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Thread: Endangered Languages & Linguistic Diversity

  1. #1
    Curious Conlanger epistemophiliac's Avatar
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    Endangered Languages & Linguistic Diversity

    I haven't posted anything in forever, but anyways...

    In the modern, globalized world multilinguals far outnumber monolinguals in the human population. English has become a modern Lingua Franca, and through neocolonialism many minority languages are dying out at an accelerated rate and their respective speakers are adopting the language of the dominant cultural and economic power in their area. There are currently around 6-7,000 languages in the world, however; nearly 50% of the human population speak the 20 most spoken languages. The rest of the languages are generally spoken in small communities with populations of less than 10,000 people.

    So what do you think? Is it better to let them die out and to try and possibly unite the world under one language (or a few languages)? Or should we attempt to keep them alive and maintain linguistic and cultural diversity?

    I personally would at least want to try and document every language to the best of our ability while they're alive, to be able see what human languages are capable of in terms of syntax and morphology and what not, and to understand different perspectives and cultures. Documenting them would also help in recreating protolanguages and understanding history (and creating naturalistic conlangs). But once we've documented them, I don't see any reason to keep them alive. Let the people assimilate, let the language evolve or die and take its natural course. Thoughts?

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    Scobblelotcher Sistamatic's Avatar
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    Welcome back @epistemophiliac!

    One of my favorite things about a language is that a lot about history is encoded into the etymology, and while that wouldn't be lost if a language was documented, it wouldn't be experienced as deeply by someone who merely used a database. There's probably no stopping the loss of some of the smaller languages, and I think it is this loss of a layer of historical identity that makes old speakers of a dying language very sad. I believe we will fight to save dying languages, and we may slow down the loss and give ourselves more time to document them, but that they will ultimately be lost.

    A lot can be lost in translation. If five people translate the work of Tsun Tsu, you get five very different reads. Chinese poetry often relies on the second layers of meaning built into the characters. If you consider language merely a tool with which to transmit data, losing a language is no big deal. But if you consider it an artist's palette, you do lose something.

    I found this really fascinating article about how language shapes thoughts. It first debunks the racist notions introduced in the 40s, but then goes on to describe some truly fascinating things...like languages that don't use egocentric directions and how speaking one from birth turns you into a walking talking compass. There is a language that requires you to say how you know what you are saying each time you speak. Getting the context wrong makes it a lie. Each time a language is lost, we also lose a unique way of thinking.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/ma...ge-t.html?_r=0
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  3. #3
    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    http://rosettaproject.org/

    "The Rosetta Project is a global collaboration of language specialists and native speakers working to build a publicly accessible digital library of human languages."

    I agree that we're losing a lot, as in an unimaginable amount of culture.

    And even if you're bi- or tri-lingual, as many people are, you don't learn all the subtleties of any language. An educated native Arabic speaker or Bengali speaker, for example, won't speak Arabic or Bengali at the highest level in addition to not speaking English at the highest level. In fact their English is often more sophisticated than their mastery of the mother tongue, which might only spoken at home.

    If course there are exceptions, great poets who write in multiple or adopted languages, but I think that generally speaking of average people over the globe, it's true.

    I think it's an unfortunate side effect of globalization. My own writing has gotten sloppy as well. I think that the whole English language is evolving into a simpler form.

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    I don't consider language extinction to be a big deal, and I have an interest in linguistics. I definitely think common language is a more useful thing to have than diversity of language, and for the same reasons that phrase is idiomatic. Some of that may be biased by early indoctrination to the myth of Babel, but I think it holds.

    Issues like the one @Sistamatic brings up, about certain complex touches in a language, exist in every language I've ever looked at, and really aren't that big a deal when you look at them closely. For example, a writing in Chinese logographs that relies on a secondary meaning of the character is just another way of describing a pun. Like say... INTPComplex. Depending on how you inflect 'complex', you get a different meaning.

    Puns are not fragile and unique, nor are layered languages. Most languages simplify over the long haul. Korean has many many more stratifications of 'politeness' than Japanese, and yet at one time, not that long ago, Japanese also had an abundance of layers of politeness. But the strain of rapid industrialization lead to hacking it down to four strata. The speed with which they industrialized was facilitated by that streamlining of communication.

    If we're to be concerned about the extinction of languages, shouldn't we be even more distraught over the evolution of languages?

    Admittedly, to some extent, I am. I'm appalled by the thought of a world where texting shortcuts become the written form of English--or any language.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    Bringer of Jollity MoneyJungle's Avatar
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    I'm not concerned with dying languages. I don't see a practical application outside of the field of linguistics for preserving a dying language. Perhaps you could gain insight into cultural exchanges over history. I'm not opposed to preserving dying languages, I just don't see it as a priority.

    Here's a copypaste from a wikipedia article of native speakers by population share.



    I don't know enough about the nuts and bolts of Mandarin to speak to it's practicality. I hear it's difficult to learn. I hear English is difficult to learn. Utility is king in the spread of languages. Look at how few people speak Esperanto. What will the powerful people be speaking in fifty years? When will we have the tech to make real-time inter-language conversations possible? It seems inevitable barring an extinction level event. How will such tech affect what's actually coming out of our mouths, linguistically? When will English as a practical format for sharing information become obsolete in this process? What use would post-humans have for speech and language? Soylent Green is 01101101 01100001 01100100 01100101 00100000 01100110 01110010 01101111 01101101 00100000 01110000 01100101 01101111 01110000 01101100 01100101 00100001

    Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?

