Re: Languages of the world

From: John Hudson (
Date: Thu Mar 24 2005 - 15:50:07 CST

  • Next message: Peter Constable: "RE: Languages of the world"

    Rick McGowan wrote:

    >>How many languages are spoken in the world today?

    > Ethnologue I think lists near 7,000.

    I usually give the answer 'Somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000 depending on where you draw
    the line between langauges and dialects'.

    >>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.)

    The most important factors in the death of languages are economic. Trade typically makes
    it economically beneficial to integrate with a larger community, so small linguistic
    groups start learning major regional and trade languages. It is seen as a benefit to teach
    these languages to children, to help them 'get ahead in the world', and there is less and
    less *material* benefit to maintaining one's own language. The problem of language
    preservation, which we understand as being beneficial to a kind of cultural biodiversity,
    is how to encourage preservation of an endangered language without turning communities
    into isolated linguistic conservatories, in which the option of material advancement is
    denied to people in order to maintain their language.

    >>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.

    I think the Welsh philosopher Rush Rhees put it very well: 'A language is a record of ways
    of living that have meant something'.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC
    Currently reading:
    A century of philosophy, by Hans Georg Gadamer
    David Jones: artist and poet, ed. Paul Hills

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