Limitations on School Effectiveness in Connection with Mother Tongue Transmission

[The following is an excerpt from Joshua A. Fishman’sReversing Language Shift“.  As Firth McEachern pointed out in the previous post below, the La Union LGU effort to reverse language (Ilocano) decline would be multisectoral as in the Catalan model, and that in spite of its limitations in mother tongue transmission, as Fishman asserts here, “education is one of many sectors that must be addressed, at a serious policy level…”]

By Joshua A. Fishman

 

$15 MILLION FUND TO ENCOURAGE SHARED VALUES

A Grant Benefits a Program that has Helped Children of the Poor

The Rockefeller Foundation will spend $15 million in the next five years expanding a program that seeks to better the educational performance of poor children, especially from minorities, by promoting a shared belief in the value of education among teachers, parents and pupilss….

The [experimental] program requires that the local schools be managed by an ‘active partnership’ of school staff and students’ parents that work to iprove student self-conficence and ultimately their performance.

… The program is based on the belief that like all youth, children from poor families must learn proper values and behavior to be psychologically ready for schooling and must want to do well in school

… Parents have to believe in the school … and the school staff has to believe in the parents.  Working together is a way to break down the distrust and suspicion, to show they all have the children’s interest at heart.

(New York Times, January 24, 1990, p.B7)

_______________________________

 

 

J. Fishman

 

‘The School Can Do It!’

Most modern RLS (Reversing Language Shift) movements have quickly and naturally, almost as a matter of course, moved to emphasize schools and schooling as the central thrust and process of the entire RLS endeavor.  Perhaps it is time that someone asked the question that few of them actually stopped to ask:  ‘How much can the school, in and of itself (even the type 4a school, overlooking for the moment that many RLS movements have actually opted for the initially more dubious and problematic type 4b school), reasonably be expected to do for RLS in general, e.g., in connection with fostering the early acquisition and more fluent mastery of Xish, and most particularly, for fostering the cumulative, intergenerational transmissibility of any language which is still all too seldom a mother tongue?’  Clearly, without the intergenerational transmissibility that we have stressed throughout our discussion, every new generation must begin again at ‘point zero’, i.e., monolingual in Yish and in need of a tremendous societal ‘catch-up’ operation in order to merely wind up where the prior generation had left off, without the benefit of the head start that an incremental increase in mother tongue use so obviously provides for any RLS movement.

The assumption that ‘proper schooling’ can really help a threatened ethnolinguistic entity to break out of this vicious cycle (the cycle of running harder and harder in order to finally end up, at best, in the same, or nearly in the same, place, generation after generation) is quite widespread, particularly among educators and other language-conscious segments of the lay public, and even among many sociolinguists too, although the latter should really know better. This assumption, that ‘the school can do it’, is symptomatic of two features of modern RLS movements: (a) it is a declaration of faith (albeit an exaggerated declaration, to be sure) in the view that practical, day-to-day educational steps can be taken that will be ‘good for RLS’, and (b) it is a reflection of the peculiarly modern and even the democratic nature of those very types of social change with which RLS movements are increasingly required to cope.

Given that RLS movements are particularly apt to attract and to activate teachers, teachers being the native, garden-variety form of RLS activist, their faith in schooling as the cure (and often as the sole cure) for ‘whatever ails society’ is a very understandable professional bias.  The faith that teachers have in the school is also an expression of their much sought after positive self-concept, a pursuit that they engage in at the same time that they valiantly try to maintain their own sanity and to fight off ‘burn-out’ while society heaps more and more fundamentally societal problems and responsibilities on the already over-burdened shoulders of the school.  The over-optimism of teachers that schools and schooling per se can solve society’s problems (equivalent though it be to a conviction on the part of medical practitioners that they can lead society to the fountain of eternal youth) feeds the very societal over-reliance on the school that then leads to teacher ‘burn-out’.  There is an inherent conflict here which frequently goes unrecognized (even when parents and teachers work in concert, which they do all too rarely – often only in connection with expensive, foundation-funded, experimental programs).

