language extinction

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Mar 17 21:16:50 UTC 2009

language extinction...,

Washington Post | Half of the world's almost 7,000 remaining languages
may disappear by 2100, experts say.
A language is considered extinct when the last person who learned it
as his or her primary tongue dies. Last month, the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) launched an
online atlas of endangered languages, labeling more than 2,400 at risk
of extinction.

Michael Blake, an associate professor of philosophy and public policy
at the University of Washington, said languages have always changed
and disappeared over time, and he argues against the idea that all
languages should be preserved. "When we have indigenous languages in
danger because of what we've done to these communities, that's the
real reason" behind preservation pushes, he said. "But it's a much
more complicated argument. It doesn't mean every language now has the
right to be immortal."

Preservation proponents say there are cultural and pragmatic reasons
to save dying languages. Many indigenous communities have in their
native tongues vast repositories of knowledge about medicinal herbs,
information that could provide clues to modern cures. The Kallawaya
people in South America have passed on a secret language from father
to son for more than 400 years, including the names and uses of
medicinal plants. It is now spoken by fewer than 100 people.
Preserving languages is also key to the field of linguistics, which
could offer a window into the workings of the brain.

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