Linguistic Diversity

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Linguistic Diversity

Post by Ran »

Quick question: why is the preservation of linguistic diversity important/necessary?

More specifically: why is it important to preserve diversity within groups that are internally similar? (e.g. the regional languages of Italy, France, and Spain)
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Post by Xonen »

Why is it important to try to preserve different species of animals, even if they're genetically almost identical? We've got humans, what do we need chimps for?

Well, not exactly the same thing, perhaps, but I'd answer both questions in a similar way. The languages (or species, in the biological example) themselves are reason enough.

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Re: Linguistic Diversity

Post by Iscun »

Ran wrote:Quick question: why is the preservation of linguistic diversity important/necessary?

More specifically: why is it important to preserve diversity within groups that are internally similar? (e.g. the regional languages of Italy, France, and Spain)


The preservation of those regional languages is part of a bigger plan: the upholding of the culture and heritage of the people who speak them.

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Re: Linguistic Diversity

Post by So Haleza Grise »

Ran wrote:Quick question: why is the preservation of linguistic diversity important/necessary?


Ask an Aboriginal elder who can't teach young people the traditional chants and stories, in an entirely oral culture; or who can't pass on the true names of the sacred sites.

Ask a Chechen, or Uighur in Western China, or an Amazonian native who has seen his entire way of life completely dissapear in a mere decade or so.

Language is culture. Every language that dies takes a culture with it.

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Post by Warmaster »

to true. if you hear welsh people who can't speak welsh {as i have heard :( } they don't seem to be a different culture anymore, they just seem to be a part of english culture, which is always a great loss. And a lot of people don't want to loose their culture, to some, it is all they have. think the basques, irish, etc
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Post by zompist »

A quirky answer: it's important because it would be greatly missed once it's gone, and impossible to restore.

In a number of areas I think we can see a progression: we start with endless local variation; modernity comes in and uniformizes everything; then all of a sudden people wonder why every place is the same, and start to value obscure and unusual things.

Mass production makes uniformity cheap, and modern style makes old and local styles seem quaint and uncool. Later, technology tends to advance to the point where local variation becomes cost-effective. Increasing prosperity also tends to revive interest in obscure things.

To put it another way: if local difference isn't important, why shouldn't the whole planet look like suburban America, so that Beijing and Barcelona and Bulawayo all have nothing but the same malls, the same restaurants, the same language, the same music, the same TV programs? Wouldn't it be boring, and possibly even politically and culturally dangerous? Variation creates flexibility and new ideas.

The thing is, restoring cultural diversity (especially in language) isn't something you could easily do after it's been lost. So maybe we should start valuing it now, while it can be preserved.

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Post by Mecislau »

zompist wrote:The thing is, restoring cultural diversity (especially in language) isn't something you could easily do after it's been lost. So maybe we should start valuing it now, while it can be preserved.


I agree with you on your points, but it is possible for revival of a language after its loss (although, like you said, it isn't easy). Cornish is an example. Because of the spread of English culture through all of the British Isles, Cornish died out in the late 1800s. About a decade after its extinction, a revival started, and now there are about 3,000 speakers of it again.

Or is the reason for this recovery because its revival began very quickly and the people wanted to keep their old culture?

See Omniglot for some more information on Cornish.

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Post by So Haleza Grise »

Oh, and another reason: for fans of Universal Grammar, we need as many sample languages as possible, otherwise whatever grammar we have might not truly be Universal.

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Post by Soap »

I would rather have the whole world be speaking one language. It saves a lot of money in translation and it enables people to go wherever they want without having to deal with foreigners who they can't understand.

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Post by hrhspence »

That would be a loss of incredible proportions.

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Post by Ran »

Let me see if I've got everyone's points down right.

1) Sentimental / Aesthetic Concerns

TK: The languages (or species, in the biological example) themselves are reason enough.

SHG: Ask an Aboriginal elder who can't teach young people the traditional chants and stories, in an entirely oral culture; or who can't pass on the true names of the sacred sites. ... Ask a Chechen, or Uighur in Western China, or an Amazonian native who has seen his entire way of life completely dissapear in a mere decade or so.

z: Wouldn't it be boring, ...

hrh: That would be a loss of incredible proportions.

2) Science

SHG: ... for fans of Universal Grammar, we need as many sample languages as possible, otherwise whatever grammar we have might not truly be Universal.

