Ladefoged (1992). Another View of Endangered Languages.

Ladefoged, P. (1992). Another View of Endangered Languages. Language, 68(4), 809–811.

“Tanzania, for example, is a country which is striving for unity, and the spreading of Swahili is regarded as a major force in this endeavor. Tribalism is seen as a threat to the development of the nation, and it would not be acting responsibly to do anything which might seem, at least superficially, to aid in its preservation.” (p 809)

“The half a dozen speakers of Angami (Tibeto-Burman) with whom I worked earlier this year had a different attitude. They regarded it as an intellectually valid pursuit for me to take an interest in their language. Admittedly, they were all high school or college educated students who had a similar intellectual interest in my language. They might therefore be regarded as part of an elite, with views that were only those of the elite.” (p 809)

“Many of the younger people want to honor their ancestors, but also to be part of a modern India. They have accepted that, in their view, the cost of doing this is giving up the use of their language in their daily life. Surely, this is a view to which they are entitled, and it would not be the action of a responsible linguist to persuade them to do otherwise.” (p 810)

“So now let me challenge directly the assumption of these papers that different languages, and even different cultures, always ought to be preserved. … Statements such as ‘just as the extinction of any animal species diminishes our world, so does the extinction of any language’ (Hale et al. 1992:8) are appeals to our emotions, not to our reason. The case for studying endangered languages is very strong on linguistic grounds. It is often enormously strong on humanitarian grounds as well. But it would be self-serving of linguists to pretend that this is always the case. … We should always be sensitive to the concerns of the people whose language we are studying. But we should not assume that we know what is best for them.” (p 810)

“In the popular view the world is becoming more homogeneous, but that may be because we are not seeing the new differences that are arising.” (p 810)

Selected References

  • Hale, K., Krauss, M., Watahomigie, L. J., Yamamoto, A. Y., Craig, C., Jeanne, L. M., & England, N. C. (1992). Endangered Languages. Language, 68(1), 1–42.
See this page at

Leave a Comment