“To You My G-d”, a bilingual Piyyut

“To You My G-d”, a bilingual Piyyut

I’m proud to share with you my first bilingual Arabic-Hebrew Piyyut, or Jewish liturgical poem.  It’s given me a great deal of inspiration and satisfaction to write this poem.  I write in the spirit of peace and G-d which gives life to all and joy to every language.

A rough translation:

To You my G-d, my beloved
I say my prayer
From the depths, I am sad
I am close to You
There is nobody better than you Allah
Please watch over all who love You

Inspired by the Piyyut “Lecho Eli

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Evening prayer

Evening prayer

This is my first foray into writing Hebrew poetry (with a dash of Arabic and Yiddish in it!). Inspired by the prayer and meditation I do before going to sleep, I present to you “Evening Prayer” (approximately translated below, it rhymes in Hebrew).  Sorry the spacing is wacky- it’s supposed to be four lines for each stanza- WordPress is weird about foreign languages!  I’ve put dashes between stanzas to show where they start and stop until I figure this out, but imagine it without dashes!

תפילה ערבית

תודה אלוהים על יום טוב
יום מלא הזדמנויות
לך אני מרגיש קרוב
עימך לי אין בכלל צרות

כל ערב לך אני מודה
גם אם היה יום קשה
אני מנסה לתקן את העולם
מבין בניך אין אדם מושלם

ביסמיללה שמור עליי
ותן עוצמה לאהוביי
קח את חיי בידך
ס’איז א באלאגאן בלעדיך

אני מודה ומתפלל
בחדרי באמצע ליל
לאזם אומר לך תודה
ואז מותר לבקש עזרה

יא אלוהים תודה לך
תפילת הלב תפילה קטנה
לא תפתור את בעיותיי
אך השכינה שיפרה את חיי

Evening Prayer

Thank you G-d for a good day
A day full of opportunities
To you I feel close
With you I have no worries.

Every evening I thank you
Even if it was a hard day
I try to repair the world
Among your children there is no one perfect.

Bismillah watch over me
And give strength to my loved ones
Take my life in your hands
It’s a mess without you.

I give thanks and pray
In my room in the middle of the night
I must give thanks to you
And then I may ask for your help.

Oh G-d, thank you.
Prayer of the heart, a small prayer.
You will not solve my problems
But your presence has improved my life.

Why superdelegates Don’t Matter (from the perspective of a 2008 Obama Pledged Delegate)

Why superdelegates Don’t Matter (from the perspective of a 2008 Obama Pledged Delegate)

Lately there’s been a whole bunch of hubbub about Bernie not “actually” winning New Hampshire because Hillary’s superdelegates make up for the ground she lost on Election Day. I was a Pledged Delegate from Missouri’s 3rd Congressional District for Barack Obama in 2008. I attended the DNC in Denver and was proud to nominate Barack Obama to be the Democratic candidate for President.

Before I explain why superdelegates don’t matter, a few quick definitions:

Delegates – when all the primaries are over, these people get to vote for their preferred nominee (in this case, Hillary or Bernie) to represent the Democratic Party. Whoever has the majority of delegates at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will be the party’s candidate in the November General Election.

Pledged Delegate – this person is chosen through a variety of processes that vary by state (in Missouri, I actually ran a campaign to become a delegate through a series of caucuses/mini-elections). The important thing to know about them is that they represent the voters in a proportional manner. Now that New Hampshire has voted, different regions of the state will go through a process of picking the actual delegates to represent Bernie and Hillary according to the percentage of the vote each candidate got. It’s not a perfect one-to-one representation of votes because it’s proportional (I’d much prefer a simple raw vote total to decide the nominee), but the basic thing to know is that these delegates actually do represent the voters. I capitalize Pledged Delegate because these people actually represent the democratic process.

superdelegate- this person is typically a Democratic elected official like a Senator or Congressman or some other party bigwig. Just by virtue of being a bigwig in the Democratic Party, this person gets to cast a vote at the DNC to decide the party’s nominee. This individual’s vote, then, is equivalent in power to a Pledged Delegate, even though the latter represents thousands of real voters. I refuse to capitalize this word because it is an inherently undemocratic concept to say that certain people, by virtue of their status, get to have more say over our voting process.

Now, back to the original issue. Lately, articles (I imagine fueled by plenty of nudging from the Clinton campaign) have been suggesting that because Hillary has more superdelegates who’ve endorsed her, that Bernie didn’t really win New Hampshire and won’t win the nomination.

Here’s why they’re wrong:

  • superdelegates can (and do) change their minds. In 2008, more superdelegates initially endorsed Hillary, but then once the convention rolled around and Obama had won more pledged delegates, many of them actually voted for Obama when it came time to choose the nominee.
  • superdelegates who are elected officials might support Hillary right now because she’s part of the establishment like them, but when push comes to shove, they are elected officials. That is to say, if the people of their states are voting for Bernie and the superdelegates want to get re-elected one day, they probably don’t want to piss off their constituents too much by going against the popular vote.
  • If after all the states have voted and caucused, more voters have chosen Bernie Sanders, I think it is damn well impossible to believe that the party would go against the popular will and choose Hillary. There is no doubt in my mind that this would literally split the party in two and that voters would raise so much hell, no elected official in their right mind would have the chutzpah to do this. They would hurt their own chances of getting elected and frankly it’d hand the White House to the Republicans, neither of which they want.

What does this mean for us?

In short, don’t panic. The reason Hillary’s people are pushing this story now is to demoralize, confuse, and depress Bernie supporters. They’re up to their usual tricks and want to make it seem “inevitable” that she’ll win, even if this went against the voice of the people. The truth is, though, they can’t achieve this. If we turn out to vote and win the elections and caucuses, Bernie will be the nominee.

