Language in Danger: How Language Loss Threatens Our Future

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9780140290646: Language in Danger: How Language Loss Threatens Our Future

Every two weeks a language dies. Of the estimated 5000 languages spoken worldwide, from Cherokee to Cornish, only half are likely to survive to the end of this century. What does this mean for the human race? Will we eventually become a one-language planet? And does it even matter? This study shows why language loss affects us all. It explores how languages become extinct: through political power, in the case of Latin engulfing the Ancient Mediterranean; through brute force, such as that used against the Native Americans and Australians; and through economics - as the phenomenal rise of English as the language of business and mass communications shows. Andrew Dalby also explains how this linguistic globalization means a loss not just of cultural identity and diversity, but also of the unique world-view and acquired local knowledge enshrined in the way we speak. The consequences, Dalby argues, will be devastating - not just for language, but for the future of humankind itself.

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About the Author:

Andrew Dalby is Honorary Librarian at the Institute of Linguists and author of Dictionary Of Languages (Bloomsbury 1998). He also writes on food. He lives in France.

From Publishers Weekly:

Even if short on solutions, this argument about why we should care about the present-day loss of languages is generally convincing. An honorary fellow at the U.K.'s Institute of Linguistics, Dalby (A Dictionary of Languages) begins by exploring the nature of language, then uses historical evidence (in sometimes wearying detail) from such far-flung theaters as the Roman Empire, Wales, Australia and Hawaii to formulate principles about how languages grow apart, come together, and compete with one another. Of the 5,000 languages currently spoken, he predicts that half will not survive the present century; that there may be as few as 200 languages in less than two centuries; and that, some time after that, the only language spoken may be English. The principal culprits, on his account, are national and international tongues (especially English) that squeeze out minority languages-sometimes by political violence, but more often through the choices of individuals pursuing prosperity by giving up their ancestral speech. If one day we do all end up "speaking in more or less the same way," he warns that we will lose three valuable things: the ethnobotanical and other local knowledge that had been preserved by the vanished languages; the alternative world views those languages embodied; and the linguistic innovation our own language could have enjoyed from interacting with those languages. Unfortunately, Dalby's own case for the inevitability of language loss makes it hard to see what anyone can do to stop it, so his final call for us to "find another way" falls flat. Nevertheless, the book does succeed in posing the problem accessibly, and may even prod some readers into trying to learn or relearn another language.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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