The Right to Struggle and a Starter’s Kit for Language Protection

Recently, I had someone say to me, “Language is dynamic. To hold on to the past is simply being stubborn.” The conversation was about the pronunciation of various loanwords in English, but it brought up a completely different topic in my mind. There are many people in the world who think that working to promote a minority language is meaningless because it’s going to die anyway or that English is more important anyway. As much as I don’t like to admit it, language death is something we, those who seek to promote language survival and general study, must readily accept as a possibility. But that doesn’t mean a language should die lying down.

Language death is indeed preventable. At least, with a great deal of effort and support. Hebrew did it and Catalan has made a significant rebound in recent years with an upsurge in local support. Even Yucatec Maya shows signs of a return to a healthier state. But most importantly, you need to be realistic and ambitious at the same time. Never ever let other people tell you that the cause isn’t worth it. Just like nothing stopped major civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, you have to be prepared to withstand anything and everything. I’m not saying I’m a pro at this or anything, but I’m fairly certain I can talk about what language advocate should aspire to do. Now, prepare for a crash course in how to start your very own campaign to protect a language!

1. Know the language. Or at least get started on it, anyway. You can’t possibly have a legitimate campaign without knowing the language. There are plenty of resources for all sorts of languages. Just look around on the internet. You should have at least a conversational command of the language to really get yourself and others moving.

2. Know your limits. And break some too. Everyone has their limitations and there are things we can’t do alone. Get your friends together to bring awareness to your work and what you want to do with. But you need to be ambitious as well. Try not to second-guess yourself about what’s right and wrong. Take risks and be willing to make mistakes.

3. Read up on other language revival efforts. It never hurts to learn from experts. Highly recommended histories to read are the revival of Hebrew, Catalan, and Basque, which all have very important lessons to be learned from.

4. Don’t restrict yourself to one place. You should be prepared to bring your advocacy anywhere and everywhere you go. A language can’t take back its place in the modern world if it doesn’t exist outside of its place of origin. People need to know about it too. The whole point is to give the language its presence in the world back. You can’t expect others to take your campaign seriously if they don’t know about it.

5. Consider other languages as well. (Two meanings to this one) a.)There is a very real possibility that the language that you choose to advocate has a “negative” history for certain people. Be considerate of other people’s feelings about it and don’t expect everyone to be your biggest fan or supporter. Don’t give people a reason (even if it’s not a rational or fair one) to hate on the language. For example, you’re obviously not going to advocate Welsh in certain parts of Britain, especially pro-English areas, because Welsh was formerly (and to some extent still is) associated with rebellion and public dissent. b.) If you’re really stuck on what language to promote, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to promote a language like Spanish. The United States does have a very large Spanish-speaking population, but advocacy for Spanish is different. It encourages people to reach out to a different demographic that has a very strong political presence in the country, and you might promote it because you feel that it is unfairly repressed or discouraged as an object of study.

6. Get other people involved. Like I’ve said at least a thousand times in other posts, language is a social experience. Encourage your friends to advocate the language with you. Find native speakers or people who come from that background. Obviously be polite about it, and explain that it’s for a good cause.

7. Finally: never get down yourself when you’re not making progress. Remember, bringing awareness to a language is hard work. It is very important you feel motivated, even when you’re aware that there is a chance that you will fail. But that’s a part of being an advocate. The failure of a language to survive brings awareness to it in death, in much the same way that when a person dies, people think about them much more once they’ve passed on. People don’t treasure what they have until it’s gone. But obviously, you should be trying to keep the language alive anyway!

And to the speakers of minority languages everywhere: Remember, it is your right to struggle. The right to your ethnic or linguistic background is as much a human and natural right as the freedoms of speech, expression, or religion, or anything else. To Americans (and hopefully the rest of the world), this should resonate. Our country is founded on the pursuit of happiness and treasuring of personal freedom to be who we want to be. Never let anyone tell you any different. Even if you die trying, the world will know you and the cause you fight for.

This was a bit of a more empowerment and encouragement piece, even though I haven’t written anything recently. Please remember to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

The Two Most Contentious Languages and Why You Should Learn Them Anyway

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the North Carolina shooting of Muslims, and rising Antisemitism on college campuses, I am moved to write this article about the two most contentious, whether it be socially or politically, languages to learn. This article is not to discourage people from learning them, but rather to encourage. We must look past the history of the people who speak the language, and understand them on a personal level. America, or any other nation for that matter, should not be reduced to a xenophobic entity that dehumanizes and derides an entire people for the actions of the few extremists. The goal of learning a language is to become enlightened by that language’s wisdom, and learn how to apply it in fostering good relations.

Hebrew

Due to the atrocious acts committed by the Israeli government in oppressing Palestine, many Jews in America have been targeted. Jews study the Hebrew language in order to learn about their heritage and culture, because it lies nowhere else. Modern Jews, to my knowledge, do not categorically associate themselves, their faith, or their language with the state of Israel. I fear that Hebrew classes in America will be discouraged or even actively protested, because of Antisemitism. There are good and bad people among the Jews. To understand how Jews outside of Israel feel, you must overcome your feelings about Israel, the nation, to truly know how the people feel. We cannot blame Jews in America for the decisions of Israeli government officials. To that end, those that aspire to learn Hebrew, whether you are Jewish or not, I implore you to learn it despite what others say.

Arabic

The Middle East has long been the subject of debate, warfare, and discussion around the world. There are many countries that speak one of the several dialects of Arabic, which each have their own history and culture that you can learn from. Much like Jews, Muslims suffer a great deal due to the extremists or governments that misrepresent them. To learn Arabic is to understand not only the language of the Muslim world, but also to understand their feelings about their religion, its interpretation. With all the hatred of Islam that runs rampant in America, Palestine’s own voice is lost, in addition to the treatment it receives at the hands of the Israeli government. I do not support Israel’s decision to remove Arabic as an official language of the state, because I feel that it keeps Palestine in silence. Learn Levantine Arabic to understand the plight of the Palestinians. Learn any dialect of Arabic, to learn how the people actually live, how they actually think.

I realize that this was a bit of a loaded topic, but this is something I feel very strongly about. Allow me to clarify this: I do not approve of the Israeli government’s actions toward Palestine. However, I do not approve of blaming Jews who are not involved either. Pointing fingers and blaming each other will solve nothing. It is not until you know someone else’s language that you know what he or she has to say.