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The politically incorrect guide to language death

Authors:

Abstract

Talk presented to the class Linguistic Anthropology, taught by Prof. Amy Paugh, James Madison University
Hieber, Daniel W. 2012. The politically incorrect guide to language death. Invited guest lecture, Anthropology 305:
‘Language & Culture’, Professor Amy L. Paugh, Department of Anthropology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg,
VA, Nov. 11, 2012.
Disclaimer:
There’s actually nothing
offensive or politically
incorrect about this
presentation.
How boring.
2
Overview
1. The standard story
2. Question the received wisdom
3. Reach the same conclusions
Why bother with this exercise?
0Conclusion: Language shift is complicated. Overly
simplistic representations don’t give us the insights
we need to address the issue.
3
The Received Story
4
0Originally 10,000
languages4
06,909 living languages
left10
050% - 90% of those will go
extinct by 210014, 7
0(Some) causes:
0Globalization
0Technology
0Overt political repression
0Cultural dominance
Responses:0
Document them before 0
they die out
Revitalization and 0
reclamation programs
Government support for 0
endangered languages
5
8
39%
77
39%
304
16%
895
5%
1,824
1%
2,014
0%
1,038
0%
339
0%
133
0%
Languages as % of World
Population10
100,000,0
00 to 999,
999,999
0%
10,000,00
0to 99,99
9,999
1%
1,000,000
to 9,999,
999
5%
100,000 t
o 999,999
13%
10,000 to
99,999
28%
1,000 to 9
,999
30%
100 to 99
9
16%
10 to 99
5%
1to 9
2%
Languages by Speaker
Population10
Endangered Languages3
3,167 currently endangered
6
Language Vitality9
7
4% 9%
10%
10%
11%
57%
Extinct since 1950
Severely endangered
Critically endangered
Vulnerable
Definitely endangered
Safe or data-deficient
Language Vitality9
8
4% 9%
10%
10%
11%
???
Safe
???
Data-deficient
Extinct since 1950
Severely endangered
Critically endangered
Vulnerable
Definitely endangered
Safe
Data-deficient
Why worry about language
death?
0Value to linguistic science
0Irreplacable cultural heritage
0Loss of indigenous knowledge about the world
0Loss of indigenous perspectives on the world
0Loss of cultural identity
0Concommitant decline in biodiversity
0Language as a human right
0Benefits of mother tongue education and bilingualism
0Language death is happening faster now than before
9
A Closer Look at Language
Death
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
~ Mark Twain
10
The Original Languages
ante 8,000 BC
0Neolithic population estimate: 10 million9
0Hunter-gathering can only support small communities
0Constant fracturing of groups into new branches
0Each group speaks a slightly different language variety
0Received wisdom:
0< ~500 1,000 speakers per language7
0~ 5,000 20,000 languages as of 10,000 y.a.
11
12
NSW Department of Education and Communities:
http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/shared/abmaps/nations.htm
0Question: Languages or dialect continuum?
0Question: Can we meaningfully compare language
statistics from today to the Paleolithic?
13
The Agrarian Revolution
8,000 5,000 BC
Sedentary lifestyle supports larger communities0
Languages grow and crowd each other out / absorb 0
other speaker communities
Received wisdom:0
Languages have been continuously on the decline0
Decrease in # of languages offset by population 0
explosion7
Earliest instance of urbanization0
Renfew0-Bellwood Effect – decrease in deep-level
diversity, i.e. the number of language families7
14
0Question: Is language death a modern phenomenon?
0Question: Are the causes of language death today
compared to in early history different in kind or
simply degree? Is language death today a
fundamentally different phenomenon?
15
Counting Languages
16
0What’s a language?
0Mutual intelligibility L1
L2
L3
L4
L5
Dialect chain
Counting Languages
17
0What’s a language?
0Mutual intelligibility L1
L2
L3
L4
L5
Counting Languages
18
0What’s a language?
0Mutual intelligibility
0Politics
0Chinese
0Serbo-Croation
0Language attitudes
0Scandanavian languages
L1
L2
L3
L4
L5
L3 = L1 or L2?
Counting Languages
19
What0’s a speaker?
Cultural knowledge = 0
linguistic knowledge
Do younger speakers 0
count?
Knowledge of quotes, 0
proverbs
Do outsiders count?0
Linguists?0
Non0-ethnic community
members?
0Are the numbers
accurate?5
0Self-reporting
0Out-of-date data
0Under-reporting
0Australian Native Title1
0Over-reporting
0A few phrases = speaker
Ecological Metaphors
20
0Originally 10,000
languages
06,909 living languages left
050% - 90% of those will go
extinct by 2100
0(Some) causes:
0Globalization
0Technology
0Overt political repression
0Cultural dominance
0Responses:
0Document them before
they die out
0Revitalization and
reclamation programs
0Government support for
endangered languages
Ecological Metaphors
0Language death / extinction
0Competition
0Language ecologies
0Preservation / revitalization
0Question: Are languages like organisms? How so?
Why not?
0Question: Which of these metaphors are useful? In
what ways?
21
Language & Ecology
0Clear correlation between linguistic and biological
diversity16
0Language ecology relationship between languages
and the people who speak them5, 6
0Strong version theory of language competition13
0Ecolinguistics branch of language ecology5
0Discounts notion of competition
0Focus on connection between language and their
‘habitat’ or social, political, and economic contexts
22
23
0Question: Are the causes of language death and biological
extinction the same?
0Question: Are the metaphors of language competition and
ecologies useful? Or do they obscure the issues?
0Question: Do languages compete/die/have habitats, or do
speakers, or both?
0Question: What terminology could we use that might more
accurately represent these phenomena?
