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Endangered Languages Ielts

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‘Endangered Languages’

“Obviously we must do some serious rethinking of our priorities, lest linguistics go down in history as the only science that presided obviously over the disappearance of 90 percent of the very field to which it is dedicated.” – Michael Krauss, “The World’s Languages in Crisis”.

A

Ten years ago Michael Krauss sent a shudder through the discipline of linguistics with his prediction that half the 6,000 or so languages spoken in the world would cease to be uttered within a century. Unless scientists and community leaders directed a worldwide effort to stabilize the decline of local languages, he warned, nine-tenths of the linguistic diversity of humankind would probably be doomed to extinction. Krauss’s prediction was little more than an educated guess, but other respected linguists had been clanging out similar alarms. Keneth L. Hale of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted in the same journal issue that eight languages on which he had done fieldwork had since passed into extinction. A 1990 survey in Australia found that 70 of the 90 surviving Aboriginal languages were no longer used regularly by all age groups. The same was true for all but 20 of the 175 Native American languages spoken or remembered in the US., Krauss told a congressional panel in 1992.

B

Many experts in the field mourn the loss of rare languages, for several reasons. To start, there is scientific self-interest: some of the most basic questions in linguistics have to do with the limits of human speech, which are far from fully explored. Many researchers would like to know which structural elements of grammar and vocabulary – if any – are truly universal and probably, therefore, hardwired into the human brain. Other scientists try to reconstruct ancient migration patterns by comparing borrowed words that appear in otherwise unrelated languages. In each of these cases, the wider the portfolio of languages you study, the more likely you are to get the right answers.

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C

Despite the near-constant buzz in linguistics about endangered languages over the past 10 years, the field has accomplished depressingly little. “You would think that there would be some organized response to this dire situation,” some attempt to determine which language can be saved and which should be documented before they disappear, says Sarah G. Thomason, a linguist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “But there isn’t any such effort organized in the profession. It is only recently that it has become fashionable enough to work on endangered languages.” Six years ago, recalls Douglas H. Whalen of Yale University, “when I asked linguists who were raising money to deal with these problems, I mostly got blank stares.” So Whalen and a few other linguists founded the Endangered Languages Fund. In the five years to 2001, they were able to collect only $80,000 for research grants. A similar foundation in England, directed by Nicholas Ostler, has raised just $8,000 since 1995.

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