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Endangered languages

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  • 1. Endangered Languages How Many Will Survive?
  • 2. How Many Languages?
    • Depends on how you define language.
    • Ruhlen (1987) estimates around 5,000.
    • Grimes (1988) estimates between 6,000-6,500.
    • For our purposes, lets assume that there are about 6,000 languages in the world.
  • 3. How many languages will survive the next century?
    • One estimate from Bible translation:
    • Grimes (1988)
    • - 50% done, ongoing, or needed.
    • - 40% inadequately known.
    • - 10% nearly extinct.
  • 4. Some Endangered Languages
    • Language # of speakers
    • Abenaki-Penobscot 20
    • Ainu 0
    • Coeur d’Alene 20
    • Eyak 2
    • Iowa 5
    • Mandan 6
    • Menomini 50
    • Osage 5
    • Sirenikski Eskimo 2
    • Tuscarora 30
    • Ubykh 1
    • Yokuts 10
  • 5. Endangered Languages by Region
    • Region # Extinct % Extinct
    • Siberia/Alaska 45/50 90
    • USA/Canada 149/187 80
    • Mesoamerica 50/300 17
    • South America 110/400 27
    • Australia 225/250 90
    • Russia 45/65 70
  • 6. The Distribution of Languages in the World
    • Region # of languages
    • Americas 900 (15%)
    • Europe + Mid. East 275 (4%)
    • Africa 1,900 (30%)
    • Asia + Pacific 3,000 (50%)
  • 7. Moribund Languages
    • Are children learning the language?
    • “ The question for us here is this: how many languages still spoken today are no longer being learning by children? This is a key question, as such languages are no longer viable, and can be defined as moribund, thus to become extinct during the [next] century…” (Krauss, 1992)
  • 8. Moribund Analysis
    • Krauss (1992) estimates, based largely on demographic information, that roughly half the world’s languages will be extinct by the close of the next century.
    • 3,000/6,000
  • 9. A Another Analysis:
    • Consider the conditions where the concentration of languages is the highest.
    • 9 countries with over 200 languages
    • How stable are these countries?
    • How likely are minority language likely to be protected?
  • 10. The Top Nine Countries
    • Papua New Gunea 850
    • Indonesia 670
    • Nigeria 410
    • India 380
    • Cameroon 270
    • Australia 250
    • Mexico 240
    • Zaire 210
    • Brazil 210
    • (another 13 have 160-100 each)
    • Top 22 countries = 5,000 languages
  • 11. What leads to language mortality?
    • Some factors we might expect:
    • war
    • genocide
    • social or economic upheaval
    • displacement
    • forced assimilation
  • 12. Some factors which we might not expect
    • nation state
    • universal education
    • television
    • radio
    • newspaper
    • globalization
  • 13. What about “safe” languages?
    • Does official state support protect languages?
    • About 200 sovereign states
    • English (45)
    • French (30)
    • Spanish (20)
    • Arabic (20)
    • Portuguese (6)
  • 14. Does number of speakers protect languages?
    • languages with one million speakers
      • between 200-250 (with a lot of overlap with previous category)
    • languages with .5 million speakers
      • about 300
    • languages with .1 million speakers
      • about 600
  • 15. Number of speakers may not be enough protection
    • Breton had one million speakers in living memory, but now has few children learning it.
    • Navajo had .1 million a generation ago, but now has a very uncertain future.
  • 16. Outcome of Analysis
    • The conclusion is that perhaps as much as 90% of the world’s languages could be extinct in one hundred years.
  • 17. Compare to biological diversity
    • Mammals
      • about 4,400 species.
      • 326 endangered + threatened.
      • 7.4% worst case scenario.
  • 18. Compare to biological diversity
    • -Birds
      • about 8,600 species.
      • 231 endangered and threatened.
      • 2.7% worst case scenario.
  • 19. Reasons to be alarmed
    • Scientific reasons
    • linguistic diversity
    • UG
      • Ubykh (Northwest Caucasian language)
      • Has over 80 consonants.
  • 20. Loss of Culture
    • “ Of supreme significance in relation to linguistic diversity, and to local languages in particular, is the simple truth that language—in the general, multifaceted sense—embodies the intellectual wealth of the people who use it.” (Krauss, 1992)
  • 21. Loss of Culture
    • “ Some forms of verbal art—verse, song, or chant—depend crucially on morphological and phonological, even syntactic, properties of the language in which it is formed. In such cases the art could not exist without the language, quite literally.” (Krauss, 1992)
  • 22. Cultural reasons
    • classifiers
    • kinship systems
    • space
  • 23. What to do?
    • Documentation of endangered languages before they disappear.
      • Grammar
      • Lexicon
      • Corpus of texts
      • Audio/video of native speakers
  • 24. For ‘unsafe’ languages
    • Children still learning the language
    • Change language policy to support the language and culture of minority language.
    • Produce pedagogical materials in the endangered language.
  • 25. Responses to threats to linguistic diversity
    • Do nothing
    • Document endangered languages
    • Engage in revitalization activities
  • 26.
    • It is unfortunately true that very few people (including most of their own speakers) care about the impending demise of small languages.
    • Joshua Fishman 1995. On the limits of ethnolinguistic democracy. p. 60.
  • 27. Let them die?
    • What if half the world's languages are on the verge of extinction? Let them die in peace.
    • Kenan Malik 2000. Let them die. Prospect. November.
  • 28. Normalizing change
    • Every day, English, Spanish, Russian and French, along with almost all other living languages are being altered by speakers to suit changing times…. Language evolution is taking place every day; why interfere with it?