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Having been a Pledged Delegate, I saw a lot of fun things at the DNC, like Ted Kennedy’s last DNC speech and I even got a picture with Anderson Cooper before he came out (after he saw me give him a sexy wink!). I also saw a hell of a lot of corporate lobbying. I even sipped free mimosas in a historic Denver railcar rented by a Missouri railroad company with Senator Claire McCaskill extolling the virtues of Missouri railroads, a fun if bizarre experience for me (it didn’t work- I don’t really care about Missouri railroads or Claire McCaskill!).

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My point is between my DNC experience, working on the Obama Campaign in Florida in 2008, and serving in the Obama Administration (before I resigned to get out of the corrupt political system!), I’ve seen a lot of crazy, reprehensible, fucked-up things. But I want to reassure you that despite all that, I have a great deal of confidence in the fact that if Bernie Sanders wins the most votes, he’ll be the nominee, superdelegates or not. It won’t be for lack of Hillary and her ilk trying to derail our movement, like she is with this delegate issue. But I know that if we come together and win this fair and square, nobody will be able to stand in our way.

In solidarity,

Matt Adler

Pledged Delegate for Barack Obama, DNC 2008

Barack Obama Campaign Deputy Regional Field Director, Broward County, FL 2008

Barack Obama Presidential Appointee, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

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In memory of my friend Jad Zakhour

In memory of my friend Jad Zakhour

My friend Jad Zakhour passed away this week. I was flipping through my Facebook newsfeed and suddenly saw a picture of him with some caption like “we’ll miss you”. My first (optimistic) thought was “oh, maybe Jad is moving to a new city”. But sure enough, as I looked through post after post on his Facebook page, it was clear that Jad was no longer with us.

I was shocked. How could someone my age- just 29 years old- pass away so suddenly? I didn’t know what to say. Shock turned to sadness as it hit me: I’m never going to see Jad again. And how difficult it must be for his family and the many friends he had built strong relationships with.

While I could dwell on the tragedy of Jad’s death, I know he would want me to celebrate his life. Jad and I became friends soon after he came to live in the U.S. He was Lebanese but had been living in Egypt before moving to Maryland. He joined my soccer team, Potomac United. What was clear from the get-go was that Jad was a dedicated soccer player who gave every game his all. But more importantly, he was one of the most lively, fun, energetic, and goofy people I’ve ever met. He was full of jokes- a lot of them inappropriate (which I loved). Once, while me, him, and our friend Zeeshan were hanging out at a pool, he claimed that I said I had a “funny sensation” in my pants. Of course I never said that, but he insisted for years that I did, almost to the point where I believed it myself (sorry Jad, I know you made it up!)! He knew how to get people to laugh at themselves, but never at their expense.

Jad also had a big heart. While he was kind of a macho guy- he always drove sexy cars and had beautiful girlfriends- what few people know is the role he played in me coming out of the closet. When I was 18, second semester of senior year of high school, I realized I liked men. Coming out is not exactly a science (especially in the days before Facebook), but I decided there was a small group of people I wanted to tell personally before my identity became more public. Jad was one of those people I wanted to tell face-to-face. I remember before I came out to Jad, I felt a little nervous. While I knew he was a great guy, saying you’re gay is a hard thing to share with someone. When I told him I was gay, Jad’s reaction was simple and heartwarming: “Ok. So what?” Jad was a straight shooter. He treated me with respect, kindness, and love. I felt accepted and what I want him to know (because I do believe he’s reading this right now) is that the love he showed me when I came out then made it easier for me to come out to other people down the road. I’m eternally grateful for how he helped me accept myself and learn to trust that most other people would accept me too.

Jad not only helped me accept myself as a gay man, he also helped open me up to new cultures. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved learning about other people’s cultures- food, music, languages, you name it. And so when Jad once mentioned to me that he spoke multiple dialects of Arabic, I felt like I had to learn more. I distinctly remember riding with Jad and his mom Randa in a car and there was this awesome music on. I asked Jad what it was and he told me it was Lebanese pop. I was instantly intrigued. I was then inspired to write a research paper for school on the Lebanese Civil War and actually interviewed Randa about her family’s experience during the war. I also got hooked on the delicious Lebanese pistachio candies the Zakhour’s kept around their house- I think I once ate all of the ones that were out in the candy dishes! Jad and his family would often speak in Arabic- or a mixture of English and Arabic- and it really made me curious to learn more about his heritage. Partially because of Jad, I decided to enroll in an Arabic class at the Jewish Community Center my senior year of high school. My teacher was an American guy and didn’t have a great accent, so I remember once when I wanted to show off my new Arabic knowledge to Jad by saying “khalass” (“enough”), he couldn’t stop laughing at my pronunciation. But then he proceeded to spend a solid 10 minutes teaching me how to say it right. Don’t worry Jad, I took three years of Arabic in college afterwards (including a semester of the Levantine dialect your family speaks), so know I say “khalass” right 😉 . While I was initially misled by some stereotypes of Arabs because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and 9/11, I’m proud to say that Jad and his family helped me see all people’s humanity and look past the hateful rhetoric we see in the news.

So where does that leave us now? Obviously it’s hard to make sense of tragedy. We will never truly figure out why Jad was taken from us so early. But I prefer to think about how I’m going to try to make some good out of it despite the sadness. Just as Jad taught me to be true to myself, I will continue living my life as a proud gay man. I will look for opportunities to help gay youth in need of a boost in confidence, just like Jad gave to me. Just as Jad opened my eyes to his culture, I will make an extra effort to advocate for peace and understanding between Jews and Arabs. And every time I tell an inappropriate joke or act extra silly, I will feel Jad’s spirit in the smiles and laughs of my friends and family.

Jad, I’ll miss you bud. But I will make sure your memory is not forgotten and know that your good deeds to me will continue to live on in my life as I pass on that goodness to others.

Allah yerhamak ya akhi. Inte deiman rah itkoon fi albi. May you rest in peace, brother. You will always be in my heart.

