Tamil Discussion archive

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [WMASTERS] Selvaa's suggestions


This week's sponsors -The Asia Pacific Internet Company (APIC)
  @  Nothing Less Than A Tamil Digital Renaissance Now   @
<http://www.apic.net> Click now<mailto:info@apic.net> for instant info

          C.R.(Selva) Selvakumar wrote:  

>          Having explained my viewpoint, hopefully better,
>          now I want to know why
>          you believe in 'purism' of mythology and not 'purism' of language?
>          [ may be the basis for this 'mythology', as you put it, is
>          based on incorrect observations, but is your claim of
>          'pure' mythology based on some firm ground, if I may ask ? 
>           Just curious.]  

There is a sub-discipline of sociology known as 'sociology of language'
and people in this discipline study (as the chief architect of this
subdiscipline, Joshua Fishman, has put it) "who speaks what, to whom,
when, where and why?  One of the subfields of the Soc. of Lg. is the study
of language movements, in particular purism movements, and movements to
'control' language use, which often means only controlling the WRITTEN
language, since the spoken language is difficult to control (without
assigning a "language policeman" to accompany every citizen on his/her
daily rounds, an impossible and costly task.) 

When control of language becomes paramount in a linguistic culture, purism
(concern for 'purity' of the language) often becomes  a widely-touted
goal.  This is often linked to issues of religion, so that in
Arabic-speaking countries, the form of Arabic written in the Quran is seen
as pure (the word of Allah) and good and ineffable etc. and cannot be
changed.  Meanwhile, since all languages change, no matter what
governments or purists do, millions of Arabic speakers go on using their
spoken dialects of Arabic, (this has gone on since the 7th century) so
that now spoken Arabic dialects are not mutually intelligible, but only
one written form is allowed. This phenomenon is called 'diglossia' and it
is also characteristic of many South Asian languages, but Tamil in
particular, and many other situations in the world I could name.

The biggest problem for this situation is in education:  in order to
become literate  people must learn a form of their language that is not
close to what they speak.  If Tamil linguistic culture hews to the line
that not one grantha letter, not one 'foreign' word, only 'pure' Tamil can
be taught, written, encoded in Unicode, etc. then millions of people are
kept illiterate, because the task of learning this 'pure' form is
difficult, more difficult than if people wrote something closer to their
spoken language.

The BIGGEST problem with purism is that the people who define it generally
have no idea what is/are the REAL 'pure' forms of their language.  They
see a word that resembles a Sanskrit word or an English word and then bar
it because they see any borrowing as a kind of germ or virus or cancer
that will destroy the language.  There is no proof to this contention; I
do not have statistics on the failure of puristic movements, but the most
obvious examples are the languages that are severely diglossic (Arabic,
Tamil, French, Sinhala, Greek ...) and what we see is that the "pure"
language becomes the monopoly of an elite few who can control it, orate it
in spontaneously in public, do puja to it, manipulate it for political
power, but keep it unavailable to the multitudes of people who could
benefit from being literate in it, but can't attain this literacy.  

This is what I mean by abandonment; the language goes on changing, and if
things get really bad, people choose some other language for literacy, and
maybe switch languages completely.  This is what we see happening in
Singapore with Singapore Tamils:  a form of Tamil is taught that the
students see as having no practical use, so that educated Tamils,
especially the younger generation, pass the tests in tuya Tamil at
O-level, then leave the language behind and become generally English

Irish is another language where  an attempt was made to revive Irish and
make it the official language of Ireland, and also keep it pure.  For
decades this was pushed; it had no effect on the revival of modern Irish,
and the attempt to make everybody become a mother-tongue speaker of Irish
has now been abandoned.  

>      [2] You claim that empirical study shows that purism is 'in general'
>          counter-productive ( of what ?) and it leads to abandonment
>          of the language in more cases than not. Please tell me how 
>          many cases have been studied. Why in some cases such abandonment
>          did not take place ( as your statement says) ? 

The only case I know of where revival and purism have worked is with
modern Israeli Hebrew, and that because it was an immigrant society (in
immigrant societies, language shift tends to take place more easily than
in non-immogrant societies) and because it was a symbol of religious
identity (Judaism).  In no other society in the world has purism had any
long-term effect, except to create problems for education and widespread
communication.  Even in France, where French  probably has  a better
chance to withstand the onslaught of English globalization than any other
world language, scientists etc. are not using French as much because it
puts them out of touch with the rest of the scientific world.  So while
the French govt. creates lists of "pure" French words (alternates to
English words) French scientists at the Institut Pasteur publish articles
TOTALLY IN ENGLISH in the Journal de l'Institut Pasteur.  The Fr. govt. is
livid about this, but French scientists don't want to be cut off from the
world of science, which, like it or not, operates now mostly in English.

> Does it not  proof-enough that 'purism' itself does not cause

So Israel is only one case; I don't see Tamilnadu as another Israel,
bucking the world trend on this.  The problem with purism is that my
arguments (99% of cases fail, l% succeeds) are likely to be taken as proof
that if ONE can do it, SO CAN TAMIL.  I don't believe this, but as I said
earlier, we are not dealing with rationality here, we are dealing with
belief systems.  

>          ( I'm not advocating 'purism', only trying to understand your
>          citation of empirical study). How was it proved
>          that it was the 'purism' that caused abandonment and not other 
>          causes (say like migration, religious conversions, abandonment
>          of much of the old ways of living  or such things). 

I do not have the time or space here to give you a "course" on the
sociology of language.  If you would like to see what I have written on
these subjects, you could consult the webpage for my course on Language
Policy here at Penn:


On this and subsequent linked pages I have placed many documents,
handouts, reading lists, etc. that I find useful in teaching my course.
You can download any you like and see if they make any sense.  I might add
that my whole concern for this body of knowledge arose out of my study of
Tamil and the puristic movement in India; I've been watching the scene for
30-some years, and have scars to prove it.

I have also written about this in a recent book, which has a whole chapter
devoted to Tamilnadu:

Schiffman, Harold.  Linguistic Culture and Language Policy.  Routledge 1996. 

The matters of language loyalty, language shift, linguisic purism etc. 
constitute a complex with MANY VARIABLES, and it is of course difficult to
say that one variable is more important than any others.  The weight of
evidence, I believe, is that purism is counterproductive to a linguistic
culture in the long run.  It seems to serve a purpose for some time,
uniting people in a cultural struggle of some sort, but today, it has to
be admitted (whether people like it or not) that SANSKRIT IS NO LONGER THE
ENEMY.  Puristic movements also, unfortunately, tend to become one-issue
movements, and need to single out a constant enemy to beat up on.  Without
this enemy, or the perception of complete evil on its part, the movement
will fade.  It is like a religious war, a crusade, the Cold War, whatever:
somebody must be perceived as absolutely evil and nefarious and we can
then ride roughshod over the objections of anybody because we are in the
right, and they are in the wrong.  THIS is what is wrong with puristic
movements, IMHO.  

H. Schiffman


Sponsors/Advertisers  needed -  please email bala@tamil.net
Check out the tamil.net web site on <http://tamil.net>
Postings to <webmasters@tamil.net>. To unsubscribe send
the text - unsubscribe webmasters - to majordomo@tamil.net

Home | Main Index | Thread Index