Vernacular Values: The Imposition of Taught Mother Tongue / Illich (1980)

Traduction de Maud Sissung (Oeuvres complètes, vol 2.- Fayard, 2005):

pp. 134-5.- la définition des besoins en termes d’apports extérieurs professionnellement définis dans le secteur des services précède d’un millénaire la production industrielle de produits de base universellement indispensables.
[…] les idéologies de l’ère industrielle plongent leurs racines dans la prime renaissance carolingienne. L’idée qu’il n’y a pas de salut sans services individuels fournis par des professionnels au nom d’une mère Eglise institutionnelle est une de ces phases restées jusqu’ici inaperçues, sans lesquelles notre époque serait impensable.

p. 156.- Le vernaculaire, par opposition au langage savant, spécialisé – le latin pour l’Eglise, le francique pour la cour -, était aussi évident dans sa variété que le goût des vins et des plats locaux, les formes des maisons et des outils agricoles, jusqu’au XIe siècle. C’est à ce moment, assez subitement, qu’apparaît l’expression langue maternelle.

p. 159.- La dépendance à l’égard de la langue maternelle enseignée peut être prise comme le paradigme de toutes les autres dépendances typiques des humains dans cet âge des besoins définis par la marchandise.

p. 162.- Le langage quotidien enseigné est sans précédent dans les cultures préindustrielles. La dépendance actuelle à l’égard de professeurs rétribués et de modèles pour l’acquisition du parler ordinaire est une caractéristique unique de l’économie industrielle au même titre que la dépendance à l’égard des combustibles fossiles. […] On peut à bon droit dire que, contrairement au vernaculaire, le langage capitalisé résulte de la production.

p. 168.- Le statut commercial de la langue maternelle enseignée, qu’on l’appelle langue nationale, expression littéraire ou langage de la télévision, repose largement sur des axiomes admis sans examen […]:

  • l’imprimerie implique une formulation normalisée;
  • les livres écrits dans la langue qui prime ne peuvent pas être lus facilement par ceux qui n’ont pas reçu l’enseignement de cette langue;
  • la lecture est , par sa nature, une activité muette qui devrait habituellement être conduite de façon privée;
  • faire s’exercer la capacité universelle de lire quelques phrases et de les copier par écrit augmente l’accès d’une population au contenu des bibliothèques.

Voilà, parmi d’autres, quelques arguments illusoires qui concourent à renforcer la position des enseignants, la vente des rotatives, le classement des gens sur une échelle des valeurs en fonction de leur code linguistique, et, jusqu’à présent, l’augmentation du PNB.

p. 171.- Jusqu’à présent, toute tentative pour substituer une marchandise universelle à une valeur vernaculaire a débouché non sur l’égalité mais sur une modernisation hiérarchisée de la pauvreté.

pp. 172-3.- de plus en plus la langue maternelle est enseignée non par des agents rétribués à cet effet mais par les parents, à titre gratuit. Ces derniers privent leurs enfants de leur dernière possibilité d’écouter des adultes qui ont quelque chose à se dire.
[…]
Pour le parent professionnel, qui engendre des enfants en tant qu’amant professionnel, qui offre bénévolement ses conseils semi-professionnels aux organisations de son quartier, la distinction entre sa contribution gratuite à la société gérée et ce qui pourrait être, par contraste, le rétablissement de domaines vernaculaires demeure incompréhensible.

Plus d’extraits (en anglais) infra. Vernacular Values by Ivan Illich

We need a simple adjective to name those acts of competence, lust, or concern that we want to defend from measurement or manipulation by Chicago Boys and Socialist Commissars.

