Language-learners at rescue.
I came across this article while surfing at 'Endangered Languages' page
I really hope that the day comes when we don't lose anymore languages like these to globalization, through pages like Duolingo where all of these courses would be available and free of charge for everyone around the globe. The day when no one is ashamed to speak in his own language and respect the language of his neighbour.
Have a lingot! You're absolutely right! I wish one day the incubator will help prevent the endangered languages from extinction, and I have had this thought since the launch of incubator. Chinese dialects (actually they are all distinct languages with different grammar and vocabulary) are highly endangered and there is hardly anything we can do about it. While it is definitely easier to communicate in Mandarin for all Chinese people (broadly speaking, one language for one community), it is a huge loss of traditions and cultural heritage if we no longer know how to speak our own dialects. No matter in China or in other Chinese communities overseas, Cantonese is relatively stronger than languages like Shanghainese (Wuu) and etc., which is both happy and sad at the same time. Currently I'm contributing Chinese in the incubator, but I wish I can do more in the future for the preservation of Chinese dialects, well, if only the Duolingo team has the intention.
Two Americans are actually doing a project called Phonemica for Chinese dialects here. Sigh, shame on the Chinese government.
I also agree with @jitengore, @Limitd, @Gelle89 and @Veekhr, please have a lingot, each of you! :)
Kudos (and lingots) to you for saying that! And with Duolingo, there is hope!
Thank you. I really hope so, 'cuz with this rate of extinction it will no be long before we lose more than half of spoken languages today.
There have been some attempts to stop these languages from extinction and while Arbereshe is protected to some degree by the Italian government, Arvantika is the one in real danger as it is now spoken only by old men. There was a declaration some time ago by the 92 year old greek national hero and parliament member Manolis Glezos that there should be better treatment of Arvanitika, but still nothing is being done on a national level.
While languages are dying, new languages are emerging. Latin was once a single form of speech, now we have all the Romance languages. The same is happening to Arabic right now: it is splitting into separate national languages. Wait for another thousand years, and the same will have happened to English and Spanish.
It's hard to say what will happen between all the English dialects. A language shared between two cultures can actually split into two completely different languages fairly quickly if they stay isolated from each other for more than a few generations. Here's a story about a language that naturally developed in one village within a single generation: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/16/science/linguist-finds-a-language-in-its-infancy.html
As long as the countries don't become too isolated from one another, the English dialects will probably grow and change together in unpredictable ways. I imagine there will be even more English dialects in the future, but I think that as long as there is some cultural and economic trade between all the countries, the dialects will still be mutually intelligible.
Yes, it is hard to predict the future. But remember that Classical Latin (with minimal changes) continued to be in use for a very long time - about 1500 years - while at the same time the way people actually spoke gradually and slowly changed. So nobody woke up one morning thinking "Hey, we have got a new language, let's switch from Latin to French now." There never was a switch, rather a diglossia that persisted for centuries. I guess something similar will happen to English. Look at what is happening in Switzerland right now: Swiss German and Standard German are used side by side, a typical diglossia; from a linguistic point of view (mutually intelligibility) these can already be considered different languages.
The point is that since people continue to use the standard language for trade, diplomacy, education etc., there will be no need to keep the different dialects that are spoken at home and between friends mutually intelligible; and in due time, these will emerge as new languages.
Of course, this is nothing but speculation.
Hi! I like your example taken from the history of Latin and the development of the romance languages. Does the example of the linguistic dynamics in Switzerland (a VERY Atypical diglossia- because no prestige is implied and no derivation from Luther's German ever existed-) apply? I do not know how the Swiss case is perceived in Germany but in Switzerland - you might recall- the different versions of Allemanich are considered languages and not a derivation from Luther's German; which in fact the Swiss see (quite correctly) as a foreign language used as a matter of c o n v e n i e n c e. So much so that now there is the idea of using English (an easier and more global language and therefore a more c o n v e n i e n t language) instead of Luther's German as the official language is Switzerland!!!
This is a very interesting thread.
As to English. Well, it is a very unstable language (phonetically speaking). Whereas Spanish is so stable (again, phonetically speaking - you may say due to its simplicity- that it has not -practically- changed since it appeared over 1100 years ago!
I think this is an amazing story of a language being born and being used only by a handful of humans. This is what came to my mind from Dr. Suess's classic: Horton hears a who!:
"A person’s a person, no matter how small."
"A language’s a language, no matter how small is the number of people who speak it."
The question is, would Duolingo at some point of time in future be willing to play the role of Horton to protect the Whovilles of the world? We know there are 3500 of them. I understand this may not be appropriate at this time. But in the long run, Duolingo seems to be well suited for such a role and I would think there will be sources to finance such a project. Luis?
