TED Conversations

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?



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    Jun 5 2013: We have not yet discussed the future of language change - at the same time that we are losing old languages, new ones are being invented. Right now I am thinking about the urban dictionary for slang (which I use often!), hip-hop language (apparently it has the acronym HHL) and African American Vernacular Language (AAVE). Possibly what prevents them from becoming truly "speciated" is simply that there is so much communication enabled by new technologies, i.e. not as much isolation as in past history.

    I just found this relevant article printed in Science: "The Future of Language Change" by David Graddol, 2004 (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/303/5662/1329.full). One of the quotes is:

    "However, while we lose older, rural languages, new urban hybrid forms may help maintain global diversity. Cities are places where languages mingle and where language change speeds up. And the fast growing urban areas of the world are breeding grounds for new hybrid languages—just as hundreds of new forms of English have already been spawned around the world."

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