The United States "liberated" Guam and the Marianas Islands from 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As is usually the case with American Liberation, this meant further colonization, conversion into military outposts, and a forced re-education of the native Chamorros. To be fair, those indigenous inhabitants had already endured some 300 years of Spanish colonialism by then. By the time the US showed up, most Chammoros spoke in Spanish. But they also had their own language, called CHamoru.
But, as the Guardian tells it, the imperialist force that famously boasts about its firm belief in the freedom of speech (from a country that doesn't even have an official language) tried to stomp out the language at all costs:
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The US navy banned CHamoru in 1917 “except for official interpreting”. The naval administration even burned CHamoru-English dictionaries.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that the ban on speaking CHamoru in schools was lifted, says Michael Bevacqua, a CHamoru language educator on Guam. Until then, schoolchildren who spoke CHamoru were punished, and their parents were sometimes even fined.
A decade ago, the US census estimated there were about 25,827 CHamoru speakers on Guam, just 2,394 of whom were under the age of 18, and only 14,176 CHamoru speakers in the rest of the island chain.
Robert Underwood, the former president of the University of Guam, says most of the fluent speakers are likely to be over the age of 50.
“In another 20 to 30 years there may not be any real first-language speakers of CHamoru,” he says.
The United States has never had a single "official" language. While English is broadly accepted accepted as the common tongue and typically used in schooling as well as government documents, it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. Spanish is also used frequently across the country — but there are a lot more languages than that at play throughout the States.
Andy Kiersz and Ivan De Luce at Business Insider crunched some data based on the individual-level responses from the 2017 American Community Survey assembled and published by the Minnesota Population Center's Integrated Public Use Microdata Series program, to find out what other languages are most commonly used in the United States.
There are a lot of thought-provoking takeaways from the data as presented here. Some things may seem obvious — there's a lot of French, of course, particularly in Louisiana and the states that border eastern Canada. While I didn't know that Tagalog was as popular in California and Nevada until now, I can't say I'm surprised. The abundance of Haitian Creole in Florida makes sense, too, but its presence in Delaware is much more interesting. As someone with an interest in indigenous tongues after colonization, it's somewhat comforting to see that Ilocano, Aleut-Eskimo, and Dakota/Lakota/Nakota/Sioux languages are all still hanging on. Read the rest
Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.
Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.
Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).
The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest
For the crime of talking to a western media outlet about his native tongue, Tashi Wangchuk has been sentenced to prison.
Back in 2015, Mr. Tashi spoke to the New York Times about his concerns that Tibetans were in danger of losing their native language. It was a problem that had been brewing for a while. Tibet declared independence from the much larger nation in 1913. They had their culture, their Dalai Lama and their territory. Things were good… for around 36 years. In 1949, Mao Zedong got China all hot and horny for Communism. Looking to regain the lands that they felt belonged to them, for political and defensive reasons, The People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet in 1950, invaded Tibet, scourging the nation’s culture, language and beliefs in an effort to bring it into line with China’s political doctrine.
China’s never relented its stranglehold on Tibet’s politics but, over time, it did come to allow a certain amount of levity for ethnic minorities, not just in Tibet, but in other Chinese territories (both traditionally recognized or taken by force). Diversity in custom and language were begrudgingly tolerated. In 1984, China went so far as to protect the right to the preservation of language and culture, so long as it didn’t get in the way of their political agenda, under the law. So, when Mr. Tashi chatted with The Grey Lady, he assumed that he and the Chinese government would be cool.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
The most recent iteration of the Central People’s Government holds a more assimilationist approach to governance: One people, one language, yadda yadda. Read the rest