news from the linguistic front

in this issue:
1. an observation
2. a news item and related commentary

1. observation

i was talking with a friend after class today and she said "i feel so guilty, i've been exercising almost every day." and i was like wait, what? that's awesome, i wish i were that disciplined. but no, she feels guilty because it ends up taking an hour or two out of her day, and she could be using that time to work. i gave her the standard spiel about how it will make her more energetic, focused, productive...all the things i tell myself at 7am when i'm trying to propel myself out of bed and go for a run. but then i realized...i feel guilty if i get 8 hours of sleep in a night. how could i possibly sleep for 8 hours, when i have so much to do? so i kind of knew what she meant.

you might think i'm exaggerating...unless you have been a grad student. in which case i bet you know exactly what i mean. the observation is this: i think it's a little sad and fucked up that something about this system causes people to feel guilty for meeting their own physical needs.

2. news

a chilean indian tribe called the Mapuche is suing microsoft over IP rights to their language. they say that MS did not have their permission to release a Mapudungun version of Windows (the article says Mapuzugun, but i have only ever seen it called Mapudungun).

i haven't even been in this field for very long, but already i am well aware that this is not an unusual attitude. the more endangered a language becomes, the more tightly its speakers want to hold onto it. many Indian tribes of the US are no longer willing to work with linguists or anthropologists, and the reasons are diverse and complex. but it makes a certain amount of sense when you think of how tightly language is bound up with cultural identity and self-worth. language distinguishes "us" from "other" and so it is not a great stretch for a people to see their language as a resource of value, owned exclusively by them, to be protected from those who would take it and profit from it. it's also really sad, because it means that these languages will surely die out, and more quickly than otherwise.

as a programmer (can't i live in both worlds?), i am not a great fan of microsoft. some (not all) of their products really are inferior, and their business practices are anti-competitive. that hurts the field. but again, it's understandable; business is business...which is why i'm better off *not* being in business. i would like to know what steps they took when they thought "hey, let's release windows in some obscure chilean Indian language"...who did they talk to? who said it was a good plan? did they really not talk to anyone from the tribe? and where did they get the language materials?

i think, in the end, i have to come down on the side of the tribe. it's not really a question of who holds the legal rights to a language as much as one of human decency. if a group of people who really have very little, relatively, in the way of social, cultural and political clout say "no, we don't want you to use our language" then you shouldn't use their language. it's a matter of respect, you don't take and use something that people don't want to share. everyone has the right to cultural self-determininsm. end of sermon.