A language kept alive on life support, literally

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 19 19:41:38 UTC 2008

I agree with the preservationists, to an extent - there are even
expressions in BE that can't quite be translated into sE, e.g.
"pussy-whipped" is not simply an obscene way of saying "hen-pecked";
I've been intending to post a brief note on the distinction, if I can
ever figure out a way to pin it down: "in thrall to a woman's
sexuality," perhaps? However, I don't see much point in sweating
language death, now. One might as well worry about all of those
now-lost dialects of Italic, Celtic, Germanic, and Iberian, to name
only a few, erased from the pages of history by the Romans as they
constructed their empire. I'd love to know how the Neanderthals spoke,
if they did, but WTF? What're you going to do?


On Jan 19, 2008 1:56 PM, Dennis Baron <debaron at uiuc.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Dennis Baron <debaron at UIUC.EDU>
> Subject:      A language kept alive on life support, literally
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> There's a new post on the Web of Language --
> A language kept alive on life support, literally.
> 82 year old Soma Devi Dura is the last speaker of Dura, the =20
> traditional language of the Dura people living in the Western Region =20
> of Nepal. Soma Devi is mostly deaf and blind. She doesn=92t feel like =20=
> talking much, and according to Nepali actuarial tables, she may not =20
> last long. So one linguist wants to put Dura and its last surviving =20
> speaker on life support.
> As a boy, Kedar Bilash Nagila played with Dura children who had =20
> already lost their language. Now he=92s a graduate student studying =20
> Dura, and he=92s trying to take the last Dura speaker, who like many of =20=
> the Dura is also named Dura, to the capital, Kathmandu, for medical =20
> treatment and a couple of hearing aids. Drugs should allow Soma Devi =20
> to hang on for a while. And with special audiological equipment she =20
> may be able to hear Nagila, who hopes she will add to the database of =20=
> 1,500 Dura words and 250 sentences that he has already compiled in =20
> his effort to make sure that Dura survives after she=92s gone. . . .
> Languages go extinct for a variety of reasons. All the speakers of a =20
> language could be wiped out in one catastrophic event =96 just like the =20=
> meteor wiped out the dinosaurs. But in most cases, speakers give up =20
> one language for another, either voluntarily, because the other =20
> language proves more useful economically or socially, or under =20
> duress, because they=92re forced to do so by someone more powerful. . . =
> .
> Preservationists argue that when a language dies, a little bit of the =20=
> world=92s culture dies with it. Yes, and every time a bell rings, an =20
> angel gets its wings. It=92s true that every tongue has its own way of =20=
> putting =93what=92s out there=94 into words, and studying the =20
> idiosyncrasies we find in the world=92s languages gives us some insight =20=
> into the nature of language and its relation to culture and the mind. =20=
> But to give each language its own lock on reality suggests that we =20
> live in multiple separate universes and denies the possibility of =20
> translation, not to mention tourism or climbing very high mountains =20
> with the help of Sherpa guides.
> ....
> Read the rest at the Web of Language
> DB
> Dennis Baron
> Professor of English and Linguistics
> Department of English
> University of Illinois
> 608 S. Wright St.
> Urbana, IL 61801
> office: 217-244-0568
> fax: 217-333-4321
> www.uiuc.edu/goto/debaron
> read the Web of Language:
> www.uiuc.edu/goto/weboflanguage
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
                                              -Sam'l Clemens

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