When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge by K David Harrison (2008)

Human languages are fascinating reflections of the human mind. The author offers engaging examples on the various myths and legends, and storytellers; classification of plants, animals, seasons; map perceptions and expression of (relative) directions; timekeeping and calendaring techniques; (body part based) numbering schemes; object/subject/gender information packaging made up by our human species, and argues that the loss of these languages is losing human knowledge gathered for millenniums. This is certainly to be argued for, and the knowledge preservation work the author and other linguists are doing is very valuable in this regard. The dilemma is that achieving preservation might not mean these languages are able to survive. While there are certainly cases, when oppressive governments cause languages to assimilate or disappear altogether, in most cases societal changes are the causes. The problem is, that many of these languages are ill suited for modern life, and do not exhibit the required flexibility to adapt. Also I do not think, it is for the author to decide, that reindeer herders are to stick to their previous style of life and so keep their language well suited for the old lifestyle going, and should not be given a choice to get a degree (possible in linguistics of the disappearing languages) outside their home village, and possibly to join the author in his noble academic quest.

No comments: