Did you guys know that it’s estimated that half of the world’s 7000 languages are going to be extinct by the end of this century? Have you ever wondered how this happens, or would you like to know how we can combat this? Then this episode is for you!
Our guest today is Guillem Belmar Viernes. Guillem is a PhD student at the University of California in Santa Barbara, but originally from Girona in Catalonia, Spain.
Guillem did his BA in Translation, has a Master in Language Science and Hispanic Linguistics and a Masters in Multilingualism.
For his PhD, he is working on Minoritized Languages from different perspectives such as varieties of Mixtec Language spoken in California – but his research interests are much broader: He is interested in Language revitalization; endangered languages; language documentation; Native American Languages as well as Romance Languages and Germanic Languages. He is fluent in Catalan, Spanish, English and French, but – hold on to your seats, he also knows Galician, Portuguese, Italian, Occitan, Basque, Mandarin, West Frisian, Dutch and German.
The people and links Guillem mentioned are as follows:
Personal Twitter: @GuillemBelmar
Facebook: Yucunani Sà’án Sàvǐ
Experts on Endangered Languages: Haunani-Kay Trask and Wesley Leonard
Mixtec Languages Guest Lecturer: Jeremias Salazar
Study on Catalan: Joan Pujolar and Maite Puigdevall
Listen to the episode here!
Read the transcript here!
[Eva-Maria] Hello, everybody. Did you guys know that it’s estimated that half of the world’s 7000 languages are going to be extinct by the end of the century? Have you ever wondered how this happens? Or would you like to know how we can combat this? Then keep listening because this episode is for you? Welcome back to another episode of Much Language Such Talk. It’s me again, Eva-Maria. And I’m here today with the lovely Brittany, how are you doing?
[Brittany] Hello. I’m doing well. Happy to be here.
[Eva-Maria] Happy to have you.
[Brittany] Thank you.
[Eva-Maria] Our guest today is Guillem Belmar Viernes. Guillem is a PhD student at the University of California in Santa Barbara, but he’s originally from Girona in Catalonia in Spain. Which some of you might know as a beautiful holiday destination. Guillem did his Bachelor’s in translation. He has a master’s in language science and Hispanic linguistics and a Masters in Multilingualism from the University of Groningen where I studied too, so that’s fantastic. For his PhD, he’s working on minoritized languages from different perspectives, such as the varieties of Mixtec languages spoken in California, but his research interests are much broader. He’s interested in language revitalization, endangered languages, language documentation, Native American languages, as well as romance and Germanic languages. Guillem is fluent in Catalan, Spanish, English, and French, but hold on to your seats. He also knows Galician, Portuguese, Italian, Occitan, Basque, Mandarin, West Friesian, Dutch and German. So yeah, fair enough to get a Masters in Multilingualism. So we’re very excited to talk to him about minoritized languages. So welcome, Guillem.
[Guillem] Hi, thank you. Thank you for having me. Yeah. I mean, that sounds kind of like a lot when you say it, but it’s not really that much.
[Eva-Maria] Oh! Don’t say that.
[Brittany] That’s all depending on perspective.
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[Eva-Maria] Very much. So. But yeah, thank you so much.
[Guillem] All of those languages are very similar. But yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me here.
[Eva-Maria] Typology doesn’t matter. It’s still quite impressive. So.
[Brittany] It is.
[Eva-Maria] We could definitely agree that it is definitely worth mentioning. That’s a lot of languages. So yeah, thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate that you took the time to join us. And we really have a lot of questions because this is such an interesting topic. So usually, we start each episode with the same question we usually asked our guests, how did you become interested in this? Because we just heard that you speak multiple languages. But where does that come from?
[Guillem] Sure. I mean, that’s, that’s a really good question. Actually, I think part of it came from just my own background. So as a Catalan speaker, I think I’ve always been kind of immersed in this conversations of language and identity and what it means to be a minority and all these things. So, probably one of the one of the first things probably I ever realised was, as a kid, my name for example, we were talking before about my name, “Oh you pronounce ‘LL’ sound” and, and that was something that as a kid, there were not a lot of [Guillem]s when I was growing up, because I was born in 1991, which means about 15 years for Spain, stop being a dictatorship. So Catalan had been legalised, or with a framework for maybe around seven, eight years. So before that, you couldn’t name your kids in Catalan, right? So there were not all of Guillems in- around when I was growing up. And a lot of people like with those who spoke Spanish at home, had trouble pronouncing my name. So there was a lot of people who did not pronounce my name correctly, or people who change my name to the Spanish version, Guillermo, or remember one day one elderly woman was like, “Oh, your your parents gave you a surname for a name”, because there is a surname in Spanish, which is Gillen, it’s not the same word. And so, I remember from a very early for very early on being like, “Why do I have this mic on me all the time”, right. And so I think that got me very interested in this and minorization. And then at first you focus mostly on you, right on your minorization and what that means for you. But then, as I was growing up, I realised that, well, first I realized that there were other communities in the area surrounding that also were minoritized communities. And then I started like, Occitan and Basque, and I started getting interested in those in those things, and then the broader in the world and be like, and then you realise that I am from a minoritized community, but like, the Catalan language is still very much thriving and very much in, right now at least in in a position that is better than than other minorities that I was encountering, right? And then from that, I moved on to also realising that, you know, every community even communities that minoritized can also be minoritizers, and then I started putting race and gender in the equations. It’s things that I hadn’t thought about before, right. So I don’t know I think minorization came from my own perspective and then I just, it just exploded because at the end of the day, if you are interested in minoritization, you will see it everywhere. And and it is everyone, I think it’s a- it’s a universal experience. It just gets reproduced in different ways in different contexts and, and different people experience it very differently. But it is it is everywhere if you look for it. And so that got me interested in this. Yes.
