“Language wars” Part 2 – The war of attitudes

The second part of a discussion based on a reading of French linguist Louis-Jean Calvet’s Language Wars.

What is the nature of the Calvet’s “war”? As discussed in an earlier post to speak a language or prefer the use of a language form rather than another “is always something more than simply using an instrument of communication” (p.63). It is often a sign of identity, of belonging to one group or another.

There is always a tension between the ‘vernacular’ (e.g. in our case Scots) which has evolved to be used with a small group and the lingua franca (English) which allows speakers access to a wider, audience “By choosing this or that form, this or that variant, the speaker indicates where he places himself” (p 57). This placement is achieved by “a regional accent, by the introduction of dialect words in a standard form, or by the use of a different language in a multilingual situation“. These are pretty much the choices open to the Scottish speaker i.e. “the whole continuum of possibilities in the range which runs from the vernacular tendency to a tendency to the lingua franca“.

How the speaker identifies with the various forms depends on his or her ‘language attitude‘. Attitude is the front line in the language war. Take the 2010 survey gleefully reported by the anti-Scots press that “almost two-thirds of the Scottish public do not believe Scots is a real language“,

Calvet describes a parallel situation with Provençal, a variety of Occitan spoken in Southern France. He interviewed an elderly native speaker near Nice but “for her Provençal did not exist, at least not under that name; she thought she spoke ‘lou patois’, that is her vernacular language, and French the country’s lingua franca, relying on a familiar pejorative contrast“. In a depressing attitude similar to many Scots speakers “she insisted on the unity of French, which she contrasted with the fragmentation of Provençal. For she carefully distinguished her ‘patois’ from the patois of other people, which she nevertheless understood perfectly…she preferred to emphasise differences of detail which seemed to her to be of the highest importance” (p57-58).

These attitudes in Scotland and Provence are not ‘natural’ but have been manufactured over centuries by distain, neglect and open suppression. The aim is to chip away at Scots and Provençal linguistic and presumably political identity. In both Scotland and Provence the power elites seem to be winning the battle of attitudes, but then they have been able to put a lot of time and resources into it.

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