The Linguistic Revolution

The Linguistic Revolution

INTRODUCTION

I have no intention of being objective in this essay. From the start, I want to make clear that I am resolutely in favor of multilingualism for every human being. In addition, I feel intense solidarity with all of the languages of the world, living and (for now) dead, those with many speakers and especially those with fewer. Furthermore, I am an enthusiastic supporter of linguistic diversity and insist that we must foster an appreciation for it. I will use facts, anecdotes, statistics, and stories- in short, the truth- to support my views. But I will not shy away from sharing what I believe and I think it is a disservice for writers to feign objectivity when no person can possibly be “objective”. In fact, when writers claim to be objective, they are usually serving the interests of the powers that be by faithfully repeating the talking points of haggard politicians. I will do no such thing- I am a politically active advocate and I will make a point of being clear and honest with you.

In that vein, it is important to note that the evidence I use in this essay is influenced by the languages I’ve studied and know best. This is not meant to exclude other languages- there is ample evidence from every continent for the ideas I put forth here. I just want to be clear that if I don’t have an all-encompassing or adequately diverse set of data from all around the world, it is not because I’m ignoring a particular region or language. Rather, it is because I’m drawing from what I know. I will continue to learn new languages to broaden my knowledge.

It is impo31656_580904605702_4019085_nrtant to make clear that I am a socialist, a progressive, a left-wing thinker and activist. I’ve spent many years advocating for a variety of left-wing causes including gay rights, immigrant rights, economic justice, healthcare for all, and more. I’ve grown frustrated with the “inside game” strategies of left-of-center politics and feel that the best thing I can do right now to make change is to write this essay. While politicians die and policy papers head to paper shredders, I want to write a piece that will outlast me and will inspire change for years to come. The ideas I present in this piece are intimately tied to my previous social justice work and will hopefully inspire both you and me to find new avenues for making social change in the future.

PURPOSE

So now that I’ve explained the contours of this essay- why did I write it? In part, I am personally touched by the importance of languages in our lives. As of publication, I speak 7 languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Portuguese, Catalan, and French (and am studying Yiddish!). I enjoy each and every one of these languages and have found they’ve enriched my life greatly, exposing me to new friendships, travel, music, art, literature, politics, history, and ways of seeing the world. When you learn a language, you learn things you never would’ve seen in translation and you gain new, rich experiences because of it. I’ve seen firsthand the way a francophone from Senegal reacts when I speak French to him- the smile that goes across his face, the warmth that comes from knowing I respect his culture and honor one of the ways he communicates with the world. In college, I built an intense friendship with my friend Claudia in part because she’s Puerto Rican and I speak fluent Spanish. Of course we could have been friends just in English, but it would’ve been a poorer friendship for it, not to mention all the jokes that would’ve been lost in translation. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing my views with the world in different languages too, having been interviewed or quoted in Spanish, Hebrew, and Catalan media about my progressive political ideas. These ideas may never have made their way into those communities’ conversations were it not for the fact that I chose to reach out and meet them where they are in their own languages. I have many stories 7865320448_e1cd49bb53_blike this for all of my languages- the 80 year old lesbian couple I talked with for 2 hours in Montreal in French about their experiences growing up gay, the Palestinian woman I was able to talk with in Arabic about the future we envision for the Middle East, the Israeli 13-year-olds I learned Hebrew slang from while working as a summer camp counselor in Kfar Silver, the Brazilian friend whose questions about Judaism I can better answer because I speak Portuguese.

I firmly believe that multilingualism ought to be a tool for peace-building and promoting cross-cultural understanding.  When I learn a language, it is because I want to appreciate other cultures’ art, music, literature, traditions, thinking, food, and ultimately, people.  I believe learning a language is about fostering understanding and respect.  Therefore, I strongly disagree with the notion of learning a language to “learn about our enemies”.  This distorts the true purpose of language, which is to bring people together, and turns it into a weapon of capitalism and aggression.  My goal is to bring people together using language and therefore I will not promote the idea of learning languages in order to foster militarism and divisiveness.  Language is a tool.  Language can be used to promote understanding or it can be used to wage war.  This piece will exclusively be about how multilingualism can promote understanding. This is the correct and moral way to use languages and the one that aligns with most people’s desire to build a better world.

So I see the value of learning other languages and the cultural respect and creativity that comes with it. And therefore it concerns me that we live in a time in which 75% of Americans can’t speak a second language and when a language dies every two weeks, faster than endangered species. When I see how deficient much of our society is with respect to linguistic rights and diversity, I feel it is important to fix this situation and empower people to take action.

The purpose of this essay is to inspire people to start a linguistic revolution. This piece should serve as the ideological backbone to this revolution- a radical change in how we think and act with regards to language and our social structure. I’ve written an ideological foundation for social change, not a policy paper. If you’re looking for a series of policy proposals, this is not the tract to read, although I will suggest some short-term avenues for getting the revolution started. This work is focused on the ideas underlying language rights and social change, not on implementation. My hope is that the people who read this essay will start a larger movement that collectively can come up with the solutions in a democratic and inclusive process. If you want to think outside the box about how we can support multilingualism and linguistic diversity, then you’ve found the right place.

This commentary is not authoritative or all-encompassing- it is meant to be the beginning of a new discussion and a new way of thinking. I hope that people will build upon my work here and add their own ideas to the conversation. My overall goal is a society organized the needs of people rather than the pursuit of profit. While there are intermediate steps we can and should take to make things better, I think the only true long-term solution which fosters multilingualism and linguistic diversity is to create a society in which value is about what matters to us as rather than a number on a price tag.

LINGUISTICIDE

Across the globe, there is a huge problem: linguisticide. I define this as a process by which languages, dialects, and accents are stigmatized and/or killed. This section will briefly address both processes, which are of course related.

First, let’s look at stigmatization. Many people grow up speaking a particular way- it could be a language, let’s say Navajo, or even an accent, say the Alabaman accent. Obviously the boundaries between what defines a language vs. a dialect vs. an accent are subjective and somewhat arbitrary, but for the purposes of this essay, let’s agree that these are all different forms of communication.