3) Cultural diversity for pragmatic reasons

TK: Why is it important to try to preserve different species of animals, even if they're genetically almost identical? We've got humans, what do we need chimps for?
(Because more diversity in a group/system means a greater chance to survive.)

Iscun: The preservation of those regional languages is part of a bigger plan: the upholding of the culture and heritage of the people who speak them.

SHG: Language is culture. Every language that dies takes a culture with it.

z: if local difference isn't important, why shouldn't the whole planet look like suburban America, so that Beijing and Barcelona and Bulawayo all have nothing but the same malls, the same restaurants, the same language, the same music, the same TV programs? Wouldn't it be boring, and possibly even politically and culturally dangerous? Variation creates flexibility and new ideas.


Anyone feels that I have left you out / misquoted you?

(Mercator: don't worry, I'll go on to your point later.)
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Post by Aidan »

I agree with alot of the points already made. And I've got an other, possibly off the wall one, related to Z's poitn about flexibility. What happens if we lose all linguistic diversity for a few hundred years, and then we run into other intelligences? Seems like we'd be at a whole new layer of crippled in dealing with them if we'd completely forgot what it was like to translate.

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Post by Miekko »

Conversely, could linguistic indiversity be maintained for very long? Can a language actually be preserved? (that is, where to draw the line between a previous language and a new one - has the previous language died when the new has been 'born'? Is this 'death' necessarily a bad thing then? Is the new language really a worthy replacement? Etc. etc.?)
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Post by jburke »

zompist wrote:A quirky answer: it's important because it would be greatly missed once it's gone, and impossible to restore.


Not entirely true. The Miami have revived their language, which went dormant in the 60s, when the last native speaker died. Thankfully, enough materials and recordings existed that it could be brought back with a good degree of authenticity (still, there are some guesses, based on other Algonquian languages that are closest to it, like Shawnee).

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Post by Rik »

For the sake of debate, may I disagree with many of the points already made?

1. On the culture front, I think the argument about preservation of language to preserve culture is disingenious. The British Isles are a good example: while the English language has come to dominate the landscape (often through some brutal repression), this hasn't weakened cultural diversity. If anything, it has strengthened cultural identification: I dare anyone on this board to walk up to a Scots, Irish or Welsh person and call them a product of English culture to their faces. Regionalism within England is also alive and kicking, even though many of the shops in the High Streets of England's towns and cities are the same. While language can be part of a cultural identification, it isn't the whole story.

2. I have a problem with the word "preservation". Languages cannot be preserved: they are dynamic entities shaped and changed by the communities that speak them. Yes, by all means capture a sample of language (ie describe it linguistically) for future research and as a historical record, but we need to accept that all living languages change and adapt on an almost daily basis.

3. I have no problem with language revival, much as I have no problem with conlanging. As long as the participants are getting some pleasure and fulfilment out of the process, then there is no problem. What I do have a problem with is when people get overzealous: cajouling, even forcing communities to speak a different language to meet their own political needs. What the authorities in the UK did to the celtic languages in the 19th and 20th centuries was, quite simply, wrong. I wouldn't like to see the process repeated, whatever the sentiments behind the idea.

4. Finally, I feel that there's a top-down process going on here. We need to remember that members of a community will choose to speak a given language in a given situation (for example Gibralter, where Spanish is spoken in the home and English in the office), and we should respect the decisions made by those individuals and communities, rather than berate them for "giving up their culture".

Just some thoughts.

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Post by Ran »

Before I respond, let me get something clear:

What is linguistic diversity? Is it

a) many communities, each being mostly monolingual in its own language, and everyone having an imperfect command of the lingua franca

or

b) each person being fully bilingual in both the lingua franca and their native language.

Also: is it possible at all to maintain B for more than a generation without going onto

c) each person being monolingual in the lingua franca.

?
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Post by Soap »

I made that post mainly because no one else had. I havent thought this issue out as well as I have some other ideas I have ... I have reached some conclusions though.

I dont want to eliminate all languages ... I just think it would be beneficial, economically and otherwise, if all the world's people could speak to each other. If people want to hold on to their home languages I wouldn't try to stop them, but I do think that there are other benefits to be gained from having only one language in the world ... children in school who would have been learning bilingual education will instead have more time to learn math and science. Really, my ultimate goal is to have the world speaking a constructed language designed to make people think more clearly, rather than a natural human language like English, which has a lot of problems. In my conworld, Baeba Swamp allows its many cultures to have their own "child languages" in order to create a sense of ethnic diversity there. Earth is different from Baeba in many ways, so I dont expect people on Earth would be satisfied by a situation like that.