However, the ‘school can solve it’ approach to social problems is also widespread throughout much of modern (and particularly in modern democratic) society, reaching far beyond the circle of school teachers.  It s great appeal derives not only from its simplicity but from the fact that most other social institutions that traditionally contributed in major ways to the enculturation of the young (the family, the church, the youth movements, the armed forces) have suffered serious decreases in power and in influence.  These decreases, therefore, leave the school as the only major societal institution that is still able to reach most children for many hours per day over he course of several years (in the West:  for some 10-12 years). The view of the school as an ‘all-purpose problem solver’ is particularly common in modern, pluralistic, democratic societies because such societies lack the compulsory, unifying youth movement and political party which are assigned major responsibilities for the socialization of children and youth in more traditional and authoritarian societies (where solutions to all sorts of major societal problems are also quite elusive). Thus, this new role of the school as ‘social influencer of last resort’ is really often a role gained by default.  Common though this role may be, covering the waterfront from arguably youth-related issues like the AIDS crisis to issues that have no special relationship to youth at all, like this summer’s summer shortage or counteracting the coming ‘greenhouse effect’, the ubiquity of the school’s involvement does not in any way bolster the effectiveness of the school in connection with actually solving any societal problems whatsoever.  Indeed, the school’s involvement does not in any way bolster the effectiveness of the school in connection with actually solving any societal problems whatsoever.  Indeed, the school’s willy-nilly involvement in societal problem solving may often seriously weaken it in connection with its own academic and orientational responsibilities.

The unsuitability and the inefficiency of tackling societal problems via reliance on the school becomes even clearer when one realizes that the power and role of the school to influence the home-neighborhood-community complex, the complex that is at the very core of RLS as a whole and, in particular, at the heart of the nativization effort (the effort to increasingly reinstate Xish as the characteristic mother tongue or co-mother tongue of Xmen), has itself become weaker and more peripheral in the life of its own proper priary clienteles: pupils and their parents.

The School and the Task of Fostering Xish as a Mother Tongue

The general considerations reviewed above (that the traditional societal institutions of socialization have become weaker and that, therefore, the school has been assigned new and diverse socialization and social problem solving responsibilities, even though it too has become a weaker influence on the young than heretofore) have nothing uniquely to do with RLS. However, another reason why many look to the school in conjunction with RLS in general and the improvement of Xish mother tongue status in particular is somewhat more unique, even if equally mistaken.  This reason posits a model of language which does not essentially differentiate between language and other school subjects (e.g., mathematics, science, geography), all of which usually start at or near ‘point zero’ generation after generation and are only weakly (if at all) intergenerationally transmitted.

First of all, let us pause to remember that very few students retain into adulthood the facts of geography, science or history, on the one hand, or the modes of reasoning inculcated in algebra or trigonometry, on the other hand, that are conveyed to them in elementary and secondary school.  Survey after survey in all Western settings reveals a huge proportion of ‘don’t know’ and totally incorrect responses to questions pertaining to school-based subjects, beginning with the earliest post-school years and snowballing thereafter.  Indee, in connection with algebra the loss-burve is so steep as to lead to the conclusion that teaching algebra to the generality of high school students, before they have the faintest experience of the societal uses of algebra, is probably a waste of time, at worst, or, at best, an outcropping of discredited ‘faculty psychology’ and its dubious convictions that ‘the mind is a muscle’ which grows stronger when exercised by difficult matter (regardless of how alien).  The extensive attrition of the bulk of school learning over time is doubtlessly due to the substantial post-school societal reinforcement or reward that is required if post-school retention of most subject matter content is to widely obtain.  Thus, the building of societal reward processes must come prior to any growth in post-school retention or utilization of school learning.

