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Picking a national language
Posted: 22 October 2017 09:12 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Indonesia has over 500 languages. Most of these are in the Australo-Polynesian primary language family, and most of the major ones are in the Malayo-Sumbawan language subfamily (Javanese, Malay, Sundanese, Madurese, Balinese). The M-S family is fairly close-knit, probably similar in diversity to, say, the Germanic language family.

In the early 20th century, the most widely spoken non-European languages in The Dutch East Indies were Javanese and Sundanese. Betawi was also important, as a Malay-based creole. Malay was a minor language, in terms of first speakers, but it was an important and prestigious language , ultimately because it had been the language of the Malacca Sultanate and had been used by the Dutch East India company as a trade language.

In the 1920s, the leaders of the Indonesian independence movement selected a formal register of Malay as the language of the movement, and rebadged as Bahasa Indonesia. When independence was achieved after WW2, Bahasa Indonesia became the official language, though at that time there were only a few million speakers. In 2017, some 20% of Indonesians speak Bahasa Indonesia as a first language, making it the second biggest language after Javanese (32%). Some 70% speak BI as a first or second language so it has to some extent been successful as a lingua franca. There have been some spelling changes but BI differs little from the formal Malay register from which it sprung. (Note that about 3% of Indonesians give their first language as “Malay” still, as there are other dialects of Malay in Indonesia that differ from BI.)

The politics around this selection is interesting. Choosing this formal register of Malay as a language of national identity may have had the effect of further solidifying the influence of a small moneyed elite, but on the other hand perhaps it was a more neutral selection than Javanese, which would have brought more power to a _numerically_ strong group, much as the choice of Hindi as the sole official language did in India. We don’t get to run the control experiments…

Another recent rebadging occurred in the Philippines. The main languages of the Philippines are all in the Philippine subfamily of the Australo-Polynesian primary language family. Tagalog was the second most widely spoken of these when it was chosen as the national language in 1937. In 1959 it was renamed Pilipino and in 1973, Filipino, to separate the language from the ethnic Tagalog people, but it remains very much the same as Tagalog, despite plans to “enrich” it with adoptions from the other 100 languages of the Philippines.

https://web.archive.org/web/20080703172807/http://www.asianjournal.com/?c=53&a=20983
New center to document Philippine dialects

The policy has been formulated in keeping with the fact that the Filipino is multilingual and multicultural, and that the country’s having more than 170 dialects and regional languages is not a handicap but a big advantage, according to Nolasco. “It is ordinary for a Filipino to know how to speak two or more languages,” he said, citing the case of President Macapagal-Arroyo who can speak Kapampangan, Sinebwano, Iloko, Tagalog, English and Spanish. The country, however, has a national language, Filipino, that has become a common language for various ethnolinguistic groups. Although Filipino is not the mother tongue of most Filipinos, it has become their second language, according to Nolasco.
He acknowledged that Filipino was simply Tagalog in syntax and grammar, with no grammatical element or lexicon coming from Iloko, Sinebwano, Ilonggo and other major Philippine languages. This is contrary to the intention of Republic Act No. 7104 that requires that the national language be developed and enriched by the lexicon of the country’s other dialects and languages.

Filipino is the first language of 36% of the population, more than any other language, and has become the major second language. (Note that Philippines has two official languages, the other being English. Spanish was a second official language until 1987). I wonder what kind of effect this change had on the other 64% of the population: suddenly there’s a language named after your nationality and you don’t speak it, so you’re a non-Filipino speaking Filipino. Imagine if Belgium decided there was going to be a single official language, called Belgian (which is really Flemish): the Walloons wouldn’t stand for it.

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Posted: 23 October 2017 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I wonder what kind of effect this change had on the other 64% of the population: suddenly there’s a language named after your nationality and you don’t speak it, so you’re a non-Filipino speaking Filipino.

This is a very common situation, until the last century or two almost universal.  Most people in France didn’t speak French, most Italians didn’t speak Italian, a large number of citizens of late imperial China and tsarist Russia didn’t speak the titular languages of those countries, etc. etc.  The situation of England and Japan, where the vast majority of citizens are also speakers of the eponymous language, is far from universal.  (Note that I say “England,” not “the UK”!)

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Posted: 23 October 2017 06:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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OP Tipping - 22 October 2017 09:12 PM

… the Walloons wouldn’t stand for it.