I recall reading about linguists working on preserving/recording a dying language in Mexico. There were only two fluent native speakers left: two old women, who hated each other so much they wouldn't speak to each other or even be in the same room together, much to the linguists' dismay.
Why is it such a bad thing that languages are dying out? If there are like under 100 speakers, and new speakers aren't coming, then what is the point of preserving it?
I know what you mean in terms of there being less and less logical reason for the language to remain in use as the number of users declines. However the preservation of such languages is more about the sentimentality of the people's culture, it's like all those ancient physical items which hold no functional value to the modern world, but are still worth knowing about and witnessing for the stories and historical value they hold.
Just because it's not physically tangible like the Colosseum for example doesn't mean it's not worth saving!
Thanks for asking, LICA98. Here are my reasons to think it is bad for languages to die. Any diversity is a good thing. With a disclaimer that I am not a linguist, I will say that like biodiversity, linguistic diversity tells more about us human beings. Imagine if there were only 1000 people in the world and they knew only one language. The possibilities of learning about life and language on this planet would have been far less compared to the case when there were five languages spoken among them. Any heterogeneity with different patterns opens up possibility of enhanced learning.
And it is not that a minor faction of languages are dying. Out of the 7000 languages/dialects spoken today, half are on the verge of extinction.
Languages and cultures have been developed over several centuries and generations and it will be shame if we are not able to preserve and pass them on to our coming generations. The humanity will be losing a part of itself unless we act.
There would still be like 3500 left according to your stats, which is way more than enough. I think it's natural for languages to die out.
When we lose languages, a whole people lose their voice. Even though they're no longer alive, their manuscripts and verbal histories live on. When you lose the ability to understand those things, the world loses its connection with them. Even if you could translate all of their works into a currently used language, you would still lose subtleties of their language and culture.
"When we lose languages, a whole people lose their voice."
But this will always happen, even if no language ever becomes extinct, because languages are changing constantly. In a thousand years, all languages that are spoken today will not be alive anymore. Only historians and some language nerds will know some of them, but even to them the subtleties will be forever lost, because they will live in a different world and will have a hard time trying to understand our ideas and our concerns.
They can speak another language...
You might think sure it would be easier to communicate if we all spoke only one language. But a language in itself is not only knowledge of words and grammar. I like to think it more as a very important testimonial, which not only has been shaped by events dating since that language started first evolving, but also shows the cultural diversity and importance of that one society and societes around it, and also the story of every single person of this or that culture that has helped it shape. Losing a language is a great loss to humanity. It has been compared to loss of biodiversity.
I'll make an extra point here that the race to preserve a recording or transcript something of a soon to be extinct language is not just sentimentality. The historical value is important and I'm glad etymologists will have access to the recordings in the future, but losing a language is bad and not having any recording of it is worse for other reasons, and all of them have some element of self-interest to it.
Think about this then. English as a language acquired much of its richness from taking other words and concepts from other languages. If you lose a language, those potential wells of knowledge and creativity get cut off forever. And not just concepts like another name for your favorite food or another shade of green although those are important. I'm talking about an endangered language having some words for a medicinal plant or a useful farming technique that no other culture is even aware of.
And how about this reason. Studies show that language actually affects how people think and how they respond to situations. If you ask a Chinese/English speaker the same question in both languages they will answer differently based on the language. Maintaining a diversity of languages and dialects helps maintain a diversity of thought. And diversity of thought is what keeps societies from going stale and being infected by mindrot. Think about Newspeak from 1984 and how the government limited freedom of thought by limiting the vocabulary. Having less languages reduces the global vocabulary. I disagree with your assertion that 3500 languages is more than enough. I don't see how global society is better off for losing pieces of its history.
Very well said, Veekhr! dedicating five lingots for the eloquence.
Most of the dying languages are small and pretty useless in my opinion. If no one has even heard about the language before it was dead, then how was it worth anything?
Your statement makes no sense. If there is or was a language there, then someone has heard it, with the exception of sign languages.
Well not literally no one... there is a small amount of people but it's pretty much nothing.
Well, personally I doubt you would judge your own culture or experiences to be useless even if 99.999% of the other speakers of your native tongue were wiped out in some horrific catastrophe (genocide in the case of the Tasmanian languages). So how about a compromise? Disregarding the current total number of speakers for a moment let's just say that a language's worth will be most accurately determined by the people who know the language and the historians trying to record it for posterity.
You must be crazy...but The Gods Must be Crazy! too! haha
But really, I think this movie about the Bushmen of the Kalahari shows a great example of what it means to live in deep connection to a place.
The languages of Africa's yellow peoples are very unique, with a wide array of clicking sounds, natural vocabulary, which combine into a deep well of illustrative stories.
I wouldn't want to lose a special local language like these knowing that other pople already take care of keeping global languages around!