Cambridge.University.Press.Language.Death.Jun.2000.pdf

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Cambridge.University.Press.Language.Death.Jun.2000. Language deathDAVID CRYSTALCAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESSLanguage deathThe rapid endangerment and death of many minority languagesacross the world is a matter of widespread concern, not onlyamong linguists and anthropologists but among all concernedwith issues of cultural identity in an increasingly globalizedculture. A leading commentator and popular writer on languageissues, David Crystal asks the fundamental question, ‘Why islanguage death so important?’, reviews the reasons for the currentcrisis and investigates what is being done to reduce its impact.By some counts, only 600 of the 6,000 or so languages in theworld are ‘safe’ from the threat of extinction. On somereckonings, the world will, by the end of the twenty-first century,be dominated by a small number of major languages. Languagedeath provides a stimulating and accessible account of this crisis,brimming with salutary and thought-provoking facts and figuresabout a phenomenon which – like the large-scale destruction ofthe environment – is both peculiarly modern and increasinglyglobal. The book contains not only intelligent argument, butmoving descriptions of the decline and demise of particularlanguages, and practical advice for anyone interested inpursuing the subject further.  is one of the world’s foremost authoritieson language. He is author of the hugely successful Cambridgeencyclopedia of language (1987; second edition 1997), Cambridgeencyclopedia of the English language (1995) and English as a globallanguage (1997). An internationally renowned writer, journaleditor, lecturer, and broadcaster, Professor Crystal received anOBE in 1995 for his services to the study and teaching oflanguage. He is also editor of The Cambridge encyclopedia (1990;second edition 1994; third edition 1997; fourth edition 2000), TheCambridge paperback encyclopedia (1993; second edition 1995;third edition 1999), The Cambridge biographical encyclopedia(1994; second edition 1997), and The Cambridge factfinder (1994;second edition 1997; third edition 1998; fourth edition 2000).This page intentionally left blank Language deathDAVID CRYSTAL PUBLISHED BY CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS (VIRTUAL PUBLISHING) FOR AND ON BEHALF OF THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 IRP 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011-4211, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia http://www.cambridge.org © David Crystal 2000 This edition © David Crystal 2003 First published in printed format 2000 A catalogue record for the original printed book is available from the British Library and from the Library of Congress Original ISBN 0 521 65321 5 hardback ISBN 0 511 00859 7 virtual (netLibrary Edition) ContentsPreface vii1 What is language death? 12 Why should we care? 273 Why do languages die? 684 Where do we begin? 915 What can be done? 127Appendix: some useful organizations 167References 170Index of dialects, languages, language families,and ethnic groups 182Index of authors and speakers 185Subject index 188vThis page intentionally left blank PrefaceIn 1992, linguists attending the International Linguistics Congressin Quebec agreed the following statement:As the disappearance of any one language constitutes anirretrievable loss to mankind, it is for UNESCO a task of greaturgency to respond to this situation by promoting and, ifpossible, sponsoring programs of linguistic organizations for thedescription in the form of grammars, dictionaries and texts,including the recording of oral literatures, of hitherto unstudiedor inadequately documented endangered and dying languages.UNESCO did respond. At a conference in November 1993, theGeneral Assembly adopted the ‘Endangered Languages Project’ –including the ‘Red Book of Endangered Languages’ – and a fewmonths later a progress report observed:Although its exact scope is not yet known, it is certain that theextinction of languages is progressing rapidly in many parts of theworld, and it is of the highest importance that the linguisticprofession realize that it has to step up its descriptive efforts.Several significant events quickly followed. In 1995 an Inter-national Clearing House for Endangered Languages was inaugu-rated at the University of Tokyo. The same year, an EndangeredLanguage Fund was instituted in the USA. The opening statementby the Fund’s committee pulled no punches:Languages have died off throughout history, but never have wefaced the massive extinction that is threatening the world rightnow. As language professionals, we are faced with a stark reality:Much of what we study will not be available to future generations.The cultural heritage of many peoples is crumbling while we lookon. Are we willing