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Wednesday, September 19, 20071190213592

The Abolition of Linguistic Ghettos

Wilford, J.N. (2007). Languages die, but not their last words. New York Times. September 19, 2007. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/19/science/19language.html?hp.

While focusing on antiquarian relics, the article points to good news: globalization is reducing the number of widely spoken languages.

Languages are not unique creatures with rights of their own, but tools used by people to know the world, provide for their families, and live life. The power of languages -- like the power of most platforms -- is proportional to the number of people who speak it. When a language's speakers abandon their traditional tongue and embrace a more popular method of communication -- like the rise of German over Low German or Mandarin over Manchu -- both peoples benefit.

Comments

"Languages are not unique creatures with rights of their own, but tools used by people to know the world, provide for their families, and live life."

Yes. Language preservation isn't necessary for its own sake, but because the loss of a language more often than not means the loss of (at least part of) a culture - the way a culture "knows the world" and "lives life." Praising the reduction of spoken languages seems clearly colonialist; it brings up images of one culture eating another alive, not one moving towards the ways and practices of another.

Why does embracing the "more popular method of communication" necessitate "abandon[ing]" a traditional language?

Posted by: fl | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

fl,

"the loss of a language more often than not means the loss of (at least part of) a culture - the way a culture "knows the world" and "lives life."

Yes, these are real costs.

A good analogy is the end of farming as way of life across the globe. You look at the material effects, and the results are unquestionably good. But who can feel truly good about it?

"Praising the reduction of spoken languages seems clearly colonialist; it brings up images of one culture eating another alive, not one moving towards the ways and practices of another."

"Why does embracing the "more popular method of communication" necessitate "abandon[ing]" a traditional language?"

It doesn't, but it's hard to learn more than one language, and few people speak more than two well. At the end of the day, it's more useful to speak English than Aromanian, and still more useful to speak English and Spanish rather than English and Aromanian.

Speaking an obscure language is a luxury, and the places that have the highest indigenous linguistic diversity are regions that can least afford luxuries.

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I also liken the survivability issues of near dead languages to those that mourn the passing of subsistence family farming. They mourn the romanticism of backwardness that they themselves did not and do not have to endure. I for one am glad I don't have to be farmer peasant like my ancestors.

Another thought: How many "past lives" weirdos think they were Russian peasants, romans mine slaves, or African farmers avoiding tribal slavers? No they think of the romance of the especially better off and the merchant-adventurers who moved between worlds. In there "past lives" they are lords and ladies, or of the Roman Senatorial class, or Napoleon, etc.

I don't morn the passing of dead languages from dead cultures. The future awaits.

Yes, I am cranky tonight.

Posted by: PurpleSlog | Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, gnxp applauds the development [1] while ZenPundit mourns [2].

PS,

"Another thought: How many "past lives" weirdos think they were Russian peasants, romans mine slaves, or African farmers avoiding tribal slavers? No they think of the romance of the especially better off and the merchant-adventurers who moved between worlds. In there "past lives" they are lords and ladies, or of the Roman Senatorial class, or Napoleon, etc."

Certainly it depends on the version of reincarnation you believe, but if one believes that transmigration can only occur from ancestor to descendant, then it makes sense, as the peasants died out [3].


[1] http://scienceblogs.com/gnxp/2007/09/myths_may_die_but_truths_will.php
[2] http://zenpundit.blogspot.com/2007/09/linguistic-extinction-can-you-read.html
[3] http://tdaxp.blogspirit.com/archive/2007/08/07/what-if-group-ancestry-matters.html

Posted by: Dan tdaxp | Thursday, September 20, 2007

Well, in DEFENDING YOUR LIFE, Al Brooks found out he was reincarnated from an african tribesman who was eaten by a lion. Does that count, Purple?

Wisecracks aside, what seems more important than whether lost languages should be mourned is what measures are taken to protect them and why. In the case of foreign languages brought by immigrants, few would object if those skills are lost because English is more useful in this country. Nor would most people object if they were kept to maintain family ties, improve job prospects (working for intelligence agencies or multinational corporations) or simply out of love for the culture. Many would object, though, if they were forced to lose those languanges out of blind nationalism or forced to keep them (without learning English) out of mis-guided political correctness. Similar arguments could be made for other languages.

Posted by: Michael | Monday, September 24, 2007

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