Hale (1998). On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity.

Hale, K. (1998). On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity. In L. A. Grenoble & L. J. Whaley (Eds.), Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response (pp. 192–216). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

[“Introduction” (p 192) …]

“During the coming century, according to some informed estimates, 3,000 of the existing 6,000 languages will perish and another 2,400 will come near to extinction. … in the minds of many people, both linguists and non-linguists, their endangerment and progressive extinction amount to a catastrophe for human intellectual and cultural diversity … ” (p 192)

“The loss of linguistic diversity is a loss to scholarship and science. The scientific study of the mind is a venerable pursuit in human intellectual history, and the human capacity for language is the human mind’s most prominent feature. … If English were the only language on the face of the earth, we could not know literally hundreds of things which are permitted, even predicted, by universal grammar and accidentally missing in English, or any other single language.” (p 192)

“Our experience tells us that _every_ language adds something to the general program of the scientific study of grammar.” (p 193)

“The fact is, an enormous body of cultural and intellectual wealth was lost irretrievably in the course of the European colonization of the New World and the South. It was lost utterly and without being noticed, primarily because it was _mental_ wealth, appreciable only through the language which was lost with it.” (p 193)

[“Linguistic diversity and the scientific study of language” (p 193) …]

[“Local languages and the expression of intellectual life” (p 204) …]

“Of supreme significance in relation to linguistic diversity, and to local languages in particular, is the simple truth that language — in the general, multifaceted sense — embodies the intellectual wealth of the people who use it. A language and the intellectual productions of its speakers are often inseparable, in fact. Some forms of verbal art — verse, song, or chant — depend crucially on morphological and phonological, even syntactic, properties of the language in which it is formed.” (p 204)

“The last fluent user of Damin passed away several years ago. The destruction of this intellectual treasure was carried out, for the most part, by people who were not aware of its existence, coming as they did from a culture in which wealth is physical and visible. Damin was not visible for them, and as far as they were concerned, the Lardil people had no wealth, apart from their land.” (p 211)

[“Concluding remarks” (p 212) …]

“… the personal costs of language loss, the grief felt by countless numbers of people who have been prevented, for one reason or another, from acquiring the language, or languages, of their parents, or the grief of parents who, for one reason or another, have not been able to give to their children the full portion of linguistic tradition which they themselves possessed.” (p 213)

“To reverse language loss, ultimately, a certain condition must prevail. In a word, people must have the _choice_ of learning or transmitting the local language of their family, or other relevant social unit.” (p 213)

“The situation I have in mind stems from the extraordinary pressure which a dominant language puts on a local language, even where the speakers of the latter are able to live together in the same community. The pressure comes, not, of course, from the dominant language itself, but from the subtle and not-so-subtle propaganda of the associated economically dominant culture and society which encourages speakers of local languages to believe that their futures depend on switching from their native languages to the dominant one.” (p 215)

“The hard work of local language planning and development must go on, as it has been going on, in the context of the particular, usually unique, situations of local-language communities — like the efforts briefly mentioned earlier and like other established programs of the type represented by the Hualapai bilingual education program, described in the essay by Zepeda and Hill (in Robins and Uhlenbeck 1991), and by Watahomigie and Yamamoto (in Hale et al. 1992), or the Mohawk bilingual education program, described by Jacobs (this volume).” (p 216)

Selected References

  • Jacobs, K. A. (1998). A chronology of Mohawk language instruction in Kahnawà:ke. In L. A. Grenoble & L. J. Whaley (Eds.), Endangered Languages: Language Loss and Community Response (pp. 117-123). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Watahomigie, L. J., & Yamamoto, A. Y. (1992). Local reactions to perceived language decline. Language, 68(1), 10-17.
  • Zepeda, O., & Hill, J. H. (1992). The Condition of Native American Languages in the United States. In R. H. Robins & E. M. Uhlenbeck (Eds.), Endangered Languages (pp. 135-156).
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