Dead Language

A report from the BBC about the death of an ancient language. The language, Bo, was spoken by a woman living on a group of islands in the Indian Ocean. For 30 years she had been the last speaker of the tongue, which it’s suggested originally came from Africa and may be up to 70,000 years old.

A part of the wonderful process we call “globalization”, the disappearance of aboriginal and tribal languages is a genuine concern. As cause, consider the imperious effects of technology (80% of the content on the Internet is in English), as well as the displacement and destruction of long-established native communities. Apparently, a language disappears every two weeks or so, and by the end of the 21st century, half of the world’s approximately 7000 languages will become extinct.

Like the threat to natural biodiversity, which the UN has pointed to as a particular problem this year, the loss of cultural diversity is an incalculable loss, the result of the same monolithic, standardizing forces. It’s the very assumptions of our globalized world that threaten species diversity as globalization in its other guises also threatens cultural, linguistic, and political diversity. The extinction of natural and cultural forms hand in hand is a disturbing phenomena, and it bears investigating this dark relationship…

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14 Responses to “Dead Language”

  1. Dennis the Vizsla Says:

    I hate to see anything disappear forever, including languages.

  2. enreal Says:

    I agree with Dennis…forever is sad.

    And indeed N~ it is disturbing.

  3. Shefaly Says:

    It really makes me very sad when languages die. Spoken Here by Mark Abley is a great account of some of the world’s rarest, some very precise languages, but also leaves one deeply sad. Reviewed it here: http://bit.ly/dPXX6 OTOH I have often asked this question of writers and public intellectuals from India and I get told, if people want to preserve a language, they should work for it. On that I’d recommend, you Google for “Raj Thackeray” to see how some people “save” their language. I wrote a post on that too recently…I fear many Indian languages will die in my lifetime, because of people mistakenly thinking that learning English means they mustn’t care for their own. Fewer and fewer people of my age speak Hindi (their and my language) or have read any literature beyond that in text books. It is spoken by rather a lot of people so may last a tad longer but who knows?

  4. The Necromancer Says:

    DtV: I dunno, some things I could bear to see disappear…Poverty, suffering, Stephen Harper, etc…

    Shefaly: Thanks for the comment and the link. India appears to be one of the places where languages are threatened, but according to the National Geographic, the worst places in the world are eastern Russia (Siberia) and right around here, the Pacific Northwest. There are lots of small-scale oral traditions connected to the indigenous people’s in this part of the world, and they are definitely hanging on by a thread in some cases.

    In comparison, Hindi is a major world language.

  5. nursemyra Says:

    But who has she been talking to for the past 30 years…?

  6. The Necromancer Says:

    Herself, presumably.

  7. nursemyra Says:

    How sad.

  8. The Necromancer Says:

    Tragic even.

  9. Ricki Says:

    OK, the image of this poor woman talking to herself for 30 years is a bit morose….I’m sure she spoke some other language that allowed her to communicate. At least I hope so….

  10. The Necromancer Says:

    The article says she learned Hindi to speak with others, but had nobody to talk to in her native tongue. Still seems kinda lonely somehow…

  11. kerrjac Says:

    I’m not sure I share the same sentiment.

    Perhaps just to offer the contrasting view: India is a poverty-stricken area of the world, with a system of social stratification that, for some time in recent history, was so rigid Americans could only dream of it in dystopian novels. Granted, that’s a generalization. But in that context, the passing of these languages is not necessarily a bad thing. Afterall, countries that speak the same language – similar to those that trade extensively with each other – rarely engage in war.

  12. The Necromancer Says:

    kerrjac: Fair enough, but this seems to be a particular view as well; seeing the balance sheet of the value of cultural distinctness as paling in comparison to a universalizing, neoliberal, market globalism. This is, perhaps, an Enlightenment fantasy first propagated by Kant. America trades with everybody (“en Anglais, s’il vous plait“), but simultaneously, has turned warfare into a profitable and rather widespread enterprise…

  13. squirrelqueen Says:

    It is a tragedy that the diversity that makes this world grand is diminishing into one bland hodgepodge.

  14. zeyl viktor Says:

    If there was a way to give the rebirth of that language I would be prob the first to speak and teach it.

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