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Rezzy

Death of Languages

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Doing reading on the history of language evolution and in modern history, there's been a lot of discussion about how many languages are in danger and/or have been getting revival movements.  These seem to be mostly with indigenous populations, but it's also been a thing with Gaelic languages and such in Europe.  Preserving a language seems like a nice thing and helps preserve a culture, but is languages dying off necessarily a bad thing?

The world moving to fewer, more dominant languages definitely helps people communicate.  You can speak in English with people all over the world, and French, Spanish, and Mandarin also serve as lingua francas.  That would hardly be possible, if people two cities over each had their own unique language.  Languages dying or being absorbed isn't a new thing, either.  I remember reading somewhere that only a few centuries ago, only the area surrounding Paris spoke French as we know it today, and the rest of France spoke different dialects of French that were almost unintelligible, depending on how far apart they were.  There was another anecdote I read, where in the middle ages, a man from London was visiting Kent, and thought they spoke French, because they spoke such a different version of English than him.

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Being an Irish person and some one who, despite what I would say, really cares for my language, I think the preservation of language is very important.

While yes it would be so much easier if we could all just speak English and communicate with one another, but language is a part of our culture and history. I mean, the fact that the Irish language is still around today is a testament to those who fought in the 1916 Rising and for Irish independence, even if Irish is not the language the majority of the country speaks (Or sometimes even understands cause Irish is really badly taught).

While some languages dying is inevitable and also languages changing to fit with its similar counterparts (Like how you mentioned English has had many different forms) is inevitable, even just trying to preserve them is important. As Pádraic Pearse once said, 'Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. A country without a language, is a country without a soul.'

But that's just me.

Edited by Azz

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6 minutes ago, Azz said:

Being an Irish person and some one who, despite what I would say, really cares for my language, I think the preservation of language is very important.

While yes it would be so much easier if we could all just speak English and communicate with one another, but language is a part of our culture and history. I mean, the fact that the Irish language is still around today is a testament to those who fought in the 1916 Rising and for Irish independence, even if Irish is not the language the majority of the country speaks (Or sometimes even understands cause Irish is really badly taught).

While some languages dying is inevitable and also languages changing to fit with its similar counterparts (Like how you mentioned English has had many different forms) is inevitable, even just trying to preserve them is important. As Pádraic Pearse once said, 'Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. A country without a language, is a country without a soul.'

But that's just me.

That's perfectly understandable, and the are positives and negatives to both sides.  I'm a bit of a mutt, but I've got Irish blood, too.  My grandmother was a Houlihan.  I love exploring my ancestry and am proud of my family lineage.  I've also got Clan Leslie blood and Norman, if you go far back enough.  Like I said, I'm a mutt, and that's just my British blood.  Though that is the part I know most about, since my uncle's done a lot of genealogy research.

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I really don't see the issue, although I can understand why some people would try to stop the [probably] inevitable march of progress and change. I see cultural elements in a more utilitarian way: If a language falls into disuse, then it is not relevant anymore (except in more specific cases). If it is not relevant anymore, there's no reason to worry about it. Cultural elements come and go, anyway. I find this kind of conservatism counterproductive.

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I think it's important. My family used to have French speakers in it. My grandmother cut it off so we'd fit into the US better. I don't know a lick of French. And it's kinda sad. I think I might learn it at some point. Right after I brush up on Spanish some more. Losing languages like that in families and then eventually the language in general is a real shame. It's easier to speak to others, but we also potentially lose original texts too. 

Edited by Augestein

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6 minutes ago, Augestein said:

I think it's important. My family used to have French speakers in it. My grandmother cut it off so we'd fit into the US better. I don't know a lick of French. And it's kinda sad. I think I might learn it at some point. Right after I brush up on Spanish some more. Losing languages like that in families and then eventually the language in general is a real shame. It's easier to speak to others, but we also potentially lose original texts too. 

Yeah, I took French and German mostly due to family history, being able to be able to speak with people when I traveled to Europe was a bonus.  I like my other family roots, but I'm not sure I'd be motivated enough to learn a language if it had no practical purpose, besides history.

