Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Is Language Death All That Bad?

John McWhorter echoes some of my previous musings ... I like this guy:

Yet the going idea among linguists and anthropologists is that we must keep as many languages alive as possible, and that the death of each one is another step on a treadmill toward humankind’s cultural oblivion. This accounted for the melancholy tone, for example, of the obituaries for the Eyak language of southern Alaska last year when its last speaker died.

That death did mean, to be sure, that no one will again use the word demexch, which refers to a soft spot in the ice where it is good to fish. Never again will we hear the word 'ał for an evergreen branch, a word whose final sound is a whistling past the sides of the tongue that sounds like wind passing through just such a branch. And behind this small death is a larger context. Linguistic death is proceeding more rapidly even than species attrition. According to one estimate, a hundred years from now the 6,000 languages in use today will likely dwindle to 600. The question, though, is whether this is a problem (emphasis added).

This guy needs to read my own most excellent ramblings:

Is language death a separate phenomenon from language change?

  • In terms of linguistic effect, I suspect not

Are there any favorable outcomes of language death?

  • I suspect, yes

How do current rates of language death compare with historical rates?

  • Nearly impossible to tell

What is the role of linguists wrt language death?

  • One might ask: what is the role of mechanics wrt global warming?

HT i09 via Twitter's #linguistics.

No comments:

Putting the Linguistics into Kaggle Competitions

In the spirit of Dr. Emily Bender’s NAACL blog post Putting the Linguistics in Computational Linguistics , I want to apply some of her thou...