Why Save a Dying Language?

Do you understand a language? Well, of course you do.

You would have to understand a language to read and comprehend these very words. Language is the method of communication used by people all around the globe. Currently there are approximately 7000 languages. Soon, however, only a few may remain. “90% of the world’s approximately 7000 languages will become extinct in the next 100 years” (Wallace) as stated in an article by Lane Wallace, a graduate from Brown University. The loss of language is a major issue and these languages must be protected before it is too late.

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We must grasp onto these languages that are slipping away and hold them tight. With every language we let go, we lose a culture, and a biological, social and environmental aspect of the world we live in. According to recent research by linguist Tettel Anderson, approximately one language vanishes every two weeks (Jones). This is a very rapid pace. It has managed to catch the attention of many colleges and news reporters. After intense research, a conclusion has been reached.

Globalization is one of the reasons for language loss. Globalization of language is when a particular language is spread world wide. Languages such as “English, Mandarin and Spanish, in which 94 percent of the world’s population speaks”(Sabar) are a few of the languages expected to survive. These languages are popular amongst people all around the world. Most manuals and instructions will use one of these languages no matter where they are made or where they are being distributed. Many companies assume that people are familiar with at least one of these languages.

In the near future, people who do not speak in these tongues will be pressured into learning the language as well. As explained in a book by linguist David Harrison, languages don’t literally die, they are forgotten (Harrison). Speakers from less popular languages choose to learn a more popular language to use outside of their homes. Their own language, however, does not leave their homes. After just a few generations, the language is generally abandoned.

It was crowded out by a more popular one (Harrison,When Languages Die 5). When people see such manuals they realize what the global standards are. Then, families and communities believe they have to learn these languages in order to keep up with the modernizing world. They give more importance to the more popularized languages compared to their own. Offices and workplaces will start to use this language and schools teach it to children so that they will be up to par with global standards. After a few generations, their original language will be pushed away completely.

Language is essential to the survival of culture. It is the backbone of culture. Culture is like the leaves on a tree and language is the stem supporting it. Culture is a “link to the past” (Wallace). It gives one a glance into their own heritage.

Information is passed from one generation to another using expression and language. One of the most common ways of transmitting this information is through telling stories. They are like the tales your parents tell you at bedtime. They keep cultures alive. They are the “most ancient and enduring of all human creations” (Harrison, The Last Speakers 179).

They are older than mummies and the ancient jewelry from Rome. These stories have been passed from one generation to another from parents and grandparents to their offspring. Almost every story has a moral about society. It shares values of the community to the listener. It teaches one how to survive within the culture. The full meaning of the story can only be conveyed when it is narrated in the correct language.

Otherwise some important aspects may be lost in translation. Stories also have characters that represent a general person who is emerged in the culture. It has documentation of how they live and interact with one another. Without this link, one would feel loose sense of belonging, place and purpose. This can not only uproot one’s personal life but over time can uproot large communities, and entire cultures may be lost.

Language is a system of thought. Each language is native to a particular place and to particular people. Punjabi for instance, is a language native to Punjab, a small portion of India. It is spoken by people who are able to draw their heritage to that particular place. The language is based off of that the terrain and social aspects of that area.

Each word has a meaning that is relevant to the specific people and their land. “A single of word may reflect generations of close observation of the natural world” (Harrison, When languages die 51). This is why some words have no direct translation into another language. A strawberry is a very common berry here in the USA. However, in places like Nepal, it is not a native fruit.

There is no translation. People from each area learn to utilize the resources that are available to them. Here in the USA we have learned to eat strawberries to eliminate our hunger and savor the sweet, juicy flavor. In other communities people have learned to use herbs and different plants for medicinal purposes. Science has not yet discovered many types of herbal remedies or organic biological cures that inhabit this world.

Families living in a particular area would have lots of knowledge of the fauna around them. They would know about different medical plants and ways to use them. It is, as Julia Andersen states “practical knowledge” (Jones) that we really do not want to lose. If the language disappeared, so would this information. It would take a while for scientists to rediscover this information and put these plants to use. Despite these evident reasons, many believe that these languages should be left to die.

They believe one language is plenty. It would make life much simpler to simply “stamp out regional languages and instill one” (Wallace). It would be great during travelling. It would be so easy to get around. We would all understand each other.

It does sound like a flattering idea but could be fatal to society. Firstly, there would be a huge debate on which language to choose. Then the government would have to figure out a way to teach the language. Secondly, as stated earlier, so much information would be lost. Many cultures would vanish from the face of the Earth.

Lastly, if cultures die, why even bother travelling. One travels to experience different cultures and learn new social aspects. If it were all to be the same everywhere, it would all be meaningless. Languages serve as voices for people, they have no voices of their own. They have given so much to the human society and it is our duty to help protect them in return.

Each one of these languages have immense amounts of knowledge. Using globalization as a tool is one way to help preserve the languages. “audio-visual recordings and interviews with elders who still have fluency in the language” could be saved online to help build “online archives that protect cultural patrimony” (Turin). One may be able to record their cultural ceremonies and languages on an electronic device. They could then use the internet to share it to the world and hopefully reach other people with the same culture and tongue. This resource would be more relevant to the newer generations so that they could find resources to know about their languages if they wanted to.

Technology has a great influence on this generation. It should be used to its full potential. In order to do this we must learn to use it as a tool instead of trying to fight it. Languages do not just serve as means of communications. They have much more to offer than just words allowing one to state their opinions or express feelings.

Each language is a collection of knowledge about society and the environment. Each, which is lost with each dying generation. As society moves forward we lose things that at the time do not seem important. By the time their importance is recognized, it is usually too late. We as a society have already lost many languages and are close to losing many more.

With each language, more information is lost. All of them are vitally important. So it is necessary for each one of us to understand this importance and work together to preserve these languages.