Let’s imagine that a Navajo job applicant enters an office in Washington, D.C., drops off his resume for a job, and then sits down to speak with the HR manager. The manager suggests they sit down for an interview, and the Navajo man follows him into the room. They sit down and the hiring manager asks “Hello!” and the Navajo man says: “Yá’át’ééh. Ąąʼ haʼíí baa naniná?” What happens next? The HR manager is likely to one of several things: 1) Ask him to repeat what he said 2) Ask what language he’s speaking 3) Tell him that English is required for this job or 4) Ask him to leave. How did it come to be that a Native American, whose languages predates English speakers arriving to the Americas by many centuries, is forced to speak English to get a job in almost anywhere in the United States?

The short answer is capitalNavajo_winter_hoganism. The Navajo language, whose roots go back to the Proto-Athabaskan language in 500 B.C.E., flourished before the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, spoken by many thousands of people. They were self-sufficient hunters and gatherers who later adopted agriculture from the Pueblos, planting corn, beans, and squash. The Spanish, and later the Americans, waged war on the Navajos. In 1864, the American military defeated the Navajo and forced 9,000 of them to march 300 miles to an internment camp, where they were starved.

The American government wanted Navajo land for settlement. Not that individual settlers made a great profit off the land, but the speculators and government officials in the pocket of the ultra-wealthy capitalists sure did. And while U.S. capitalism grew and grew and Navajo lands became the sites of industry and commerce and white settlement, what happened to the Navajo? In the late 1800s, they were forced onto reservations where over 250,000 of them still live to this day, with very high rates of poverty.

Let’s return to the language question. How does all of this impact language? Obviously dislocation, death, starvation, and economic deprivation are going to take their toll. In addition, knowing that linguistic diversity was a threat to American capitalists’ plans for dominating the Southwest, the Navajo were targeted for linguisticide. Many Navajo kids were forced to go to Christian boarding schools where they were required to only speak English and had their mouths washed out with soap for speaking Navajo. No wonder that many of these children, once they grew up, decided not to pass on their own language to their children, fearing the consequences. That is why although Navajo is the most widely-spoken native language in the United States, a full third of the tribe can’t speak the language. Out of 266,000 people, only 7,600 are monolingual Navajo speakers, and they are dying out. It is a language in danger of extinction.

So let’s imagine for a moment that instead of a Navajo man, a British woman came in for the same position and spoke to the HR manager. In her best posh London accent, the woman chats with him and delights him with her “how do you do’s?” The HR manager, self-conscious about his own Southern accent, tries to hide his “y’all’s” and drawls, and laughs along to her jokes. Little does he know that the woman is actually a working-class Welsh woman and putting on the posh accent because she’s too ashamed to speak with her own, let alone in Welsh. Meanwhile, the C.E.O. speaks however she wants and enjoys the show everyone else puts on to please her.

This is linguistic15065364000_a3d790bf9fide, the process by which capitalism does away with languages, dialects, or accents not “useful” for its own commercial purposes. In which diversity and multilingualism are a liability rather than an asset. And in which the very name Navajo is not even from the Navajo language, but rather an English derivation of what the Spanish called the Diné. That’s as great a metaphor for the U.S. Southwest as I’ve ever heard. And so here we are, in 2015, talking about linguisticide and we wouldn’t even know the name of the tribe we’re talking about if it weren’t in the language of the capitalists who conquered it.

THE 12 PRINCIPLES OF THE LINGUISTIC REVOLUTION

The following are the principles of the linguistic revolution. They are not listed in order of importance- all of them are important. This list should certainly be seen as the beginning of a larger conversation in which other people who read this text could expand on the ideas delineated here.

  1. Everyone has the right to use the language of his or her choice.
  1. All languages are created equal.

Just as all people deserve to be treated with dignity just on account of being human beings, so too is it with languages. All languages are beautiful, important, and valuable. While languages may have different qualities that make them fascinating and worthy of admiration, no language, dialect, or accent is inherently superior to another.

The difference between an accent, a dialect, and a language can be fairly subjective and relative. While these terms may still be valid, it should only be for the purpose of classification and academic study, not for the purpose of devaluing a way of communicating. When teaching a language, students should be exposed to different varieties of that language (dialects, sociolects, accents, etc.) so as to familiarize them with different ways of communicating without judging people for sounding different. Even if a particular variety is emphasized for the purpose of facilitating study of a language, exposing students to different varieties of a language enriches the student’s experience and builds respect for different cultures and sectors of society. Just as all languages are worthy of dignity and respect, so too is it with accents, dialects, and varieties of a language. No dialect is superior to another, they are both simply different ways of communicating.

8951833608_343f227d68For example, many students of French (and sometimes the French people themselves) disparage the Quebecois French accent. This prejudiced view often includes implications that Quebecois French is “redneck” French, that it is ugly, that it is impure. All of these statements are wrong and morally repugnant. There is no such thing as an ugly accent- only ugly prejudices which make people believe such things. There is no inherently better way to communicate a language, therefore all accents are created equal. Each may have its own particular and unique aspects which make it beautiful, but they are all beautiful indeed. Much like when Americans disparage southern or African American accents because their speakers are often poor, when French speakers disparage Quebecois French, they are doing so not because of the actual sounds the Quebecois speak their language, but rather how they’ve been educated to perceive them. This prejudice is because of the socioeconomic, political, and cultural ideologies that poison some people’s thinking. In the particular case of French, it stems in part from the overbearing role of the capitalist French state in deciding which language is appropriate or not. Even within France, the Parisian accent is deemed the only acceptable way to speak French properly. Regional languages or dialects such as Norman, Catalan, Provençal, and others are treated with utter disdain by the state and their speakers have been systematically marginalized. Even people who simply speak with non-Parisian accents have internalized the idea that to speak with the Parisian accent is superior and more beautiful and have to suppress their own pronunciations.