[Eva-Maria] Right. I think that will be relatable for a lot of people that are interested in languages because of their own situation. And you just mentioned that Catalan is a quite healthy language, if you want to put it that way. Right. There’s lots of speakers. It’s an active language community. But it also has a lot to do with, I guess the reason for that is that it has to do with pride and the identity that comes with being Catalan, right?
[Guillem] Yeah, it’s, it’s quite, I don’t know. I mean, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, because there’s a lot of things happening now in Catalonia around language. And in Spain, not not particularly good things lately, but I think partially it is the identity, it’s, there is some pride of being Catalan, but at the same time, that is also very marked in the context of a nation state like Spain, which also means that that also triggers some rejections as well. So yeah, I mean, especially, especially because the Catalans are known to be like a little bit of a pain in the ass for the Spanish State. So that’s. So yeah, I think the whole thing now is that I, I think Catalan is normally it’s normally mentioned as a success story for revitalization. And I think to an extent it is because it was very successful in creating new speakers. But I think what lacks is creating new users, new speakers doesn’t translate into new users. And you’ll see now that there’s a lot of people who can speak Catalan, that doesn’t mean that they will. And that’s a that’s a whole, a whole other story.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, there’s a big difference. That’s yeah, that’s-
[Brittany] That’s a really interesting distinction to be making. Yeah, just because you know how to speak a language- or are able to doesn’t mean you’re going to, and then that raises many other questions or issues as well.
[Guillem] Exactly. Yeah.
[Brittany] So around this topic, there are, of course, different terminologies and different things, words that we can use. And something that we were talking about before the recording, is this idea around endangered languages versus terms like minoritized languages, or saving languages? So could you maybe explain a little bit about your thoughts around the different terms in this area?
[Guillem] Yeah, sure. So I tend to use minoritized. Sometimes, maybe when I’m speaking, I will lapse into minority because it’s the common term, but I tend to use minoritized, even though there’s some some of my first publications that have minority because I didn’t trust myself enough to fight editors. But now I do. And minoritized I tend to use that because I want to emphasise that anything that you will now catagorize as a minority is a minority because of a process that others are minoritizing. And it’s not like, no, no community is a minority, because there’s something inherent to the community that makes them a minority. Right.
[Eva-Maria] Good point.
[Brittany] Oh I see, yeah, okay.
[Eva-Maria] It’s something that is done to the community.
[Guillem] Exactly. It’s something that is being done to these communities. And so I really want to emphasise that that’s the case, it’s not- even if it’s a community that now has five speakers. I don’t care. The reason why now it has five speakers. And the reason why now is not the normal communication for any group is because of a process that has been happening maybe for for centuries now. Right. So, So yeah, I really want to emphasise that I know that the the normal term is minority, that’s the most common term. And I’m, I guess I’m okay with that. We don’t try to make the distinction because I’ve also seen some people that tried to make a distinction between minority and minoritized. And I think that’s an unreal distinction based on just size. And I don’t think that I don’t think size is the criterion enough to make any distinction between languages because size is not really the I mean, I was saying before, like Catalan can have a lot of speakers, but does it have as many users as speakers, right? Size is a little bit- even counting speakers is like a nebulous area. So I don’t think sizes is the matter here.
[Eva-Maria] Size doesn’t matter.
[Guillem] Exactly. Does not matter. Definitely. And then, and then you also mentioned that so endangered is one of the other things that people mentioned. I don’t know if I’m the most appropriate person for the discussion of endangered but if anyone is interested, I would recommend to watch or read anything that Haunani-Kay Trask has ever said or Wesley Leonard more recently. So Haunani-Kay Trask she was a Hawaiian activist and Wesley Leonard is from the Miami tribe in the United States. And they talk a lot about this. So if anyone is interested, that’s the place to go. But basically it’s that the discourse of endangerment is not really productive discourse. First, also because the language per se is not in danger. What is in danger, there’s a community.
[Guillem] That’s another thing and then also because the endangerment discourse, I think there is a bit of, I don’t know I’m gonna- it’s pretty early in the morning. So if it is controversial, whatever but-
[Brittany] Go for it.
[Guillem] I think there is a bit of a pornography of the of endangerment going around, especially in academia. If you can work with the smallest language possible, you can get more grants. It’s sadly, it’s the case. I know, I know, it’s used. I’m okay with, you know, like asking grants for the foundation of endangered languages or something like that. But I like to stay a bit away from, from the term because in the endangerment also goes with the discourse of language death, which is also not really, again, not productive because languages don’t die, right. Like what just ceased to be spoken, but be- can be brought back to life and most Native American people that talk about this will use metaphors like sleeping or, if instead of revitalise the language, they will talk about re-blossoming or things like this.
[Brittany] Oh, I like that. Yeah. Yeah.
