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Possible Topics

The list of possible topics is open-ended, but below are some of the possibilities. If you wish to do something that is not on this list, please tell me during our second-week conference.
  1. Language Policy. Study a polity and report on its version of official language, its treatment of linguistic minorities, past or present. Examine all the socio-cultural factors that have helped determine this policy, and any factors that may lead to change. Show the overt policy as well as the covert policy.

  2. Language Loyalty. Pick an ethnic/linguistic group and study how they (have) survive(d) as a linguistic minority in a given society---the laws, policies, social factors, attitudes that have helped or hindered their survival. Study their language-maintenance efforts; compare them with similar groups elsewhere. ( Comparative studies are particularly good.)

  3. Language and Religion. How does the policy of a particular church or religious body affect assimilation or non-assimilation of a given linguistic minority in a given locale? How important has religious/liturgical language been for this body? What religious works are written in a language other than the present spoken language of the group, and how are these works considered by the believers? Is the language of the original text(s) in another (non-roman) script? If there has been a change to another spoken language in this body, how did it come about? What historical and socio-cultural factors were involved?

  4. Linguistic Minorities and the Media. Study the non-English media in a given city to examine its approach and attitude toward, and involvement in, language maintenance and/or assimilation. How much material is locally written? What kind of education does the editor/publisher/producer have? How recent is the readership/viewership in settlement? How does this compare with the national average of similar ethnic media in other American cities?

  5. English as Official Language. A number of states (California, Colorado, Florida, etc.) have recently passed initiatives/referenda making English the ``official language" of the state . There are also some national organizations (``US English", ``English Only") that would like to enshrine English as the official language of the United States via a constitutional amendment (and Sen. Dole has endorsed this goal). Examine the claims of such groups and write a rebuttal of them; this may take the form of an open letter to someone like S.I. Hayakawa, or to the editor of a newspaper, etc. Or examine the legislation of states with such policies, and see what effect it (constitutional or legal provisions making English `official') has had (or might actually have) on such matters as bilingual education, etc.

  6. Bilingual Schools. Study a local `bilingual' (or multicultural, Afro-centric, Native-American) school and report on its efforts to help maintain (or extend, or empower) language, especially in view of what the literature on the subject tells us about successful bilingual schools. For example, does this school teac h only religious subjects in another language? Where were the teachers educated? What language do the children speak during recess? Is there a `Pygmalion Effect' or a `Hawthorne Effect'?

  7. Language Standardization vs. Diversity. Study a language that has recently become standardized or modernized and report on its success or failure in this effort; or study a language that has become dialectized and the factors involved in this change. Or discuss ramifications of diversifying lingui stic norms so that different norms or `polycentric' standards could be accommodated by the educational system, by the press, the media, etc. How would teachers trained to accept only the former norm be induced to accept multiple norms? How would the legal system work? Base your claims on actual cases such as the two norms used in modern Norway, the conflicting norms of Serbian and Croatian (and now even Bosnian!), Hindi and Urdu, the recent attempt at spelling reform in France, etc. Another possibility within this framework would be to study how minority language/dialect children within our society learn `standard' language: how is it presented to them? What do teachers tell them about their own non-standard forms? Is our best knowledge about these situations being used to do this or are there some things that could be improved? You may want to volunteer as a tutor and work with a particular child, noting the kinds of difficulties this child may have. This will involve consulting with teachers, special ed resource people, and working along slightly different ways than some of the other library-oriented projects.

  8. Linguistic Genealogy. Do a linguistic history (or genealogy) of your family. Interview your parents and grandparents and determine what languages they know, or once knew, and attempt to reconstruct this as far back as you can. Look for the papers (passports?) that accompanied your ancestors from the old country; look in particular at their religious backgrounds (are there family bibles? other religious texts? baptismal/bar mitzvah certificates?) Are there old letters in anyone's possession written in another language? If anyone underwent non-English schooling in this country, interview them and let them describe what it was like. What reasons do they give for any choices about language that were made, by them, their parents, or whoever?

  9. Other topics. Creolization, creole languages; language death; reversing language shift; African-American (Bl ack) English: US Spanish, other ethnic languages and modern mass media; script/orthography reform; diglossia in a particular language; national census policy on language; language censuses; US Bureau of Indian Affairs and its schools---there are many possibilities. Check with me during our conference.

Harold Schiffman
Fri Jan 26 12:06:38 EST 1996