The idea that humans are born in such fashion that they need institutional service from professional agents in order to reach that humanity for which by birth all people are destined can be traced down to Carolingian times.

the definition of needs in terms of professionally defined commodities in the service sector precedes by a millennium the industrial production of universally needed basic goods.
Thirty-five years ago, Lewis Mumford tried to make this point. […] I have found a host of converging arguments – most of which Mumford does not seem to suspect – for rooting the ideologies of the industrial age in the earlier Carolingian Renaissance. The idea that there is no salvation without personal services provided by professionals in the name of an institutional Mother Church is one of these formerly unnoticed developments without which, again, our own age would be unthinkable. True, it took five hundred years of medieval theology to elaborate on this concept. Only by the end of the Middle Ages would the pastoral self-image of the Church be fully rounded. And only in the Council of Trent (1545) would this self-image of the Church as a mother milked by clerical hierarchies become formally defined. Then, in the Constitution of the Second Vatican Council (1964), the Catholic Church, which had served in the past as the prime model for the evolution of secular service organizations, aligns itself explicitly in the image of its secular imitations.

Since Roman times, a person’s first language was the patrius sermo, the language of the male head of the household. Each such sermo or speech was perceived as a separate language. Neither in ancient Greece nor in the Middle Ages did people make the modern distinction between mutually understandable dialects and different languages. The same holds true today, for example, at the grass roots in India. What we know today as monolingual communities were and, in fact, are exceptions.

Thus the vernacular, in opposition to specialized, learned language – Latin for the Church, Frankish for the Court – was as obvious in its variety as the taste of local wines and food, as the shapes of house and hoe, down to the eleventh century. It is at this moment, quite suddenly, that the term mother tongue appears.

Four Asiastic inventions – the horseshoe, the fixed saddle and stirrup, the bit, and the cummett (the collar resting on the shoulder) – permitted important and extensive changes.

A new pattern of life became possible. Formerly, people had lived in clusters of homesteads; now they could form villages large enough to support a parish and, later, a school.

Frankish was the language spoken by the women, even in those areas where the men were already beginning to use a Romance vernacular.

In the decades before Luther, quite suddenly and dramatically, mother tongue acquired a strong meaning. It came to mean the language created by Luther in order to translate the Hebrew Bible, the language taught by schoolmasters to read that book, and then the language that justified the existence of nation states.

Dependence on taught mother tongue can be taken as the paradigm of all other dependencies typical of humans in an age of commodity-defined needs.

We go even further: we first allow standard language to degrade ethnic, black, or hillbilly language, and then spend money to teach their counterfeits as academic subjects.

The educator, politician and entertainer now come with a loudspeaker to Oaxaca, to Travancore, to the Chinese commune, and the poor immediately forfeit the claim to that indispensable luxury, the silence out of which vernacular language arises.

Taught everyday language is without precedent in pre-industrial cultures. The current dependence on paid teachers and models of ordinary speech is just as much a unique characteristic of industrial economies as dependence on fossil fuels. The need for taught mother tongue was discovered four centuries earlier, but only in our generation have both language and energy been effectively treated as world wide needs to be satisfied for all people by planned, programmed production and distribution. Because, unlike the vernacular of capitalized language we can reasonably say that it results from production.

Where untutored language is the predominant marker of a shared world, a sense of power within the group exists, and this sense cannot be duplicated by language that is delivered.

Even today, the poor in non-industrial countries all over the world are polyglot. My friend, the goldsmith in Timbuktu, speaks Songhay at home, listens to Bambara on the radio, devotedly and with some understanding says his prayers five times a day in Arabic, gets along in two trade languages on the Souk, converses in passable French that he picked up in the army – and none of these languages was formally taught him. He did not set out to learn these tongues; each is one style in which he remembers a peculiar set of experiences that fits into the frame of that language. Communities in which monolingual people prevail are rare except in three kinds of settings: tribal communities that have not really experienced the late neolithic, communities that for a long time lived through exceptional forms of discrimination, and among the citizens of nation-states that, for several generations, have enjoyed the benefits of compulsory schooling.

while every historian who deals with the origins of nation-states pays attention to the imposition of a national tongue, economists generally overlook the fact that this taught mother tongue is the earliest of specifically modern commodities, the model of all « basic needs » to come.