[Guillem] Rather than bringing back- I mean, I was really surprised, because I realised that I saw the the re-blossoming idea from different backgrounds. And the Mixtec speakers that I work with, they were like, Oh, I suddenly this part of this website that we had, and they were like, trying to find a word for revitalization, and they came up with make blossom again, out of the blue, like, I was like, how is everyone coming up with the same metaphor? That’s actually maybe we should start using this metaphor instead of revitalization. Right? So there’s a lot of talk around that. And I guess the last one was saving. And that, for me is the most problematic one, I think for everyone, actually, especially first, because as a, as an academic that works on revitalization, or blossoming, of languages that are not my language. I’m not the one saving anything, I haven’t just like providing some tools and help. Because also, it’s not the academic, it’s not for academia to decide whether the language has to be revitalized or not, or kept, or that that goes into this whole discussion of like, a lot of people will- will just tell you that oh, you we have to convince speaker to pass their language on. And yes, I agree with that. And in principle, and that’s, that’s a very nice sentence. But have you thought that maybe passing this language on means that they will be discriminated against all their- all their life. Like I parents don’t want their kids to be discriminated against all their life, right? So maybe if you want them to pass the language on, you have to do something to stop that discrimination, not just say, pass the language on, right. And so I think like from academia, it’s very easy to say these things and just sit down and relax. But so saving has this idea that yeah, that a white man will arrive and will will make your life better, which is not normally the case. But exactly. So we’re not saving anything. That’s the case. Also, the language is not in danger, even like, I think we should just stay away from this from these terms, and this way of framing it.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, very good points. And I like that you mentioned- we’re going to talk about it later as well. Like, what can you do actually to… I don’t know what the question is going to be phrased as, but we’re going to talk about it later. And what you said about like, it’s nice for parents to pass on their languages, but they won’t do it if you’re if they’re discriminated against. Right, and the children as well. That whole stigma surrounding bilingualism, that’s something we need to work on. 100%
[Brittany] So you mentioned in your answer to that question, around Mixtec languages and the different groups of people that you’re working with during your PhD in researching that, For our listeners, maybe who aren’t familiar or don’t know, what are Mixtec languages? And how did you get your- How did you get interested in studying them?
[Guillem] Yeah, so the basic languages, this is a branch of the Oto-Manguean language family Mesoamerica, and Mixtec languages are spoken. In the present day states of Mexico of Oaxaca, Guerrero, on Puebla. Original that’s where they- from, but there but now Mixtec speakers everywhere in Mexico, and everywhere in the US, especially in our cultural areas. So they, there’s a lot of indigenous farmworkers in the agricultural system of the US. So there’s quite a lot of Mixtec languages. And there’s a lot of variation in its town as normal. There’s some mutual intelligibility between some of them, but they’re mostly treated as different- as different languages, even though they all see themselves as the same ethnic group and they will all tell you their Mixtec, and they all speak Mixtec. I think the community refers to the different Mixtec languages more as Mixtec varieties or variants than the mystic languages. And so there’s a huge community of Mixtec speakers in… some in Santa Barbara, and there’s, there’s a lot of Mixtec speakers, a south in Ochsner and north in Santa Maria. Santa Maria is in the same county of like Santa Barbara. And I got involved in it because Mixtec well, because Mixtec was the language of- one of the Mixtec varieties was the language that we worked on during my field methods class, my first year here at UCSB. And so we had somebody from Santa Maria, who came to the class and worked with us and we were- was documenting and giving- making materials and then the pandemic struck, and we started working very closely together and…
[Brittany] Oh, cool!
[Guillem] Yeah, it happened very organically. Actually. I never decided I’m gonna do Mixtec… I didn’t even know what Mixtec was until the first day of class. So…
[Eva-Maria] Wow, look at you. That’s great.
[Brittany] So going back to our discussion just before that around what terminology we might use, how would you classify a minoritized? Or output stroke endangered language? And are there criteria or conditions that need to be met in order to be considered minoritized? Or endangered?
[Guillem] I mean, for me, a minoritized language is a language whose social use is somewhat contested by another language.
[Brittany] Okay. Interesting.
[Eva-Maria] Well that’s very succinct.
[Brittany] I’m just thinking about that, like, right, okay.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah me too.
[Eva-Maria] It’s like, yes, that makes sense.
[Guillem] So basically, the, in any context, if a language is not the- the quote unquote, unmarked code of communication of that context, it’s probably because it’s minoritized. Or it’s like a global language like English or Spanish that has nothing to do with the community and a couple of people speak it.
[Brittany] Right? A very succinct, I love that. It’s quite a powerful definition. Because you can think about that and transfer that over and apply that to many different contexts without having, you know, like a checklist that you need to take in order to be considered XY or Z.
[Guillem] Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’ve seen, I’ve seen people talk about numbers of speakers. And again, I don’t believe in numbers of speakers, I don’t think you can count speakers as succinctly and successfully as people think they can count speakers. I mean, this is a podcast on multilingualism, you know, that- when you speak more than one language, you don’t speak both languages in the same way. And then like, it’s much more complex than that. And also, there’s other checklists that you can- you can mention, but I think it, it just boils down to that anyway. So, why bother checking so many other things?
[Brittany] Agreed, yeah. So how do you do research in this area? I imagine there might be, you know, fieldwork, you go into these communities and try and understand their use of the language or like, what sort of methods do you use more approaches do take to looking into this- this field?
[Guillem] Yeah. So I mean, the- the one of the things is that when you work on- when you work on this field, or the subfield you… You kinda have to do everything. And by that, I mean, like, because you, you’re documenting, at the same time, that you’re actually doing other things. So you have to be a quote, unquote, structural linguist. And so you have to do syntax, you have to do phonology, you have to do like, all these more traditional things in linguistics. And you have to do all of them, which is exactly the point you have to kind of be a little bit of everything. And at the same time you are doing ethnography, because if you’re interested in the memorization part, you’re basically a participant observing all the time, right? So you’re constantly trying to understand what’s happening, what is what are the dynamics, what is- what is being left unsaid, which is the big thing in this things. And then you would also, you also designer for posters for kids that want to learn the language. You’re also- you’re also, if you can, if you have the tools, I mean, it’s not my case, because I’m very bad at coding. But I had a classmate who, who developed a small game and small game app for learning Mixtec vocabulary.
[Brittany] Oh cool.
