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Are dying languages worth saving?

11:04 UK time, Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Language experts are gathering in Carmarthen, Wales to discuss saving the world's endangered languages. Do languages need to be preserved?

The Foundation for Endangered Languages estimates that between 500 and 1,000 of languages are spoken by only a handful of people and every year the world loses around 25 mother tongues.

Nicholas Ostler, the foundation's chairman says that languages are important because people care about identity. And when languages die, so too does the knowledge associated with them.

But others argue that trying to save languages is a waste of resources and a misunderstanding of how language works. Writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik says it is "irrational" to try to preserve all the world's languages.

What does the loss of languages mean for the world? Is it worth trying to preserve them? Or is this irrational?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    No objection to teaching dying languages, after all I was taught Latin at school.
    However when it comes to costly and pointless changing of road signs
    (Highland region in particular) then I think its gone too far.
    The signs are twice the size due to the translation element. Have so much content its difficult to sort it out unless you slow down to snails pace.
    And who are the Gaelic signs for, Tourists and visiting people from other parts cannot read them, the locals already know where the places are so don't need them, and they are the only ones able to read the things anyway.

  • Comment number 2.

    Golly gosh, you bet they do! How impoverished our lives will become when we're all reduced to "Nu-Speak"?
    Languages are a function of the lives of the people who speak them. Have you noticed, though that the more "multi-cultural" societies become the more bland their pronouncements? In fact: what I have just said is totally facile and one-dimensional (a bit like the plot of "Avatar" really).

    And endangered words within our own fabulous English! Every year you hear of the great new words that have been included in the OED, but what about those that are slipping out? I understand that "Whom" has probably only got about another ten years to live. . .

    May I also put in a plug for one of the most remarkable languages of all time, now quite endangered thanks to the recent demise of it's only speaker: Professor Stanley Unwin. I refer of course to Gobbldygook

  • Comment number 3.

    As a teacher of sciences in the West Highlands of Scotlan, I consider the levels of support for teaching Gaelic to be unsustainable without impacting on my ability to provide sound USEFUL education for the world of work. Culturally significant as a small part of Scottish heritage- locally significant as this area, and the islands, holds the very small number of native speakers but otherwise a useless languange which attracts students due to the high levels of support, funding and what amounts to brainwashing from the Scottish Government aboout it being a useful thing to have. Sorry, the world moves on and things drop by the wayside for everyday use.

  • Comment number 4.

    Typology and neurolinguistics together tell us that the different syntactic structures of languages show different neurological patterns. With fewer languages, there are fewer syntactic structures (as no one language has every kind of syntactic structure) — and so, with fewer languages, there is less information about neurological patterns. So, yes, dying languages are worth saving, if we ever want to cure stroke patients, solve the riddles of dyslexia and dyspraxia, or make significant inroads for a variety of other complex neurolinguistic conditions.

    Doubtless, others will choose to start their mornings off with a pop at the Welsh, and be quite happy to condemn future generations to insurmountable neurolinguistic problems.

  • Comment number 5.

    No they are not worth saving. They are dying for a reason and that is no one uses them and/or thinks they are useful, so there is no reason to save them.

  • Comment number 6.

    Duw! I should say so. Cymru am Byth!

  • Comment number 7.

    Not really. Language is language.

  • Comment number 8.

    We seem to go to extreme lengths both in time and finance to save some remote species of insect on some equally remote part of the world, from extinction. That time and that finance would be better spent on saving a language spoken by us,the human species which describes and records the lives and experiences of our brothers and sisters who share this planet.
    Interestingly, the success of the growth of the British empire can largely be contributed to their intolerance of the native language of the invaded country.

  • Comment number 9.

    Language is a means of communication, so as long as we can understand each other (as with air traffic control) the one language, or common language should suffice. If your language, such as Welsh, is not used outside your principality, there's no need to waste time teaching it in schools. If as a minority language speaker you wish to pursue the speaking of that language that's fine, but don't as the Welsh are currently doing, try and impose it on everyone else. In Wales countless millions are being wasted on dual road signs, bills in two languages, public offices answering phones in the minority language first therebye wasting time.

  • Comment number 10.

    If academics know about it, it's already dead. People can come up with a new language in a generation. Check out the town that invented a language, look up "Boontling," named after the small village in Northern California that invented it.

