This is to Rick (who I keep hoping is being sardonic)--in case he is not--and
First of all, I was only talking about language intially. But Gaelic and Scots
were systematically and brutally suppressed. I myself sat in the pub of the
Traverse theater in 1980 talking with a young woman from the Gaeltach
who, when she had said a Gaelic word in school had been made to wear a
letter around her neck on a cord to shame her. Note: 1980. I was told
personally by Hugh MacDiarmid about children being punished in school for
speaking Scots. I am not just theorizing.
But if we are talking "culture," do you know how the "Highland Clearances"
were implemented? For much of the late 18th and early 19th century,
people were simply kicked off the land and put in boats not much (if any)
better than the slave ships and sent to Nova Scotia. That is why its name
is "New Scotland." The way they did it was this: a sheriff or other official
who spoke only English went into Gaelic villages where no one spoke
English and announced (in English) that they had until, say, next Tuesday,
to leave. No one had a clue what had been said. "Next Tuesday" the
English speaking officials returned and set fire to all the houses, some with
old people in them, and sent the population keening and weeping to the
ocean's edge. I have read accounts by those who were there. They were
told they would be given new land: it was pebble beach (Not much for
farming). The ships were waiting. Many died. The reason they did it was
that sheep would make a profit but people could not wrest wealth from a
rocky soil. All they had was poverty and a great culture, and that did not
make a profit. I remember a Scottish play in St. Andrews in which a
character represented the Duchess of Sutherland. The Duke and Duchess
of Sutherland were especially sweeping and brutal in their methods. The
audience was a sophisticated late 20th century academic group; they
booed the character in an anguished sound. I cannot forget these things,
and I know they are not isolated or just Scottish: I have read the history.
In the Highlands, in the post-Culloden period it was a CAPITAL CRIME to
wear the kilt or play the pipes or have a picture of Prince Charlie.
So this has ABSOLUTLELY nothing to do with individual choice or
improving the lot of the native population. So if you don't know any of the
history, maybe you should read some before trivializing genocide (the
Clearances were) and cultural destruction (punishing people for their own
speech is). I think this astonishing comfort in the face of other people's pain
and sorrow unbelievable. And I will not be drawn into any discussion of
whether this is accurate. Read the history--and read the contemporary
accounts--and see if these attitudes about how fine it was for everyone in
the long run that people were driven wailing from their homes forever and
that even today children are taught that a speech descended from
Northumbrian (the language of "Caedmon's Hymn"--the first known text in
Anglo-Saxon and a magnificent poem) is just ignorant, incorrect English
and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well when we just stamp
out everything different from ourselves, whoever "we" are.
Date sent: Wed, 21 Mar 2001 12:03:49 EST Send reply to:
[log in to unmask] From: [log in to unmask] To:
[log in to unmask] Subject: Re: Dans le Restaurant and the
In a message dated 3/21/01 9:31:42 AM Eastern Standard Time,
[log in to unmask] writes:
> "The Story of English" was extremely well done, and I assume the facts
> were pretty accurate, but the thesis it promoted was, in my view, very
> problematic. The only section I could really evaluate was on Scots (and
> to some extent Gaelic), and I found it infuriating in its assumptions
> about the wonderful way English supplanted them. It simply did not
> happen that way nor was its priviliging welcomed.
The world seems to be moving towards an "international" culture or
monoculture, which is good in some ways and bad in others. I hope we'll be
able to do this and still retain the best of each "minority" culture being
supplanted. I think, however, that it might be misleading to politicize
this or paint it as a form of oppression.
One has to allow people in any part of the world to live their individual
lives in the way they want. If a Mayan Indian wants to go to Bahrain and
become a petrochemical engineer, that's the person's right, even though it
might remove him or her from the mainstream of Mayan culture. If people in
Russia or China like fast food, and are willing to stand in line at a
McDonald's restaurant, that's their right, even though I'm sure there are
other people in China and Russia (and plenty of Americans) who hate the
idea of fast food.
There's no alternative to this kind of dissemination that isn't oppressive
in itself, besides being completely unworkable. The UN can't just order
everyone in the world to live in the "traditional" way their ancestors
did, and speak the ancestral language. A significant number of people want
to make other choices, and it's been quite a while since most people in
the West seriously followed the ancestral ways. Sure there are peasants in
Turkey still baking bread in stone ovens. But there are also people in
Istanbul living much as one might live in any large city anywhere. And we
don't need to necessarily see the city dwellers as traitors to any
nationalist or ethnic cause.
English seems to be becoming, so to speak, the lingua franca of the
Internet. The advantage of a worldwide language (remember Esperanto!) is
that it fosters communication. Certainly one can find unfairness in
whatever language it happens to be, just as one can find unfairness in
modern businesses all over the world having to use such untraditional
tools as computers, telephones, and cash registers. But I do think it's an
unstoppable trend, and the world in the end forgets the unfairness. The
trend is judged by its results. I'm not saying this is right or wrong.
Just that I don't see any way of addressing what you perceive as
oppression without instituting a greater oppression--the tyranny of the
group. That's the "stay with your own kind" (and preserve the culture)
theory which has already been tried, and not everyone liked the results.