[Guillem] And so you’re everything, you’ve basically everything you can put into it. For example that, like we’re designing also social media posts and words of the day. And this is- Yeah you’re kind of doing everything. And while doing all these things, you would use more traditional methods for the documentation, probably, but you’re constantly doing ethnography. That’s the point. And I think it goes it goes hand in hand with the idea that if you are doing this kind of work, there is no separation. I mean, I don’t think there is ever a separation between those two things. But if you’re doing this kind of work, specially there’s no separation between academia and activism, and you have to this people for the same time, which is sometimes a bit of a weird balance aca-institutionally at least. But I don’t think you should have the difference anyway. So I’m okay with that.
[Brittany] Interesting. Yeah. So taking the phrase, maybe jack-of-all-trades and master of none, but changing it to jack-of-all-trades, and master of all of them, is how you do research in this in this area.
[Guillem] Uh yeah I guess.
[Brittany] Except for coding.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, and I’m with you on that.
[Guillem] I mean, I guess, you know, it’s, it is a very, again, it would be nice if we could collaborate more. The thing is that it is an area that unfortunately, doesn’t have a lot of funds available. And when you get funds, it’s normally just for documentation and archiving, archiving things about this language, it tends to be also again, like that pornography of size that I was talking about other of the endangerment, it has to be something very small for you to get funding and and I was wondering..
[Eva-Maria] And- oh sorry, that extends past linguistics as well. Right this tragedy porn in sociology and political sciences. It’s everywhere.
[Guillem] Yes, yes, exactly. And, and I wonder you like how effective that is that is like maybe we can stop that language to get that. That’s exactly the idea that we don’t get to the point where we only have five people older than 90 speaking the language. Maybe that’s, we shouldn’t get to that point. But yeah. So there’s there’s not a lot of funding, which is sad. Sometimes I. Sometimes I do feel like, did I choose the right… [laughter]
[Eva-Maria] Brittany and I are in the same boat.
[Brittany] Right there with you.
[Guillem] Yeah we’re not doing this for the money so…
[Brittany] It’s true. No, definitely not.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, no, we wouldn’t be in academia if it was` for the money.
[Eva-Maria] Nope. So I don’t know how to transition away from this now, but. From one tragedy to the next I don’t know.
[Brittany] Yeah, I guess.
[Eva-Maria] So I grew up in northern Germany, and in my region, so it’s not just the state where I’m from. But northern Germany, in general, there’s a minoritized language called Plattdeutsch or Low German in English. But unfortunately, experts estimates that it will cease to be spoken in the next 20 years. So within our lifetime, because it’s, first of all, it’s mainly a spoken language. It’s not well standardized at all. And that’s, of course, a whole other debate of language standardization and everything. So we don’t have time to get into that. But, it’s mainly a spoken language. And it’s mainly spoken by my grandparents generation. So they- it was basically, there were lots of bad attitudes towards it, it was a farmer’s language. So my grandparents didn’t really pass it on to my parents generation, they can speak it. And there we are at the distinction again, but they don’t use it. And then they of course, didn’t pass it on to me. Now, I’m lucky enough to still have all my grandparents and they’re all active speakers of the language. So I hear it all the time. When I’m home, at least, or on the phone, you know, but and it to me, it sounds like home, because that’s how I grew up. But thinking about it, the language, you know, just ceasing to, I don’t want to say exist because we talked about it, it still exists, but it’s probably not going to be actively used much in about 20, maybe 30 years. That’s heartbreaking to me, of course, because like I said, it really is- it sounds like home to me. So, is it ever too late for language to blossom again? Because 20 years is, is not a lot, but I guess for activism, that’s quite a good timespan, right? Like, is it ever too late basically, is the question.
[Guillem] I don’t think it’s ever too late as long as the people want to do something about it. Right. So the would you describe with, with Plattdeutsch… Or Nedersaksisch I guess that’s what they call them in the Netherland.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, yeah Nedersaksisch.
[Guillem] I think this is, this is actually very common. I think it’s a common linguistic minorization experience in Europe. Which is successful building of a nation state. Such as Germany destroying everyone- everything else. I always wonder why we only talk about one German, but then the Romance languages are much more divided. And I guess it’s politics. I mean, if- if you ask like if Spain, France and Italy would have their own- their way, they probably only talk about Spanish, French and Italian. And then that’s it, then we wouldn’t be talking about others. I think in that sense. Germany was quote, unquote, successful nation state building, you know, successful and so that’s for whoever wanted that homogenization, that that’s not what we wanted. But I think I again, like I don’t think there’s, there’s a point of no return, I think there’s always there’s always room to return. There’s always in the case of languages like Plattdeutsch in Germany, there’s this whole thing of, I mean, it’s mutually intelligible with High German to quite a degree. And I have been, I’ve done some of this research in, in Friesland and in Catalonia, that, you know, if you are a speaker of Plattdeutsch, you can speak Plattdeutsch to people that don’t know Plattdeutsch, because they will understand most of what you’re saying. And I think the way to- one of the ways to maintain these languages in Europe, right now, is to normalise that we can have a conversation in which we’re not speaking the same language. Like I can have a conversation in which you speak in German, and I speak in Plattdeutsch. And if we understand each other, that’s fine. I don’t need to change my language to accommodate you all the time. So yeah, I think that’s one of the things that that can be done in situations in which there is intelligibility. Of course, that doesn’t work if there isn’t.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, but there’s also- there has to be a welcoming attitude, though towards the language. Right. So that’s another topic.
[Guillem] I mean, that’s that’s always- that’s always the case. Right? So I don’t know I recently started thinking well, recently, I don’t even know what recently mean saying.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, what is time?
