Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies
- We lose “The expression of a unique vision of what it means to be human”
- We lose memory of the planet’s many histories and cultures.
- We lose some of the best local resources for combatting environmental threats.
- Some people lose their mother tongue.
“What’s happening with today’s language loss is actually quite different from anything that happened before. Languages in the past disappeared and were born anew, she writes, but ‘they did so in a state of what linguists call ‘linguistic equilibrium.” In the last 500 years, however, the equilibrium that characterized much of human history is now gone. And the world’s dominant languages—or what are often called ‘metropolitan’ languages—are all now rapidly expanding at the expense of ‘peripheral’ indigenous languages. Those peripheral languages are not being replaced.”
SOURCE: Eschner, Kat. “Four Things That Happen When a Language Dies.” Smithsonian Magazine.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world. It requires a gargantuan leap of faith, and a good dose of ingenuity, to assume that all those translations say precisely the same thing.”
“The linguistic, ultimately conceptual, asymmetry between English and Chinese regarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights urges us to be more cautious in dealing with universal values.”
“For just one example, a subtle difference between the official English and Chinese versions of the Universal Declaration reveals a much greater schism. The majority of the thirty articles in the English version of the Declaration refer to ‘everyone’ and ‘no one’, while the Chinese translation conveys all such expressions with the phrase ‘ren-ren’, ‘人人’ – literally, ‘man and man’. This linguistic nuance is significant, since it means that the two languages convey the meaning of ‘universality’ in metaphysically distinct ways.”
SOURCE: Bufacchi, Virrorio, and Vir Xiao Ouyang. “Hens, Ducks, & Human Rights in China.” Philosophy Now.
“The Tlingit people of the Pacific Northwest have a rich and complex culture, much of which has been preserved orally. Generations of oppression and marginalization have taken a heavy toll and the Tlingit language could have vanished completely.”
“Beginning in the 1980s, decades of work have gone into mapping the Tlingit language and preserving its vast oral literature, with $480,000 in grants from NEH. The program has achieved much: Tlingit is now incorporated into every level of education in Southeast Alaska, where Tlingit words and place names are now reentering the mainstream. In 2009, linguists completed a Tlingit dictionary, which is now available online. For Keri Eggleston, a linguist on the project, ‘it’s really inspiring to see kids introduce themselves in the language, and find meaning in life through studying the language.’”
SOURCE: “Saving an Endangered Language.” National Endowment for the Humanities.