0Question: Do you think any of the terminology we’ve
discussed is offensive or denigrating?
24
0Question: Languages naturally change and differentiate
from each other over time. Is the rate of linguistic
diversification equal to the rate of language shift / death?
0Question: Should we distinguish different types of
diversity? What types?
0Question: Will dying languages be replaced by new ones?
Will the rate of replacement equal the rate of extinction?
25
Language Birth
26
0Pidgins and creoles
0Revitalized languages
0Linguistic diversification
0Latin > Spanish, Catalan,
Corsican, French,
Italian, Galician,
Mozarabic, Occitan,
Portugese, Romansh
0Regular processes of
historical change
Chinglish0(China)
Singlish0(Singapore)
Sheng (Nairobi)0
Portu0ol (Brazil)
Nubi0(Arabic: Kenya)
Afrikaans (S. Africa)0
Gullah (S.E. U.S. coast)0
Krio0(Sierra Leone)
Kreyol0(Liberia)
Haitian Creole (Haiti)0
Patwa0(Dominica)
Ladino (Judeo0-Spanish)
Hunting for the Roots of the
Language Shift
0Question: How true are the following statements?
0‘Indigenous languages are dying because they can’t
express concepts needed for the modern world.
0‘Indigenous languages are dying because they’re some
of the most complex and hardest to learn.
0Question: What is globalization?
0Is globalization a cause or a result of language shift, or
both?
0How can globalization actually support linguistic
diversity?
27
Overt and Covert Causes
28
0Natural catastrophes
0War and genocide
0Language policy
0Compulsory education
0Linguistic nationalism
0Economic conditions
0Political autonomy
0Language attitudes and
associations
0Revitalization efforts?
0Technology?
Question0: How is language shift in autochthonous
communities similar or different to language shift in
immigrant communities?
Question: Which is more important for understanding 0
language shift – the language a person speaks, or the
language they teach their children?
29
How should we respond?
30
0“Let them die in
peace.”11
0“It is paternalistic of
linguists to assume that
they know what is best
for the community.”8
0“Patwa is keeping back
the children.”15
0“it is most urgent to
document languages
before they disappear”7
0“our global village must
be truly multicultural
and multilingual, or it
will not exist at all.14
0“Language death is a
terrible loss, to all who
come into contact with
it”5
Subjectivity and Language
0Question: Is the value of language objective or
subjective? (Note: subjective ≠ arbitrary)
0Question: Are languages mutually exclusive? Are they
even in direct competition?
31
Conclusion
0Language endangerment is complicated.
0(Sorry if you were hoping for a straightforward
conclusion.)
0Overly simplistic representations don’t give us the
insights we need to actually address the issue.
0A great deal more research needs to be done in
understanding the precise causes of language shift, so
that communities can best address this phenomenon
in the way that is most appropriate for them.
32
Contact Information
Daniel W. Hieber
Rosetta Stone
dhieber@rosettastone.com
Slides and other presentations available on website:
www.danielhieber.com
33
Further Reading
EndangeredLanguages.com0
Dying Words0by Nicholas Evans
When Languages Die0by K. David Harrison
0Why do languages die?by Daniel W. Hieber
34
Sources
1. Boynton, Jessica. 2011. The cost of language mobilisation. SSILA Summer Meeting, Boulder, CO.
2. Crystal, David. 2000. Language Death. Cambridge University Press.
3. Endangered Languages. 2012. The Linguist List at Eastern Michigan University and The University of
Hawaii at Manoa. http://www.endangeredlanguages.com
4. Evans, Nicholas. 2010. Dying Words: Endangered Languages and What They Have to Tell Us. Wiley-
Blackwell.
5. Grenoble, Lenore A. 2011. Language ecology and endangerment. In Peter K. Austin & Julia Sallabank
(eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. 27-45. Cambridge University Press.
6. Haugen, Einar. 1972. The Ecology of Language: Essays by Einar Haugen. Stanford University Press.
7. Krauss, Michael E. 1992. The world’s languages in crisis. Language 68(1): 4-10.
8. Ladefoged, Peter. 1992. Another view of endangered languages. Language 68(4): 809-811.
9. Lee, R. B. & I. DeVore (eds.). 1968. Man the Hunter. Aldine.
10. Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th edn. SIL International. Online
version: http://www.ethnologue.com
11. Malik, Kenan. 2000. Let them die. Prospect, November. Online version:
http://www.kenanmalik.com/essays/die.html
12. Moseley, Christopher (ed.). 2010. Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, 3rd edn. UNESCO. Online
version: http://www.unesco.org/culture/languages-atlas/en/atlasmap.html
13. Mufwene, Salikoko S. 2001. The Ecology of Language Evolution (Cambridge Approaches to Language
Contact). Cambridge University Press.
14. Nettle, Daniel & Suzanne Romaine. 2000. Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World’s Languages.
Oxford University Press.
15. Paugh, Amy L. 2012. Playing with Languages: Children and Change in a Caribbean Village. Berghahn
Books.
16. Sutherland, William J. 2003. Parallel extinction risk and global distribution of languages and species.
Nature 423: 276-9. 35
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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The cost of language mobilisation
  • Jessica Boynton
Boynton, Jessica. 2011. The cost of language mobilisation. SSILA Summer Meeting, Boulder, CO. 2. Crystal, David. 2000. Language Death. Cambridge University Press.
The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages
  • Lenore A Grenoble
Grenoble, Lenore A. 2011. Language ecology and endangerment. In Peter K. Austin & Julia Sallabank (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages. 27-45. Cambridge University Press.