That being said, I haven't used either language in years, and as such, they're beyond rusty at this point.  My French was always so-so, but I was proud that my German was good enough to converse with native Germans in German without once having to use English.

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3 minutes ago, Rezzy said:

Yeah, I took French and German mostly due to family history, being able to be able to speak with people when I traveled to Europe was a bonus.  I like my other family roots, but I'm not sure I'd be motivated enough to learn a language if it had no practical purpose, besides history.

That being said, I haven't used either language in years, and as such, they're beyond rusty at this point.  My French was always so-so, but I was proud that my German was good enough to converse with native Germans in German without once having to use English.

That's the reason I'm studying Spanish again. Because I used to be better with the language and have gotten rusty. I want to pass that information on to other people in my family as well. Plus, I've actually run into some situations where having languages under my belt enough to understand someone was helpful so I shouldn't let that go to waste. 

That's actually really cool. My mom knows French but respected her mother too much to pass it on. 

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1 hour ago, blah the Prussian said:

Nothing lasts forever, not species, not nations, not languages. Let languages die naturally.

Another thought is that even if languages don't die, they evolve.  English is the worst offender, since English today is unintelligible from a thousand years ago.

Even Latin, which is considered dead just evolved into Italian and other Romance languages.

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7 hours ago, Rezzy said:

Another thought is that even if languages don't die, they evolve.  English is the worst offender, since English today is unintelligible from a thousand years ago.

Even Latin, which is considered dead just evolved into Italian and other Romance languages.

Exactly. Adapt to survive, evolve, or become a dead language. The more people use a language, the more useful it is. Languages are fundamentally tools, they are important to culture, but their cultural utility does not outweigh their practical utility.

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41 minutes ago, Rezzy said:

Another thought is that even if languages don't die, they evolve.  English is the worst offender, since English today is unintelligible from a thousand years ago.

Even Latin, which is considered dead just evolved into Italian and other Romance languages.

"worst offender," or best example? i'd wager nearly every single language in existence is unintelligible from its 1000 year-old root language, though.

26 minutes ago, blah the Prussian said:

Exactly. Adapt to survive, evolve, or become a dead language. The more people use a language, the more useful it is. Languages are fundamentally tools, they are important to culture, but their cultural utility does not outweigh their practical utility.

languages die because of imperialism mostly, not because of a failure to adapt. chinese would be around today, but perhaps literacy rates wouldn't be so high were it not for the language reforms of the 1940s/50s.

Edited by Phoenix Wright

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5 hours ago, Phoenix Wright said:

"worst offender," or best example? i'd wager nearly every single language in existence is unintelligible from its 1000 year-old root language, though.

languages die because of imperialism mostly, not because of a failure to adapt. chinese would be around today, but perhaps literacy rates wouldn't be so high were it not for the language reforms of the 1940s/50s.

I would say English is the worst example.  I can't think of another language that has been so bastardized from its original form.

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As Rapier said, a language is only valuable if there are people who speak it. Mind you, there is also cultural value and unique elements, so I wouldn't say we ought to abolish languages that are less popular. Everyone ought to learn a common language and go on speaking a local tongue, if it suits them.

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6 hours ago, blah the Prussian said:

Exactly. Adapt to survive, evolve, or become a dead language. The more people use a language, the more useful it is. Languages are fundamentally tools, they are important to culture, but their cultural utility does not outweigh their practical utility.

I'd rather not lose old text though. Still need to be able to read it. Or at least have texts that allow for translations. 

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7 hours ago, Phoenix Wright said:

languages die because of imperialism mostly, not because of a failure to adapt. chinese would be around today, but perhaps literacy rates wouldn't be so high were it not for the language reforms of the 1940s/50s.

Deliberate attempts to destroy languages should be stopped, but if a language is dying because of "cultural imperialism" then i maintain we should let it. Generally speaking if a language is in danger of being extinct then loss of cultural identity will have been a cause, not an effect.