  • Comment number 11.

    How appropriate that this conference is being held in Wales!! The Welsh Assembly Government spends an absolute fortune on the Welsh language and by Law requires businesses to produce bi-lingual documents; I receive bills in Welsh and English; the Welsh version goes straight into recycling - what a waste of paper/ink/postage and business time! I am not even asked if I have a language preference which would go a little way to alleviating costs. We then hear about the dire financial situation; I would much rather see the money that is spent on the Welsh language(does anybody know how much it is?)be spent on the NHS and Police in Wales.

    It must also be recognised that although it is quoted that 500,000 people speak Welsh - they are not all fluent - their abilities vary considerably. Before anybody jumps up and says `you`re English` I am born and bred Welsh!!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Languages, alive or dead, is a repository of the human experience. Where possible, it ought to be preserved.

  • Comment number 13.

    To be honest dying languages aren't worth saving. The fact that they are dying shows that they aren't needed. Would the world really be any worse if a particular language disappeared. It is much more important that animals and plants that are close to extinction are saved.

  • Comment number 14.

    I can understand the sentiment in wishing to keep a moribund language alive. But here in Wales, the Welsh language is a very divisive issue, with many of those whose who speak it adopting a very aloof and elitist attitude. The language is becoming an inhibitor to inward development in some areas. The insistance that Welsh be compulsorily taught in schools is a waste of money and a waste of time for people in the non-Welsh speaking areas of Wales who will never make use of it again. The bilingual road signs in Wales are confusing to the travelling public and an expensive blot on our otherwise beautiful landscape.

    I'm now going to board up my windows!

  • Comment number 15.

    Waste of resources! Over the 50,000 - 100,000 years or so that our species has existed, thousands of languages must have been and gone. It's a natural process. In one, two or three thousand years, how many of the world's current languages will still be here - I suspect none! Language development is a dynamic process. Why interfere with it?

    I currently live in western Scotland, having been born and spent most of my life in north Wales. I'm currently watching the depressing spectacle of vast amounts of money being wasted on attempting to revive a language that's on its last legs. Just as they've been doing in Wales for decades.

  • Comment number 16.

    Languages should be maintained. We lose a language and we lose ways of experiencing and understanding the world. See Orwell's 1984 account of language derivation for political ends. English is not under threat but PC has reduced its scope, and hence the range of thought and experience, not quite as Orwell predicted but achieving the same ends.

    The Welsh language is a wonderful example as to how language loss can be reversed.

    I speak a dialect, learned from my parents and family, and find ways of communicating, expressing my thoughts, opinions, and descriptions of the world that might not be available in English. My dialect has grammatical rules and mutations of words in appropriate contexts. Would I demonstrate it for the BBC? No way! Their programmes always operate with rigid pre-conceptions and usually a political agenda, not to mention a very strong class bias. They already have worked out what to say about languages and what kind of people they want to discuss language with - probably Asian dialects. So it would be futile. But at least with a dialect we can think without PC mind control.

    However, I am sure that many contributors will point out that with the need to cut the deficit, preservation of a language must have a low priority. And that is logic for you... see.

  • Comment number 17.

    No - we need to go forward not always be looking back.

  • Comment number 18.

    "Nicholas Ostler, the foundation's chairman says that languages are important because people care about identity."

    Well if people care enough about identity and feel that a language or dialect is important then they won't let the language die.

    Not sure what the fuss is. If enough people keep a language going then clearly they care; if a language dies out then they don't.

  • Comment number 19.

    "Are dying languages worth saving?"

    language shapes thinking, so yes, if only because diversity is better than mono-culture.

  • Comment number 20.

    'Are dying languages worth saving?'
    Not really. Languages die out through lack of use. If this wasn't the case, we'd still be grunting at each other and drawing on cave walls in order to communicate. Mind you, having read some of the comments on HYS lately, perhaps that wouldn't be such a bad thing.

  • Comment number 21.

    The study of dead and dying languages is very important, if we didnt make these studies and took the effort to teach people these languages then history would not be a very interesting subject.

    Saying that activly forcing a dying language to survive is pointless, if people want to learn it thats one thing, but to waste money and reseources to force it to be a larger part of everyday life (such as Welsh, Cornish, Scottish) is not a good thing

  • Comment number 22.

