I ‘stumbled’ across a fascinating article that, quite frankly, makes me feel pretty guilty by association.
The BBC’s Today page discusses the tragedy of losing a language, stating that:
“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.”
“According to Ethnologue, a US organisation that compiles a global database of languages, 473 languages are currently classified as endangered.
“The death in 2008 of Chief Marie Smith Jones signalled her language’s death
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.”
The idea that there are already languages spoken by less than 10 people, that will die when those speakers move on, is galling.
Not only did the English (and Spanish) speaking world ravage ancient civilisations (and I don’t claim to have any great historical knowledge about this), but their steady march into all aspects of global business and social networking are now slaughtering other languages in its wake.
With our, nationally, fairly abysmal record for learning other languages – save the arrogant ‘speak louder’ approach – is it any surprise that languages are dying? Should we be held responsible for wiping out languages and cultures or should those cultures be responsible for their own continued existence? With the resurgence of ‘minor’ (loathsome, patronising phrase!) reinstating themselves, it’s clear that it is possible to come back from the brink and proudly reclaim both language and culture. What of those cultures who don’t care about their language and individual future? Should they be encouraged to cling onto their own traditions or should we – the billions of us who are currently certain of our language’s cultural future – leave them to it?
Personally, I think it’s a tragedy that so much rich culture and so many wonderful traditions will be lost, but I’m not entirely sure it’s something in which ‘we’ should involve ourselves.
Now, although I’m fairly agnostic (could you get more on the fence with that phrase?), but I’ve read my fair share of theological tomes and mythological stories and where the Bible claims languages were created by God because we were naughty and as punishment we should no longer be able to speak to each other, a similar notion appears in other cultures as well.
Could it be that we mere mortals are evolving so spectacularly that we are now overcoming the massive barriers our gods lay before us? Pah … I fear my ‘easy like Sunday morning’ approach to this beautifully snowy day here in Austria may be letting me get carried away with myself!
It’s an interesting thought though, isn’t it?