The corresponding need for out-of-school (including both pre-school and post-school) reinforcement is doubly or triply great in conjunction with various aspects of language learning and this is so due to the communicational and identificational roles of language.  Thus, if the school can pretend to be an independent agency as far as mathematics or geography acquisition and retention are concerned (although, basically, this too is no more than an unfounded pretense), merely because the school is the major agency for implanting such subjects in the minds of the young, no such pretense at all is possible as far as language acquisition and retention are concerned.  Without considerable and repeated societal reinforcement schools cannot successfully teach either first or second languages and, furthermore, where such reinforcement is plentifully available, languages are acquired and retained even if they are not taught in school.  A major part of the spread of English and other lingua francas during the past generation can be directly attributed to such out-of-school societal reinforcements.

The foregoing, while it strongly implies that the school cannot stand along on the language front, does not mean that the school is totally unimportant in connection with the attainment of many instructional language goals; however, the importance of the school is best designated as ‘initiatory’ and ‘contributory’ rather than as substantially ‘unique’ or ‘independent’. Schools are often important in initiating second language acquisition and some very few atypical students attain a modest fluency in that respect, even without direct societal support.  Schools often initiate literacy acquisition, with respect to both reading and writing. In addition, schools often initiate repertoire expansion, that is, they introduce students to cultivated speech (often via extensive exposure to cultivated reading and writing), i.e., to non-vernacular varieties (often referred to as H varieties) of the mother tongue that differ from the daily, spoken, informal and ‘untutored’ varieties.

Finally, schools are often important in connection with enriching their students’ attitudinal and overt-implementational commitments to language by providing and stressing the historical, cultural and moral rationales for such commitments.  Via lessons and discussions about language and via actively involving students in school-and-society projects on behalf of language, schools are often the first agencies to articulate what many adults strongly believe but which few can articulate well, namely, that for any given ethnohistorical aggregate a given language with which it has been long and intimately associated is more than just an interchangeable ‘means of communication’, because it also symbolically implements and activates the historically associated culture that it quintessentially expresses.  By repeatedly implementing and activating its associated culture and by doing so with positive affect, a language creates a social bond between the community of users of that language and its historically associated culture, symbolism and identity.

However, in all of the above respects in which schooling admittedly plays a significant role in connection with some aspect of language use and behavior toward language, it still requires extensive and recurring pre-school, out-of-school and post-school societal reinforcement, particularly if its initiatory efforts are to become cumulative and intergenerationally transmissible, i.e., if any particular language or variety under consideration is to attain a more widespread mother tongue or co-mother tongue role.  The mother tongue role is reserved for those languages that are simultaneously early-childhood-acquired (not necessarily transmitted by the biological mother, but most commonly so) and emotion-intimacy-identity infused and, therefore, societally binding on this basis.  Most RLS movements not only pursue this societally binding function, but they seek to do so on a cumulative, intergenerationally self-transmissible basis, thereby obviating the need to re-establish the link between Xish and its related ethnocultural identity anew, generation after generation.

Indeed, it is precisely because of both the communicational and the extra-communicational (affect-identity-societally binding) functions of language that threatened mother tongues and co-mother tongues require even more societal pre-school, out-of-school and after-school linkages and reinforcements if they are to become self-maintaining within the entire Xmen-via-Xish idea and lifestyle.  In the case of threatened languages that are still infrequently realized as mother tongues, pre-school, out-of-school and post-school reinforcements are urgently needed in order to foster the bonds of identity and mutuality with their associated ‘culture and society’ complexes. Indeed, such bonds are imperative if cumulative intergenerational transmissibility is to be attained in the mother tongue role.  Needless to say, such bonds can be supported and nurtured by the school, but, both quite soon as well as increasingly, such bonds depend on much more than the school itself.  They also depend much more basically on out-of-school factors than on in-school factors, that is, out-of-school factors provide the strongest affective and instrumental reinforcements for taking that extra step from functional mastery and language spread to the discharge and transmission of the affect-identity-societal bonding mother tongue role per se.  After all, children arrive in the school already talking, i.e., at an age when it is too late for the school to influence mother tongue transmission from parents to children.  Furthermore, the lapse between the end of schooling and the beginning of a subsequent generation is far too long for the school itself to be able to bridge that hiatus without the assiduous cooperation, intervention and influential follow-up by other-than-school institutions and processes.

