Alasdair Wilkins writes on io9.com:
Linguist and conservative commentator John McWhorter estimates the 6,000 languages spoken today will dwindle to only 600 next century. He argues that this is part of a process that will confer economic and health benefits to the affected speakers.
His main point is that the vast, vast majority of threatened languages are those spoken by isolated indigenous groups, and that these languages are, in fact, a driving force of their isolation. The language barrier prevents the absorption of such groups into the larger society, and this often leaves those affected in significantly worse economic conditions than their neighbors that speak the majority language.
McWhorter outlines how the pursuit of a better life can often mean leaving one’s ancestral language behind:
As people speaking indigenous languages migrate to cities, inevitably they learn globally dominant languages like English and use them in their interactions with one another. The immigrants’ children may use their parents’ indigenous languages at home. But they never know those languages as part of their public life, and will therefore be more comfortable with the official language of the world they grow up in. For the most part, they will speak this language to their own children. These children will not know the indigenous languages of their grandparents, and thus pretty soon they will not be spoken. This is language death.
The controversial part is where he questions the importance of keeping endangered languages alive. To be sure, he feels languages should be recorded and preserved, something for which modern technology thankfully allows, but he questions the wisdom of investing huge amounts of financial and human resources in ensuring groups continue to speak the language of their ancestors. Many such languages are extraordinarily difficult for non-native speakers to learn, which can hugely complicate the task of professional linguists who try to teach these languages. When the main motivation to keep a language alive is a relatively abstract, aesthetic one, it may prove impossible to turn the tide on language death. McWhorter compares the task to stopping ice from melting.
Read More: io9.com
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