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The list of possible topics is open-ended, but below are some of the
possibilities. If you wish to do something that is not on this list,
please tell me during our second-week conference.
- Language Policy. Study a polity and report
on its version of official language, its treatment of linguistic
minorities, past or present. Examine all
the socio-cultural factors that have helped determine this policy, and any
factors that may lead to change. Show the overt policy as well as the
- Language Loyalty.
Pick an ethnic/linguistic group and study how they (have) survive(d) as a
linguistic minority in a given society---the laws, policies, social
factors, attitudes that have helped or hindered their survival. Study
their language-maintenance efforts; compare them with similar groups
elsewhere. ( Comparative studies are particularly good.)
- Language and Religion. How does the policy of a particular
church or religious body affect assimilation or non-assimilation of a
given linguistic minority in a given locale? How important has
religious/liturgical language been for this body? What religious works
are written in a language other than the present spoken language of the
group, and how are these works considered by the believers? Is the
language of the original text(s) in another (non-roman) script? If there
has been a change to another spoken language in this body, how did it come
about? What historical and socio-cultural factors were involved?
- Linguistic Minorities and the Media. Study the non-English
media in a given city to examine its approach and attitude toward, and
involvement in, language maintenance and/or assimilation. How much
material is locally written? What kind of education does the
editor/publisher/producer have? How recent is the readership/viewership
in settlement? How does this compare with the national average of
similar ethnic media in other American cities?
- English as Official Language. A number of states
(California, Colorado, Florida, etc.) have recently passed
initiatives/referenda making English the ``official language" of the
state . There are also some national organizations (``US English",
``English Only") that would like to enshrine English as the official
language of the United States via a constitutional amendment (and Sen.
Dole has endorsed this goal). Examine the claims of such groups and write
a rebuttal of them; this may take the form of an open letter to
someone like S.I. Hayakawa, or to the editor of a newspaper, etc. Or
examine the legislation of states with such policies, and see what effect
it (constitutional or legal provisions making English `official') has had
(or might actually have) on such matters as bilingual education, etc.
- Bilingual Schools. Study a local `bilingual' (or
multicultural, Afro-centric, Native-American) school and report on its
efforts to help maintain (or extend, or empower) language, especially in
view of what the literature on the subject tells us about successful
bilingual schools. For example, does this school teac h only religious
subjects in another language? Where were the teachers educated? What
language do the children speak during recess? Is there a `Pygmalion
Effect' or a `Hawthorne Effect'?
- Language Standardization vs. Diversity.
Study a language that has recently become standardized or modernized and
report on its success or failure in this effort; or study a language that
has become dialectized and the factors involved in this change. Or discuss
ramifications of diversifying lingui stic norms so that different norms or
`polycentric' standards could be accommodated by the educational system,
by the press, the media, etc. How would teachers trained to accept only
the former norm be induced to accept multiple norms? How would the legal
system work? Base your claims on actual cases such as the two norms used
in modern Norway, the conflicting norms of Serbian and Croatian (and now
even Bosnian!), Hindi and
Urdu, the recent attempt at spelling reform in France, etc. Another
possibility within this framework would be to study how minority
language/dialect children within our society learn `standard' language:
how is it presented to them? What do teachers tell them about their own
non-standard forms? Is our best knowledge about these situations being
used to do this or are there some things that could be improved? You may
want to volunteer as a tutor and work with a particular child, noting the
kinds of difficulties this child may have. This will involve consulting
with teachers, special ed resource people, and working along slightly
different ways than some of the other library-oriented projects.
- Linguistic Genealogy.
Do a linguistic history (or genealogy) of your family. Interview your
parents and grandparents and determine what languages they know, or once
knew, and attempt to reconstruct this as far back as you can. Look for the
papers (passports?) that accompanied your ancestors from the old country;
look in particular at their religious backgrounds (are there family
bibles? other religious texts? baptismal/bar mitzvah certificates?) Are
there old letters in anyone's possession written in another language? If
anyone underwent non-English schooling in this country, interview them and
let them describe what it was like. What reasons do they give for any
choices about language that were made, by them, their parents, or whoever?
- Other topics.
Creolization, creole languages; language death; reversing language shift;
African-American (Bl ack) English: US Spanish, other ethnic languages and
modern mass media; script/orthography reform; diglossia in a particular
language; national census policy on language; language censuses; US Bureau
of Indian Affairs and its schools---there are many possibilities. Check
with me during our conference.
Fri Jan 26 12:06:38 EST 1996