More Basic than the School:  The Family-Neighborhood-Community Arena

More fundamental than the school by far, insofar as making an acquired language which was not a mother tongue of generation I into the mother tongue or co-mother tongue of generation II is concerned is the entire family-neighborhood-community arena in which the school plays only a circumscribed role.  A language which is not normatively operative throughout this intimate, affect-related and societally binding arena is not subsequently handed on as, or transmuted into, a mother tongue merely by virtue of the school’s attention.  Regardless of the rewards attained in adolescent and adult life in conjunction with the acquisition and mastery of X (e.g., English as a second language), almost all members of each successive generation will still begin anew in conjunction with it, at or near point zero.  This is so unless and until a new generation arises that will introduce it to the subsequent one much before schooling commences and break through to its utilization and retention in the affective intimacy of the family-neighborhood-community identity-and-society binding experience.  Only such an experience, and not the school, will initiate an intergenerational mother tongue transmission experience.  The basic RLS question is exactly how this early, intimately affective, societally binding functional change can come about and how it can become a self-priming process intergenerationally once it does come about.  This is a substantially different role and responsibility vis-à-vis Xish than the school can really discharge, pro-Xish though it may be.

It is often hard to appreciate the fact that the language or co-language of school, media, work and government does not automatically or necessarily become the mother tongue of the next generation, neither when the original shift from X to Y takes place nor when the RLS shift from Y to X is desired, unless and until a particular language obtains a secure niche in the early pre-school and co-school intimate socialization processes at the family-neighborhood-community level (stage 6 in our earlier discussions). The school cannot be reasonably expected to compensate for the absence, weakness or opposition of the foregoing arena, not even in connection with such societally more neutral subjects as mathematics and science, because the school itself is dependent on that very same arena for the effectiveness of its own, more limited, less intimate, less societally binding, less ethnocultural identity forming instruction.

Even the much touted mass media are insufficiently interpersonal, child-oriented, affect-suffused, societally binding to attain cumulative intergenerational mother tongue transmission, particularly so since the proportion of Yish utilized by the media will long (and perhaps always) be treater than the proportion of Xish.  Nor can the work sphere or the government function in loco parentis insofar as mother tongue attainment or transmission are concerned. The favorable outcomes of the Hebrew, Catalan and Quebec French cases did not begin with work, media or government Xization; they began with the acquisition of a firm family-neighborhood-community base or, better yet (in the Catalan and Quebec French cases), with the fact that such a base had never widely been lost from the outset.  Even Hebrew, which was intergenerationally transmitted as a language of prayer and of the study of sacred texts for nearly 2,000 years prior to its revernacularization, depended for its transmissibility as a second or third language not on the community-school (stage 5a or 4a) per se but on a strong out-of-school societal consensus, the unwavering institutional support of the synagogue and its clerical leaership and on a quasi-compulsaory omnipresent voluntary network of post-school adult study centers in which the school’s studies were continually reinforced and expanded upon within the male population.

What media, work sphere, and government agencies and institutions can do for science, mathematics and geography (i.e., the ability to sentimentally and instrumentally reinforce the school’s efforts so that each of these subjects ‘takes hold’ in the lives of at least a few individuals, although even then these consequences rarely attain the intergenerational transmissibility which is synonymous with the mother tongue role) they cannot do with respect to converting a non-mother tongue into a mother tongue or co-mother tongue. Schools simply come insufficiently early in individual development and are generally also insufficiently undisputed, affect-laden, intimacy- and identity-focused or societally binding for such purposes.