 

1 hour ago, Augestein said:

I'd rather not lose old text though. Still need to be able to read it. Or at least have texts that allow for translations. 

That is true; there should be an effort to preserve texts from dying languages, as the Catholic Church did with Latin texts.

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I study linguistics, and while this is not my area of expertise, I've had more than my fair share of lectures about it. 

There are few things which concern linguists as much as the rapid disappearance of languages. The key to keeping smaller ones alive is to make them useful and natural to use, however, globalization makes that far too difficult a task, especially in areas like Papua New Guinea, where around 850 languages are spread out over seven million people. 

It should be noted, however, that not only the very small languages are in danger here. Even my own native tongue which has a few million speakers is partially threatened by English in particular, as most of my countrymen speak it and we have a tendency to borrow words as opposed to inventing ones ourselves. Not only that, but a very important factor in the death of a language is something called domain loss, meaning you stop using your own language in a domain, or more specifically, a pillar of society where language is key. The prime example of this is usually within the scientific area; my country publishes almost all of its findings in English as opposed to my language, since it's too small and would just complicate things since it can be written in English from the get-go. Universities also expect you to be able to read complicated texts about practically anything, from politics to language management, the second you're out of high school. 

I'd also like to address a few misconceptions in this thread. Again, this is not my area of expertise at all, but I suspect I might be more familiar with it than most. Don't take my word as the gospel though.

9 hours ago, Rezzy said:

Another thought is that even if languages don't die, they evolve.  English is the worst offender, since English today is unintelligible from a thousand years ago.


Three things: 

1) Languages do die. In droves. You might not notice because they're so small, but there are many reports of the last known speakers of a language simply dying. Wikipedia even has a list of such known cases, and it'll just be expanded upon in the coming years. Since I don't seem to know how to incorporate links into words after the forum update, I'll just link it directly here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_last_known_speakers_of_languages

2) English has a lot of influences from other languages for sure, but compared to many other languages like my own, it has remained very similar for a long time now. I can only through difficulty understand texts from my own language that were written in the 19:th century because of drastic changes, which can be attributed to many things I don't have the time to go through now.

3) There are many examples of dramatic changes in a language. Japanese, for instance, has a vocabulary with around 50% Chinese roots, quite a few from the Portuguese and Dutch and now English. Officially, wago, that is the words that are of Japanese origin, constitute ~34% of the language's words. 

 

9 hours ago, Phoenix Wright said:

languages die because of imperialism mostly, not because of a failure to adapt. chinese would be around today, but perhaps literacy rates wouldn't be so high were it not for the language reforms of the 1940s/50s.

That depends entirely on what you mean by imperialism and how you limit it. Sadly, I have to go now, but I'd like to hear your definition later.

Edited by Thane

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8 hours ago, Rezzy said:

I would say English is the worst example.  I can't think of another language that has been so bastardized from its original form.

Not sure what makes you think that english has been more 'bastardized from its original form' than a lot of other languages. In that regard the worst offender is clearly Latin which in its original form -as spoken by the early roman tribes- is borderline unintelligable when compared to the Latin of the Catholic Church.

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1 hour ago, Yojinbo said:

Not sure what makes you think that english has been more 'bastardized from its original form' than a lot of other languages. In that regard the worst offender is clearly Latin which in its original form -as spoken by the early roman tribes- is borderline unintelligable when compared to the Latin of the Catholic Church.

Not to mention you can never say where a language begins and another one ends. Those are arbitrary limits. I mean, at the peak of the Roman Empire, you had so many different peoples spread out over such a massive space that there had to have been a huge amount of varities - just the simple fact that countries and other areas were conquered over the course of centuries affected what kind of Latin would be "imposed" on the population there. 

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On 2/3/2017 at 0:38 AM, Thane said:

That depends entirely on what you mean by imperialism and how you limit it. Sadly, I have to go now, but I'd like to hear your definition later.

blah pretty much got it. i mean the cultural aspect that you and blah spoke a little about in terms of language use, in addition to the forcible prohibition of speaking in certain languages (or lesser degrees of the imperial aggressor limiting the use of the native language).