[Guillem] Exactly. But I like you you see all these like the theories sociolinguistic views of accommodation, right? Accommodation at the end of the day is it’s just minoritization. Like, who will come up to who is always the one that doesn’t have the power is always the one that is a minority in the situation? Yeah. And maybe we have to stop accommodating. Maybe that’s what we have to start doing. Again, like, I’m not saying, you know, do away with all the rules of communication and never communicate your point across. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that. If my point is communicated anyway, why do I have to accommodate to you? Right?
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. Yeah, that’s a very good point. So you just mentioned, like politics and everything. Which really leads very well to my next question. So what can be done? So you’ve mentioned already like word of the day and an app to learn vocabulary. The bigger debate, is it purely political? Or is there something individuals can do to stop the language from ceasing to be spoken?
[Guillem] So, yesterday, I was teaching language and power here at the University of California in Santa Barbara. And I had a guest lecturer by Jeremias Salazar, who is- the Mixtec speaker that I worked the most with. So he came and him he gave this guest lecture, which was amazing. Hopefully, we’ll share it soon online. But and one of the students asked this question, and I’m going to share what he said first, because I really liked it. This is in the context of the US, which is slightly different, of course, but what people can do, the first thing that people can do is understand that being multilingual is normal. And the people that speak Mixtec are not choosing Mixtec over Spanish or English. They’re actually having Mixtec to Spanish in English. I think that’s the first thing. I think it’s very powerful. And it’s, it’s actually very fitting for this purpose. So…
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, 100% I really wanna- really wanna applaud. Because that’s exactly the message. Yes.
[Guillem] Exactly. And so that’s, I think, number one, actually, that people, people have to normalise the actually being as monolingual as we are now is historically so weird. Like, this is not the normal state people have always been multilingual. And it’s totally fine. You, you should not have the expectation of understanding every conversation you overhear in the street because… No, they’re not- they’re not talking to you. So what is the…
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, that’s- I think people always, always think that they have the right to.
[Eva-Maria] Which they really, they should really reevaluate their approach to anyone who does not quite fit into their community or the way they- they define their community.
[Guillem] Yeah, exactly. So that’s one thing. I would say the second thing, and that works for some committees for others don’t. But second thing is, if we’re talking about language minoritization, we are- we’re also talking about racism. So it goes with the same with the same idea that people have to understand, that the way you look is not reason enough for any sort of discrimination, or any- actually any sort of pre-assumption, basically. So you’re not, you don’t, you cannot assume anything about me for the way I look. And, and that’s another thing that- that has to happen, because a lot of, in lot of cases, I mean, this, this two discriminations go hand in hand. It’s not the case for Catalans in Spain, it’s not the case for Plattdeutsch in Germany, because there’s no racism involved. It’s another kind of minoritization, but it goes hand in hand with- with a lot of these things. And then just you know, like, if you were actually interested in helping the community, or you are a community member that actually is interested in maintaining the language and, and or make it blossom again, get involved, like ask people that speak the language, what they’re doing ask what they want to do. If you are not part of the community, but want to help ask. There’s always something to be done. So just ask people, inform yourself, do your research and there’s always again, there’s always something you can do always. And it doesn’t have to be super high stakes. It doesn’t have to be, I mean, if you want to donate money, go for it. But it doesn’t have to be that, it can mean, we always welcome more funds but otherwise.
[Eva-Maria] Yes please.
[Guillem] But it doesn’t have to be that you can- again like maybe maybe you are very good at drawing, you can just make some drawings for- for free for kids book. Amazing. That’s great already so anything- anything you can do and contribute will be super welcome. And I think it is very rewarding to this kind of work for your for everything for yourself as well for self-realization. I am, I’m trying to appeal to people with a little bit of selfish discourse now but I there’s a lot of things to be done. And of course they will depend on the- on the context and it will depend on communities, so that’s why I’m saying like talk to the people that you actually want to help. Don’t start helping without talking to them because that’s not- that doesn’t work.
[Eva-Maria] Because we at Bilingualism Matters. We usually contribute to the Refugee Festival Scotland and there’s a whole big thing about “nothing about us without us”.
[Eva-Maria] And that is such a key message. It’s fine if you want to help. And if you have the ability, if you have the ideas, if you have the creativity, if you have the funds, that’s fantastic. But don’t just assume people want your help.
[Brittany] Or what the help should look like.
[Eva-Maria] Because it’s quite likely that they would love for you to, you know, collaborate with them. But don’t do it without them. That is such an important message.
[Guillem] Yes, actually, that goes- that goes perfectly with the with the whole framing of saving.
[Brittany] Yes, yeah.
[Guillem] That’s exactly what saving is. Yes, yeah.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. Very, very nice. Full circle, basically. Yeah. Great. So, you mentioned that you worked on different minoritized languages in different contexts, right. So you worked on Frisian, in the Netherlands or in Friesland, Catalan, of course, because it’s your native language. And you’re interested in, you know, the Mixtec languages and the Native American languages in North America. So is there a difference? You know, with your experience, is there a difference between the language communities, the attitudes, and the approaches, that kind of stands out.
