Re: Geographical language data

From: Martin Heijdra (
Date: Tue May 29 2007 - 18:18:44 CDT

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    Actually, my unhappiness is the other way around: not with the usefulness of
    the 1500 maps for the Americas (which are of course quite useful, just as
    current maps would have been, which should not have been left out
    altogether; why should the current distribution of native languages in
    Mexico and South America be considered useless?), but with the implication
    that no significant changes have taken place elsewhere. It may be useful to
    ignore Spanish inroads in the Americas; but are Malay inroads in Indonesia
    not worthy of consideration? Etc.


    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Kenneth Whistler" <>
    To: <mheijdra@Princeton.EDU>
    Cc: <>
    Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2007 6:15 PM
    Subject: RE: Geographical language data

    > Martin Heijdra noted:
    >> ----------------
    >> Atlas of the World's Languages
    >> Editor(s) - R.E. Asher, Christopher Moseley
    >> List Price: $570.00
    >> ISBN: 9780415310741
    >> ISBN-10: 0415310741
    >> Publisher: Routledge
    >> Publication Date: 21/05/2007
    > Great reference, and I'm looking forward to seeing the new edition.
    > About this:
    >> Personally, while this atlas is compiled by major scholars in the
    >> field, I thought the decision (in 1993 at least) to have current
    >> maps for most continent, but reconstructed ca. 1500 maps for the
    >> Americas was weird and hardly defensible.
    > I think it is not weird at all and is perfectly defensible.
    > To do otherwise would be to completely lose the majority of
    > useful information about geographical distribution of aboriginal
    > languages of the Americas.
    > Just one example with which I am familiar: the geographical
    > area now covered by the state of California had, in pre-Columbian
    > times, at least 100 distinct languages in 20 or so language
    > families. Almost all of those languages went extinct in the
    > course of the 20th century. There are now probably many more
    > Mayan language speakers in Los Angeles (immigrants from
    > Mesoamerica) than of *all* the aboriginal languages of
    > California put together.
    > If you put together a map of era-2000 languages in California,
    > the actual aboriginal languages of California would be completely
    > missing from the map, unless you extended it down to the level
    > of dots for the houses of individual elders or coloring in the
    > few-acre settlements in some isolated rancherias and reservations around
    > the state. They are completely swamped by the dominant
    > cultures' use of English and Spanish, and even swamped by the
    > current language use of other immigrant communities. There
    > are significant, currently viable language communities of
    > Hmong speakers in Fresno, Pashto speakers in Fremont, Vietnamese
    > speakers in Anaheim, Korean speakers in Los Angeles, and so
    > on and on, in addition to the actual migrants of speakers
    > of other Native American languages from the much larger
    > language communities of Mesoamerica.
    > Also, it is particularly difficult to do language mapping for
    > immigrant Native American communities, because it is so enmeshed
    > with the volatile politics of Hispanic immigration in the U.S.
    > I'm hoping that the revised Atlas took a stab at that problem,
    > but I don't think it at all detracts from the need to have
    > as valid a representation as possible for the pre-Columbian
    > distribution of the languages of the Americas.
    > --Ken

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