To this day, France has not even signed the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) which would protect its indigenous minority languages because the French constitution only recognizes French as an official language. This same ideology- this anti-diversity ideology- helps explain in part why Quebecois French, proudly spoken across the Atlantic, goes against the grain of this homogenous thinking. For to speak French with a different accent, and proudly, is to challenge the very foundation of the French capitalist state.

  1. Linguistic rights stem not from geography or nationality, but from the fact that as human beings, we are all entitled to equal rights no matter where we are

Up until now, most efforts for language preservation, for example within the European Union, have focused on the rights of minority languages within specific territories. However, as soon as a Welsh person, for instance, moves to France, those rights are no longer protected. Therefore, territorial rights are no guarantee of human rights. By linking language to territory rather than the individual, immigrants are often forced to forfeit their linguistic rights when they move to a new place. Instead, people should be able to speak the language of their choice simply because they are a human being, not because of where they live.

  1. The right to speak one’s language is not contingent on citizenship, nor should citizenship be contingent on learning a particular language.

26761_906009946649_2163373_nThe ability for someone to speak the language of his or her choice should in no way be affected by whether or not that individual is a citizen. Nobody has more or less right to speak his or her language. Ideally, in a socialist world, everyone would be a global citizen and therefore his or her ability to participate in civic life would not be conditioned on speaking a certain “official language”. Unfortunately, citizenship is often tied to language. In the United States, you cannot vote until you pass an English exam. While it is desirable for people to learn the languages of places they move to, their ability to participate in the political system should in no way be prevented because they speak a different language (or don’t speak the predominant local language fluently enough).

  1. Less-commonly-spoken languages deserve special protection and support.

French_workers_with_placard_during_occupation_of_their_factory_1968While there are benefits for global and international communication/solidarity for people to learn widely-spoken languages like English, French, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Hindi, etc., this should not come at the expense of other languages. There must be a balance between the two and we must promote multilingualism not only amongst minority language speakers, but also amongst those who speak the most widely-spoken languages. That is to say, a Latino immigrant to the U.S. would benefit from also learning English, but so too should American-born English-speakers take it upon themselves to learn other languages, meeting immigrants and people around the world “half-way”.

In addition to encouraging the people who speak widely-spoken languages to learn other languages, the latter need sustained support. This means enhanced education programs (both for native speakers and majority-language speakers), multilingual signage, access to public services in their languages, promotion of arts/culture/literature, access to media, access to technology such as phones and computers in Cofiwch_Drywerynone’s native tongue, and more. Welsh speakers, for example, have been fairly effective at reviving their language by using many of the tactics above so that a once almost-dead language now has nearly 600,000 speakers, the most of any Celtic language. Yet to the contrary we find the example of the Tibetan language, whose activists are regularly imprisoned by the Chinese government simply for promoting their language. Although perhaps less extreme, similar examples can be found to this day in how the French government treats regional languages and how the Turkish government has oppressed Kurdish language activists. It is unfortunately a story we see all too commonly around the world.

  1. All people have the right and responsibility to be multilingual.

The ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds and cultures is how we build solidarity and community. There ought to be an added level of requirements and emphasis for people who speak the most widely-spoken languages, as they are the least-likely to feel a need to speak another language. Minority language speakers are frequently already multilingual and often speak languages most in danger of disappearance. At a bare minimum, we should expect every single human being to be fluent in at least three languages by the time he or she is 18. Ideally, people should speak four languages or more by middle age. One of these three languages must be a language spoken by less than 10 million people in order to promote the survival of less-commonly-spoken languages. Language learning should also not end with high school. It should continue into college and into adulthood. This is not a pipe dream. In some countries, it is already a reality. For instance, in France, public school children learn French and two other languages during the course of their education. In this respect, the United States is far behind much of the world in giving its children a global and multilingual education.

Although some people would argue for one supranational language like Esperanto or choosing 2 or 3 of the most widely-spoken languages for everyone to learn, these would lead to a decrease in linguistic diversity. Linguistic diversity is in and of itself a richness and moral value which stems from the idea that we are all entitled to express ourselves how we want. By being able to choose the way in which we communicate, we are acknowledging the fact that human beings are different and that is a good thing. There is no reason to fear the immigrant speaking Spanish at a restaurant or the Indian man with an accent doing tech support for Dell. A socialist May_Day_'13,_strikers_in_Union_Square_-_19130501revolution must respect our right to be the people we want to be, including how we speak. By being able to speak the languages of our choice, our souls are nourished and we can find greater fulfillment, something that is important in addition to the material benefits revolution can offer.

Furthermore, a supranational language or forcing everyone to learn only the most widely-spoken languages are not tenable long-term solutions to increasing communication across the world. Because people are unique and communication changes with time, languages often develop into dialects and new languages.  Take, for example, Latin, which developed into French, Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Occitan, Portuguese, Romanian, Italian, and more.

  1. A majority-language in one country may very well also be a minority-language in another country.

So long as there are national boundaries, it is important to note that in some contexts, one language can be a majority language and in others, it could be a minority language in need of extra support in order to be preserved as a vibrant language community. For instance, in France, French is the only language recognized by the state and is in a position of heavy-handed strength. However, in Canada, although it is an official language, it is a minority language spoken by about a fifth of the population and thus needs additional support to continue its vibrant traditions. For this reason, I more often than not use the terms “widely-spoken languages” and “less-widely spoken languages” or variants of these when speaking of languages that have many vs. fewer speakers. When I use the term “minority language” I mean specifically languages which are spoken by minorities within a larger political boundary (e.g. Spanish in the U.S.- Spanish is a widely-spoken global language but within the U.S. it is a minority language).

Panneau_de_signalisation_multilingue_à_Issers_(Algérie)It is also worth considering that minority languages also have linguistic minorities whose rights they should respect. That is to say a Moroccan who immigrates to Quebec, while respecting the need to learn French, also has just as much right to speak his or her native Arabic and/or Amazigh. It strikes me as hypocritical for a Quebecois to (justly) protest Canadian treatment of French but then to expect the Moroccan immigrant to abandon his or her language. It would benefit Quebecois society to have bilingual French-Arabic (and other language) schools so that all languages are preserved. This solution could apply to other minority-language regions like Catalonia and Wales. To learn one language is not necessarily to lose another. This is not a zero-sum game. Rather than displacing a language, multilingualism is the solution to preserving all of the world’s languages.

