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Researchers Say Many Languages Are Dying
Thread poster: Dr. Jason Faulkner

Dr. Jason Faulkner  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:53
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
Sep 19, 2007

Here's an excerpt of an article I stumbled on today.

WASHINGTON — When every known speaker of the language Amurdag gets together, there's still no one to talk to. Native Australian Charlie Mungulda is the only person alive known to speak that language, one of thousands around the world on the brink of extinction. From rural Australia to Siberia to Oklahoma, languages that embody the history and traditions of people are dying, researchers said Tuesday.

While there are an estimated 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, one of them dies out about every two weeks, according to linguistic experts struggling to save at least some of them.


The rest of the story can be found at

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20070918/endangered-languages/


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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 13:53
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Biodiversity itself is endangered Sep 19, 2007

Thank you Jason for your interesting contribution.

This brings me at once to the fact that linguistic diversity is directly linked to biodiversity and environment.

http://www.terralingua.org/Conf%20Reports/BerkConfReport.html
... considering notions of biological diversity and diversification, on the one hand, and linguistic and cultural diversity and diversification, on the other, and outlining analogies and discrepancies between these different manifestations of the diversity of life. They heard reports about the comparable magnitude and pace of the current extinction crises affecting biological species and human languages, and examined evidence of remarkable overlaps between global mappings of the world's areas of biological megadiversity and areas of high linguistic diversity. The possible factors accounting for these correlations were discussed in light of issues of human-environment coevolution and in terms of various ways that have been proposed by ethnobiologists and human ecologists in which cultural diversity might enhance biodiversity or vice versa. In this perspective, the need to address the foreseeable consequences of massive disruption of such long-standing interactions was stressed, and the converse correlation between low-diversity cultural systems and low biodiversity was noted (...)

Linking both facts: "many languages are dying" and "biodiversity", it's not difficult to see that the complex relationship linking ecosystems, human knowledge of the Earth (especially many facts kept as "tribal treasuries") and endangered languages could be irreversibly destroyed, if no efforts are made to preserve the latter.


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Evangelia Mouma  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 17:53
English to Greek
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A story to share Sep 19, 2007

Thank you, Jason and Fabio, for the interesting links.
I'll tell you a relevant story which I read yesterday, just to share.
Nikos Kazandakis is a very good Greek author, as you may know, and also a word-collector, like Dante: he travelled around Greece and collected less-known words. One day he was in a village and asked some kids about the name of a flower. They didn't know but they said that there was an old lady (yaya) who certainly knew it. Off they go together to the yaya's house just to find out that she had just died. "One word died together with yaya" remarked Kazandzakis.

But they must have given the flower a new name, mustn't they?

Eva


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:53
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Fewer is better Sep 19, 2007

I will probably be accused of arrogance, but I cannot see the point of encouraging languages that clearly have no chance of survival.

A language is a tool for communication. Clearly, some tools are more useful than others. Unfortunately, some nationalist leaders feel compelled to oblige people, usually children, to learn minority languages that are doomed to disappear.


Surely, this would be a better world if we all spoke fewer languages, and so had more to unite us and less to divide us.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:53
Member (2002)
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One is best Sep 19, 2007

Joihn Rawlins makes a good point - languages are for communicating (and earning a living). Diversity of communications methods merely inhibits communications. Logically, therefore, the ideal answer would be to have just one world language. I realise this is a politically incorrect statement.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 18:53
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It's a dilemma Sep 19, 2007

Losing one's language is a terrible handicap for the generation or generations at the transitional stages. Being naturally gifted linguistically, we are not so seriously affected as many people are.

My Latin teacher used to quote the remark that you do not learn your own language properly before you learn someone else's, and there is a lot in it. It reflects so much culture and history that is thrown into perspective when compared with another country's way of looking a thte world.

