One of the texts for this class has been Ofelia Garcia's Bilingual Education for the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. My classmates complain about the book a lot because the text style is not the most lucid out there. Also, the author really has a chip on her shoulder about oppressed language minorities and those dang pasty United Statesian monolinguals imposing their bigoted ignorance on all the cute little Mexican kids and blah blah blah. It may get my blood boiling every once in a while, but at least it is engaging, you know? I quite liked having a textbook with ATTITUDE and SASS. Anyway, about two weeks ago, we switched to Baker's Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, which is much more vanilla. Oh well.
Back to diglossia. In 1959, Ferguson got to writing about how some societies display signs of bilingualism on a macro level, where two varieties of one language are in use in mutually exclusive, clearly defined, functionally separate contexts. Take, for example, oh I don't know, Arabia. There's the "high" variety of Arabic, MSA, which is used in the context of media and education and literacy. Then there's the "low" variety of Arabic, or colloquial dialect, which is used in everyday real life. If you use MSA in a context normally reserved for the colloquial, they're all going to laugh at you. Similarly, if you use colloquial in an MSA context, they're all going to laugh at you. It's a system that's been in use for a long time, but it's showing signs of leakage. More on that in a minute.
In the 1960s and 1970s, a guy named Fishman extended Ferguson's diglossia principle and said that diglossia can occur even between two languages, not just varieties within a language. So then you have societies where there is bilingualism with diglossia, and bilingualism but not diglossia, and diglossia without bilingualism, and neither diglossia nor bilingualism. It's all a rich tapestry.
However, these days you can't go around attaching labels like "high" and "low" to languages or dialects without offending people. So Fishman politically corrected the model of diglossia and moved away from using the term to describe language hierarchies as normal, accepted structures. Just because colloquial Arabic occupies the so-called "low" slot doesn't mean it is inherently less valuable than the "high" MSA, so let's do away with those archaic, harmful designations. Furthermore, those mutually exclusive, clearly defined, functionally separate contexts I mentioned earlier are leaking. These days, you can find printed material in the colloquial dialects of Arabic (HALLELUJAH) and people on TV (including Arab leaders trying not to be deposed) mixing in colloquial with MSA.
So now we talk about "multilingualism," or "transglossia" in societies, not diglossia. These terms more accurately describe the "stable, yet dynamic" functions of two or more languages in society (Garcia, 2009, p. 79). We've got Paraguay (Spanish/Guarini), Luxemburg (French/German/Luxemburgish (!)), Switzerland (French/German/Italian), Haiti (French/Haitian Creole), Lebanon (Arabic/English/French), etc.
Doesn't all this make the US sound like the most boring place on earth, linguistically speaking? Maybe it's just Garcia's disgust with monolinguals rubbing off on me, but what is our deal, anyway? Why on earth have some states actually outlawed bilingual education in their schools? What are we so afraid of?
On the other hand, I wish Garcia would cool her jets a little. There are plenty of people in the US who just want to learn English, and that is FINE. There are kids in Kansas who will never go anywhere but Kansas and we should not turn up our noses at them just because they are not chomping at the bit to learn Mandarin Chinese. Maybe this sounds ethnocentric, but I'm really just trying to be inclusive: if someone only speaks English, and it's not for lack of opportunity to study another language, and it's not because they hate other nations, and they're just going to live and travel within the (expansive!) United States quite happily for the rest of their lives, maybe that's ok. Sometimes I get tired of Europeans imposing their linguistic and geographical paradigms on us Americans. You guys, our country is huge, and sometimes we have to drive for hours and hours just to get to another state. It's not like Europe where you can hit three countries in two hours. Besides, at least allow Americans the satisfaction of knowing that even if they only do speak one language (English), at least they picked a useful one, right?
But yes, it would be more exciting if the US experienced more
And that, my friends, is how you turn studying for a midterm into writing a blog post for NaBloPoMo.