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Encyclopedia of Linguistics, ethnicity and language.

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Robert D. King Department of Linguistics University of Texas Austin, Texas 78712 Encyclopedia of Linguistics (To be published on-line by Macmillan) ETHNICITY AND LANGUAGE The words "ethnicity" and "ethnic" were in common use at the end of the 20th century in contexts so widely disparate that no common definition will suffice to unite the variety of meanings. We speak of "ethnic studies," of "ethnic groups" and "ethnic neighborhoods," of "ethnic and racial groups," of "ethnic revivals," and of "ethnic cleansing"--a euphemism for genocide that came into use in the 1990s when certain countries tried to drive minority "ethnicities" from their territory through terror and murder. In the 2000 census of the United States, although the Census Bureau of the United States used traditional categories of "race" such as White, Black, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian or Alaska Native, Other, and Multiracial in gathering census data, any of these might equally well be regarded as "ethnic" classifications in today's language usage. It is unclear where ethnicity leaves off and race begins. "Hispanic," in the 2000 census, was stipulated by the Census Bureau as "may be of any race"--which indicates the extent to which "race" and "ethnicity" overlap in contemporary discourse. Ultimately, as we use the word today, ethnicity is not a matter of strict definition. It is a matter of identity: you are what you say you are and what other people think you are. We find it convenient in certain contexts to use the phrase "ethnic group" for a wide variety of minorities in America and other countries: Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Asian-Americans, immigrant South Asians and their children, Native Americans, African-Americans, Roma (Gypsies) in the many countries where they live, French-Canadians in Canada and in Maine, Kurds in Turkey, Basques in Spain and France. In recent years advocates of the interests of gay and Deaf communities in America have argued for the benefits of using the term "ethnic" in referring to these groups. ...read more.


monophthongs /e: o:/ in place of diphthongs [ej ow] in the vowels of words like face, take and goat, soak; (5) replacement of the fricatives /� ?/ by stops and affricates (thin [�In] pronounced as tin [tIn] or tthin [t�In]); (6) retention of vowel distinctions before /r/ (so that the vocalic nuclei of words such as bird, learn, beard, turn, [|] in American English, are contrastive); (7) neutralization of the opposition between /�/ and /I/ before nasals (pin and pen are homonyms, as in much of southeastern American English). Syntactically there is the occurrence of reflexive pronouns in sentences such as: "And it's himself that told me ..." and "... they were paying no attention to anything at all as long as themselves were well." Then there is the curious matter of the "after perfect": "I'm after doing it already," "She understands; she's after havin' children herself," and "They seemed pretty cool, for what they were after goin' through" (in place of standard "I've done it," "She understands; she's had children herself," and "They seemed pretty cool after all they had gone through"). As above in the case of the stereotypical "Jewish-American accent" most Americans of Irish descent have long since accommodated their speech to General American, and none of these Irish-English traits remain in the way they talk. But some of the "Irishness" would be apt to persist for several generations, especially in areas of big cities such as Boston, New York, and Chicago where the Irish have been resident for a long time and where in many cases the population has been steadily replenished by immigration from Ireland. To the extent that Irish-English speech patterns do persist they make for what can be called an "Irish ethnic accent." African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) has been the most intensively studied ethnic dialect of English. (The terminology is not settled. What is here called AAVE is variously referred to as Black English, African-American English, and Ebonics.) ...read more.


The celebrated counterexample to this is the role of the Hebrew language in the maintenance of Jewish ethnicity. Hebrew was traditionally the language of the Jewish people; however, it had become extinct as their spoken language by the beginning of the Common Era. It was maintained as the language of ritual, of prayer, and of disputation among rabbis. After the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE Jews were dispersed throughout the then-known world. Nevertheless, they preserved their identity, their Otherness, their distinctive ethnicity. The Hebrew language, which was reborn as a spoken language in Palestine in the nineteenth century, was part of the glue which held Jewish ethnicity together through almost 2,000 years of diaspora. To paraphrase the great linguist Edward Sapir, we should never make the mistake of confusing a language with a dictionary and a grammar. Both the effect and the affect of language go well beyond words and rules of grammar. Language touches us in the deep places of our being--in our identity, in our sense of where we belong. One of the most sensitive of these places is our ethnicity. In ethnicity begins the true study of language as a badge of identity. ROBERT D. KING Further Reading Chiswick, Barry R., editor. Immigration, Language and Ethnicity: Canada and the United States. Washington D.C.: AEI Press, 1992 Dow, James R., editor. Language and Ethnicity. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Publishers, 1991 Fishman, Joshua A. Language and Ethnicity in Minority Sociolinguistic Perspective. Clevedon, Avon, England; Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, Ltd., 1989 Gleason, Phillip. Speaking of Diversity: Language and Ethnicity in Twentieth Century America. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992 Haarman, Harold. Language in Ethnicity: A View of Basic Ecological Relations. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 1986 Lourie, Margaret A. and Nancy Faires Conklin, editors. A Pluralistic Nation: The Language Issue in the United States. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House Publishers, 1978 Shukla, Hira Lal. Language, Ethnicity and History: Dimensions in Anthropological Linguistics. New Delhi, India: B.R. Publishing Corporation, 1985 Van Horne, Winston A., editor. Ethnicity and Language. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin System, Institute on Race and Ethnicity, 1987 Ethnicity and Language 11 ...read more.

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