The True Cost of the Death of a Language

 

tombstone Dead Languages
Dead Languages

By the year 2100, over half of today’s languages will no longer exist. Many will just no longer be spoken while others will vanish from the face of the earth completely. They will disappear forever because they are an oral-only language and have no written record of their language. Why does this matter, as long as English, Spanish and Chinese, the three most widely spoken languages, are still here? Business, science, technology, and medicine, all use the lingua franca, English. So again, I ask, why does the death of a language matter?

Language is a means of communication, a way to get across your wants, desires, beliefs, opinions, and anything else you want to convey to another person. Language is much more than a tool we use daily to make life easier. It is a reflection of who we are as a people. Think of when we use language: Religious services and prayers, folklore, storytelling, poetry, humor, greetings, and technical vocabulary. Now imagine all of this gone. When it is all gone, it is easier to see what is truly being lost with the death of a language. It is the customs, traditions, a people’s connection and understanding to their environment that is gone, simply by a language ceasing to exist.

Language is alive. Words are born, modified and deleted as need be, but language carries on. Language defines our culture, it explains who we are and if it dies then so too does our culture. Currently over 500 languages are on the verge of extinction, as well as, their corresponding cultures. After global warming, language loss is the planet’s most grave crisis.

Causes of Death

A language disappears when its speakers disappear or when they shift to speaking another language, for example, this can happen when governments adopt one particular language over another. Language death can also be caused by economic, military, religious, cultural, or educational reasons, not to mention a people’s attitude towards its language. As the world gets smaller and the demand to speak a dominant language gets bigger, the more difficult it is to retain a minor language.

 

Language loss does not have to be a natural effect. It can be prevented. It can be prevented by teaching children, by changing laws, by creating a positive social and political environment for the language and by those willing to learn a second, third or more languages. So let’s save a language!

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