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Post by hwhatting »

Mercator wrote:IReally, my ultimate goal is to have the world speaking a constructed language designed to make people think more clearly, rather than a natural human language like English, which has a lot of problems.


Heh... we humans will never think "clearly" (in the sense of being entirely logical or not mixing up concepts); if you give us a logical constructed language, it will teem with illogical usages and phraseologies after two generations.
Seriously, this kind of uniformisation has been tried and is being rejected by those cultures which had the most exposure to it, what we call the "Western World". People don't necessarily want to cling to their traditional identities, but they do want to create possibilities to distinguish themselves as individuals and groups. That's a reason for the revival of dialects and minority languages, and a part of the motivation behind conlanging (especially for community conlangs, like Klingon).
OTOH, if the current developments continue (o.k., I know that projecting on past trends mostly leads to wrong results, but never mind), we'll have English as the universal lingua franca (i.e., replacing all regional linguae francae) in three or four generations anyway.
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Post by Iscun »

[quote="Rik"]1. On the culture front, I think the argument about preservation of language to preserve culture is disingenious. The British Isles are a good example: while the English language has come to dominate the landscape (often through some brutal repression), this hasn't weakened cultural diversity. If anything, it has strengthened cultural identification: I dare anyone on this board to walk up to a Scots, Irish or Welsh person and call them a product of English culture to their faces. Regionalism within England is also alive and kicking, even though many of the shops in the High Streets of England's towns and cities are the same. While language can be part of a cultural identification, it isn't the whole story.[quote]

You're right, it isn't the entire story, but what would the French be without French? The Russians without Russian? It's a severe blow to a culture if they lose their language, and only the strongest of peoples can keep them while under brutal oppression (i.e: Celts, Greeks, etc.). The Celts of the Isles would never admit it, but they have been very Englishized. It's good that they fight to preserve their languages and traditions.

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Post by Rik »

You're right, it isn't the entire story, but what would the French be without French? The Russians without Russian? It's a severe blow to a culture if they lose their language, and only the strongest of peoples can keep them while under brutal oppression (i.e: Celts, Greeks, etc.). The Celts of the Isles would never admit it, but they have been very Englishized. It's good that they fight to preserve their languages and traditions.


First, in an ideal world, I would agree with you.

I disagree that it is "only the strongest cultures" that keep their language. Rather, I would say that it is the most isolated communities which retain their language when faced with change (such as population movement, economic shifts or political conquest). Celtic languages survived on the fringes of the British Isles mainly because of the difficulties involved in reaching those communities in the last millennium (I have no data to back this up - others may be able to point to any relevant studies on this point?)

On French, the Academe Francaise (I think) have been fighting a battle since the 19th century to keep French "pure", but the language keeps changing, currently importing Anglicisms such as "le weekend". That doesn't stop the French being any less "French" than they were before the changes happened. What I'm saying is that a culture is used to adapting to changes in it's language on an everyday basis. Just because I don't speak Middle English doesn't mean I can't claim Chaucer as an integral part of my culture.

I would argue that the "Celts of the Isles" (by which I think you mean the Scots, Irish and Welsh) have not been Anglicised through speaking English. Their histories, their social and political structures and their cultures are very different to the culture of South East England to which I belong. Indeed, they have adapted the English language to suit their own purposes and needs.

I've no problem with people "fighting" to preserve their language - indeed I would encourage it - as long as that's the choice of the individual and the community. But if someone chose to encourage their children to speak a different language (for example in the 19th century you needed Latin to be accepted by the Universities and medical schools), then I would not stand in their way. I would say it is wrong to deny a person access to better economic and political prospects in the name of "preserving" a language.

Anyways, kids are naturally good at languages. Given the opportunity, they can learn half a dozen of them fluently, and flit between them as circumstances require.

Just my point of view, of course.

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Post by Dudicon »

Mercator wrote:I would rather have the whole world be speaking one language. It saves a lot of money in translation and it enables people to go wherever they want without having to deal with foreigners who they can't understand.


I can't tell if you're joking or not here, but I sincerely hope you are.