They might put up with it if Ferdinand Marcos were the president of Belgium ;-)

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Posted: 23 October 2017 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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languagehat - 23 October 2017 06:02 AM

I wonder what kind of effect this change had on the other 64% of the population: suddenly there’s a language named after your nationality and you don’t speak it, so you’re a non-Filipino speaking Filipino.

This is a very common situation, until the last century or two almost universal.  Most people in France didn’t speak French, most Italians didn’t speak Italian, a large number of citizens of late imperial China and tsarist Russia didn’t speak the titular languages of those countries, etc. etc.  The situation of England and Japan, where the vast majority of citizens are also speakers of the eponymous language, is far from universal.  (Note that I say “England,” not “the UK”!)

You could have said “the UK” because the vast majority in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales use English as their first language.

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Posted: 24 October 2017 05:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yeah, but historically they didn’t.  These days, pretty much everyone in France and Italy uses the national language too.  A win for convenience, a loss for diversity.

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Posted: 25 October 2017 12:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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languagehat - 23 October 2017 06:02 AM

This is a very common situation, until the last century or two almost universal.

Fair point, yet I’m sure it rarely happened so instantaneously. In today’s news, Tagalog is now “Filipino”, deal with it.

Regarding the other case:
Indonesia and Malaysia are national rivals, but they are culturally similar. Long story short, Indonesia is what became of that part of the Malay empire that was governed by the Dutch for a bit, and Malaysia is that part that was governed by the British. Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia are both derived from formal, courtly registers of Malay. Having learned BI, I found that I was pretty much able to read a newspaper in BM (though there are some traps for new players: kereta means train in Indonesia, car in Malaysian). There are a few spelling differences. But Indonesians will sometimes claim to be unable to understand Malaysian broadcasts or songs, and vice versa.
I would say the differences are a bit greater than the difference between BBC English and General American, but perhaps less than the difference between Scots and BBC English.

Considering another comparison:
Afrikaans was legally recognised as a separate language from Dutch in 1925, some 270 years after the creation of the first Dutch settlement, yet the term was in use earlier than that as a short form of , even in English. There is an OED ref from 1885:

1885 Times 22 May 12/3 They are bringing out poems and even a ‘Phrase-book’ of this new national tongue—this Afrikaanse, as they love to call their version of Cape Dutch.

Compare this to the USA, where there is (to my knowledge) no significant tendency to call American English American. I think someone saying “I only speak American” would be mocked.

EDIT: because I messed up the quotes

[ Edited: 25 October 2017 04:27 AM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 25 October 2017 04:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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OP Tipping - 25 October 2017 12:21 AM

languagehat - 23 October 2017 06:02 AM

Compare this to the USA, where there is (to my knowledge) no significant tendency to call American English American. I think someone saying “I only speak American” would be mocked.

I will explicitly state that I am referring to American English or British English (abbreviated AmE and BrE respectively) but probably only when I am making a comment on the differences.  The phrase “speak American” is a quintuple zero phrase in Google ngrams.  This is not terribly common but not that rare.  The phrase is probably most commonly used when someone confronted by some foreign tongue such as Spanish or Navajo*

*I am, of course, joking here. The story of someone being berated for speaking Navajo in a checkout line is probably apocryphal.

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Posted: 25 October 2017 04:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Faldage - 25 October 2017 04:08 AM


I will explicitly state that I am referring to American English or British English (abbreviated AmE and BrE respectively) but probably only when I am making a comment on the differences.  The phrase “speak American” is a quintuple zero phrase in Google ngrams.  This is not terribly common but not that rare.  The phrase is probably most commonly used when someone confronted by some foreign tongue such as Spanish or Navajo*

*I am, of course, joking here. The story of someone being berated for speaking Navajo in a checkout line is probably apocryphal.

Yyyeah but the phrase “speak American English” contains the phrase “speak American”, so searching on “speak American” is not an appropriate way to search for this item.

EDIT: because I messed up the quotes

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Posted: 25 October 2017 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The phrase “speak American” is a quintuple zero phrase in Google ngrams.  This is not terribly common but not that rare.

Not really a surprise. Google nGrams searches books and other published material. It’s not going to capture spoken or informal written parlance. The Corpus of Contemporary American English turns up several relevant hits.

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Posted: 29 October 2017 11:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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languagehat - 23 October 2017 06:02 AM

I wonder what kind of effect this change had on the other 64% of the population: suddenly there’s a language named after your nationality and you don’t speak it, so you’re a non-Filipino speaking Filipino.

This is a very common situation, until the last century or two almost universal.  Most people in France didn’t speak French, most Italians didn’t speak Italian…

Please elaborate, what languages did they speak? The Italian language, derived from vulgar latin, goes back to 960, if not earlier. Prior to that Italians(Romans) spoke Latin.

