Language impoverishment

Don Osborn dzo at BISHARAT.NET
Sun Nov 9 08:19:18 UTC 2003

I came upon a phrase earlier this year that was used by the author John
Marsden in a workshop: "Language impoverishment can lead to frustration,
impotence and/or rage" (at the site ).  This was a new
take on a phenomenon that I had been thinking a lot about in the African
context (young people who learn neither their maternal languages well nor
the official languages used in school).  Further research found that another
author, Walker Percy, wrote that one result of language's impoverishment is
"a radical impoverishment of human relations."

My thinking is that well before we get to the point of concern about a
language's survival, it starts to lose vocabulary and range of expression
and creativity: it becomes impoverished. But more than being a stage in what
may ultimately end up as extinction, language impoverishment seems to have
broader social and psychological implications beyond cultural survival and
language policy.

I wrote Mr. Marsden, who kindly replied that his statement was the result of
many years of observation and not formal research (which should not
depreciate the value of such observation I would hasten to add!).  But I
would be interested in learning more about research anyone is doing on
language impoverishment in communities and its effects on individual and
community life.

Don Osborn, Ph.D.         dzo at
*Bisharat! A language, technology & development initiative
*Bisharat! Initiative langues - technologie - développement

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