June 12, 2014, by michaelgroves
Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
How many languages are spoken in the world?
It’s quite a hard question to answer, because of definitional issues a between language and a dialect, but the answer is probably around 6,000 – 7,000. One thing is very certain, however. As shown in a piece in the Guardian, this number is dropping.
Language death is perhaps inevitable in some cases, but when it does happen, it is irreversible (since most of these languages are not written down), and will mean the loss of a human culture – which is surely to be regretted. This is especially important in a country such as Malaysia, whose indigenous linguistic diversity is both fascinating, and also under threat.
The reasons for language death are complex and interlinked, as well as politically charged. One reason that is often given for language death is the spread of very powerful lingua francas – of which English is by far the dominant one. So, this raises the question: is the teaching of English at a campus like Nottingham contributing in any way to language death?
I think it is useful here to draw some parallels. The spread of global trade can lead to exploitative trade practices, but it doesn’t have to. Modern food production can lead to frankly unspeakable exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful but at the same time it doesn’t have to.
In the same way, a global lingua franca can lead to language death, but it doesn’t have to. It is important, in my view, for the powerful in society to remember this, among many other considerations.
Language death becomes inevitable if it is not ever considered.