    • David Berreby 2003. Fading Species and Dying Tongues: When the Two Part Ways. New York Times . May 27:F3.
  • 29. The reason why languages die
    • is “not because they are suppressed, but because native speakers yearn for a better life. Speaking a language such as English, French or Spanish, and discarding traditional habits, can open up new worlds and is often a ticket to modernity.”
    • Kenan Malik 2000. Let them die. Prospect. November.
  • 30.
    • the study of languages is a scientific enterprise, the effort to preserve them is not. It is a political question.
    • David Berreby 2003. Fading Species and Dying Tongues: When the Two Part Ways. New York Times . May 27:F3.
  • 31.
    • tribalism is seen as a threat to the development of the nation, and it would not be acting responsibly to do anything which might seem, at least superficially, to aid in its preservation.
    • Peter Ladefoged 1992. Another View of Endangered Languages . Language , Vol. 68 (4): 809-811.
  • 32.
    • the elucidation of language in all its complexity is an enthralling scientific enterprise. But ‘saving endangered languages’ is not a part of it.
    • David Berreby 2003. Fading Species and Dying Tongues: When the Two Part Ways. New York Times . May 27:F3.
  • 33.
    • CIPL is fully aware that as an apolitical organisation it is unable to reverse … gradual decline of many languages, because this process is largely determined by social and political factors beyond our influence. …we have to make an effort at least to record languages, … do fieldwork, … write grammars, … dictionaries, and to preserve and make accessible their oral and written literature.
    • R. H. Robins & R. Uhlenbeck eds. 1991. Endangered languages . Oxford: Berg. xiii.
  • 34. Revitalization
    • While the link between documentation and revitalization is appreciated (and desirable), the prime focus of the funding is documentation. Applicants are encouraged to structure the documentation in ways which assist the local communities to perceive and foster language and also increase the potential for ELDP funds to be combined with revitalization funds from other sources.
    • Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project. SOAS.
  • 35.
    • linguistic salvage work that consists solely of recording for posterity certain structural features of a threatened small language is inevitably a political act, just as any other act touching that language would be…. Fieldwork, however antiseptic it may try to be, inevitably has political overtones.
    • Nancy Dorian 1993. A Response to Ladefoged's Other View of Endangered Languages . Language 69(3): 575-579.
  • 36.
    • Preservation [...] is what we do to berries in jam jars and salmon in cans. [...] Books and recordings can preserve languages, but only people and communities can keep them alive.
    • Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer, Tlingit [Alaska] oral historians
  • 37.
    • If the information and political will are present, Ubykh can be revived 500 years from now. Hebrew, after all, was brought back from ancient texts into daily use after 2,000 years.
    • David Berreby 2003. Fading Species and Dying Tongues: When the Two Part Ways. New York Times . May 27:F3.
  • 38. The future of the past
    • One of the great ironies of the information age is that while the late twentieth century will undoubtedly have recorded more data than any other period in history, it will also almost certainly have lost more information than any previous era.
    • Alexander Stille 2003. The future of the past . How the information age threatens to destroy our cultural heritage . New York:Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
  • 39. Indigenous peoples and biolinguistic diversity
    • The greatest linguistic diversity is found in some of the ecosystems richest in biodiversity inhabited by indigenous peoples, who represent around 4% of the world's population, but speak at least 60% of its 6,000 or more languages.
    • Nettle & Romaine 2001. The Last Survivors. Cultural Survival Quarterly 25(2):44.
  • 40. Language loss and biodiversity
    • linguistic and biological diversity have common locations, common causes, and face common threats .
    • Nettle & Romaine 2000. Vanishing Voices. The Extinction of the World’s Languages. Oxford University Press.
  • 41. Preserving linguistic diversity through sustainable development
    • the needs to preserve languages and the need for development in the world's peripheral societies are not opposing ones, but complimentary aspects of the same problem.
    • freedom of choice is both a principal means and end of development. Good development involves local community involvement, control and accountability.
  • 42. Languages need communities
    • [A language] can only exist where there is a community to speak and transmit it. A community of people can exist only where there is a viable environment for them to live in, and a means of making a living. Where communities cannot thrive, their languages are in danger. When languages lose their speakers, they die.
    • Nettle & Romaine 2000. Vanishing Voices . p. 5.
  • 43. Inuit of Nunavut
    • are a dwindling group on the edge of the world. Their suicide rate is horrendous. But they do still speak their language. Another expression of their identity is shooting rare Bowhead whales with .50 caliber hunting rifles. The point here is not to be facetious. The hunts are not just for the meat. They are defended on cultural grounds: shooting whales is deemed essential for the preservation of identity. This, surely, is not what the ecolinguists have in mind.
    • Ian Buruma 2001. Road to Babel.
  • 44.  
  • 45. Commercial whaling
  • 46. Inuit children at residential school, Roman Catholic mission, Cape Dorset, NWT 1951
  • 47.
    • much … in common with reactionary, backward-looking visions [that] seek to preserve the unpreservable, and all are possessed of an impossibly nostalgic view of what constitutes a culture or a 'way of life'… it is modernity itself of which Nettle and Romaine disapprove. They want the peoples of the Third World, and minority groups in the West, to follow 'local ways of life' and pursue 'traditional knowledge' rather than receive a 'Western education'. This is tantamount to saying that such people should live a marginal life, excluded from the modern mainstream to which the rest of us belong. There is nothing noble or authentic about local ways of life; they are often simply degrading and backbreaking.
    • Kenan Malik 2000. Let them die. Prospect .