What would you say if they were to occupy the language? This was the question H. Samy Alim, director of the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Language at Stanford University, asked – and asked of us – in the New York Times.
Alim starts from a simple observation: in a few months, the verb “occupy” has changed its meaning. “In early September, ‘occupy’ signaled on-going military incursions. Now it signifies progressive political protest. It’s no longer primarily about force of military power; instead it signifies standing up to injustice, inequality and abuse of power. It’s no longer about simply occupying a space; it’s about transforming that space.” So in a sense, continues Alim, drawing on his experience as an anthropologist and linguist, Occupy Wall Street has occupied the language. But, adds the researcher, what would happen if we begin to think of “Occupy Language” not only as the language of the Occupy movement but as a movement in and of itself?
And once the question is asked, it also offers some possible replies: For example, he writes, “Occupy language” could support campaigns against the media's use of pejorative and discriminatory terms to refer to immigrants without papers. More generally, however, “Occupy language” could result – according to Alim – in “a critical, progressive linguistic movement that exposes how language is used as a means of social, political and economic control.”
The classicist Mary Beard, in an article in New York Times Review of Books opens up with a question: does the study of Greek and Latin culture have a future? A question, the scholar and professor at the University of Cambridge is quick to add, that is far from original these days, even if an international petition was launched last November to ask UNESCO to declare Latin and ancient Greek an “intangible heritage of humanity,” to preserve and protect. (A comment of Beard: “I am not sure what I think about treating classical languages as if they were an endangered species or a precious ruin, but I am fairly confident that it wasn’t great politics, right now, to suggest (as the petition does) that their preservation should be made the particular responsibility of the Italian government. I think Mario Monti has rather too much on his plate already.”)
The fact is that in reality, according to the scholar, this question has not been original for centuries, as “the classics are by definition in decline; even in what we now call the ‘Renaissance,’” she notes “the humanists were fighting a desperate last-ditch attempt to save the classics from oblivion.” The point, ultimately, says Mary Beard, is not to count how many people in the world today are studying Latin and Greek, but how many people believe that the study of Latin and Greek is an important skill to be taken seriously, and for which it is thus justified to spend economic resources.
Related article: http://www.tlaxcala-int.org/article.asp?reference=6538