I have chosen this subject of language and identity, which leads to the death of a language, if language dies. Language and identity comes under my course, part 1, under language and cultural context. On the 4th of February 2010, while browsing through BBC’s website I stumbled upon a captivating and according to me a very sad article. It read “last speaker of ancient language of Bo dies in India”, Boa sr.’s story saddened me, she died at the age of 85 and for almost thirty years she didn’t have anyone to converse with in her native language. Imagine not being able to use English for thirty years, you loose the freedom to express in your first language. As a journalist I knew what it meant for the world to loose a language, its disheartening, in essence a piece of history and culture is lost, I believe it is as important to preserve and save a language as it is to save and preserve the environment, but everyone is not aware of the adverse affects language death can cause. As a journalist, I thought of it as my moral responsibility to throw light on language death and its adverse effects. Thus, I wrote this article and decided on publishing it in a newspaper as it would reach a larger group of people and educate them on why they should preserve their native language.
Approximately 7000 languages exist in today’s world and this number is rapidly dwindling, is it a cause for concern?
As globalization spreads around the world, it is natural that smaller communities would like to move out of their isolation and seek interaction with the rest of the world. The number of languages dying is sorrowful. People naturally tend to shift their language use due to globalization and they leave behind their native language if it is not spoken by a lot of people. Asking them to hold onto a language they do not want anymore and preserve it, just for the sake of linguists and not the community itself, it is a bit too much to ask for, isn’t it?But there’s actually more to it than what meets the eye.
Why fight this?
A national geographic study states that every 14 days a language dies. By 2100 more than half of the languages spoken on this earth may disappear, taking away with them a wealth of knowledge on world history, culture and natural environment.
” Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.” – Rita Mae Brown
This quote by the American writer Rita Mae Brown gives us an insight into why preserving a language is of importance. A language defines a culture, through the people who speak it. Every language has words that describe a particular cultural practice or idea, when translated into another language, the precise meaning might not come across. What we essentially lose is cultural heritage. The way of expressing the relationship with nature, with the world, it is also the way in which people express humor, their love, their life; most importantly communicating effectively with family is lost. Languages are living, breathing organisms holding connections that define a culture. When a language dies a culture is lost.
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Because of the close links language and identity share, if an individual or group thinks of their language as useless, they think of their identity as the same. This could have adverse effects; it could lead to depression, drug abuse and social disruption. And as parents no longer pass on their language to their children the connection between grandparents and children is lost which leads to traditional values not being handed on and there’s a vacuum that remains where people for generations realize they have lost something.
Many languages are in danger of extinction thathave rich oral cultures with stories, songs, and histories passed on from generation to generation, but with no particular written form. Much of what us humans know about nature is encoded in oral languages. For thousands of years now native groups have interacted closely with the natural world and have insightful understanding on local lands, plants, animals, and ecosystems. Many still are not documented by science itself. Therefore studying indigenous languages proves to be beneficial while learning about the environment and conservation.
Sanskrit is one such ancient language that is loosing its prominence and its speakers decreasing everyday. It was said to be the mother of all languages. Sanskrit is not practically used and maybe that is one of reasons of its decline but I believe it should be conserved because of the traditional values it possesses and because of its richness in culture. Take for instance Arthashastra, it is an Indian treatise written in Sanskrit which deals with statecraft, economic policy and military strategy it was written all the way back in 4th century BC. These concepts are not new and modern, they have been around for a long time now, if we do not conserve Sanskrit we will loose all of this valuable knowledge and also lose a piece of history.
All is not lost for those who want the smaller languages to survive.
Another such language dying out is Palenquero. Palenquero is thought to the one and only Spanish-based Creole language in Latin America. Fewer than half of the community speaks it. It is spoken in the village of San Basilio De Palenque. Many children and young adults understand the language and pronounce a few phrases, which is a great sign as the village of San Basilio De Palenque is trying to preserve its language and spread it, the village’s resilience is commendable. And other communities whose languages are close to extinction should look at them as an example.
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Why do languages die out though? Throughout history, the languages of powerful groups and imperial countries have spread while the languages of the smaller cultures and groups have become extinct. This happens due to official language policies and also the allure of speaking a highly prestigious global language such as English. These trends explain why a small country like Bolivia would have more of language diversity rather than a big country like the USA.
As big languages spread, children whose parents speak a comparatively smaller language tend to grow up learning the more dominant language. Those children may never learn the smaller language, or they may just forget it as it falls out of use. These trends have occurred throughout history, but what is alarming and worrying is the rate at which languages are disappearing, it has significantly accelerated over the recent years.
Associations and initiatives such as Enduring voices, Living tongue, and the endangered languages project by Google are trying to preserve language and that is a sign of hope. The organizations that are involved and that have come up with these ideas are national geographic and Google.
The death of a language is an indication of a human crisis: the loss of a store of wisdom, the sense of a community being thrown away. As we try to stop global warming and save the environment, we should also try and save our languages, as they are an integral part of our heritage.
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