In Indonesia, in half a generation of resistance to Japanese and Dutch, the militant fraternal and combative slogans, posters, and secret radios of the freedom struggle spread Malay competence into every village, and did so much more effectively than the later efforts of the ministry of Language Control that was established after independence.

The commercial status of taught mother tongue, call it national language, literary standard, or television language, rests largely on unexamined axioms, some of which I have already mentioned:

  • that printing implies standardized composition;
  • that books written in the standard language could not be easily read by people who have not been schooled in that tongue;
  • that reading is by its very nature a silent activity that usually should be conducted in private;
  • that enforcing a universal ability to read a few sentences and then copy them in writing increases the access of a population to the content of libraries:

these and other such illusions are used to enhance the standing of teachers, the sale of rotary presses, the grading of people according to their language code and, up to now, an increase in the GNP.

Vernacular spreads by practical use; it is learned from people who mean what they say and who say what they mean to the person they address in the context of everyday life.

The American, French, or German colloquials have become composites made up of two kinds of language: commoditylike taught uniquack and a limping, ragged, jerky vernacular struggling to survive. The American, French, or German colloquials have become composites made up of two kinds of language: commoditylike taught uniquack and a limping, ragged, jerky vernacular struggling to survive. Taught mother tongue has established a radical monopoly over speech, just as transportation has over mobility or, more generally, commodity over vernacular values.

So far, every single attempt to substitute a universal commodity for a vernacular value has led, not to equality, but to a hierarchical modernization of poverty.

Mother tongue is taught increasingly, not by paid agents, but by unpaid parents. These latter deprive their own children of the last opportunity to listen to adults who have something to say to each other.

For the professional parent who engenders children as a professional lover, who volunteers his semi-professional counselling skills for neighborhood organizations, the distinction between his unpaid contribution to the managed society and what could be, in contrast, the recovery of vernacular domains, remains meaningless.

4 réflexions sur “Vernacular Values: The Imposition of Taught Mother Tongue / Illich (1980)

  1. je ne comprends pas le dernier passage – sans doute est ce normal n’ayant jamais eu à réfléchir tout au moins à cela – depuis plusieurs siècles pour nous la langue vernaculaire et la langue enseignée, la langue reçue des parents et la langue enseignée est la même – envore une immense zone de savoir qui l’est étrangère

    Cerca: pour ce que j’en comprends, Illich dit 2 choses. D’une part que les parents se comportent, s’agissant de la langue, à l’égard de leurs enfants comme des éducateurs, s’appliquant à leur apprendre à (bien) parler au lieu de leur transmettre la langue à la manière vernaculaire, c’est-à-dire par l’exemple et en les tenant dans un bain linguistique d’autant plus enrichissant que la langue employée l’est avec le plus de soin des intérêts du locuteur (et non de l’enfant). D’autre part que d’une façon générale les services bénévoles ne sont pas une alternative (l’alternative « vernaculaire ») au système de production marchande généralisée lorsqu’ils se donnent selon le cadre, les conditions et les fins de la production marchande – dans le cas particulier étudié dans le chapitre lu ici: que la « langue maternelle enseignée » le soit à titre professionnel ou à titre gratuit (parental en particulier) ne change rien d’essentiel.
    Le premier point me semble indiscutable, nous en avons tous eu de nombreux exemples (encore qu’il faille sans doute mettre en question la radicalité de la différence entre langue maternelle enseignée et langue vernaculaire selon Illich – j’ai l’impression que c’était un point de votre commentaire mais des accidents de clavier font que j’ai du mal à en comprendre la fin). Le deuxième point est plus problématique et correspond aux raisons principales qui me font lire Illich: comprendre comment les nouveaux secteurs non marchands, sur l’internet en particulier, se situent par rapport au système de production marchande généralisée.

    J'aime

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