This does not mean, however, that school-media-work sphere-government cannot contribute at all to converting a non-mother tongue into a mother tongue or a co-mother tongue.  However, all that the latter ‘higher order agencies’ ca no (‘higher order’ not by virtue of intrinsic importance for intergenerational transmission but by virtue of their distance from the very crux of such transmission) is to constructively focus societal resources (attention, funds, manpower, intelligence and dedication) on the family-neighborhood-community complex and on the problems and opportunities that it and it along presents for the attainment of the mother tongue role.  In particular, the schools, media, work sphere and government can underscore the fact that successful mother tongue fostering requires fostering the idea of the language, the total language and culture complex of Xmen-via-Xish, rather than merely the language alone or first and foremost.  And certainly the activization of this complex among the parents of the next generation requires and entails more than the school alone.

The Increasing Weakness of the Direct Home-School Link

A further vitiating factor which undermines the role of the school in the total RLS enterprise, a factor which simultaneously makes it more difficult for the school to strengthen the family’s efforts on behalf of Xish, just as it also makes it more difficult for the family strengthen the school’s efforts on behalf of Xish or any other subject or medium of instruction, is the increasing interposition of the many new child-socialization agencies required y modern, urban life.  Indeed, modern, urban life is characterized by the growing peripheralization of the family vis-à-vis the total child-socialization process, on the one hand, and by the bureaucratic fragmentation of the agencies that have arisen to complement the family in connection with this process, on the other hand.  RLS-efforts in general and mother tongue transmission and stabilization efforts in particular are rendered much more complex and problematic by such modern, urban developments as the shrinking proportion of children being raised in families in which all available adults are working full-time.

Due to the rapid increase in one-parent families, resulting from the rising divorce rate and the growing unmarried parent rate, on the one hand, and the unavailability of either a parent or a parent-surrogate during the child’s entire waking day (modern living quarters and geographic mobility both mean that once-ubiquitous grandparents are now simply unaccommodatable or unavailable), children, from the very earliest months on, seldom have anyone at home to care for them, feed them, help them with school work or even simply to talk to them. What was still the norm just a generation ago, namely, pre-school and elementary school-aged children growing up in two-parent families in which at least one adult — usually the mother — did not work full-time until the children had at least finished elementary school, has become a distinctly rare and even surprising (if not quaint or archaic) phenomenon in many modern cities the world over.  ‘Hard data’ from the United States Bureau of the Census shows what must be a generally less documented worldwide trend, namely that the parental time even potentially avai8lable to children (total time minus time in paid work) fell appreciably between 1960 and 1986.¹  As a result of these profound changes in urban family structure and function, pre-school and school-aged children are increasingly exposed to early socialization experiences (and that means to early language experiences) provided by a large and varied number of employees of new neighborhood/community agencies.  These new agencies sooner or later come to constitute the lion’s share of the neighborhood and the community insofar as modern life is concerned and, therefore, they must also do so insofar as RLS-efforts and, particularly, mother tongue fostering and transmitting efforts are concerned.

During pre-school years, often from the time a child is just a few weeks old, ‘child care’ is provided by ‘child care agencies’, for 6, 8 and even 10 hours a day and for 5, 6 and even 7 days per week.  Many working parents want some free hours for themselves when they get home from work in the evenings and a free day (or two) for themselves on weekends.  As in the kibbutz of old, young children are primarily cared for by child care specialists and are with their parent(s) during only relatively few hours per week. The after-school hours, during the elementary grades (and, at times, even during the secondary grades) are spent in organized play groups, homework assistance groups, hobby or special interest (sports, music/dance, computer) groups, and mealtime (breakfast, lunch and/or dinner) groups.  These neighborhood-community agencies are not at all limited in availability to middle-class children, because public funding is increasingly being provided in order that lower-class urban children can also ‘benefit’ from them.  All in all, they constitute a powerful new reality in child socialization and education, a reality which not only changes the entire tenor of school — home relations but one that has dramatic and worrisome implications and consequences for all RLS-efforts, mother tongue fostering efforts first and foremost among them, as well.

