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Janielle Guzinski

Graduate Student - Landscape Architecture,

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What will happen when the world speaks only a few languages?

Increasing levels of globalization are causing a few languages to spread at unprecedented rates. But many less common languages and their associated cultures are going extinct. Programs exist for the conservation of species and habitats at risk of extinction, but very little attention is given to language extinction. Some scientists are suggesting that there are more languages at risk of extinction than bird or mammal species

Does language extinction really matter? It is hard to imagine how the loss of a language halfway around the world would impact your life, and diversity in language makes it difficult to understand one another. But should that diversity be preserved?

References:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v423/n6937/full/nature01607.html
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01434632.2012.709973#.Ua6KRutAv_I

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        • Jun 5 2013: I see the parallel between species extinction and language extinction. Species can evolve or die out naturally over time or humans can over exploit them and degrade their habitat, causing them to die out in a relatively short amount of time.
          Similarly, as people interact with the world and each other in new ways, language will change. I do think the means by which this change occurs and the time scale over which it occurs matters.
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        • Jun 5 2013: Yes, but is it “natural” when these people have basically been forced into assimilation because of years of oppression and turmoil? What would have happened if Europeans had recognized different Native American peoples as independent nations with unique cultures and let them be?
        • Jun 6 2013: Sadly it is true that many native american languages have died out because there is not necessarily the need for them on a day to day basis. Nevertheless I think that they are important to each tribe in retaining their cultural identity. Also, if anyone remembers the film "Windtalkers", it brings to light the story of how the Navajo language was used in WWII as a code that remains unbroken to this day (http://www.navajocodetalkers.org/ is the official website of the Navajo codetalkers). For me this was an interesting example to read about given the U.S.'s history of oppressing the Native American people and forcing them off their native lands and on to reservations (Trail of Tears). Despite all of that in the U.S's time of need, despite the history with the government the people of Najavo nation were instrumental in the outcome of WWII.

          Nowadays maybe it is necessary for governments to intervene. Overtime we've recognized the importance of regional languages or native people's languages to their cultural identities and history...maybe it's time to work with the people to ensure the survival of these languages. Thoughts?
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    • Jun 7 2013: LaMar, your comment rings true with the Dutch people - it is a small nation, but extremely densely populated (16 million people crammed into a country the size of Maryland.) But, the Dutch were a force to be reckoned with in the 1600s, and hung on to their language for hundreds of years while in America, despite other language influences. This article outlines how language has been affected and survived throughout the world, despite the fact that "More than 25% of all the languages in the world have fewer than 1000 speakers.":
      http://mondayeveningclub.blogspot.be/2009/02/why-we-dont-all-speak-dutch-language.html

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