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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2010 6:43 pm 
Sanno
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marconatrix wrote:
From the POV of a native English speaker there is really no point in learning another language for communication, unless you expect to find yourself in some rather odd and out of the way part of the world (parts of the former USSR? Mongolia? Remote part of S. America? New Guinea Highlands?) Everywhere else the 'natives' will not only be able, but will generally insist on speaking English.
Honestly, this makes me think you've never left the UK! While I'll grant that a large number of foreigners, on discovering that you're from "England" will want to practise their English on you (this tends to be more frequent with foreigners who aren't from Western Europe, being fair)- it's somewhat more than an exaggeration to say that the "natives" are all able to speak English. For the love of god, if that were the case all immigrants to the UK would be able to speak English, and we all know that's not the case.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2010 7:32 pm 
Smeric
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Aww, this topic makes me sad.

There are millions of animal species on this planet. What are we doing saving pandas? Pandas are ill-suited for survival in their changing habitats (else they wouldn't be endangered), they can't reproduce fast enough to maintain their own numbers, and they aren't even useful to humans for any practical purpose. Why save pandas?

They're a cultural icon. They're aesthetically pleasing. And when the second-to-last one dies, we can never get them back.

Languages are valuable for all of the above reasons in much deeper ways, and it goes even beyond that. A language is not just a means of communication. It's a way of thinking. It's a way of breaking the universe down into boxes, and no two languages divide it in the same way.

Sure, learn English if you want to "communicate" with foreigners, if by "communicate" you mean "determine the cost of this bizarre delicacy and ask for directions to my hotel." English will give you a good chance of being able to do that. But if you really want to communicate with anybody, if you really want to understand the way they see the world, you'll never be able to do it in a language other than their native one.

Language death is an emergency because with every language that dies, we lose a completely unique viewpoint on the universe. We lose insights--not just about linguistics, but about things in general--that we will never be able to get back.

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(though what you're doing conlanging in the face of such a global tragedy I'd like to know)

Dang it all, I hate this argument. At least in my case, the whole reason I'm interested in saving languages in the first place is because I fell in love with languages through conlanging. I have a hard time imagining a universe in which "Hmm, what should I do today...I could save an endangered language, or sketch a new phonology..." would be a valid situation.


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:16 pm 
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Trailsend wrote:
There are millions of animal species on this planet.


And cue the flawed analogy to biodiversity.

Now, don't get me wrong - I just spent some weeks in a Mexican village, with no hot water or telephones, documenting a moribund language. I am a strong believer in the importance of documenting languages and cultures before they die. I also support language revitalization efforts, but only with community endorsement - for without the community endorsement, we are committing the same paternalist mistake that lead to indigenous communities having such a shitty deal nowadays.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out how the biodiversity analogy is flawed. Sure, we can liken the language crisis to the extinction of animals - except for the part where we explain why it matters. For with animal species, biologists and ecologists have an entire literature of empirical and evidence-based studies, demonstrating that biodiversity is good for life on earth, that it is beneficial for the biosphere. Unfortunately, we do not have such a strong argument for languages. It has yet to be demonstrated that linguistic diversity is good (or bad!) for humanity. This is why I always call foul when I hear the biodiversity argument, as I don't want us linguists being misrepresented.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 30, 2010 11:44 pm 
Smeric
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Okay. But isn't there still a valid connection to be had?

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Unfortunately, we do not have such a strong argument for languages. It has yet to be demonstrated that linguistic diversity is good (or bad!) for humanity. This is why I always call foul when I hear the biodiversity argument


This is what I was trying to argue (albeit without empirical rigor) here:

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Language death is an emergency because with every language that dies, we lose a completely unique viewpoint on the universe. We lose insights--not just about linguistics, but about things in general--that we will never be able to get back.


Humanity is better off when we can look at things from multiple perspectives. Therefore, linguistic diversity is beneficial to humankind?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 12:22 am 
Avisaru
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Trailsend wrote:
Language death is an emergency because with every language that dies, we lose a completely unique viewpoint on the universe. We lose insights--not just about linguistics, but about things in general--that we will never be able to get back.