Some diversity of languages is definitely desirable - and inevitable. In spite of all the dreams of 'one language' and 'global English', it just doesn't happen. English has never been one homogenous language, and never will be. (See David Crystal, for instance: 'The Fight for English - How Language Pundits Ate, Shot and Left' for a light-hearted, but thought-provoking discussion. ISBN 019920764-X)

East and West Germany found themselves using the language differently after being separated from 1961 until the Berlin wall fell. Barely two generations!

Tom McArthur goes all the way and discusses 'The English Languages' - Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521485827

Two more interesting books on the topic are:
David Crystal (again): Language Death - Cambridge, ISBN 0521012716

and

Andrew Dalby: Language in Danger: How language loss threatens our future - Allen Lane, the Penguin Press, ISBN 0713994436

Languages grow and develop, merge and disappear in a natural process, but the diversity and the way they 'borrow' from each other and affect each other is what keeps them alive.

I could write a long dissertation - but this is not the place and I don't have time today! (Be thankful for that - others write far better about it than I do )

But think about it...



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John Cutler  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 18:53
Spanish to English
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The course of time... Sep 19, 2007

We might as well mourn the passing of the dinosaurs. It’s a moot point and the inevitable course of history. Things come and go in this world.

Perhaps the good news is that languages evolve and change and new languages come into being over the course of time. For every language that is dying, another might be coming into being. Personally, I can envision the day when “languages” like Spanglish are considered perfectly acceptable. I believe that it too will eventually die out or evolve into something (or should I say "somethings") completely different.


[Editado a las 2007-09-19 13:07]


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 13:53
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Not only a threat to minority languages Sep 19, 2007

The thing I find most regrettable is that 'good English' is also on the 'critical' list.

MediaMatrix


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Evangelia Mouma  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 17:53
English to Greek
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diversity and extinction Sep 19, 2007

I totally agree that languages change, merge or even disappear, and that new languages appear. This is only natural.
The problem is if the fact that there are far fewer languages now than there used to be is something that should make us worry. Will there be only one language one day? Evolution favours diversity; beings without diversity, degenerated and died. So perhaps the coming into being of "...-lish" languages, like Spanglish, is one way not to become extinct. Just a thought.

And John, if Spanglish becomes an acceptable language, as you say, you will be out of work! That's not good! But of course, you, and all of us, will "evolve", too


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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 13:53
Member (2004)
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Yes, but... Sep 19, 2007

John Cutler wrote:
We might as well mourn the passing of the dinosaurs. It’s a moot point and the inevitable course of history. Things come and go in this world.
Perhaps the good news is that languages evolve and change and new languages come into being over the course of time. For every language that is dying, another might be coming into being.

Agree with you, insofar as, say, every new activity has its new jargon, its own vocabulary, even its own "tribe" if we can say that (this is not-so-joking: think, for instance, in a "tribe of informatic workers" and a "tribe of shantytown dwellers").

But...

When we think about dying languages, I don't dare thinking about Sumerian, Ancient Maya or Pali (with all the ancient knowledge that went with them...) I'm rather thinking about, say, the words of Evangelia:
Evangelia Mouma wrote:
Nikos Kazandakis (...) was in a village and asked some kids about the name of a flower. They didn't know but they said that there was an old lady (yaya) who certainly knew it. Off they go together to the yaya's house just to find out that she had just died. "One word died together with yaya" remarked Kazandzakis.
But they must have given the flower a new name, mustn't they?

Maybe the kids of this story (or rather, their elders) have already given a new name to that flower. But take it for granted that none of those remaining people knew the many healing properties hidden in that flower...
That is, for instance, what is dying together with endangered languages.


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jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:53
I am simply too outraged to even reply... Sep 19, 2007

John Rawlins wrote:
I will probably be accused of arrogance, but I cannot see the point of encouraging languages that clearly have no chance of survival.

A language is a tool for communication. Clearly, some tools are more useful than others. Unfortunately, some nationalist leaders feel compelled to oblige people, usually children, to learn minority languages that are doomed to disappear.