[Guillem] Yes. So in in very, like, in a very generic way, minoritization is very similar everywhere. But there are idiosyncratic, like contexts that we need to think about. And first, the most obvious one is that when we talk about America, or other settler colonial states, we are talking about colonialism. Which is not the case when you talk about Frisian or Catalan, right. So it’s a completely different, a completely different context. Those are languages that have suffered things that we have not suffered, as minorities in Europe. And you know, minorities in Europe has suffered a lot. But that’s another discussion maybe. But the system of extraction of colonialism and the system of being now treated as a foreigner in your own land, and all these things, this is something that is a completely different story. And it’s also different from the Mixtec community that I work with, from other Native American communities thati have- that I have interacted with. And again, I’m not the most knowledgeable person about Native American communities in the in the States. Because there’s- the whole the whole tribal system is very complex, and I’m not, I don’t really know much about it. So I’m not gonna say too much about that. But the the Mixtec that I work with, is not only a native community, an indigenous community, it’s a- an indigenous community in the diaspora. So there’s a bit more of this minoritization going on in this. I guess, this rootlessness going on in the community because you know, like they have been uprooted because of colonialism, and then imperialism, a nation state and all these things. And then, now they’re also in the diaspora. So the search for who I am is much more pronounced probably. And also in the American context, or probably old settler colonial- colonial states, racism goes hand in hand with all these things. And so it is a different context. And the attitudes are also different. I feel, a lot of minority- minoritized communities in Europe have this idea of, this is obvious in Catalonia, the people have this idea that, you know, revitalizing Catalan means making Catalan the language of everyone and opening it to everyone and everyone can learn Catalan. And I think this is true. And this has to be the case, in a place like Catalonia because it’s a place that, it’s a place where speaking Catalan has some job advantages in some areas. It receives so many, so many people, there’s so much migration, that you need to make Catalan equal access for everyone. Otherwise, you’re just discriminating everyone, for some- for some jobs, right. And therefore, I think European minorities have to, have to take this approach of being much more open of like everyone can learn my language, and don’t have to be that zealous of the language. Whereas in a lot of cases in North America, especially within America as a whole, there’s a bit more zealousness of this. And I think it’s, I think it’s very justified. At the end of the day, we’re talking about people that a lot of these communities maybe don’t- haven’t spoken the language for two or three generations. And, of course, if they are gonna make it blossom again, they have to do it themselves. Any- any process of restarting speaking a language will change the language, right? I mean, you know, that, like if they if all of a sudden, there’s 90-95% of the speakers of this language are L2 speakers, the language will change. It’s obvious. That does, that’s always the case. So that but that change has to happen in the community. It cannot happen because white people decided to learn the language, and now they’re changing it right. So I think that that is a key difference. There are contexts in which it makes total sense that the languages don’t open until they’re ready to open. Whereas in the European context, I would totally advise against that, because I don’t think it’s productive in the European context to be like closed off and not accept other speakers.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, I have a follow up question for that, because you mentioned that, like people moving to Catalonia, they should be able to have access to learn the language. Right. But do a lot of people do that? Like, is there- Is Catalan a big second language amongst people that move to Catalonia?
[Guillem] Yeah, I mean, yes, yes, it is mostly. So the schooling system in Catalonia is that all public schools or state fund funding schools run mostly through Catalan, that doesn’t mean that there’s no Spanish as-, this is a whole discussion. Because there’s some court resolutions and things, but I’m not gonna go too much into that. But yes, it does depend a lot on the area, of course, that you that you migrate to, because in some areas, you will actually need much more for your everyday life than in other areas. But the other day, most people do end up learning it. So actually, in Catalonia, I think, some people because I know that outside of Catalonia people think differently, but Catalan is the quote unquote, native language. And we can do a whole other episode on my thoughts on native language. But
[Eva-Maria] Oh yeah yeah, but…
[Eva-Maria & Guillem] for lack of a better term,
[Guillem] the language actually the the Catalan senses doesn’t use the term native it uses a term of language of identification.
[Guillem] So about 38% of the population, the rest is between Spanish and other languages. I think Spanish is around 50%. And then the rest is other languages. So you know, it’s not- but that but then when you look at people who can speak it, almost 80% can speak it, which basically means that there are more L2 speakers than L1 at the end of the day, again, that doesn’t mean that they use it, but…
[Brittany] Right, right.
[Guillem] I think some- I think it was, there was a study by Pujolar and Puigdevall, I guess- this may be wrong, so don’t quote me too much on that. But there was a study from, I think I know Pujolar was one of the authors of that study. And he, he estimated that around 45% of the people that speak Catalan fluently now and use it are L2 speakers.
[Guillem] So, that is a huge percentage. Yeah.
[Eva-Maria] Oh, I had no idea. But that’s great!
[Guillem] Yeah I mean, L2 speakers that started learning it at school. So you know, it’s not-` like they didn’t start when they were 30. But still people that didn’t speak it at home.
[Eva-Maria] But that’s exactly the approach you need in order for language to thrive. Right. So that’s, that’s amazing. And that also, like, I have another follow up question, I’m sorry. I’m getting kind of carried away, because I really find that super interesting. Because you mentioned before that if you open a language up, change will happen. That’s something where- I talk a lot with my flatmates and fellow podcast member, Bérengère, because she’s French. And you know, in France, they have the Academie Francaise, and everything. So they’re really trying to- if you want to call it- protect the language from loan words and whatnot, but effectively change is inevitable. And it’s not a bad thing. Is it, unless it’s I mean, forced upon the language. And, you know, we talked about the Native American communities. But just overall change will happen eventually. Anyway, right.
[Guillem] I mean, this is this is a very hot topic in Catalonia right now as well. But yeah, cheese will happen anyway. I do think that in minoritized, context, one has to be a little bit more wary of change, because what are the reasons for this change? Are we changing, you know…
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, yeah exactly.
[Guillem] Are we changing the language to accommodate people that we shouldn’t be accommodating?
[Eva-Maria] Exactly, yeah.
[Guillem] Yeah. Are we making the language more similar to the dominant language so that it’s easy to learn. Because that’s not that’s not what we should be doing. Organic change is fine.
[Eva-Maria] That’s what I meant.
[Guillem] Exactly. Yeah. So I think changes, okay.