This is true of every human being, and has nothing to do with language. It's a fact of nature that everyone has to come to terms with at some point. Besides, we can't save languages - every language will eventually die.

Trailsend wrote:
Kai_DaiGoji wrote:
(though what you're doing conlanging in the face of such a global tragedy I'd like to know)

Dang it all, I hate this argument. At least in my case, the whole reason I'm interested in saving languages in the first place is because I fell in love with languages through conlanging. I have a hard time imagining a universe in which "Hmm, what should I do today...I could save an endangered language, or sketch a new phonology..." would be a valid situation.

I love language too, but to take your biodiversity analogy, it's like responding to extinction by randomly irradiating healthy organisms to create mutations.

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I don't know if that answers your question; is English a natlang?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 12:33 am 
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Quote:
Humanity is better off when we can look at things from multiple perspectives. Therefore, linguistic diversity is beneficial to humankind?

Why do you assume that it's valuable just because it's different?

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Sure, learn English if you want to "communicate" with foreigners, if by "communicate" you mean "determine the cost of this bizarre delicacy and ask for directions to my hotel." English will give you a good chance of being able to do that. But if you really want to communicate with anybody, if you really want to understand the way they see the world, you'll never be able to do it in a language other than their native one.

Or you know, get a job and comfortable life in a developed country, and perhaps even get a wife/husband/significant-other!


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 12:57 am 
Smeric
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Kai_DaiGoji wrote:
This is true of every human being, and has nothing to do with language. It's a fact of nature that everyone has to come to terms with at some point. Besides, we can't save languages - every language will eventually die.

So...who needs chemotherapy anyway?

Kai_DaiGoji wrote:
I love language too, but to take your biodiversity analogy, it's like responding to extinction by randomly irradiating healthy organisms to create mutations.

Er...you're gonna have to walk me through that one. Seems more like "You know what's fun? Doodling alien creatures in the margins of your class notes. Oh hey, I should check out some lesser-known real-life animals for inspiration. Whoa, those are cool! We should keep those around! But if I join any conservation projects, does that mean I have to give up doodling aliens in my spare time?"

FinalZera wrote:
Quote:
Humanity is better off when we can look at things from multiple perspectives. Therefore, linguistic diversity is beneficial to humankind?

Why do you assume that it's valuable just because it's different?

I must have phrased this poorly, because my gut response is "Because humanity is better off when we can look at things from multiple perspectives." Because when you look at something from a single perspective, you miss things. Because when you're surrounded by people who think like you, you might not even realize that there are other ways to consider what you're thinking about. Because thinking about issues from multiple viewpoints gives you a fuller understanding of them, and fuller understandings are good?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 5:55 am 
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Because if we have multiple perspectives open to us, we can choose which one to adopt (or which bits of each, of course).

Analogy: why should there be more than one clothes dye? The State could just decide a colour, say navy blue, and require that all clothes were navy blue. Nobody needs more than one colour, after all. Take red dye: why is it more valuable, just because it's different? It's not! What's valuable is when red dye becomes available, because then we can choose what colour clothes to wear.

Even if the State could provide the perfect life for everybody, in the sense that all the 'correct' choices for that individual have been made... it is still better to let the individual take the risk of making a mistake.

----

However, whether this applies to language death is still debateable. For a language to be valuable in this account it would have to a) contain a worldview that is notably distinct from its alternatives, and b) have that worldview be an accessible choice for a significant number of people.

The latter is the problem with languages that become too tied to the material culture of the speakers: accepting the language becomes accepting the material culture, and when that material culture is so... defeated by other cultures, yes it's still valuable to have the option of living in the neolithic open, but it's more valuable to concentrate on possibilities that some people might actually accept.

The former is an assumption that people make, but I don't see why it's true necessarily. Many languages in close proximity to each other are pretty similar, and I don't see how they encode significantly different worldviews from one another. They do, of course, encode social differences (ie group membership), but those will become irrelevant as the groups change anyway. So it may be that speakers of endangered, similar language (not necessarily 'genetically related' ones) would be 'better off', morally speaking, if they consolidated their score of non-viable very-slightly-different perspectives into a single language with the critical mass to actually be sustainable.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 7:08 am 
Smeric
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Why do we assume that because someone speaks a different language, they'll have a different perspective to us? A Welsh speaker who's less than fluent in English and a monoglot English speaker from Anglesey will have the same perspective on life, whilst two English speakers - from, say, London and Texas - will have different perspectives. Unless we're prescribing to some kind of uber-Sapir-Whorf, surely the culture, more than the language, is important?