  1. People migrating to an area that primarily speaks another language should (and already often do) learn the local language, while not being forced to abandon their own.

This is often already done through the educational system but should also be promoted outside of schools through community outreach programs and free classes. Classes should be free, scheduled regularly, convenient, and accessible. However, under no circumstances are immigrants to be discouraged from speaking their native languages regardless of where they live. Local residents should be encouraged to learn the languages of immigrant communities. Bilingual or multilingual schools must be established and required for all global citizens.

  1. While many widely-spoken languages grew through colonialism at the expense of less widely-spoken languages, it is not a reason to discard the language.

There is beauty in all languages, even ones that have gained immense power due to the bad policies of a small cadre of capitalists. However, measures must be taken to preserve or restore those languages that were displaced to ensure they also have a future and people can regain some of their history and culture. For instance, an indigenous Peruvian should continue to study Spanish as a national and regional language, but should also be educated in Quechua to preserve his or her local identity. Multilingualism is not a zero sum game of “either/or”, but it is true that if we are to create some sense of balance and justice, local languages must be fully recognized in addition to more widely-spoken languages. Language activists must realize that the true fight is not against Spanish, for instance, but against the wealthy capitalists who conquer and divide Spanish-speaking workers from Quechua-speaking workers. A society in which both of these groups learn and respect each other’s languages is one in which workers will build solidarity to challenge the forces that divide them unnecessarily. Diversity is a sign of strength, not weakness. The way to promote intercultural understanding is first and foremost by learning each other’s languages. While some nominally communist (but actually totalitarian) societies like the Soviet Union have viewed cultural and linguistic diversity as a threat, I think modern socialists ought to see it as an opportunity to promote a wide range of thought and discussion which can bring people together by respecting each other’s differences. The answer is not to erase people’s differences and forcibly homogenize people, but rather to celebrate and ultimately understand them by learning to communicate in other groups’ languages.

  1. Language and culture have always been transnational and always will be.

The long-term socialist goal of doing away with borders would actually help preserve cultural traditions. For example, Catalan is spoken in Spain, France, and Italy. If there were no political boundaries, this language community would have more opportunities to collaborate. The same could be said for Chicano and Tejano culture between Mexico and the Southwest in the U.S. Or languages that never had a state apparatus such as Yiddish and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). Socialism would and should preserve diversity rather than demanding conformity.  The system I envision wouldn’t erase cultures, it would actually create more contact and understanding between them.

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  1. Languages must be used for good purposes.

Languages can and should be used to promote intercultural understanding, worker solidarity, art, music, literature, culture, and peace. These things we ought to promote and celebrate. We ought to be wary though of those who use languages at the behest of capitalists and their allies, such as the CIA or the military. We must encourage these people to use their talents for good rather than cruelty. Furthermore, when teaching languages, we must emphasize that they should be used to good ends.

  1. Linguistic justice must be a part of a broader movement for social justice.

So long as we have an economic system based on profit rather than need, linguistic diversity will shrink. One cannot put a price tag on the value of a language- it is an entire worldview, a way of thinking, culture, music, art, and more. A capitalist system that treats languages as nothing more than vehicles by which to sell products cannot adequately address the needs of the 99% of the world’s population who are workers, especially those speaking less-commonly-spoken languages. In the never-ending search for profit, large corporations seek to unravel cultural differences and at best show only token respect for linguistic diversity. Large corporations use languages to promote their cruel agenda of exploitation rather than using them for their designed purpose- to communicate and build understanding and peace. Companies such as Coca Cola will never show a real interest in marketing its products in Hawaiian, Navajo, or Breton because it assumes and expects these consumers to speak the more widely-spoken languages and therefore it saves Coca Cola money if it doesn’t have to reach out to the public in these less-commonly spoken languages. In a socialist system in which the global citizenry can decide its own future, it can show due deference to the need to preserve languages without having to justify the “costs”. After all, this is a moral issue.

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Languages are beautiful and valuable in and of themselves. However, in addition, they can also be a valuable tool for building solidarity across cultures to build a better, more progressive socialist society. Multilingualism offers people greater flexibility and empathy in thinking and therefore creates the potential for more innovative approaches to healing the world, resolving interpersonal and intercultural conflicts, and bringing about social change and peace.

GETTING STARTED

This work outlines a progressive ideology about language and linguistic rights. Some of the values I discussed in this book will be more readily and sooner achieved than others. All are worth fighting for. That being said, if you’re wondering “Where do I start?”, here are some guidelines for how to make our society a more just place using languages:

