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Invisible Languages in the Nineteenth Century

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Anna Havinga and Nils Langer

The great linguistic diversity of spoken languages contrasts greatly with the much smaller number of languages used in written discourse. Many linguistic varieties – in particular, regional and minority languages – are not deemed suitable for writing because they do not possess the necessary lexical wealth or grammatical complexity. Such prejudices are commonplace amongst non-linguists and they have their origin in the sociolinguistic history of their speaker communities.
This book focuses on the nineteenth century as the time when language became an important part of the cultural identity of speakers, communities and nations. It comprises fourteen chapters on a variety of languages and countries and seeks to explore why and how certain linguistic varieties were excluded from written discourse – in other words, why they remain invisible to contemporary readers and modern historians. The case studies in this book illustrate the factors involved in the invisibilisation of languages in the nineteenth century; the metalinguistic debates about the suppression or promotion of regional, minority and non-standard languages; and the ways in which a careful study of informal writing can visibilise the linguistic diversity of spoken languages.

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Co-opting the Marginalised? Western Mission and Script Creation among the Miao in Southwest China, 1877–1915 (Joakim Enwall)

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Joakim Enwall Co-opting the Marginalised? Western Mission and Script Creation among the Miao in Southwest China, 1877–1915 abstract This paper will provide a general overview of the sociolinguistic settings in southwest China around the turn of the twentieth century and give an outline of Western missionary work as regards ethnic minority groups who speak languages other than Chinese. I will focus on the Miao language, particularly the A-Hmao subgroup, and present the effects of the mission in greater detail regarding this particular group. Western missionaries came into contact with ethnic minority peoples in southwest China at an early stage and soon realised that some of the ethnic minorities, particularly the Miao, were more prone to show interest in the Christian message than the city-dwell- ing Chinese. The British missionary Samuel Pollard started missionary work among the A-Hmao in 1904; the writing system he devised had significant success and was used for around fifty publications between 1905 and 1952. Thus the A-Hmao gained a symbol to be proud of which also made the A-Hmao visible in a context where they had earlier been extremely marginalised. The Pollard script is still today the most widely used missionary writing system in southwest China. Introduction The ethnic minority languages of southwest China, with the exception of the Yi and the Naxi, had no written form prior to the arrival of Western missionaries in the late nineteenth century.1 The writing systems for those two languages 1 A few more possible writing systems for ethnic...

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