lunes, 24 de marzo de 2008

Palabras de un gran maestro


Foto tomada de la página de Peter Ladefoged en la Universidad de California.



No creo que pase un mes sin que consulte, por necesidad o entretenimiento, The Sounds of the World's Languages, el trabajo, producto de toda una vida de investigación, del gran fonetista anglo-americano Peter Ladefoged. Si hay una persona de las que han pasado por este mundo que realmente siento no haber conocido, sin duda de él se trata. Es imposible leer la obra de Ladefoged sin vernos contagiados de su pasión, su gran pasión por una disciplina que al común de los humanos les suena a total música de las esferas: la fonética experimental. Pero para mí lo que hace única la obra del maestro no es tanto el indiscutible valor científico, sino la conjunción de éste con su profundo sentido común. Una prueba de ello sigue a continuación: el extracto de un artículo publicado en Language hace ya más de quince años (1992). Me perdonaréis -espero- la amplitud: creo que pocos días se leen palabras tan acertadas.

So now let me challenge directly the assumption of these papers that different languages, and even different cultures, always ought to be preserved. It is paternalistic of linguists to assume that they know what is best for the community. One can be a responsible linguist and yet regard the loss of a particular language, or even a whole group as far from a catastrophic destruction. Statements such as "just as the extinction of any animal species diminishes our world, so does the extinction of any language" are appeals to our emotions, not to our reason. The case for studying endangered languages is very strong on linguistics grounds. It is often enormously strong on humanitarian grounds as well. But it would be self-serving of linguists to pretend that this is always the case. We must be wary of arguments based on political considerations. Of course I am no more in favor of genocide or repression of minorities than I am of people dying of tuberculosis or starving through ignorance. We should always be sensitive to the concerns of the people whose language we are studying. But we should not assume that we know what is best for them.

We may also note that human societies are not like animal species. The world is remakably resilient in the preservation of diversity; different cultures are always dying while new ones arise. They may not be based on ethnicity or language, but the differences remain. Societies will always produce subgroups as varied as computer nerds, valley girls, and drug pushers, who think and behave in different ways. In the popular view the world is becoming more homogeneous, but that may be because we are not seeing the new difference that are arising. Consider two group of Bushmen, the Zhuloãsi and the !Xóõ who speak mutually unintelligible languages belonging to different subgroups of the Khoisan family, but otherwise behave in very similar ways. Are these two groups more culturally diverse than the Appalachian coalminers, Iowa farmers and Beverly Hills lawyers? As a linguist, I am of course saddened by the vast amount of linguistic and cultural knowledge that is disappearing, and I am delighted that the National Science Foundation has sponsored our UCLA research, in which we try to record for posterity the phonetic structures of some of the languages that will not be around much longer. But it is not for me to assess the virtues of programs for language preservation versus those of competitive programs for tuberculosis eradication, which may also need government funds.

In this changing world, the task of the linguist is to lay out the facts concerning a given linguistic situation [...]

Last summer I was working on Dahalo, a rapidly dying Cushitic language, spoken by a few hundred people in a rural district of Kenya. I asked one of our consultants whether his teen-aged sons spoke Dahalo. "No," he said. "They can still hear it, but they can not speak it. They speak only Swahili." He was smiling when he said it, and did not seem to regret it. He was proud that his sons had been to school, and knew things that he did not. Who am I to say that he was wrong?






2 comentarios:

  1. Genial. Voy a dedicarme a mandarlo a unos cuantos sitios en dondond creo andan muy necesitados de cosas así.

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  2. Gracias, Paco. Yo también creo que el texto es muy bueno.

    Por si no ha quedado suficientemente claro, quiero subrayar los dos argumentos por los que lo he elegido:

    1. Los fenómenos naturales (la pérdida de variedad biológica) no son comparables con los culturales. Aún en el hipotético caso de que todas las lenguas del mundo desaparecieran salvo una (el inglés, digamos) la diversidad se mantendría. La prueba de ello la dan los estudios de las lenguas "pidgin". Cuando estos idiomas simples, que nacen por contacto de individuos que carecen de uno común, se convierten en nativos de segundas generaciones, automáticamente -no sabemos muy bien cómo- adquieren la complejidad de cualquier otro sistema lingüístico.

    2. La decisión de mantener o no mantener una lengua corresponde a los hablantes de esa lengua, a nadie más. El gallego hace décadas era el idioma vergonzoso de la aldea: sus hablantes deseaban su desaparición. Hoy sucede lo contrario. Ambas opciones son igualmente respetables.

    Bueno, a esta perorata yo añadiría una coletilla que tu conoces: es el contenido y no el continente lo que importa; el sabio siempre lo será hable el idioma que hable. Al fanático, por desgracia, le sucede cuatro cuartos de lo mismo.

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