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:23 am 
Avisaru
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YngNghymru wrote:
Unless we're prescribing to some kind of uber-Sapir-Whorf, surely the culture, more than the language, is important?


Isn't language the glue that holds a particular culture together? As globalization continues its course, I would argue that Anglophone (and respectively, francophone and hispanophone) cultures will continue to converge.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 9:17 am 
Smeric
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Beli Orao wrote:
Isn't language the glue that holds a particular culture together? As globalization continues its course, I would argue that Anglophone (and respectively, francophone and hispanophone) cultures will continue to converge.


Not necessarily. Not to open up the whole barrel of worms here again, but Bosniak culture, for example, is quite different from, say, everyday Croatian culture - because of the influence of Islam and other things - despite their languages and inhabited areas being practically identical.

Likewise, conservative American culture is quite different from conservative British culture, despite them sharing an almost completely mutually-intelligible language. In fact it's arguable that the main differences between British and American English are, beyond small grammatical and comparatively large accent differences, mostly culture-influenced lexical differences.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 9:47 am 
Lebom
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YngNghymru wrote:
Not necessarily. Not to open up the whole barrel of worms here again, but Bosniak culture, for example, is quite different from, say, everyday Croatian culture - because of the influence of Islam and other things - despite their languages and inhabited areas being practically identical.


It’s debatable. (That is, the sole influence of religion as the cause here is debatable.)

Surely Islam vs. Catholicism has played some role in Bosnia, separating the culture of Muslims from that of the Catholics (we had a strong Counterreformation movement there, for example), but still, it may as well be due to the fact that the westernmost borderline of the Balkans (in all senses: geographical, political — having in mind the Ottoman Empire, cultural, and linguistic — having in mind the Balkan Sprachbund) actually runs exactly through Bosnia, more or less separating Bosniaks on the eastern, "Balkan side", from Croats on the other, western side.

If you go eastwards, you’ll find the Bosniak culture much more similar with the everyday cultures of other Balkan peoples — e.g. Orthodox Serbs (especially those from Bosnia, of course), then of Albanians of all religions, of Macedonians Orthodox and Muslim, of Bulgarians, and so on... Because the cultural contacts were actually stronger from this side — coming from the Orient, and your a little bit out of context observation of just Bosniak vs. Croatian everyday culture doesn’t reveal that side of the medal. ;)


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:01 am 
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Not to open up the whole barrel of worms here again, but Bosniak culture, for example, is quite different from, say, everyday Croatian culture - because of the influence of Islam and other things - despite their languages and inhabited areas being practically identical.


Bosniak everyday culture is about as different from Croatian culture as New Yorker culture is from Bostonian culture, maybe even less so. Only a small fraction of Bosniaks adhere to Islam as a lifestyle, and for the past hundred years Catholicism hasn't been a totally defining characteristic in people's lives, either. Case in point, I'm staying with Catholic relatives, who identify more with Croatia than with Serbia. I'm an Orthodox Montenegrin Serb, and there are virtually no cultural differences, even though we're all fairly religious. The biggest difference, in fact, is dialect - their coastal language has fewer cases and many Romance words, while my central Serbian/Old Hercegovinian mix is rather conservative and has a lot of Turkish words.

There are a decent number of "Bosniaks" (really, Montenegrin Muslim Slavs) in the surrounding area, and none of them are particularly different from us Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics. One of my good friends is an Orthodox Bosnian Serb whose mother is a Muslim, he frequently stays with his Muslim family, I haven't heard about any major intra-familial culture clashes yet :P


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:36 am 
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Beli Orao wrote:
YngNghymru wrote:
Unless we're prescribing to some kind of uber-Sapir-Whorf, surely the culture, more than the language, is important?


Isn't language the glue that holds a particular culture together? As globalization continues its course, I would argue that Anglophone (and respectively, francophone and hispanophone) cultures will continue to converge.