Edited by Phoenix Wright

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On 2/2/2017 at 7:39 AM, Rezzy said:

You can speak in English with people all over the world, and French, Spanish, and Mandarin also serve as lingua francas.  

Can you though? Is English really that common? Just last year, I was in Vienna on vacation. And a lot of people I tried to speak to didn't understand english. My father was working there at that time and he had a hard time since he spoke no German. And I speak it slightly but from what I understand, the dialect is different enough that you need to keep in mind. All of the signs and stuff was either also in English or obvious enough to not need to be but the people didn't always speak english. And this is Vienna, a major capital we're talking about, not some small town.

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1 hour ago, Ranger Jack Walker said:

Can you though? Is English really that common? Just last year, I was in Vienna on vacation. And a lot of people I tried to speak to didn't understand english. My father was working there at that time and he had a hard time since he spoke no German. And I speak it slightly but from what I understand, the dialect is different enough that you need to keep in mind. All of the signs and stuff was either also in English or obvious enough to not need to be but the people didn't always speak english. And this is Vienna, a major capital we're talking about, not some small town.

It's not a majority language in every country, but there's still plenty of people in Europe who speak English, especially in tourist heavy areas.

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On 2/2/2017 at 0:24 AM, Rapier said:

I really don't see the issue, although I can understand why some people would try to stop the [probably] inevitable march of progress and change. I see cultural elements in a more utilitarian way: If a language falls into disuse, then it is not relevant anymore (except in more specific cases). If it is not relevant anymore, there's no reason to worry about it. Cultural elements come and go, anyway. I find this kind of conservatism counterproductive.

Counterproductive to what? How is culture utilitarian? Why is a language in disuse irrelevant, and to whom? How is language assimilation progress?

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16 hours ago, Ranger Jack Walker said:

Can you though? Is English really that common? Just last year, I was in Vienna on vacation. And a lot of people I tried to speak to didn't understand english. My father was working there at that time and he had a hard time since he spoke no German. And I speak it slightly but from what I understand, the dialect is different enough that you need to keep in mind. All of the signs and stuff was either also in English or obvious enough to not need to be but the people didn't always speak english. And this is Vienna, a major capital we're talking about, not some small town.

There's a pretty huge gap between different generations. 40+ pretty much can't speak english to save their lives.

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On 08/02/2017 at 0:41 AM, fuccboi said:

Counterproductive to what? How is culture utilitarian? Why is a language in disuse irrelevant, and to whom? How is language assimilation progress?

Seems like a lot of nitpick, but I'll take on the challenge. I'm kinda rusty, anyway.

Counterproductive to progress, as its death by disuse is unavoidable and all we can do is slow it down in futile attempts to stop change, development or death. Languages are like Theseus' Ship.

Culture is utilitarian because its elements only exist to serve humanity in some way, once its elements become obsolete/unhelpful they become useless and die (or go to the museum, which is its consequence). Dead languages, rituals and religions are some examples of that.

Language in disuse is generally unecessary (latim is an obvious exception but there's a reason for that) and thus irrelevant because it does not help. If languages are made to communicate and no one uses a language to communicate, it lost its function and became useless. Claiming that it is useful for you because your greatgreatgreatgrandfather used to speak it and you like it does not refute its general uselessness, which makes it... useless.

Language assimilation is progress because languages develop, change and die, and those elements are part of progress.

Edited by Rapier

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39 minutes ago, Rapier said:

Language assimilation is progress because languages develop, change and die, and those elements are part of progress.

Or it can fail halfway and create an enormous rift between cultures even within the same country, like Spain and Catalonia. 

Can you define what you mean by progress? There are many native Americans in South America who practically only speak Spanish, yet are not part of the country where they reside's society. It also sounds very cold to say that small groups of people should just stop speaking their language because Spanish is bigger; should they drop their culture too? Is that too much in the way of progress? 

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