the judgement of colonial advisers (Wallbank, 1935, p. 240). Some advice recommended ignoring local demands for English: ‘It would be undesirable to comply with any unwise wishes the natives themselves may express in favour of adding European languages’ (Schmidt, 1930, p. 139). However, attempts to impose vernacular education and indigenous exams were met with anti-colonial agitation, because of their association with colonial efforts to promote conservative tribal authorities against the growing anti-colonial politics (Ruxton, 1930, p. 10). 
In this situation, experts advised that Europeans would need to take the initiative to sponsor vernacular languages and publish vernacular literature (East, 1936; Elliott, 1938, p. 78; Smith, 1932, p. 438). For example, the International Institute of African Languages and Cultures introduced a vernacular writing competition. Cooperation with Africans was recommended to counter suspicions over vernacular language being introduced to limit advancement (Mayhew, 1933, p. 181). But colonial language policies struggled to follow vernacular language education. In practice, the colonial authorities were unable to resist demands for English medium education, because colonial relations made knowing English important to colonial subjects trying to secure their position under colonial rule.....

Allolinguistics Part 1

The following is an implementation of Justin B Rye's Futurese (which can be found here.) The following is an attempt to supply audio-recordings based on his narrow IPA transcriptions of English as spoken in 3000 A.D.

Click here for the words for "American Language," "George Washington," "Abraham Lincoln," "William Shakespeare" (Myeghan lengvaj, Jwohj‐wᴀjandan, Yebraham‐lengan, Wiyam‐xexbih)

Click here for the numbers 1-10 (wan, tu, tri, foh, faav, sis, seavam, ed naen, ten)

Click here for the words for "California" and "Texas" (Kyafwonyᴀ, Tesas)

Click here for the names of the 8 planets (Muhgyurri, Vinas, Uhd, Mᴀahz, Jubwatuh, Sarun, Yurranas, Nettun)


For Gwen

Where is that ground for which we fought?
What was it that you swore?
That you and I, shoulder to shoulder,
Would weather any war.

I thought we were our victory.
Not a heart-seeking knife.
We set forth out of you and me
Into our life.

But we became our enemy.
An enemy in love
Will always come under the gun.
Mountains do not move.

So here at last it is goodbye
"Come be by me and be my best"
I wrote and meant. But some things die
Without a last request.

Yiddish Fire

"It is no mere coincidence that 100 percent of the great secular writers grew up in traditionally religious Ashkenazic society. The Yiddish that is worth saving is rich in cultural, historic, and traditionally Jewish nuance; it cannot be fathomed in a cultural vacuum, with the words and grammar being abstracted out of the entire culture as a kind of fetish. Whoever has the fire in his or her spirit to become a Yiddish master has to learn a lot of classical Hebrew in its Ashkenazic incarnation and some Aramaic; he or she must be well acquainted with various ancient texts that are as alive as today's date to the Yiddish ear, as well as a religious life that he or she may not be a part of. Is it worth it? Of course, but only if the fire is there. It cannot be demanded or proclaimed. The beneficiary is not Yiddish but the people fortunate enough to master a profound yet fun language that brings so many treasures and delights, of language and literature both, to the user."
—Dovid Katz "Words On Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish"

Not having much love for, or belief in, cultural organicism, I wouldn't put it quite this way. I'd put the proportion of "100 percent" a bit lower. But not much. Maybe 90 percent. After all Dovid Katz himself, son of the great leftist writer Menke Katz, is hardly the product of traditional religious education, and he has himself written some mightily fine short stories in Yiddish. But the point stands. Even many of the great atheistic writers like Joseph Greenspan, Berish Weinstein, Isaac Rontsh grew up with religious life that they later reacted against. This is a lot of what makes Yiddish literature a rich experience. In order to get the most out of a lot of (avowedly secular and often even atheistic) Yiddish literature, I have found myself reading and absorbing religious texts that I would otherwise have had no use for.  It's like what happened in my childhood with the Christian prayers I said in Church Slavonic vis-a-vis the secular Russian literature I read. Only without the childhood resonance. I will never say El Mole Raḥamim walking up to somebody's grave, or intone the Kol Nidre. But they're worth knowing as background for the same reason the King James Bible is worth knowing as background for 18th and 19th century English literature, only ten times so. When Mani Leyb references the Kol Nidre to implicate white barbarism in the act of lynching a black man, for example. 

Pourquoi Derrida Dérida

The claim that Greeks privileged speech over writing is beyond bullshit. "Phonocentrism" and "logocentrism" of western thought are little more than a chimera for postmodernists to jack off to. It is annoying that it keeps cropping up among people who, unlike Derrida, should know better. Unless your entire understanding of Ancient Greece derived from Plato and maybe the works of Albert Lord, you really have no reason to still believe this anymore with the wealth of insight now available.
There is in fact something deeply suspect about modernity's worship of the written word and insistence on the (increasing) debasèdness of speech. It has some rather far reaching ramifications, such as people getting into a whiny tizzy over Dylan's Nobel award.

In this, Derrida was constructing, not deconstructing a damn thing.

Then again, I hold him in such regard that I think he deserves every bit of that irony.