More on "Economic Value of Linguistic Diversity" from Linguist-List

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Apr 3 13:51:54 UTC 2002

LINGUIST List 13.915 Tue Apr 2 2002

Message 1: Re: 13.878, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 15:04:10 GMT
From: A.F. GUPTA <engafg at ARTS-01.NOVELL.LEEDS.AC.UK>

Geoffrey Sampson said, "Latin is not a living language today, though
English vocabulary contains an enormous number of Latin- derived words".

I agree that Latin does not live as a language through its words borrowed
into English (etc.).  But I think Latin IS still a living language, now
known as 'French', 'Italian', 'Spanish', 'Rumanian' etc..  An illustration
that the spread of a language (at the expense of other languages) doesn't
necessarily lead to a monoculture.

Humans group themselves in groupings that make social sense from one time
to another. Geoffrey Sampson says: "Here in Britain the generations
younger than mine seem to be junking all distinctive features of British
culture wholesale, without even debating whether some of them might be
preferable to what replaces them.  These trends are happening mainly
through individual choices in a free market; which makes it very hard to
argue that they should not be happening."

We have to accept that social patterns, and linguistic patterns along with
them, do change, but the impulses towards unity and diversity are always
there and will always result in social and linguistic usages that reflect
group behaviour.


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Anthea Fraser GUPTA :
School of English
University of Leeds

Message 2: Re: 13.898, Disc: Economic Value of Lang Diversity

Date: Tue, 02 Apr 2002 17:53:31 +0300
From: Martin Ehala <ehala at>

Given that the process of globalisation will continue, the present
diversity of languages is going to be reduced, no matter what measures are
taken against it. However, I think that the extent of this loss depends on
whether any measures are taken at all, or it is considered an area which
should be regulated by the free market forces only.

I think that the world community should take measures to preserve the
linguistic diversity, similarly as it takes measures to preserve our
environment with its biodiversity. The bad thing is that the world has
recognised the need to spend money or to restrict production to preserve
the environment, but there little or no understanding of the value of a
diverse lingvironment.

I've been thinking of arguments that could persuade the large public and
the world's decision makers, but I have to admit that there are almost no
serious ones. The only one that might have some weight is the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis: if the language influences the way we understand the world,
linguistic diversity would enhance the global growth of knowledge which is
the basis for all technological and economic progress. Thus, the loss of
linguistic diversity would also reduce our chances of survival as species.

I think that it is up to us, the linguists, to try to raise the
lingvironmental awareness by presenting evidence that the loss of
linguistic diversity will be as damaging in the long run as the loss of
biodiversity. But at present I am even not sure whether the majority of
linguists wouldn't consider the statement above too radical.

Martin Ehala
Tallinn Pedagogical University
e-mail: ehala at

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