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hellog〜英語史ブログ / 2019-09-24

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2019-09-24 Tue

#3802. 「すべての言語は平等である」 [language_equality][language_myth]

 すべての言語が平等であることについて language_equality の各記事で取りあげてきた.もっとも,「平等」 (equal) という概念がくせ者である.進歩的な言語や堕落した言語などというものはないという意味での平等なのか,難易度に関して差はないという意味での平等なのか,社会的な価値に関する平等なのか,視点がはっきりしない.また,実際にすべての言語が平等であるという事実を述べているのか,あるいは平等であるべきだ,あるはずだという希望や信念を述べているのかも曖昧だ.
 このように論点のフォーカスの問題はあるにせよ,多くの言語学者がすべての言語は平等であると主張し続けている.というのは,この命題は必ずしも一般的に受け入れられているわけではないからだ.Crystal (460--61) も,"Recognizing language equality" と題する節で,言語の平等を主張している.丁寧な主張で,読みやすい文章でもあるので,以下に引用しておこう.

It comes near to stating the obvious that all languages have developed in order to express the needs of their users, and that all languages are, in a real sense, equal. But this tenet of modern linguistics has often been denied, and still needs to be defended. Part of the problem is that the word equal needs to be used very carefully. It is difficult to say whether all languages are structurally equal, in the sense that they have the same 'amounts' of grammar, phonology, or semantic structure . . . . But all languages are arguably equal in the sense that there is nothing intrinsically limiting, demeaning, or disabling about any of them. All languages meet the social and psychological needs of their speakers, and can provide us with valuable information about human nature and society. . . .
   There are, however, several widely held misconceptions about languages which stem from a failure to recognize this view. The most important of these is the idea that there are such things as primitive languages --- languages with a simple grammar, a few sounds, and a vocabulary of only a few hundred words, whose speakers have to compensate for their language's deficiencies through gestures. In the 19th century, such ideas were common, and it was widely thought that it was only a matter of time before explorers would discover a genuinely primitive language.
   The fact of the matter is that every culture which has been investigated, no matter how 'primitive' it may be in cultural terms, turns out to have a fully developed language, with a complexity comparable to those of the so-called 'civilized' nations. Anthropologically speaking, the human race can be said to have evolved from primitive to civilized states, but there is no sign of language having gone through the same kind of evolution. There are no 'bronze age' or 'stone age' languages.
   At the other end of the scale from so-called 'primitive' language are opinions about the 'natural superiority' of certain languages. Latin and Greek were for centuries viewed as models of excellence in western Europe because of the literature and thought which these language expressed; and the study of modern languages is still influenced by the practices of generations of classical linguistic scholars. But all languages have a literature, even those which have never been written down. And oral performances encountered in some of these language, once transcribed, stand proudly alongside the classics of established literate societies.
   The idea that one's own language is superior to others is widespread, but the reasons given for the superiority vary greatly. A language might be viewed as the oldest, or the most logical, or the language of gods, or simply the easiest to pronounce or the best for singing. Such beliefs have no basis in linguistic fact. Some languages are of course more useful or prestigious than others, at a given period of history, but this is due to the pre-eminence of the speakers at that time, and not to any inherent linguistic characteristics. The view of modern linguistics is that a language should not be valued on the basis of the political, economic, religious, or other influence of its speakers. If it were otherwise, we would have to rate the Spanish and Portuguese spoken in the 16th century as somehow 'better' than they are today, and modern American English would be 'better' than British English. When we make such comparisons, we find only a small range of linguistic differences, and nothing to warrant such sweeping conclusions.
   At present, it is not possible to rate the excellence of languages in linguistic terms; and it is no less difficult to arrive at an evaluation in aesthetic, philosophical, literary, religious, or cultural terms. How, ultimately, could we compare the merits of Latin and Greek with the proverbial wisdom of Chinese, the extensive oral literature of the Polynesian islands, or the depth of scientific knowledge which has been expressed in English? Rather, we need to develop a mindset which recognizes languages as immensely flexible systems, capable of responding to the needs of a people and reflecting their interests and preoccupations in historically unique visions. That is why it is so important to preserve language diversity. There are only 6,000 or so visions left . . . .


 ・ Crystal, David. How Language Works. London: Penguin, 2005.

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