[Guillem] And if I want to continue going back home and speaking Catalan, with the huge demographic change that is happening back home, this will only be true if the language changes, I mean, because new people are speaking with different backgrounds and different ideas and different identities, and it will have to change, right? I mean, the whole for example, like there’s finally the whole debate are not- of non binary has arrived to the Catalan language. Finally. And of course, there’s debate around it, because it’s just a huge change. And people tend to be, you know, people don’t tend to like change, but it will have to change. At some point. I don’t know how, I don’t know… There’s like several suggestions that people are using, but one or one or the other one will actually eventually catch on and then that’s okay. And that’s fine. And that- so that kind of change, I think is totally okay. It’s actually something that we have to even encourage. What we cannot encourage, especially in minoritized context is simply for the sake of simplification. Which is- which tends to happen,
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, very, very important distinction. And we’re actually planning an episode just on Language and Gender and that whole discussion.
[Guillem] Oh, great.
[Brittany] So stay tuned for that.
[Eva-Maria] Because we need to have that conversation.
[Guillem] Exactly, exactly. I mean, you mentioned the Academie Francaise, and I think it was a couple days ago that I was reading how Le Petit Robert introduced ‘iel’, and then they were like, “Ah, no, this is not!…”.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, they they introduced the ‘iel’.
[Eva-Maria] Yeah. I mean, you can’t, you can’t close up the language- as much as you want it on paper, If it catches on in spoken language, there is no stopping it.
[Guillem] But also this thing of like, can, can we all relearn and understand that written standard language is not spoken language?
[Guillem] They’re different things.
[Eva-Maria] Oh yeah, they are two different things. And that’s what I mean, like they can, the Academie Francaise can- can you know, write it down all they want. This is not the official rule. But…
[Guillem] Yeah! But also like I totally, I, one of one- one of the one of the discussions around the, around the different suffixes that people are now suggesting for non-binary gender in Catalan, was whether there’s had to be some sort of, like, rule of style from now on. I’m like, Why? Why do we want to qualify this already? Like, let’s, let’s people try and, and use different things. And, and it’s okay, again, like, we don’t have to standardise everything from the moment, we have the first question. These are two very different things. And…
[Guillem] Actually, you know, because you also work with language, we study language, and that’s normally spoken language. It’s, most linguists don’t study written language, unless written is the only record that there isn’t a language but like…
[Eva-Maria] Well if you do just to corpus analysis, then yeah, maybe.
[Guillem] Yeah, exactly. But, but even, even in those cases, like if you are going to base your, your findings on exclusively on written language, that it’s not transcription of spoken language. You have to say that because it’s a completely different thing. People don’t. People don’t speak like they write.
[Brittany] At all. [laughs] At all.
[Guillem] Exactly, at all. Yeah, I mean, it’s the whole thing when you work on documentation as well, because you record speakers, then you transcribe these things with them.
[Guillem] And then maybe you want to turn those- maybe I don’t know, they were telling you a story from the from their, from their community. And then you’re like, oh, let’s turn this into a book for kids. And then there’s this whole thing of like, oh, but how do we turn this into a book? Because now we have to put punctuation here. Now we have to get rid of fillers. But do we want to get rid of the fillers?
[Eva-Maria] Oh right.
[Guillem] Because at the end of the day, like that’s how you told it. So that there is value in how you’re told it. So there’s this whole discussion of like, what is- to what extent you need to edit these things. And…
[Eva-Maria] Wow, I never thought about that I’ve never really considered, yeah, especially the points you just mentioned about the fillers and the punctuation that is, because that adds on to grammatical rules and everything. If you want to standardise…
[Brittany] Back to the standardizing. [laughs]
[Eva-Maria] Those are really interesting points to consider. Yeah.
[Guillem] And what- what we realise is that a lot of them- so what were the speakers that I’m working with now, so they started editing things out, and they started changing stuff, from their, from their transcripts, at first. And of course, that’s, that’s not something that you as a researcher have to have to do, right? That’s the speaker that has to decide whether they changed things or not. But then as we progressively were doing this, and we were so we have been studying also these fillers and be like, ‘Okay, what are they? What are they doing?’ And because, you know, I, this is not the topic of this episode right now, but I also don’t like the word fillers, I don’t think they’re fillers, they all doing something. [laughs] So we were looking at what they’re doing and and by looking what what they’re doing the speaker start really realising that maybe they’re necessary, maybe we should put them. And then one day, he was telling me like, I think I’m editing this with Spanish in my head. So he was changing Mixtec to make it more like like written Spanish, right? Because the idea of written language that they have is either Spanish or English. And so yeah, I think they were kind of trying to accommodate to the rules of written Spanish or written English, which is obviously not what we want. So….
[Eva-Maria] No. Well, there we are, again, full circle.
[Brittany] Oh, that’s quite interesting. Yeah. It’s interesting that the, the speaker you’re working with as well was reflecting on that. And real-, like came to the realisation that that maybe was the driving driving factor there.
[Guillem] Yeah. I should say that the speaker that I’m that I’m working with did his undergrad in Spanish studies in the US. So he probably was reflecting on his writing quite a lot, actually.
[Brittany] Yeah. Well, for the sake of time. Thank you so much for waking up so early to speak with us. But I won’t, we won’t keep you any longer. I’m sure. Ava and I can both come up with hundreds of more questions, which may be a whole other episode. We’ll see. But as a final question for you. Is there anything that you’re working on right now that you’re really excited about? Or do you have any interesting projects coming up that you’d like to highlight for us?