Yeah, Quebec and France are merging so much...

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:40 am 
Avisaru
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See, I don't really see Anglophone culture becoming more homogenous. English is in the process of breaking into several distinct shards - it may be a family of languages in another thousand years.

And earlier about language death - I wasn't saying we should never try to keep someone alive. But all languages die, either through extinction or evolution. If you preserve a language and a culture, eventually it becomes a kind of zombie culture - no longer able to grow and change like living languages and cultures should, but also not able to die. And then the people who are part of this culture become disconnected from other living cultures, and then you're no better off than if the language had just died, naturally.

I'm not like in favor of language death - I'm not saying we should all go putting dying languages down, or anything. I just have a difficult time getting passionate enough about it to consider it an emergency.

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I don't know if that answers your question; is English a natlang?


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:52 am 
Smeric
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Kai_DaiGoji wrote:
And earlier about language death - I wasn't saying we should never try to keep someone alive. But all languages die, either through extinction or evolution. If you preserve a language and a culture, eventually it becomes a kind of zombie culture - no longer able to grow and change like living languages and cultures should, but also not able to die. And then the people who are part of this culture become disconnected from other living cultures, and then you're no better off than if the language had just died, naturally.


That isn't how it works, though. You don't send in a linguist, write a grammar, and then tell the community they must speak it by the book. You revitalize the language by helping the community foster fluent speakers. The language continues to grow and evolve just fine, because people are using it. The community retains a rich part of their cultural identity, and you undoubtedly learn a few cool things in the process.

Incidentally, this is another reason why the whole "why are you conlanging instead of saving endangered languages" thing doesn't hold. You can't revitalize a language in the half-hour or whatever it takes you to sketch the basics of a conlang. You could, perhaps, study the phonology of an endangered language, or try to memorize some of its grammar, or do some exercises from a book. But none of that will save the language. You could study as hard as you want and become completely fluent (for the sake of argument; I doubt you could actually achieve fluency out of books), and the language would be no better off.

Saving the language means going to where it's spoken. And it only works if the community is on board. Once the community is on board, they're the ones who have to learn the language, and they're the ones who have to use it, and teach it to their kids, for the language to really live.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:53 am 
Lebom
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Beli Orao wrote:
Bosniak everyday culture is about as different from Croatian culture as New Yorker culture is from Bostonian culture, maybe even less so.


I’d still argue YngNghymru is right to an extent, just lacking some wider context there, but still you can find everyday cultural differences between the Croats on one side (certainly including there the Montenegrin coastline and most of the historical hinterland) and the Bosniaks with the rest of the Balkans on the other side. That’s because the former have been more engaged in cultural contacts with Venice in the south, and Hungary and Austria in the north, and the latter have been more engaged with the Balkan-Orient cultural zone.

For example, what Bosniaks and other Balkanites have, and Catholics more to the west usually lack, are the notions of haram and sevap, or of muštuluk, in traditional music there you have sevdah sounds, in everyday customs, let’s say, kahva with rahatluk, or taking one’s shoes off before entering other people’s homes, and so on.

Certainly some customs have spread all over Yugoslavia once it became united, but still there are some different cultural regional traits preserved, that distinguish the "Romance (or Catholic)-influenced" Dalmatia with Herzegovina and Montegero on one side from the "Turkish (or Muslim)-influenced" Bosnia with most parts of Serbia, especially around Sandžak and Kosovo, and further to the east and south all over the central Balkans, on the other side; aren’t there? ;)


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 11:05 am 
Avisaru
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Trailsend wrote:
Saving the language means going to where it's spoken. And it only works if the community is on board. Once the community is on board, they're the ones who have to learn the language, and they're the ones who have to use it, and teach it to their kids, for the language to really live.

So what about where the community isn't on board. Look at the fate of a bunch of Native American languages. A lot of them are dying, because people realize that their children will have better prospects growing up speaking English than Navajo, or Choctaw. And those who do choose to learn Navajo (even if they also learn English) have to some degree, isolated themselves from the greater part of American culture. You come to a point where you have to make a choice - do I learn English, and give up a large part of my culture, or do I learn Navajo and give up a lot of opportunities for socio-economic advancement. And the more the culture becomes isolated, the less it is able to grow. When it becomes a choice between your traditional culture, or a completely alien white culture, then the traditional culture is preserved in a way it never was before. Any deviance means breaking tradition, and the culture can no longer innovate.

