Linguistic Ecology: Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Region

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

Appendix: Linguistics in the Pacific 1

Traditionally most languages have been studied and described as if they were standard languages.

(Coulmas 1994:175)


INTRODUCTION

The phrase ‘linguistic imperialism’ can be understood to mean, as it has for most of this book, ‘imperialism of languages’ and, as I am about to discuss in this appendix, imperialism of linguistics. My discussion will make special reference to Pacific linguists but it would be quite unreasonable to make a fine distinction between Pacific linguistics and other kinds of linguistics, for Pacific linguistics is entirely derivative of the large Western creation called linguistics and not an approach to language confined to the Pacific or developed by scholars indigenous to the area. Its discourse, by and large, has remained that of other English-speaking centres of learning. The story of Pacific linguistics thus is yet another example of the unidirectionality of the flow of knowledge from its European and Western sources to the more peripheral countries of the new and third world.

The ways in which human language is investigated by linguistics is of course only a small subpart of this phenomenon and, many would argue, a rather innocuous one. There is a long-standing ambition of linguistics to be seen as a science, or more precisely a natural science, concerned with the objective description of natural languages, laws of linguistic change and so forth (see Crowley 1990). This objective discipline prides itself on having overcome the subjective and frequently openly racist message of nineteenth-century linguistics inspired by social Darwinism and its implicit views of the inequalities of human languages. It is indeed a lasting achievement of modern descriptivists, beginning with Boas and Sapir, to have exorcized unconfirmed theories of superiority from Western linguistics. However, the

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