A THEORY THAT SOME LANGUAGES HAVE BEEN MADE DIFFICULT SO THAT OUTSIDERS WON’T LEARN THEM. Ryan Bradley had an interview with the linguist Sarah Thomason on the daily Paris Review (March 30 2016) blog about languages that are spoken by only a small number of people. For over thirty years, Thomason has been studying Montana Salish, a Native American language which is spoken fluently by less than forty people.
Thomason says: “It’s fairly common for groups to deliberately change their languages so they’re not so much like the guys next door. And the most spectacular examples are where you’ve got dialects of the same language and oh, we don’t want to be too much like those guys. It’s an identity-preserving thing, it’s a distancing phenomenon.”
Thomason gives the example of Uisai, a dialect of Buin. In Uisai all the genders are reversed. Every noun that’s feminine in Uisai is masculine in all the other dialects of Buin. Thomason says :”Now, this just isn’t conceivable as any kind of ordinary, natural, gradual linguistic change.”