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Thread: The Death of Language?

  1. #1
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    The Death of Language?

    An estimated 7,000 languages are being spoken around the world. But that number is expected to shrink rapidly in the coming decades. What is lost when a language dies?

    In 1992 a prominent US linguist stunned the academic world by predicting that by the year 2100, 90% of the world's languages would have ceased to exist.

    Far from inspiring the world to act, the issue is still on the margins, according to prominent French linguist Claude Hagege.

    "Most people are not at all interested in the death of languages," he says. "If we are not cautious about the way English is progressing it may eventually kill most other languages."

    According to Ethnologue, a US organisation owned by Christian group SIL International that compiles a global database of languages, 473 languages are currently classified as endangered.

    Among the ranks are the two known speakers of Lipan Apache alive in the US, four speakers of Totoro in Colombia and the single Bikya speaker in Cameroon.

    "It is difficult to provide an accurate count," says Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis. "But we are at a tipping point. From here on we are going to increasingly see the number of languages going down."

    What is lost?

    As globalisation sweeps around the world, it is perhaps natural that small communities come out of their isolation and seek interaction with the wider world. The number of languages may be an unhappy casualty, but why fight the tide?

    "What we lose is essentially an enormous cultural heritage, the way of expressing the relationship with nature, with the world, between themselves in the framework of their families, their kin people," says Mr Hagege.

    "It's also the way they express their humour, their love, their life. It is a testimony of human communities which is extremely precious, because it expresses what other communities than ours in the modern industrialized world are able to express."

    For linguists like Claude Hagege, languages are not simply a collection of words. They are living, breathing organisms holding the connections and associations that define a culture. When a language becomes extinct, the culture in which it lived is lost too.

    Cross words

    The value of language as a cultural artefact is difficult to dispute, but is it actually realistic to ask small communities to retain their culture?

    One linguist, Professor Salikoko Mufwene, of the University of Chicago, has argued that the social and economic conditions among some groups of speakers "have changed to points of no return".

    As cultures evolve, he argues, groups often naturally shift their language use. Asking them to hold onto languages they no longer want is more for the linguists' sake than for the communities themselves.

    Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis, however, argues that the stakes are much higher. Because of the close links between language and identity, if people begin to think of their language as useless, they see their identity as such as well.

    This leads to social disruption, depression, suicide and drug use, he says. And as parents no longer transmit language to their children, the connection between children and grandparents is broken and traditional values are lost.

    "There is a social and cultural ache that remains, where people for generations realize they have lost something," he says.

    What no-one disputes is that the demise of languages is not always the fault of worldwide languages like our own.

    An increasing number of communities are giving up their language by their own choice, says Claude Hagege. Many believe that their languages have no future and that their children will not acquire a professional qualification if they teach them tribal languages.

    "We can do nothing when the abandonment of a language corresponds to the will of a population," he says.

    Babbling away

    Perhaps all is not lost for those who want the smaller languages to survive. As the revival of Welsh in the UK and Maori in New Zealand suggest, a language can be brought back from the brink.

    Hebrew, says Claude Hagege, was a dead language at the beginning of the 19th century. It existed as a scholarly written language, but there was no way to say "I love you" and "pass the salt" - the French linguists' criteria for detecting life.

    But with the "strong will" of Israeli Jews, he says, the language was brought back into everyday use. Now it is undeniably a living breathing language once more.

    Closer to home, Cornish intellectuals, inspired by the reintroduction of Hebrew, succeeded in bringing the seemingly dead Cornish language back into use in the 20th Century. In 2002 the government recognised it as a living minority language.

    But for many dwindling languages on the periphery of global culture, supported by little but a few campaigning linguists, the size of the challenge can seem insurmountable.

    "You've got smallest, weakest, least resourced communities trying to address the problem. And the larger communities are largely unaware of it," says Ethnologue editor Paul Lewis.

    "We would spend an awful lot of money to preserve a very old building, because it is part of our heritage. These languages and cultures are equally part of our heritage and merit preservation."
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today...00/8311069.stm

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    What a tragedy, I hope we can protect our languages.
    New-norwegian is almost dead, I wish it was the most used language here.

    "Make strong old dreams lest our world lose heart." -Ezra Pound



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  3. #3
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    I personnally would like to see the Runic languages return.I have always been fasinated by Rune writing.

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    Does anyone know a good source to learn the language of the Edda?

    I followed northvegr's recommondations but didn't get very far. Is there an easier way to learn it? (sometimes the translations don't make sense to me and I assume the translation is awkward)

    To the subject:

    I grew up with a dialect called 'plattdeutsch' which is close to the old german language. By now my siblings have difficulty to even UNDERSTAND it not to say talking in it. I can see my self by not practicing it to lose it too.

    I remember in the olden days if you went to the haircutter and you talked platt with him he charged you the native price and if you talked high german you paid the 'tourist' price.

    But through TV and newspapers and so on it is more and more disappearing. It became artificial to speak in that language. The kids don't like to speak it they answer in high german if you talk to them in 'platt'. In contrary my cousin only learned our dialect as his only language. In school the teacher was a foreigner he didn't understand platt. So my cousin had a hard time in the beginning, later on he excelled (he made a PhD in physics).

    If you go to state administration you have to speak high german, all documents are in high german. that came to being bilingual. Nowadays kids might think as to why one should be bilingual as it is much easier to just speak high german.

    I remember that at the afternoon tea, where the whole family gathered had a good tea, a cookie and a nice family conversation which usually hold in 'platt' and a certain flavor of 'Gemuetlichkeit', of homeliness. When talked in high german because they were guests it was with the absence of Gemuetlichkeit. It came from a different part of being. Now I would say it was essence versus a learned personality.

    I think that part of essence is gone and will not be able to be retrieved even if you relive the language.

    It is a loss only the older ones feel, the new guys, the kids don't know the loss. They feel differently.

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    Chalk it up to low average I.Q.s and poor work ethic. Part of being 'cultured' is you should be speak more than one language. People who can speak only one are either lazy, stupid, or uncultured.

    We must admire the French in this respect- at least they make an effort to keep their language "pure" I think in Iceland they have done similar.

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