[Guillem] Yes, so there’s actually a couple of things. One project the- so we finished the first the first phase already and I’m just very excited to just share it like it’s, it’s almost done, but we have been working a lot on COVID-19 stuff. So translating things, creating materials, making these materials available to the, to the farm workers and trying to you know, spread this information and languages that they can understand. And so from that we moved on to, recently we completed three workshops in Santa Maria with Mixtec interpreters or people who are interested in becoming interpreters. And we had all this- it was very nice- we had different, 10 different varieties of Mixtec or Mixtec languages and people coming together and discussing the best ways to explain medical terminology and in Mixtec and how we can help. And so we recorded some of these things, we are making a glossary to try and help interpreters that- because it’s very common here in the US that you go to a doctor or you, even if you want your booster vaccine, right and, and you need an interpreter because you only speak Mixtec, and you say that you speak Mixtec, they will call and be like I need a Mixtec interpreter, but maybe it’s somebody who speaks a variety that is not that intelligible to yours. So that most people are not aware of the, of the varieties, right. And so a lot of people find themselves to be in a situation where they have to interpret very serious stuff. Because we’re talking about health, we’re in a situation that would be a little bit like a Swedish interpreter interpreting for a German and be like, well, good luck with that. And, you know, like communication can happen. But it’s a bit difficult.
[Eva-Maria] Especially in these high stakes moment.
[Guillem] Exactly, exactly.
[Eva-Maria] I really don’t want to guess.
[Guillem] Exactly. So yeah. And we we kind of came, came together and discuss this. And it was a really, I don’t know, it was such a nice experience to see that happen to see all the other people discussing these things and to find common grounds as well, they will, they were like, Oh, actually, we will share these words. So we can actually use these words instead of like coming up with 1000 other things and, and it was really nice. And another thing that was recognised is to see in real life, how in Santa Maria, I think the speakers are kind of starting to develop a Mixtec of Santa Maria, people are starting to get together and speak and they’re starting to- Okay, so I’m not gonna use my word for son, because to you it sounds like, I don’t know, trash. So I’m just going to change it and use something a bit more similar to your word. So you’re they’re becoming aware of these things, which is, which is super interesting. And so that was that’s one thing. And another thing that I’m super excited is that finally, I got the approval from the IRB board here in the university. I got a very small grant last year and we’re starting to record speakers also back in the in the village where the speakers I work with is from. And so we have somebody there with a recorder that we provided. And we- we’re starting to actually record more people, older people, younger people, and women as well, because Mixtec is a tonal language and working with tones with only a male speaker is not easy. [laughs] If anyone is working with tones, the-then try to find women as well.
[Brittany] That’s amazing. That’s so exciting. So all of the exciting things
[Brittany] The money!
[Eva-Maria] And congratulations! Money!
[Brittany] Greatest achievements.
[Brittany] I know how difficult that must have been. Yeah.
[Eva-Maria] All our listeners now know how desperately we are [laughs]
[Brittany] For funding [laughs]
[Guillem] Please donate. We have a website. For the for this. It’s so the variety of Mixtec that I work with is called Yukúnanǐ Mixtec or in the language they call Sa’an Savi Yukúnanǐ, and it’s- it’s a variety of Mixtepec Mixtec, which is one of the main Mixtec languages and this variety in the- in the village if you’re going any there’s around 81 people that speak the language, in the village is a very small village. But it is the main language of the village, so it’s still the kids still speaking back home. Again, this goes back with the whole number thing it’s only 81. Oh, but actually everyone speakers in the village so maybe that’s that’s okay that it’s 81 right now. We have a we have a website, we have social media so, you know reach out. And in the website there’s a link to a GoFundMe if anyone wants to [laughs]
[Brittany] Yeah [laughs]
[Eva-Maria] Yeah, we’ll definitely put that in the show notes
[Guillem] With this we just use that- so the money for the GoFundMe is just to print materials. So every time we go to Oaxaca or even Santa Maria, we can actually – It feels like it’s all- all available online but not everyone has access to online, right? So, we are printing materials and making it and yeah. It’s actually- I think it was yeah, one year ago maybe not even a year ago- We were very surprised because we found on Twitter that the school, one of the schools in Mixtepec area – not even the school Yukúnanǐ – had our posters. So we were like “Oh, how did that get there we didn’t even know the posters got there”. So we’re sending this this materials as much as we can, print it but we have the money to print because even sometimes when we get grants like the grant that I got the grant explicitly says that you cannot print material with a grant. So you know, like we need other kinds of funding with that.
[Brittany] Yeah grants for maybe listeners who- we could do a whole episode on this, although it’d be boring and we’d all be very sad. [laughs] But grants are very specific around how and where you can spend the money. Yeah, like limitations on-
[Eva-Maria] Lots of limitations.
[Brittany] Very, very specific things. So we’ll be sure to link the webpage that you mentioned and the GoFundMe and everything in the episode description. So…
[Guillem] Thank you.
[Brittany] For the our listeners who are interested, they can go check you out, maybe give you some money [laughs] for some printing, which will be great.
[Guillem] We’ll just you know, if you cannot give money, just share the social media post that normally helps. So.
[Brittany] Wonderful! Thanks so much to Guillem for taking time to join us today.
[Guillem] Thank you.
[Brittany] Thanks so much, Guillem for taking time to join us today. We had a great time and learned a lot and I’m sure our listeners are just as fascinated by the topic as we are. Thanks to Guillem for highlighting the importance of minoritized languages and for sharing ideas on re-blossoming of languages, cultures, and identities. You can find links to his website and the Mixtec’s website in the episode description should you wish to learn more or to donate. For everyone listening. Let us know what you think by leaving reviews online. If you go to our website, you can also find a transcript and a glossary. And don’t forget to follow us on social media, MLST_podcast, on Instagram and Twitter. As always, stay safe, stay healthy and…
[Eva-Maria] Hool gi munter! (Stay jolly, in Plattdeutsch)
[Guillem] A reveure (see you, in Catalan)
[Brittany] Tókša (see you later, in Lakota)