As should be readily apparent, the fragmentation of the family’s former responsibilities produces a situation which weakens the school as an RLS agency, precisely because many new agencies intervene between it and the family nexus of intergenerational language transmission.  The lingjuistic behaviors, skills and values of the young are now being developed (and, as time goes by, will tend to be developed even more and more) by a whole host of helpers, counsellors and specialists who are not onlhy prior to, outside of and after the school but also outside of the family as well.  While it is still too early to say whether language socialization is being hurt or helped, advanced or delayed, by the changes that have occurred and that are accelerating, it is already clear that the new helpers, counselors and specialists must increasingly be RLS-provided and RLS-coordinated (with each other, with the school and with the family), particularly if urban RLS-efforts are to stay abreast of social change and attempt to regulate or utilize on behalf of RLS in general and on behalf of the strengthening of the Xish mother tongue role in particular the social change that has already occurred and that must inevitably occur in ever-accelerating fashion.  Thus, it is not only the school which is becoming ever more questionable as an RLS agency, but its links to the home and, indeed, the very impact of the home itself (unaided) in the mother tongue transmission process is also becoming increasingly ‘mediated’.  Vastly more RLS attention to neighborhood-community building is needed now and even more will be needed in the post-modern future.

However, as always, the glass is also partially full in connection with the foregoing widespread social changes.  The weakening of the socialization and language socialization roles and responsibilities of both the family and the school, as well as the interposition of many new agencies between the two of them, may also benefit RLS and foster the strengthening of the Xish mother tongue role.  This would be particularly likely to occur in all those contexts where there are few parents who are fluent Xish speakers or who have strongly positive Xish language attitudes.  The manifold new agencies of child (and of child language) socialization are easier to finance, influence, regulate, supervise and reward than are the thousands of discrete family units in any particular locality.  Rather than bemoan the peripheralization of the school and of the family, RLS advocates and activists need to find ways and means of establishing, maintaining and improving the various child care, play and socialization agencies that have already mushroomed and that can be expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  At any rate, there is no turning the clock back.  The utilization of the school for RLS purposes must increasingly become merely only one step in an integrated, stagewise progression of steps, rather than the first, last and most crucial step that it has often been made out to be in the past.

To depend exclusively or even largely on the school is now needlessly to court disaster re mother tongue socialization, as the Irish and the Maori examples discussed above amply reveal.  Modern, urban society has recently ecome even more complex than was formerly the case.  To buttress the RLS potential of the school via the post-school instrumental reward system is to overlook the fact that that system also needs to find its long and ‘iffy’ way back to the intergenerational transmission nexus befoe RLS can be attained. It is now becoming clearer than ever that it is not enough to create Sixh-at-work reuirements or Xish media.  Xish job-holders (or Xish media listeners) must marry their ideological and practical counterparts and raise their children from birth in Xish, in neighborhoods intensively served by the full panoply of Xish neighborhood and child (language) socialization agencies (including Xish-stressing schools).  Only after he intergenerational transmission system is in good operational order can the higher order agencies be concentrated upon, and even when that is done these too must be consciously tied back to lower order reality.

The Increasingly Complicated ‘Core Complex’, Yet One Still Too Often Overlooked

The attainment of the mother tongue role is not a goal that the school itself can begin to approximate.  This was always so and has steadily been becoming even more so of lae.  The early socialization (and language socialization) years are particularly in need of modern, urban RLS attention.  These are years when the traditional, formal school is not yet operative in the lives of children.  During these early years parents require birthing instruction, parenting instruction, child care provision and child health provision.  RLS-efforts would be wise to invest greatly in operating such agencies and services, i.e., to becoming ‘prime providers’ in these very areas so that the services of these modern realizations of neighborhood and community can be available in Xish, at the lowest possible price and to the largest number of recipients.  The modern family-neighborhood-community may not be much like the golden, idealized myth of intimacy and authenticity that classical RLS theory has usually imagined and longed for; however, it remains the locus of mother tongue transmission, of ethnocultural bonding, and needs to become the new focus of Xmen-via-Xish efforts in the modern, urban age.  The provision in Xish of the new family services offered by these new agencies of neighborhood and community will not only update the image of Xish, rendering it relevant to life as it is, rather than only to life as it was or as it might be, but they will inevitably update Xish and Xishness themselves.