  • Fight for economic justice and grassroots socialism. The closer we can get to a society oriented around need and people rather than profit, the closer the day will come when all languages will be protected and celebrated. A good start would be raising the minimum wage, but this should be only the beginning of our involvement in fighting for economic justice.
  • The more people speaking more languages the better. Advocate for schools to continue world language programs and insist on adding more language options.  The United States has always been multilingual and we should celebrate that.  Push school systems to add more bilingual or immersion programs in a wide variety of languages.
  • Write about linguistic rights, education, respect for immigrant languages, or any of the other topics covered here- could be a blog, a tweet, a letter to the editor, an op-ed.
  • Learn another language yourself- take a class, find a tutor, and immerse yourself in another culture. Invite others to join you or share your experience with family and friends to encourage them to do likewise. It’s never too late to learn! I learned French at age 29 and am continuing to learn new languages!
  • Start a discussion group in your community in one of the languages you speak. Use it as an opportunity to get native speakers and second-language-learners to interact and build bridges.
  • Start an advocacy group in your community to support linguistic diversity and education. This could be as simple as a Facebook group, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a formal non-profit.
  • Share this essay with your family and friends to get them thinking about these issues.
  • Create a group in which native-born residents and immigrants get together to teach each other/help practice each other’s languages. Invite the press to observe.
  • Advocate for multilingual signage in your community- contact local lawmakers to pressure them on this issue.
  • Help civil rights organizations advocate for multilingual government services – particularly the justice system and social services. If they’re not already advocating for this, explain to them why this is an important issue for the civil rights agenda.
  • Ask that local law schools require students to learn multiple languages in order to better represent the community.
  • If you have children, make sure they’re learning several languages in and outside of school.
  • Encourage schools to study multilingual literature, in the original and in translation when the students don’t speak the language.
  • Set up multilingual non-profit or co-op bookstores/libraries.
  • Demand that your local library purchase and carry more books in different languages.
  • Encourage local schools and lawmakers to celebrate a new holiday, “International Language Day”, in which there would be festivals, ceremonies, music, art, etc. celebrating linguistic and cultural diversity
  • If your mother tongue is not the official language, organize protests for recognition. You could stage a “speak in” in which you go to a government office and speak your language.
  • Ask that local businesses use multilingual signage and train multilingual staff. Businesses could band together to provide affordable language training to their staff.
  • Increase the use of different languages in the media. For example, petition public media (in the U.S., NPR and PBS, for example) to use a variety of languages to communicate with the public. In addition, start multilingual newspapers, blogs, community radio programs, etc. Create or participate in Facebook groups in different languages.

These are all suggestions to get you started, but none of them are written in stone. Take these ideas and run with them. Collaborate with your friends, family, and neighbors. The most important thing is to start making the case that all languages are beautiful, inherently equal, worthy of respect, and need to be incorporated into our lives wherever we live.

THE WAY FORWARD

The goal of this essay was to spark a linguistic revolution. I shared with you the problem of linguisticide. I’ve outlined a variety of principles for this revolution and a variety of ways to get the process started. How do we make this revolution real? By joining the conversation, adding your ideas, and taking action. Only by coming together and fighting for what we believe will we be able to make this world a better place for speakers of all languages. To quote the phrase on a beautiful piece of art my mom gave me that’s now hanging in my dining room: ¡Sí se puede!

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I encourage you to read my other blog posts at https://culturallycuriousblog.wordpress.com/ about language, culture, progressive politics, and more.  Thanks for reading my essay and please share it with your friends and family.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Mil gracias,

Matt

Linguisticism

Linguisticism

Linguisticism is my philosophy that the more languages you speak and the better you speak them, the better you understand the world around you and life itself.

Although not a religion in the sense of worshipping a particular deity, linguisticism is similar in the sense that it is a holistic worldview. Languages are not merely things you learn, they change the way you see the world around you and your relationship to it.

When you learn another language, you open yourself up to new ways of thinking, new cultures, and new relationships. Every language I’ve learned, regardless of how many people speak it, has enriched my life. I have made friends who speak the languages I speak and due in no small part to our linguistic connection. Because when you speak to someone in their language, a spark, a spiritual energy is created. When you speak to someone in their language, their heart opens in a way that it may not have otherwise. It is pure joy, it is connection. While you may have become friends with that person in your native language, it is doubtful that your relationship would be as strong or as meaningful.

So it is with translation. While reading translated news, literature, and poetry is better than not reading anything at all about the rest of the world, it is an incomplete view at best. So much nuance is lost in translation. There are even untranslatable words that other languages can only approximate. And in doing so, some of the meaning, the cadence, the subtleties can be lost. It could even be said that a translated text is in fact a new cultural creation because the translator’s talent should be respected as a form of art and because you can never fully capture the original text.

And so while linguisticism is not a religion, this worldview has an impact on how we understand religion itself. Because if we understand that language is a gateway to knowledge, so is it a tool by which people can better understand religion. For instance, I am a Jew. While as recently as last century, the majority of the world’s Jews spoke Jewish languages (primarily Yiddish but also Ladino, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic, and others), the majority no longer do. And if they do speak a Jewish language, it is Modern Hebrew, a relative of Biblical and Rabbinic Hebrew but somewhat of a linguistic anomaly having been revived from near death.

Today’s rabbis, particularly in the United States, may speak Modern Hebrew with varying degrees of fluency (often no better than an Israeli third grader) and have some comprehension of older forms of Hebrew and Aramaic, but almost none speak Yiddish, Ladino, or other Jewish languages. Naturally this limits their Jewish knowledge. Can one really be a rabbi, a Jewish leader, but not be able to read the original Me’am Loez, a Ladino Biblical commentary from 1730 or the Yiddish blessing in the Worms machzor from 1272? And these are just the explicitly religious texts. What about hundreds of years of Jewish literature, poetry, music, political writing, and more? Is a rabbi really a good rabbi if he or she is only versed in Jewish civilization through translation (or ignorant of much of its existence)?

Because Jews have abandoned their ancestral languages, Judaism has in some cases turned towards an obsession with ritual practice rather than a holistic understanding of peoplehood and spirituality. This is not just the case with ultra-Orthodox communities. Even Reform and Conservative Jews have become so focused on the ritual aspects of Judaism that they have forgotten about culture and language. It’s nothing short of a shanda that when I emailed two rabbis about connecting me with congregants who spoke Yiddish, that neither of them could come up with a single name- out of several thousand members!

Meanwhile, there are political consequences for Jews’ forgetfulness of their languages. Just as American Jews, for instance, were losing touch with their most widely spoken language, Yiddish, they suddenly adopted Israeli Hebrew pronunciation in synagogue in the 1960s. Suddenly shabbos became Shabbat and adonoy became Adonai. Out of affinity for Zionism or a deep-seated self-hatred and insecurity, most American Ashkenazim “shed” their traditional Hebrew accent in favor of an Americanized version of Israeli Hebrew pronunciation because it was perceived as more “modern”. American Jewish institutions obsession with propping up the oppressive Israeli government (sometimes even to the consternation of left-wing Israelis) is directly correlated with the fact that American Jews abandoned Yiddish and their Ashkenazi accents in shul. They quite literally lost their tongues and so they decided to parrot someone else’s speech and politics instead of their own.

