Re: Languages of the world

From: Rick McGowan (
Date: Thu Mar 24 2005 - 14:56:04 CST

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    Some of N.R. Liwal's questions might be considered controversial... And
    I'll jot only some of my own opinions on such matters.

    > How many languages are spoken in the world today?

    Ethnologue I think lists near 7,000.

    > How many languages are written in the world today?

    Far fewer than are spoken.

    > It might be controversial, do we have any ranking of the
    > world languages?

    Ranking on what criteria? Number of speakers? Beauty? Usefuless for some
    particular purpose?

    > How many languages are endangered?

    Oddly, *most* of them are endangered.

    > Generally many factors might have occurred for a language to
    > become endangered, which are the most important mistakes on
    > part of the speakers?

    The usual biggest "mistakes" are possession of inferior weapons and lack
    of advanced medical knowledge. Those "errors" have both often played large
    parts in language endangerment and extinction. (I'll leave religion out of
    the picture for now, but it often also plays a role.)

    > Is a culture die with a language, what we loose if a language die?

    For each language lost, a unique interpretation of the cosmos is lost.
    Each language has a unique way of carving up the universe, making sense of
    reality, relating to other humans and the environment, expressing a
    literature or a mythology. Monolinguals rarely have any idea what this
    means. My suggestion to youngsters is always to learn two or more languages
    as widely divergent as possible. Once you've done that, the answer starts
    to make sense.

    > What precautions are needed to save languages from becoming
    > endangered?

    The simple answer is that to save a language from becoming endangered, one
    must keep a population of native speakers alive and assure that their
    language is useful for sustaining their livelihood. Rarely do the speakers
    of a language, without considerable outside interference, decide to stop
    using or teaching their language.

    Rarer languages would probably flourish more if their speaker populations
    were left at peace in their original habitats.

    And of course, this is separate from the question of endangered *scripts*.
    Scripts are also endangered. Around the world some revival and teaching
    efforts are underway. Scripts often become endangered when they are less
    useful to a population than some other script -- this has happened all over
    India, for example. Minority scripts (those used by small populations) can
    also sometimes be actively suppressed or discouraged by governments --
    even unintentionally through teaching of only majority scripts in literacty
    campaigns, for example -- or simply they can be "inconvenient" to use in
    daily contexts. For example even on a platform supporting Unicode, the
    unencoded scripts can be "inconvenient" or impossible to use.

    As usual, these are only my own opinions.


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