Thursday, June 12, 2008

Language story from Bethel

Here’s an interesting story from yesterday’s Anchorage Daily News.


It’s about a case from Bethel against the state of Alaska about providing Yup’ik voting material in both Yup’ik and English. The state is against it, saying Yup’ik is historically not a written language. The Native American Rights Fund and ACLU are bringing the suit.


The interesting part is comment the lawyers for Bethel say – they say that Bethel is fine with what they are doing now, with translators.


I wonder what the residents of Bethel are saying – and who is it, exactly, that began this?


My own two cents aren’t exactly remarkable – but if that region’s language has been Yup’ik for the last few millennia, and it is still the first language spoken in Yup’ik homes, why wouldn’t the government be doing everything possible to make sure that language is encouraged? I could send them the few hundred studies done on just how important maintaining a language is if they still doubt the facts.





Dale said...

In reading background stories about this lawsuit, I was surprised to learn that Alaska had passed an English-only initiative. This seems to be an example of tyranny of the majority.

I'm glad that the Alaska Supreme Court, last year, struck down parts of that law. But since that decision requires documents be offered in other languages, I don't understand why the state government is against providing voting materials in the Yup'ik language.

Writing Raven said...

It always seems so strange to me, what the government decides to fight sometimes, vs. what it decides to support. I was actually surprised by this, but maybe more because I know how strongly the Yup'ik language lives in the Bethel area. Maybe it is a bit naive to think that just because something is so obviously in need of support (Native languages), proven by science, sociology and general good sense, that it would get approved.
When the article stated that the state's argument was that the Yup'ik language is not a historically written down language, therefore it needn't be written down here, it was one of those "laugh or cry" moments. I don't imagine that, in those parts, reading English was an historical requirement either, but sometimes things change.

Anonymous said...

I don't have the real inside story but here is what I could figure out--
* the state is the major defendant
* Bethel has always allowed informal translations (oral) at voting places.
(who knows if they were accurate and/or unbiassed)
* ditto for outside Bethel
* the city manager and city attorney who decided to defend the case are no longer employed (but not for this reason)
* defense is costing 3/4 million dollars for Bethel but somehow they assume this is reimbursed by the state. The argument given in a city council meeting when I asked why anyone in their right mind would defend this case was-- the city clerk can't change the ballots because the state actually sets the requirements.
* I don't understand the "traditonally oral language" defense. Yup'ik has been written for over 100 years, but in different orthographies. Most who can read modern Yup'ik also read English. Most who rely on Yup'ik as an oral language are unlikely to read the modern Yup'ik. This still doesn't deny that many voters are unable to understand state initiatives because they do not have access in their primary language.

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