Language Death (and Revival)
Dalby, A. (2003) Language in Danger: The Loss of Linguistic Diversity.
New York: Columbia University Press. Chapter 6: When We Lose a Language.
In course packet.
Wednesday 29 November.
Presented by Cecilia.
Assessment #3 Question
(Due Friday 14 December)
Why, according to Dalby, should we be concerned about language death? How
does his formulation of the question raise the same issue as the first
article we read, by Saussure? In light of what we've learned about
the complex relation between language and thought, language and
culture, etc., does Dalby's argument (in this chapter) seem strong
enough to you, or is there more to be said?
Suggestions for Further Research
- A commonly held view on language is that the popular media (television and
radio) are spreading a standard, "unaccented" version of American English
across the United States and elsewhere, resulting in the death of local
dialects and accents. Consider this view in light of the work of William
Labov, whose pioneering sociolinguistic study we read in the
language and status section of the course --
especially his recent work on American English dialectology. Does it really
seem likely that all Americans will end up speaking the same dialect?
- Several academic groups are trying to protected and revitalize endangered
languages. The Endangered Language
Fund is one, but there are several others. What sorts of projects are
being undertaken by such groups, and with what degree of success? What sorts
of philosophical and ethical issues are raised by attempts to preserve
endangered languages and cultures? You might consider how this issues has
been treated in science-fiction, including the
"Prime Directive" in Star Trek, and in this volume of a lesser-known graphic novel series.
- All languages are, in a sense,
dying: just as we can no longer understand the ancestor languages of English without some training, our
descendents (or other future inhabitants of our planet) may well not understand us. To appreciate the importance of this
problem, consider this
uniquely modern nightmare. What sort of problems do we face in communicating important ideas to people who don't speak our language?