Vernacular Literacy: A Re-Evaluation

By R. B. Le Page; Penelope Gardner Chloros et al. | Go to book overview

1
Political and Economic Aspects of Vernacular Literacy

R. B. LE PAGE with contributions from R. K. Agnihotri, R. A. Carr-Hill, A. Choudry, M. Diki-Kidiri, J. Gerbault, M.-A. Hintze, Shail Jha, C. Juillard, A. L. Khanna, R. B. Le Page, A. Mendikoetxea, K. G. Mkanganwi, H. Mwansoko, P. Ndukwe, A. E. Odumuh, C. Pyle, J. Russell, W. J. Samarin, S. Saxena, N. Shrimpton, M. Verma, and K. Williamson


INTRODUCTION

We begin this chapter with a consideration of the problems of nationism and nationalism--that is, of the acts of identity and collective self-protection which have drawn together groups of people feeling they had a collective interest in combining, whether for genealogical or geographical or cultural or social reasons. These acts have frequently been exploited by providing a power base for political leaders, and linguistic identity, either indigenous to the group or imposed upon them, has become a political issue and weapon, so that the question of which language to employ for literacy in turn becomes an issue. It will be seen from the case histories then examined that such acts of identity sometimes run in harmony with, but frequently are in conflict with, questions of economic self-interest.

There are many other cases of fissiparous nationalism in Europe with the language banner flying from the masthead accompanied by a call from idealistic (or power-hungry) nationalist intellectuals for 'their language' to be acknowledged as the badge of their identity and the medium for literacy. Corsica, Catalonia, Valencia, Brittany, and Wales are among them. Finland has already won this long battle, separated now from Sweden, released from the shadow of Russia. Each case is different, unique in some respect: demographically, politically, economically, geographically, historically, linguistically. It has been easier for Basque and the Celtic languages and Finnish to be recognized as distinct from the languages around them, the Romance and Germanic majority languages, than it has been for Romansh or Swiss German or Corsican--the latter usually denigrated as either a patois or an Italian dialect (the puzzle then being to know what Italian it is a dialect of). Being an island helps the linguistic focusing

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