to shoulder the blame for having stood by anddone nothing?viiAlso in 1995, the Foundation for Endangered Languages was estab-lished in the UK. Its second newsletter, summarizing the likelyprospects, provides an informal estimate of the scale of theproblem:There is agreement among linguists who have considered thesituation that over half of the world’s languages are moribund, i.e.not effectively being passed on to the next generation. We and ourchildren, then, are living at the point in human history where,within perhaps two generations, most languages in the worldwill die out.Something truly significant is evidently taking place. There hasnever, in my recollection, been such a universal upsurge of profes-sional linguistic concern. But although the facts, and the reasonsbehind the facts, are now tolerably clear, most members of the edu-cated public – a public that is usually concerned and vociferousabout language and ecology – is still unaware that the world isfacing a linguistic crisis of unprecedented scale.Some people can’t or won’t believe it. I recall, in early 1997,writing a piece for the Guardian about my (at the time) forthcom-ing book, English as a global language. It was a retrospectiveaccount of the factors which had promoted the growth of Englisharound the world. At the end of the 2000-word piece, I added a sen-tence as a speculative teaser. Imagine, I said, what could happen ifEnglish continues to grow as it has. Maybe one day it will be theonly language left to learn. If that happens, I concluded, it will bethe greatest intellectual disaster that the planet has ever known.The point was incidental, but for many readers it was as if I hadnever written the rest of the article. The paper’s editor made it thekeynote of his summary, and most of the published letters whichfollowed focused on the issue of language death. It was good to seeso many people being alert and concerned. But the main reaction,in the form of a follow-up article by a journalist the next week, wasnot so good. He dismissed out of hand the thought that languagescould be in danger on a global scale. He had just returned from avisit to Africa, and was filled with pleasurable recollections of themultilingualism he had encountered there; so he concluded thatviii Prefacethe languages of the world are safe, and that ‘a monoglot millen-nium will never come’.It was at that point I decided it was essential to write this book –a complementary volume, in some ways, to English as a global lan-guage. The need for information about language loss is urgent. Asthe quotations from the various professional groups suggest, weare at a critical point in human linguistic history, and most peopledon’t know.Language death is real. Does it matter? Should we care? Thisbook argues that it does, and we should. It aims to establish thefacts, insofar as they are known, and then to explain them: what islanguage death, exactly? which languages are dying? why do lan-guages die? – and why apparently now, in particular? It addressesthree difficult questions. Why is the death of a language so impor-tant? Can anything be done? Should anything be done? The lasttwo questions are especially difficult to answer, and need carefuland sensitive debate, but, in this author’s mind, the ultimateanswers have to be a resounding YES and YES. The plight of theworld’s endangered languages should be at the top of any environ-mental linguistic agenda. It is time to promote the new ecolinguis-tics – to echo an ancient saying, one which is full of colourful andwide-awake green ideas (see p. 32). It needs to be promotedurgently, furiously, because languages are dying as I write.Everyone should be concerned, because it is everyone’s loss. Andthis book has been written to help foster the awareness withoutwhich universal concern cannot grow.The book would have been written in 1997, if I had not beensidetracked by a different but related project, which eventuallyachieved literary life in the form of a play, Living on, which tried tocapture imaginatively some of the emotional issues, for both lin-guists and last speakers, surrounding the topic of language death.Whether a dramatic as opposed to a scholarly encounter with thetopic is likely to have greater impact I cannot say. All I know is thatthe issue is now so challenging in its unprecedented enormity thatwe need all hands – scholars, journalists, politicians, fund-raisers,artists, actors, directors . . . – if public consciousness (let alonePreface ix . Language deathDAVID CRYSTALCAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS Language deathThe rapid endangerment and death of many minority languagesacross the. 1998; fourth edition 2000) .This page intentionally left blank Language deathDAVID CRYSTAL PUBLISHED BY CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS (VIRTUAL PUBLISHING)
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