    If those people want to keep those languages alive, that's fine. So long, that is, the English tax payer does not have to foot the bill.

  • Comment number 23.

    There is always a reason WHY a language dies!!! Dying languages tend Not to advance or evolve

    The English that the majority speak is an evolving means of communication which absorbs "Words" from other languages . English is a general term for a language and takes many forms throughout the world. face it many of us would struggle with Chaucer's English
    Should dying language be taught IN schools . Only has a opt in and not in main stream ..
    There are many good audio system for teaching dead or dying languages if you wish the learn them

    Trying to makes dying or minority language to a first language .Not only disadvantages the learners in the outside job market but also restricts them to a lower level of learning. Advanced stage subjects like math physics , chemistry etc are not taught in dying languages .Most UK universities only teach such subjects through the English language

    So ,NO like it or not , it is best to learn majority languages like English French German or even Chinese.. the only exception LATIN

  • Comment number 24.

    I"m welsh and proud of my heritage and language,as Max boyce once said Welsh is the language of heaven.More and more people are speaking welsh and our welsh medium schools are full.I have visited NZ a few times and the Maori language is alive there,where would we be without our traditions and culture and the native tounge is the basis of that culture,CYMRU AM BYTH.

  • Comment number 25.

    If people aren't using a language, why save it?

  • Comment number 26.

    "Language experts are gathering in Camarthen to discuss saving endangered languages".

    Well, nothing wrong with that, as long as The Foundation for Endangered Languages is it's not charging the tax-payer or has particular UK or US charitable tax-exemption status to fund it's ideology as a busness?

    Whoops, they do have charitable status as a business. Who would have 'thunk' it?!

  • Comment number 27.

    One of the strengths in some other languages such as Welsh is the ability to describe many things with greater sensitivity, some thing often lacking in other languages (eg: English).

    "To be born Welsh
    is to be born privileged.
    Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,
    But music in your blood
    And poetry in your soul"

    Is it worth preserving, the Welsh will tell you YES!

  • Comment number 28.

    Its dying for a reason ! People prefer to speak more common languages like English etc.

    Languages that form the basis of modern language like latin should be retained and taught in school but the government shouldnt support languages which are just not being used anymore.

    if people want to speak welsh or another minority language, let them but the government should not waste money translating literature or changing signage.

  • Comment number 29.

    Well, let's face it: English is rapidly dying out and being replaced by American!
    "train station" (railway station), "for free" (free / free-of-charge), "listen up!" (listen!), "one-off" (single), "outside of" (outside), "guys" (people), "speak with" (speak to) (you SPEAK TO a person, but you SPEAK WITH an accent), "meet with someone" (you MEET someone, but MEET WITH an accident).
    The list is endless and gets longer each day.
    Even the BBC communicates in American these days and I'm convinced they are not even aware they are doing so.

  • Comment number 30.

    As they have done over thousands of years, world languages will sort themselves out. Some will go, some will advance. Why is it that some people (mainly taxpayer money spending bodies) always have to stick their noses into every possible subject and spend lots of our money achieving very little, if anything in the long run?

  • Comment number 31.

    You can preserve them for posterity by recording everything about them but if people don't want to speak them any more it's too bad. That's evolution. the strong survive the weak don't. and it's different from endangered species because this is a natural thing not something that's being done by mankind being aggressive.

    And by the way: latin is a dead language! Take that all the wretched teachers in the subject I ever had who lost their temper if you said that.

  • Comment number 32.

    Yes, when they have some associated culture.

    Here is another question: Is Opera and Ballet worth preserving? What about the Arts Council?
    We are told that as minority interests, only with public subsidy can they be sustained. Is this not simply for a minority of mainly London Luvvies who can get to Covent Garden etc. - an unnecessary subsidy going mostly to the middle and ruling classes?
    I am interested in neither, though I appreciate that some are, and they are part of our culture, and the world would be a poorer place for humanity if we had only Big Brother as our culture.

  • Comment number 33.

    Lord Rant #23.

    "There is always a reason WHY a language dies!!!"

    yes, usually because a people, their language and their culture are being surpressed by an invader or occupier, occasionally a language dies with the last of its speakers.

  • Comment number 34.

