Sunday, 18 January 2015

An Introduction to Sociolinguistics

by Ronald Wardhaugh

On 22 December 2014, at an altitude of 35,000 feet, somewhere over the Atlantic, I finally got to the last page of this book. The reason it took me about six months — even longer than Understanding English Grammar, which I’d been struggling to finish back in Porvoo — is that I was reading it on Kindle while waiting for a bus, travelling on train or, as I just said, flying. Otherwise it was a fascinating, though not easy, reading. I found the chapters 3 (Pidgins and Creoles), 4 (Codes) and 13 (Gender) especially engaging.

I tried to do a bit of research on Tukano who, apparently, live in some sort of multilingual paradise, and have discovered that the whole “Culture” section in Wikipedia article has been lifted wholesale from Wardhaugh. Here’s the original:

The Tukano are a multilingual people because men must marry outside their language group; that is, no man may have a wife who speaks his language, for that kind of marriage relationship is not permitted and would be viewed as a kind of incest. Men choose the women they marry from various neighboring tribes who speak other languages. Furthermore, on marriage, women move into the men’s households or longhouses. Consequently, in any village several languages are used: the language of the men; the various languages spoken by women who originate from different neighboring tribes; and a widespread regional ‘trade’ language. Children are born into this multilingual environment: the child’s father speaks one language, the child’s mother another, and other women with whom the child has daily contact perhaps still others. However, everyone in the community is interested in language learning so most people can speak most of the languages. Multilingualism is taken for granted, and moving from one language to another in the course of a single conversation is very common. In fact, multilingualism is so usual that the Tukano are hardly conscious that they do speak different languages as they shift easily from one to another. They cannot readily tell an outsider how many languages they speak, and must be suitably prompted to enumerate which languages they speak and to describe how well they speak each one.
Multilingualism is a norm in this community. It results from the pattern of marriage and the living arrangements consequent to marriage. Communities are multilingual and no effort is made to suppress the variety of languages that are spoken. It is actually seen as a source of strength, for it enables the speakers of the various linguistic communities to maintain contact with one another and provides a source for suitable marriage partners for those who seek them. A man cannot marry one of his ‘sisters’, i.e., women whose mother tongue is the same as his. People are not ‘strangers’ to one another by reason of the fact that they cannot communicate when away from home. When men from one village visit another village, they are likely to find speakers of their native language. There will almost certainly be some women from the ‘home’ village who have married into the village being visited, possibly even a sister. The children of these women, too, will be fluent in their mothers’ tongue. Many others also will have learned some of it because it is considered proper to learn to use the languages of those who live with you.
Compare that with your typical British or American monolingual speaker’s attitude!

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