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    Senior Member Senseye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by epistemophiliac View Post
    Let the people assimilate, let the language evolve or die and take its natural course. Thoughts?
    Agree 100% here. Up here in Canada there are quite a few stories about how some aboriginal languages are going extinct. It's kind of sad, but given the overall problems of aboriginals, a lack of assimilation has been a serious burden to them.

    It's a shame that some of these languages can't live on through the generations, but it's inevitable when there is only few thousand elderly people that can still speak it fluently. It's just not possible to maintain a language when it falls into general disuse and when learning it is nothing more than a nod to your past.

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    Member Penguinhunter's Avatar
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    Probably the best argument for preventing language loss is one of social justice. James Crawford gives an outline of this argument:

    Quote Originally Posted by Crawford
    A final line of argument—and in my view the most effective one—appeals to the nation's broader interest in social justice. We should care about preventing the extinction of languages because of the human costs to those most directly affected. "The destruction of a language is the destruction of a rooted identity" (Fishman, 1991, p. 4) for both groups and individuals. Along with the accompanying loss of culture, language loss can destroy a sense of self-worth, limiting human potential and complicating efforts to solve other problems, such as poverty, family breakdown, school failure, and substance abuse. After all, language death does not happen in privileged communities. It happens to the dispossessed and disempowered, peoples who most need their cultural resources to survive.
    The point is that you can't easily detach the language from the community and say "they have other more important problems to deal with", or "it's fine, they can just assimilate".

  8. #8
    Mens bona regnum possidet ferrus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sistamatic View Post
    One of my favorite things about a language is that a lot about history is encoded into the etymology, and while that wouldn't be lost if a language was documented, it wouldn't be experienced as deeply by someone who merely used a database. There's probably no stopping the loss of some of the smaller languages, and I think it is this loss of a layer of historical identity that makes old speakers of a dying language very sad. I believe we will fight to save dying languages, and we may slow down the loss and give ourselves more time to document them, but that they will ultimately be lost.
    There is a trite old saying that the difference between a language and a dialect is an army and a navy. Essentially whether languages survive is a political decision because in the modern world languages are so intimately tied up with our interactions with the government, the legal system, business etc. Minority languages that have survived (say Welsh or Catalan, two examples I know of) have survived because there was a mass political movement to save them, in the case of Welsh it goes back some 150 years (the relative isolation of much of North Wales helped it too).

    I think this usually has to come from the bottom as a mass movement - top down directives on language are usually not very durable. A lot of it ultimately comes down to - is there still enough of a critical mass of native speakers to support education and a basic level of utility in a local area (this is the problem for Irish I think, too few native speakers now) and secondly do they have a well defined national identity against a which they wish to define themselves. Otherwise it will just slip away.
    Quote Originally Posted by TeresaJ View Post
    I think it's an unfortunate side effect of globalization. My own writing has gotten sloppy as well. I think that the whole English language is evolving into a simpler form.
    Although due to the creolisation with Old Norse and then later Norman French the English already has a pretty simple language. Language mixing always produces grammatical simplifications - as someone pointed out to me Spanish is - relatively - easier grammatically than Italian or French because the creolisation with Arabic during the Islamic period in Spain simplified the Vulgar Latin spoken a great deal.

    A similar process is taking place in many parts of the world where English is a second language and is mixed in with the local language (Tok Pisin, Singlish, Hinglish, Spanglish in Florida etc.). L2 learners, as you say don't really care or adapt to the subtleties of the language so you end up with a flatter less complex one. I think there is a direct relationship between geographically remoteness and complexity of language. The most complex European languages are either in or come from remote, distant, cold or mountainous areas - I'm thinking Basque, Finnish, Hungarian etc. - and many of the languages of isolated tribes in South America, Papua New Guinea and Australia are extremely grammaticall complex due to their isolation. Japan and China had deliberate policies or cultural isolation also, and their languages are regarded as relatively difficult.
    Last edited by ferrus; 06-11-2016 at 09:05 AM.
    Die Logik ist keine Lehre, sondern ein Spiegelbild der Welt. Die Logik ist transcendental. - Wittgenstein

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    TJ TeresaJ's Avatar
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    That's actually one of the things I hated about learning Spanish; I couldn't be as precise with my thoughts. I remember spending like ten minutes trying to get my teacher (native speaker in southern Mexico) to tell me the word for "warm" only to find out that it doesn't exist.

    Arabic on the other hand seems like it's 90% poetry because so much of it developed out in the desert where the language itself was the main outlet for creativity.

    But on the other hand, even though I spent about the same time studying Spanish and Arabic, I can carry way more of a conversation in Spanish. Part of that is familiarity, but i think part is the simplicity of the language itself.

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    Persona Oblongata OrionzRevenge's Avatar
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    Documentation of Languages is no less valid than any other Historical research.

    There's a PBS(?) program about studying how twisting the sounds of Vowels leads to the diverging accents.
    They demonstrated that these accents in a community morph to emulate influential and/or charismatic members.

    Morphing language is often very similar when you consider how our slang is driven by pop culture.

    So knowing who is driving the these changes tells you a lot about a culture.

    Our n00b @Taratango might like this discussion.
    Creativity is the residue of time wasted. ~ Albert Einstein

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