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Posted: 30 October 2017 03:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Please elaborate, what languages did they speak?

Italy still has substantial minority languages. Including: Albanian, Aquilano, Arpitan, Emilian, Friulian, German, Ladin, Ligurian, Lombard, Molisano, Napoletano-Calabrese, Occitan, Piedmontese, Pugliese, Sardinian, Sicilian, Slavomolisano, Slovene, Venetian, and Walser. Of these, Sardinian, Ladin and Friulian are officially recognized as distinct languages.

Most of these are Romance descendants of Latin, like standard Italian. Some of these might be labeled by some as dialects of standard Italian, but some are not mutually intelligible with it. Regional variation was also greater in the nineteenth century and earlier. Remember, Italy wasn’t politically unified until 1871.

Fair point, yet I’m sure it rarely happened so instantaneously.

Pretty much any de jure recognition or designation of an official language happens instantaneously. De facto change happens more slowly, if at all.

[ Edited: 30 October 2017 03:49 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 30 October 2017 05:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Please elaborate, what languages did they speak? The Italian language, derived from vulgar latin, goes back to 960, if not earlier. Prior to that Italians(Romans) spoke Latin.

There was no “Italian language” until the late 19th century; there were only regional dialects, of which Tuscan was probably the most prestigious (Dante wrote in it), and they were by no means mutually intelligible.  Dave has a list for Italy; for France, see the “Regional languages” section of this Wikipedia article (and for details on how drastically France has changed in the direction of centralization and uniformity, see Eugene Weber’s Peasants into Frenchmen).

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Posted: 30 October 2017 07:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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As Eliza’s thread reminds me, there’s a relevant example in Spain. Castilian is known abroad as Español/Spanish.

Castillian is the first language of about 88% of the population. It is a Romance language, and more specifically the Ibero-Romance family.

The situation has an important difference from the Philippines case, though, in that the major languages of the Philippines are all fffairly closely related.

Catalan and Galician are Romance languages but their “most recent common ancestor” with Castillian was in the 1st millennium AD. (Some resources place Catalan in the Occitano-Romance family rather than Ibero-Romance but it seems this is a controversial point). Either way, these languages are not mutually intelligible. Spanish Catalan-speakers can usually understand Castilian, because of contact, but French Catalan-speakers can’t.

Basque of course is an isolate.

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Posted: 30 October 2017 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I was quite heavily involved with Anglo-Spanish historical-commemorative events during the first decade of the millennium, mainly in Galicia, and during that time Gallego went from being totally verboten in public to a point where bilingual signage became a matter of course. But it amused me that my Galician friends could be a little touchy about the similarity of their language to Portuguese. If the accidents of history had left Galicia as part of the state of Portugal rather than Spain, Gallego would presumably obey the same orthographic rules as Portuguese and nobody would doubt that it was simply a northern dialect of that language. I’m sure my friends really knew that perfectly well. But for a Castellano to say so meant trouble!

FWIW, the Galicians are adamant that they are Celts (and they play the bagpipes to prove it); they want you to know that they’re really nothing to do with the castanet-clickers to the east and south.

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Posted: 31 October 2017 12:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Are there any well-attested Celtic languages that were previously spoken in that area?

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Posted: 31 October 2017 02:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Are there any well-attested Celtic languages that were previously spoken in that area?

There is no doubt that a Celtic language was once spoken in that area - that is attested by Celtic place names, and many Celtic words embedded in the generally-Romance Galician language. But nothing written in it survives, and AFAIK it is thought to have already ceased to be spoken by the 9th century AD when the region became part of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias.

In any case, much of Europe once spoke a Celtic language. The place name Lugo is often trotted out as proof of the country’s Celtic identity, as it contains the name of the Celtic god known in Irish as Lugh - but the same god gave his name to Lyons (Lugdunum in Latin), and nobody would consider the modern Rhone-Alpes a Celtic region. Similarly, a fair proportion of the Galician words of Celtic origin are common to many Romance languages (e.g. carro for cart, braga for trousers, cervexa for beer), and really do not constitute evidence.

Galicia was admitted to the Celtic League as the ‘Seventh Celtic Nation’ in 1986: an almighty row promptly broke out and a year later it was ejected again on the ground that they do not speak a Celtic language (even as minimally as the Cornish do); an account of the issues involved is here. But accepted in the League or not, is is a big part of the Galician self-identity.

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