Why does language make some governments so sh*t scared?
In China last year, authorities in Xinjiang closed down the Uighur mother tongue kindergarten that Abduwell Ayup founded. A linguist educated at the University of Kansas, Ayup had refused a scholarship in the US because he wanted to give Uighur children living in China’s far northwest the chance to study in their own language. But on August 20, 2013, several months after the kindergarten was closed, Ayup was detained by the Chinese authorities. He hasn’t been heard from since.
“He knew the risks,” a childhood friend of Ayup’s reports. But, says another, “everyone in the world wants to keep their own language.”
Why do people risk even death for their languages? Or is the question, rather, why do they have to? What about language is so damn threatening?
Remember that interim government in the Ukraine, the one that overthrew President Victor Yanukovich? Their very first act as a government was to strip Russian and other minority languages of any official status in the Ukraine.
In Turkey, until recently, not only was the Kurdish language banned, but a publisher was sentenced to jail time simply for printing the words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan”. If pressure is easing on the Kurdish language in Turkey, repression is as strong as ever in Syria, where, according to a report by Amnesty International, Jamal Sa’doun and three other members of a band were jailed for singing wedding songs in Kurdish.
In the US, Australia and Canada, generations of aboriginal children were taken away from their families and interned in residential schools designed to “kill the Indian in the child“.
How do you go about killing the “Indian” in the child? You take away their culture and their language. If they use aboriginal words, you beat them with sticks, deprive them of food, jab needles in their tongues. Or worst of all: you make them feel that their language is inferior, something to be ashamed of.
To see how important language is to our identity, we need only to look at how far some sh*t scared governments will go to take that away.