Surely, this would be a better world if we all spoke fewer languages, and so had more to unite us and less to divide us.


So I won't...

[Edited at 2007-09-20 17:11]


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Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 13:53
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
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A question of levels Sep 19, 2007

Please, let's try to find common ground.
We all agree that mankind needs good communication, and especially in a globalized world.
But at the same time, when we speak about "endangered languages", about "disappearing languages", it's not about "nationalist leaders compelled to oblige people"... but rather, about the opposite: languages not being taken care of. That is the main topic here, after all.

There are different levels of communication.
I can very well remember when I went on honeymoon to Mexico. In Chichén Itzá, there were local people selling their handicrafts. Among themselves, they spoke their Maya language. Whenever they saw a "criollo" (a Latin American of Iberian descent), they spoke to him in Spanish. And when they saw my wife (blonde, white-skinned) and me (big shape, white-skinned too), they automatically spoke in English, thinking we were a couple of "gringos" (US American or English or whatever), although we were actually Spanish-speaking "criollos".
Those native people really can adapt (and don't forget that many of them are even analphabets). And at the same time, I admire how those people keep their language and culture alive! It's much stronger than language politics and whatever...

[Edited at 2007-09-19 20:02]


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jmadsen  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:53
No Sep 19, 2007

Fabio Descalzi Sgarbi wrote:
Please, let's try to find common ground.


I have absolutely no desire in finding common ground with people who make such tasteless remarks.


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Liliana Roman-Hamilton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:53
English to Italian
No too Sep 19, 2007

Jørgen Madsen wrote:

Fabio Descalzi Sgarbi wrote:
Please, let's try to find common ground.


I have absolutely no desire in finding common ground with people who make such tasteless remarks.


I totally agree with Jorgen, I'm outraged too.

How can you say the fewer languages the better? Even the least used language is the expression of a group of people, with their own ideas, their traditions, their past, their culture, their history, their heritage. If their language dies, everything dies with them and a part of our linguistic heritage disappears. If we have just a handful of major languages, a huge part of our universal human history will be forgotten for ever.
It's sad to hear that every 2 weeks a language dies. This means that in a year more or less 24 minor languages or dialects die. What is it going to happen in 10 years? Can you imagine how much is going to be lost for ever?
Shortly, men won't have any recollection of our linguistic, historic and human heritage.

I really can't believe how some people, translators that work with languages, who know how important is the power to communicate, can say that "it's good to have fewer languages".

What if one day lesser used languages let's say like Catalan, Basque, Gaelic, were about to die because there won't be any more people to speak these languages, and if you John were one of these people, won't you be enraged to hear somebody say "it's ok, that language was useless anyway, we all speak English/Spanish, what's the big deal?"
All the stories, the tales, the legends, the traditions passed through generations will simply die, and soon will be forgotten.

It's sad and bad to hear things like these.
===========================================
Bruce Chatwin wrote a wonderful book, called "The Songlines" about the oral handing down of our history since Creation (he actually was talking about the Maoris, another endangered linguistic group).



[Edited at 2007-09-19 21:40]


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Liliana Roman-Hamilton  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:53
English to Italian
beautiful Sep 19, 2007

Evangelia Mouma wrote:

Thank you, Jason and Fabio, for the interesting links.
I'll tell you a relevant story which I read yesterday, just to share.
Nikos Kazandakis is a very good Greek author, as you may know, and also a word-collector, like Dante: he travelled around Greece and collected less-known words. One day he was in a village and asked some kids about the name of a flower. They didn't know but they said that there was an old lady (yaya) who certainly knew it. Off they go together to the yaya's house just to find out that she had just died. "One word died together with yaya" remarked Kazandzakis.

But they must have given the flower a new name, mustn't they?

Eva


Beautiful and sad story Evangelia.
===========================
One of my favourite poems is this very short one:

"A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day." (Emily Dickinson)

Isn't this SO true?

[Edited at 2007-09-19 20:10]


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