    Just precisely what benefits would we gain from keeping a dying language alive at any cost? We have serious problems on this island with well known and popular languages - these languages are spoken by school age children attending school for the first time. I read on the internet that one London borough school had pupils who spoke among them scores of languages, none of which was English - their teachers spoke only English, which is our national language and now spoken by at least half the world's population at some level.

    I also read that more people start learning English every year than now speak for example, French or German or Italian or Spanish - not that I believe these languages will die, but eventually whether the French or Germans or Italians or Spanish agree or not, English will become the world language.

    Some years ago I attended a meeting in the Saudi oil company along with over 30 others, we all spoke English but not more than two people came from the same country. In a meeting in Tokyo, the Chinese and Japanese engineers conversed in English. A Kuwaiti arab contractor told me he hired Indian and Pakistani office staff based on their ability to converse in English, enabling them to talk with his Thai and Phiilipino construction labour.

    Why then save dead or dying languages?

  • Comment number 35.

    If we give up on endangered languages, we might as well give up on archaeology and such like while we're at it - it's almost like saying mankind has such an excess of knowledge we might as well discard with some of it. And THAT would indeed be..."irrational".

  • Comment number 36.

    They may be worth saving but the point is that the people who are responsible for saving them are the ones who use them not the rest of us. All this futile rubbish about bilingual signage, teaching etc needs to be looked at long and hard to see if it value for money for the majority or just a vocal (if unintelligible ) minority.

  • Comment number 37.

    Language is a form of knowledge and so we should try try to save them but at the same time we need to balance what we might gain against what we might lose if the language isn't preserved. And over all we also need to take in to account that languages evolve.

    Each case needs to judged on it's own merits and I'm not qualified to make thoses decisions.

  • Comment number 38.

    No problem with saving dying languages when they offer something ie Latin or Greek as a scholastic achievement However the various forms of Celtic languages are not really of any general value and I would object to having to pay for teaching them or have my kids forced into learning them. No doubt they are important to a few white settlers in the several highland and boggy areas of Britain but if they want it then they can pay for it.

  • Comment number 39.

    Languages change all the time. Those of you mourning the pending loss of "whom", are you also lamenting about when English had inflected adjectives, several different noun cases, and formal and informal pronouns? Do you go around speaking like Chaucer did? No? Well shut up then.

  • Comment number 40.

    Not saved in the sense of spending money (especially that of taxpayers) to encourage people to speak or write it, but preserved in the form of written and audio recordings.

    The reason language dies out is because people don't find it useful. For example, I know several people who have studied Welsh, at the expense of an overstretched education system, which they never use. In fact most of them are so proud of their Welsh heritage that they can't wait to move elsewhere!

    I know from working in the public sector that the costs of providing bilingual services, leaflets, roadsigns and so on for such a tiny proportion of the population far outweigh the benefits.

    Latin is perhaps the exception here, especially for those working in scientific fields where Latin terminology is rife. That said, I still wouldn't put taxpayers' money into teaching it.

  • Comment number 41.

    Latin is useful at school as it teaches history and some of the roots of English so if someone wants to pay privately to preserve dying languages then fine.

    Enforced preservation out of the public purse, like Welsh road signs, is not helpful and only serves to cause mirth and disrespect.

  • Comment number 42.

    No point in saving them.

    They die out for a reason - because no one speaks the language.

    If people want to revive them then good luck to them, the should do it but the state shouldn't pay for this.

  • Comment number 43.

    27. At 12:39pm on 15 Sep 2010, wvpTV wrote:
    One of the strengths in some other languages such as Welsh is the ability to describe many things with greater sensitivity, some thing often lacking in other languages (eg: English).

    ------------------------------

    You clearly have very little understanding of the English language if believe that, the English language is made up of many other languages with origins dating back centuries.

  • Comment number 44.

    On the radio the other day it was reported that of the thousands of differnt languages in the world about 98% of them were spoken by 2% of the worlds population. This is therfore not a big problem, maybe for the French, (who view the fact that the world doesn't do all things the French way as a problem)

    I watched a documentry about Denmark. It said that every Dane spoke English as there were only about 5 million of them in the world who actually spoke Danish, so to speak to the world thay all had to learn another language. I also read that Japanese businessmen use English when talking business with other Japanese businessmen.

    We have differing languages because at one time or another large populations lived in isolation from all others. Now with globalisation and the internet the need to speak in a second language is seen as a barrier to communication.

