It’s time for another Quick Links. Well, sort of. Even in my efforts to keep the description/commentary on each link short, the total blog post still comes up quite long. So, I’ll focus on just two links today, and save the rest for another day.
Classes have started here at my new school, and boy have we hit the ground running. I’m quite accustomed, by now, to having to read upwards of 100 pages (i.e. for example, three journal articles of roughly 30-something pages each) each week, but never before have I been asked to read entire books in such a short period of time. Still, despite my incredible stress over it initially, I’ve found myself having finished all my assigned reading (and then some) for this coming week, just in time to get started on the next set of books.
One book we have been assigned this term is Mary Louise Pratt’s 1992 volume ”Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation”. I won’t get into discussing that book too much here, but, it either cites or coins a good number of terms which have (apparently?) rather entered the jargon of post-colonial discourse, and yet which I have myself never heard of. Transculturation, as seen in the title, is one. Anti-conquest is another. Seeking to figure out what “anti-conquest” is supposed to mean, and finding Pratt’s own explanations woefully unclear, I did what any kid of the Internet age would do – I googled it. And found, quite high up on the list, the first Link I’d like to share with you today.
*I do not know if RDK Herman’s 2009 article “The Aloha State: place names and the anti-conquest of Hawaiʻi” uses the term “anti-conquest” in the same way Pratt intends it, but the meaning of the term in Herman’s usage is much clearer. In this essay, Herman describes efforts in Hawaiʻi to change placenames (especially street names) from names with Anglo origins to names deriving from the Hawaiian language (if not necessarily from the actual Hawaiian name for that place). The article touches upon fascinating concepts about the colonized or decolonized nature of a space, and the powerful role of naming within those processes or discourses. In his usage, the concept of “anti-conquest” comes into play where actions are taken that seem on the surface to be recognizing, acknowledging, honoring the native people and restoring the usage of their language, their culture, into the space, while not truly granting those native people any true power or agency. The Hawaiian street names are assigned by the State or city government, i.e. the colonizing power, which in doing so speaks for the Hawaiians, or makes them seem to be speaking, without actually granting them voice. And, of course, the Hawaiians are not actually given back control of their land, or increased actual political power, but merely this show of Hawaiʻi being made to look and feel a little more Hawaiian.
Herman points out, though, that “anti-conquest is never a conscious process. Colonizers usually perceive it as paying genuine respect to the local culture” (p78), the implication being that they do not realize or recognize the power politics at play, in which the very fact that they are the ones doing these things, rather than the colonized doing it for themselves, marks them as still very much being the ones in power, i.e. still the colonial power, and as not actually giving up any power or agency to the colonized. Theory is not my strong point, and you can take this or leave it as you will – or, feel free to correct me, explaining out either the actual meaning of the term “anti-conquest,” and/or the discursive implications of this case of the Hawaiian placenames. In any case, I do think it a very interesting article, and I plan to hold onto it for if I ever teach a historiography seminar.
I’ve tried to touch upon the key points here, but if you’re interested, please do go and take a look at the whole article. This summary here is only sort of a rough stab at just some of Herman’s points.
Looking into who Mary Louise Pratt (author of Imperial Eyes) is, I came upon a paper she wrote as her “Silver Dialogue” (apparently the great honor of “Silver Professor,” given out by NYU, comes with the obligation to write a single paper to be identified as your “Silver Dialogue“). Largely separate from the subject of post-colonial discourse, and addressing more pressing practical concerns, in this essay, Pratt calls for “a new public idea about language.” In summary, she suggests that US attitudes about multilingualism are terribly misguided, and present serious problems for our country. She calls the US el cementerio de lenguas, “the cemetery of languages,” the place where languages go to die, and goes through a short list of key, prime American “myths” about multilingualism that have helped make America the place it is today – where, even though the vast majority of us have grandparents whose first language was not English, the vast majority of us today do not speak that other language with any degree of fluency. A place where it took something like 9/11 to shock us into realizing (and even then, only some of us) how woefully disconnected we are from understanding our geopolitical place in the world, and lacking the linguistic skills to (paraphrasing slightly) “prevent or anticipate crises and respond adequately when they came” (p2). She then goes on to attack the notion that security concerns are the chief application of, or need for, multilingualism, pointing to broader cultural and societal benefits.
As I made my way through this document, I came to feel that the problem of our language attitudes, and hence language abilities, is far more serious than I might have thought, and more to the point, that the necessary changes are really quite radical and extensive. We need to make a pretty profound change, and it’ll take a lot to make that happen, but if it can somehow be made to come about, wow, what an incredible change for the better it will be.
To summarize, let me quote Pratt’s own summary of her statements:
1. All things being equal, bilingual families usually prefer to stay bilingual. Immigrant families do not simply want to lose their home languages, and they *do* (emphasis added) want to learn English.
2. Americans are not hostile to multilingualism; they are ambivalent, both proud of their multilingual history and committed to English as the lingua franca. …
3. It’s never too early and never too late to learn a language. Second-language learning does not have to begin in early childhood.
4. National security concerns define our language needs too narrowly. We need knowledge and interaction of all kinds. …
5. Monolingualism is a handicap. [We need to make this a widespread attitude.]
6. Local heritage communities must be engaged by our language programs. [Why do we not draw more extensively on native/heritage speakers for our multifarious language needs?]
7. Advanced competence [must become] a key educational goal.
8. We need linguistic pipelines at every level [i.e. a greater focus on the importance of language ability, and guiding students into, and through, effective language programs, beginning in high school or earlier]
This article is a quick and interesting read, though, so I do recommend reading the whole thing and not just taking my summary as the SparkNotes version.