All of this is to say that when one loses his or her language, it is as if a whole world is destroyed. American Jews, in this example, lost touch with the Yiddish socialist teachings and activism that dominated American Jewish life in the early 20th century. They forgot that Judaism is also about culture, not just ritual and Zionism and waving flags. When today’s rabbis can’t even read the progressive social teachings of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, why does it surprise us that their linguistic failure results in political obtuseness?

And so this example may be about the Jews, but it could be applied to other religious communities too. How easily do right-wing evangelicals twist and contort the Bible and yet so few of them could utter but one Hebrew word aloud? When we divorce our worldviews from linguistic knowledge, we lose a part of ourselves. We become unanchored, ignorant, and susceptible to deceit. That I can read the Bible in its original language empowers me to interpret it better than any backwards fire-and-brimstone preacher.

Language provides insight into the world around us. Religion, culture, music, poetry, politics, history. We can become more well-rounded, tolerant people if we open ourselves up to learning more languages and learning them better. Linguisticism, although it has implications for religious knowledge, is not a religion. You do not need to worship linguisticism nor believe in G-d, but you should embrace this philosophy and promote it. The world is devolving into misunderstandings and learning languages is our best hope for building bridges of communication and peace.

Take a class, find a tutor, speak your languages with pride. Don’t shy away from practicing- make mistakes, learn, grow, build relationships with people from different cultures. This is the way we’ll repair the world. Or sit at home and watch the same old English-language TV shows and listening to the music on the top 40 radio station, never venturing out and exploring, shocked and surprised when the world around you erupts in violence and chaos, wondering why people just can’t get along.

Interview with Lucas Brownback of Spiral Path Farm

I’m so excited to share this interview with you guys! My partner Peter and I are members of a crop share through Spiral Path Farm in Pennsylvania. They bring delicious, fresh produce to the Bethesda farmers market (along with suggested recipes) and we cook yummy veggies all week long! It’s healthy, affordable, and much higher quality than what you’d get at the grocery store. We recently went up to Spiral Path Farm for one of their open farm days and got to pick free fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, and herbs. We’ve been cooking all week with this abundance of produce, including some killer gazpacho! It is my pleasure to share this interview I did with Lucas Brownback, a talented farmer from Spiral Path who Peter and I affectionately call “our (cute) crop share guy”. Enjoy the interview below and if you want to participate in the crop share, you can get more info here.

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1. Part of what I love about your farm is that it’s a family business.  Why did your family decide to leave Philadelphia and go into farming?  Why did you personally decide to become a farmer?

My mom and dad are first generation farmers who fell in love at 20 years old and decided to leave the suburbs of Philadelphia to purse their dream of farming and being self sustainable together.  As a child, growing up on a farm was tough work for me and my 2 older brothers.  All of us could not wait to graduate high school and return back to Philadelphia (coincidentally) for college and get far far away from the rigorous physical labor.  Around sophomore year (for me) it started to occur in my brain that I was actually extremely lucky and began to feel major pride that my parents were farmers.  I also watched us go from struggling to have lunch money in elementary school to having a contracted deal with Wegmans by the time I was in college.  As my father’s youngest son, I feel it is my complete duty to continue to make sure the farm is operating in the way our family would want it conducted.  My parents are approaching 70 and I am trying to give them the most relief as possible.  I also have found my true self along the way… Our species’ role in the ecosystem is to cultivate crops – and I feel the most at peace when doing so.  I now relish in the sweat and heat I once hated and feel honored to have this as my job.  It is my inner intentions to produce the highest nutritional quality food possible for our surrounding communities.

2. How is your farm different from other farms?

The first generation of farmers at Spiral Path are still running the farm entirely.  We are USDA and PCO certified organic since 1994!  That is some serious fertile soil!

3. How do you decide what to plant and what to put in your delicious crop share boxes?

We plant what is feasible and sustainable to grow in our climate.  My parents have experimented every year with new and different crops to come up with the varieties that we can produce the best.  We stick with vegetables mostly – because we are strict about crop rotation!  Fruit is typically trees or permanent shrubs that take up a lot of room and are prone to crop failure.  Our CSA boxes are what the farm yield each week.  Some weeks it is tough to decide what to put it, but I spend most of my Monday’s creating a good mix of produce.

4. What do you find most rewarding and most challenging about farming?

The most rewarding thing is that I am feeding people with healthy wholesome foods.  From providing for pregnant mothers to cancer patients – organic is scientifically the right choice for our bodies.  I also barely grocery shop and have become quite the chef with all the produce I have access to.  The most challenging thing is that I am 29 years old and working 65 hours a week.  Finding the time to find a woman who is into the same lifestyle has been difficult thus far.  Also – I handle our farm PR and customer service emails… reading email complaints about a bug being in their share after working 13 hours in the sun is completely discouraging to me.

5. How can we, as a society, do a better job of supporting local agriculture?

CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is the way to keep farms going.  Farmers markets – where you can develop a personal relationship with the only hands who touch your food!  Education- on growing, farming, and climate realities.  Also, as a society, I think we need to put more emphasis on those who actually harvest our food.  We have 16 migrant fields workers from Guatemala who seed and harvest everything on our farm.  In my entire life – we have not had one American apply to be a field worker.  NOT ONE!  If we continue to treat immigrants as if they are taking our jobs – we will all starve!

6. Final question (drum roll): What is your favorite vegetable and why?

My favorite is colored peppers.  Specifically our “monster sweet” orange peppers.  They are fun/easy to plant, grow, harvest, and it has been my favorite vegetable since I was 4.  I do not know what I would do if I couldn’t grow these on my own.  It all goes back to why I want to be a farmer – and that is so I can provide everything I could want for myself in my back yard.

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