Language stigmas

This rather odd story about a linguist who spoke to his son exclusively in Klingon for the first three years of his life made me wonder whether there are stigmas against using minority languages.

In France it seems there are. This blog post on France’s minority languages tells me:

When discussing the regional minority languages of France, “patois” takes on a pejorative meaning. A speaker of “patois” is uneducated, a “country folk”, as it were. Modern linguistics classifies many of the so-called “patois” as independent languages, but the term has stuck, as has the stigma. Occitan, another of France’s minority languages, has a special word for the stigma associated with speaking it: “La vergonha”, literally “the shame”. Breton sociologist Fañch Elegoët did a study of Breton speakers during the 1960s and ’70s and found that Bretons viewed their language as “a peasant patois, unable to insure communication even with the neighbouring village, even more incapable of expressing the modern world… A language only good enough to talk to cows and pigs”.

France has repeatedly refused to accept the terms of the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Any other insights on the opinions of speakers on the status of their own languages would be interesting. This reminds me of the long-standing idea that some languages are incapable – as summarised in Charles Barber’s 1997 book on early modern English:

In the sixteenth century… various arguments were advanced against the use of English instead of Latin… English was unsuitable for scholarly works, because it lacked the necessary technical vocabulary. It was ‘rude’ or ‘barbarous’, lacking in expressiveness.

…right through to this rather wayward post from an internet philosophy forum in 2008:

It has been said that philosophy can only really be done in Greek or German because the structure of those languages allows for the invention of words that can attempt to describe those ideas philosophy is concerned with that are so difficult to formulate in words. Especially in translation into English from a language such as German, this seems to be the case. Is English so poorly suited to the study of philosophy that it in fact hinders it?


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