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TomHChappell wrote:
I don't know if that answers your question; is English a natlang?


Last edited by Kai_DaiGoji on Sat Jul 31, 2010 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 1:16 pm 
Avisaru
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I’d still argue YngNghymru is right to an extent, just lacking some wider context there, but still you can find everyday cultural differences between the Croats on one side (certainly including there the Montenegrin coastline and most of the historical hinterland) and the Bosniaks with the rest of the Balkans on the other side. That’s because the former have been more engaged in cultural contacts with Venice in the south, and Hungary and Austria in the north, and the latter have been more engaged with the Balkan-Orient cultural zone.


How old are you? :P The newer generations of all the ethnic groups is fairly homogeneous - we listen to the same music, go out to the same places, etc. Maybe 40+ year olds observe all these traditions you say set Catholics & Coastal Serbs apart from Muslims & Serbian Serbs, but teens and tweens generally don't.


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 3:48 pm 
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YngNghymru wrote:
Likewise, conservative American culture is quite different from conservative British culture, despite them sharing an almost completely mutually-intelligible language. In fact it's arguable that the main differences between British and American English are, beyond small grammatical and comparatively large accent differences, mostly culture-influenced lexical differences.

How much of the lexical difference is culture-influenced?

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 31, 2010 6:06 pm 
Lebom
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Beli Orao wrote:
How old are you? :P The newer generations of all the ethnic groups is fairly homogeneous - we listen to the same music, go out to the same places, etc. Maybe 40+ year olds observe all these traditions you say set Catholics & Coastal Serbs apart from Muslims & Serbian Serbs, but teens and tweens generally don't.


Of course, I believe that. :) I’ve actually been aiming at a more traditional cultural setting. The modern way of life wipes out all those regional differences — not just in Yugoslavia but worldwide.


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:23 am 
Smeric
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Quote:
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This is a fact of the world that constantly pains me. The fact that we will never know what the Vandal armies who sacked rome spoke, or the bronze age farmers of Pre-PIE Europe, or the many, many ancestors of the hill tribes of south China that were eventually assimilated into Chinese society. I wan't to stop this from going any further. Like you, my economic situation limits me from field linguistics (for now, at least), but for now learning what languages I can and becomeing something of a living repository will have to do

If that's what you want to devote your life to, fine - although there are more important things, I think. But why should any of us do likewise?
Because unless you're referring to global warming or world poverty or something, I don't see that there really IS anything more important than the death of indigenous cultures

Quote:
But I am not Makah. I will never be Makah. Or at least, becoming Makah would involve completely changing every facet of my life. I have no connexion to the Makah either diachronic or synchronic. English? It's my mother tongue. Irish? The language of my maternal linneage. Cumbrian dialect? My father grew up with it. French, German, Latin, Greek? All four essential ingredients in the European culture of which I am an inheritor. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Czech, Polish... the languages of sibling nations whose rich reflections of my own culture will enhance my own identity.

Makah? It's nothing to do with me. Not only will I never BE Makah, I'll never even meet any Makah. Their cultural tradition is a tradition with which I have no contact whatsoever. Attempting to inveigle myself into that tradition would not only be pointless from my point of view, and tantamount to pointless from their point of view (I'm not going to convince many other Londoners to learn Makah, after all), but would also be of debateable legitimacy.

So sure, I'm in favour of endangered languages being revitalised, by persuading their constituencies to re-embrace them, but let's not pretend that I'm a part of that constituency.


Preservation is very nice, but I'm more interested in documentation, since once that happens a language is saved and stored for posterity, and can't really die. My objection (If I haven't maid it plain enough already) was at how aggravating it is to see well established languages like the Romance languages continue to get undue attention while languages which will be extinct within a decade are either undocumented or exist only in terse and academic grammatical descriptions and texts, things that would be useful for studying grammatical properties in general but which give prospective learners no aid in actually getting a feel for the language.


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