The New York Times recently (may 14, 1989) commented on how American English itself is changing due to the revolution which locates the bulk of early childcare outside of the family.  Parents and children now speak about ‘quality time’, the brief time that parents themselves devote to their children (as contrasted with the much more plentiful ‘quantity time’ available to the agency-related child care providers), of ‘enhancement classes’, the pre-gymnastics, pre-dance, pre-swimming, pre-cooking, pre-reading groups for the very young (indeed, for pre-schoolers, some of whom may still be ‘pre-walking’), of ‘friending out’, i.e., of a child’s relative success in making friends in the various activity groups in which he or she participates and in each of which a different sub-set of children may be encountered, and of the evils of ‘hoovering’, eating at an overly rapid rate in the meal-group (i.e., sucking in one’s food like a Hoover vacuum cleaner sucks in the dust).  The language or co-languages that accompany all of these new activities have all of these new terms and are ‘relevant’ therefore to the fragmented intimacy and the scheduled affect of modern, urban childhood and of the modern parent — child family-neighborhood-community experience.  For all of this the school alone is just not enough; indeed, it is no longer at the heart of the matter, being both too little and too late for mother tongue acquisition and retention.  Indeed, the foundation-funded experimental program that we cited at the beginning of this chapter may very well fail, precisely because it is predicated on an outdated and vanishing model of home — school relationships.  But where and if that simplistic model is still functional, the experiment’s belated recognition that ‘schools cannot do it alone’ is essentially what should not be lost on school-focused RLS circles.  Their job is a much more difficult one than most of them have ever imagined.

Concluding Sentiments

The over-reliance on the school with respect to the attainment of RLS goals is merely an example of the more widespread tendency to seek out and depend upon one-factor solutions to a very involved, multivariate problem.  The ‘school alone can do it’ view has parallels in the view that ‘the media alone can do it’ and, on an even more widespread basis, in the view that’s controlling the work sphere (the economy) alone can do it’.  In addition to being simplistic, these views also lead RLS-efforts to bank on processes that are distant from the immediate nexus of mother tongue transmission and that feed back to reinforce that nexus only haphazardly and after considerable delay.  They may serve to reinforce Xish horizontally, by broadening the scope of its functions, but they do too little to foster it vertically, by contributing to its intergenerational transmissibility.  Such broadening efforts enable minority (or minoritized) languages whose intergenerational transmissability is no longer in serious doubt, to move energetically into the higher status spheres of modern life.  Their prcedents mesmerize RLser who labor on behalf of intergenerationally weaker, infinitely more threatened langue-in-culture constellations.  The resulting mismatch of priorities can be not only disappointing (as in the case of Irish) but devastating as well (as in the case of Scottish Gaelic, with only some 80,000 speakers and a well nigh complete reliance on the school and other higher order ‘props’).  What is sauce for the goose is by no means necessarily sauce for the gander.

But even appropriately focused RLS-efforts on behalf of seriously threatened languages are becoming increasingly difficult to institute and will doubtlessly become even more so.  As urban neighborhoods and communities become ever more fragmented and difficult to serve, RLS-efforts will require increasingly more integrative focus and sophistication in order to make a dent in the preponderantly Yish order of things.  Probably only very few and very fortunate RLS movements will succeed in ‘putting it all together’. Dedication itself will not make the difference.  More and more, it will be the shrewd pursuit of appropriate priorities that will differentiate between ‘also rans’ and those who have a real chance of coming out ahead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s