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Post by Dudicon »

Mercator wrote:I dont want to eliminate all languages ... I just think it would be beneficial, economically and otherwise, if all the world's people could speak to each other. If people want to hold on to their home languages I wouldn't try to stop them...


Unfortunately, that's not how it works in the Real World. Once a "prestigious" language like English spreads to some area with a small population of speakers of the native tongue, the speakers will learn the language, and become bilingual in both. In most cases, they will start to lose respect for their native language, associating English with prosperity and prestige and everything they want to have, and will teach only it to their children. When that generation dies out, their children will know little of the language; some might be bilingual, but with English as their first language. The next generation will only know English, and the language will die. You can't have your cake and eat it too, I'm afraid. Either one monolithic language will take over the world, or we'll have to bungle our way forward as we are tottering ever on the edge of linguistic destruction, but at least trying to help those languages survive, rather than trying to eliminate them.

Mercator wrote:Really, my ultimate goal is to have the world speaking a constructed language designed to make people think more clearly, rather than a natural human language like English, which has a lot of problems.


So that's it, huh? Thousands upon thousands of years of human history, human struggles, wars, renaissances, empires, and nations have come and gone, and thousands upon thousands of distinct cultures and languages have risen only to have someone carelessly say that they should all be replaced by a single one just "to make people think more clearly"? I'm afraid it is you who needs to think more clearly; the languages and cultures of the world can't just be brushed aside like that, blinked out of existence--don't you even think the world deserves better than that?

And, what do you even mean talking about "a natural human language like English, which has a lot of problems"? What problems does English have that are somehow hindering the human race from reaching our true potential? I challenge you to show me one flaw in English or any other natural language that would prevent its speakers from achieving anything, and tell me how a constructed language would be better.

In a hundred years we've gone from fighting with horses and muskets to landing on the moon, having permanent dwelling places in space, splitting the atom, building the internet, and constructing buildings 1800 feet tall. Are you telling me that if we'd all been speaking Esperanto rather than English, we would have colonized Mars by now, or flown to Proxima Centauri?

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Post by gach »

Question:
"Wouldn't it be better if everyone speaked the same language?"
is logically the same as:
"Wouldn't it be better if everyone had the same culture?".

Then the next question that are very close to these two are more like:
"Wouldn't it be better if everyone dressed alike?"
"Wouldn't it be better if everyone thinked the same way?",
"Wouldn't it be better if everyone had same political opinions?"
or even:
"Wouldn't it be better if we had tiny marks in our left shoulder to mark who is in political and moralic way correct citizen?"

Trust me, people are much happier when they can be different from another. And when desining world efficiency can not be the main goal. If it's ment to make us feel more comfortable do we then feel comfortable when we are stressed?

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Post by ran not logged on »

Dudicon wrote:So that's it, huh? Thousands upon thousands of years of human history, human struggles, wars, renaissances, empires, and nations have come and gone, and thousands upon thousands of distinct cultures and languages have risen only to have someone carelessly say that they should all be replaced by a single one just "to make people think more clearly"? I'm afraid it is you who needs to think more clearly; the languages and cultures of the world can't just be brushed aside like that, blinked out of existence--don't you even think the world deserves better than that?


This is where I beg to differ.

All of the historical cultures that you so fondly hold onto have already been brushed aside by history. In a few centuries or so, English will no longer be recognizable, and neither will Western culture. Preserving rare languages and cultures does not spare them from history, and is hence an act both misguided and pointless, as long as your motivation is sentimentality for the languages and cultures themselves. (That motivation is what I can see from your entire passionate paragraph above, of course.)

(Preserving them for cultural diversity as a pragmatic feature of human civilization, though, is a different matter. But let me get this sentimentality thing out of the way first.)

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Post by jburke »

Really, my ultimate goal is to have the world speaking a constructed language designed to make people think more clearly, rather than a natural human language like English, which has a lot of problems.


It'll never happen. Natural languages are far more sophisticated and suited to the needs of speakers than anything a conlanger could devise. Even if you created the ultimate logical language, it would not remain static; it would soon become as chaotic and illogical as any natural language.

I love the mix of chaos and order that natural languages exhibit; I love winding in the labyrithes of strange etymologies and derivations. It's for these reasons that I have a very low opinion of logical languages; not a shred of fun to be found in any of them.

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