    It maybe romantic to try and retain 'cultural heritage' by saving a dying language, I personnaly would love to learn French, but it is costly and impracticle for most of us.

    And stop saying that Latin is a special case. True Latin is the basis of a lot of other languages but the link is very tenuous. It's like saying that the first car engine is important when looking at our modern cars. Latin belongs in a museum not in general use, (it is used primerily by lawyers to keep them in work/money and by gardners to show off).

    Question which is the most common Europeon language after English in use in the world, answer - Spanish.

    The world will end up with one universal language, it's called progress. Stop romantising something that isn't a real problem.



  • Comment number 45.

    There is growing concern north of the Border that the Scottish government is going the way of the Welsh in imposing Gaelic on us, even though it has never been the language of much of Scotland or the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. I work for a public sector organisation that must devote two full-time members of staff, and a significant part of its publications budget, to promoting Gaelic. These resources would be better spent helping people who have genuine difficulties communicating in English (immigrant communities and foreign visitors), rather than people who can speak English perfectly well but who prefer not to.

  • Comment number 46.

    It does not matter a jot if they die off. If they were meant to survive then they would.

  • Comment number 47.

    It is imperative that each language that can be preserved ought to be preserved. It is as important in documenting the evolution of the species as is DNA. Language is the DNA of the mind, revealing more about the evolution of any specific culture and society, than any potshards or other artifacts ever could. Language, when analyzed in specific ways, can also provide deep insights into the psychology, as well as the social practices and beliefs, of a people. That is, it can reveal the deep workings of the mind far more effectively than any other archeological tool. One of the pioneers on the philosophy of language, Jacques Derrida, correctly referred to the "archology of language" where the strata of mental and social evolution is as preserved as is physical evolution in the fossil record. Few things could be as imperative as the preservation of that linguistic "fossil record" for future analysis.

  • Comment number 48.

    The use of English by a vast number of people over the world mean it has a far more expressive, nuanced and extensive vocabulary than regional languages. So at the moment it survives in many many different shapes and forms.

    People can wave their linguistic flags, as they tend to do, out of a sense of superior self-regard but everyone over the world does this. Everyone's language is the best and most expressive.

    Languages die because no one has the use for them anymore. Only if they become fashionable, or symbolic of a group, or the project of an elite can they be possibly ressurected. Welsh was deeply unfashionable in the 1960s and 1970s now everyone who can say 'mae'n bwrw glaw' claims to be fashionably fluent.

  • Comment number 49.

    A language is a means of expression, a way of thinking. A loss of a language or perhaps even a dialect infers a greater myopia upon mankind.

  • Comment number 50.

    One of the comments in this article was "languages are in the hands of people, not politicians". But that's certainly not always true.

    There are plenty of examples of governments actively trying to suppress languages - Catalan in Spain, Breton in France and, closer to home, Welsh in Britain. In the 19th century in many schools in Wales, children were punished if they were caught speaking Welsh. Governments know well that language is a symbol of cultural identity and if you desire to suppress or assimilate that culture, then first stop is to suppress the language.

    The reverse is true: a thriving native language contributes towards a thriving culture.

  • Comment number 51.

    35. At 1:07pm on 15 Sep 2010, 24 years and counting wrote:
    "If we give up on endangered languages, we might as well give up on archaeology and such like while we're at it"


    It's an interesting view and spot-on in an unintential way, but your analogy does not work. The point here is whether or not minority languages should continue to be taught and used. With archaeology, we are seeking to record and understand the lost knowledge of past cultures, not to continue their building standards.

    Where you were serendipitously correct is that minority languages *should* be treated like archaeology, in that we record them for future development, but do not necessarily continue their use.

  • Comment number 52.

    I notice that there have already been a few mentions of Welsh as a 'dying language', and the usual complaints about taxpayers funding and the 'confusing' signposts. Obviously the posters didn't read the article which defined dying languages as those with only a handful of speakers.

    Apologies if I missed the memo - but I thought all the bilingual signs were in Wales so how exactly do they impact drivers elsewhere in the UK? I assume these very same drivers would have difficulty navigating the borders into Switzerland which has signs in German, English and French. That must be so much more confusing!

    The article mentions that there are about 'half a million' Welsh speakers, despite the Welsh Language Board figures from a few years ago indicating that there were over 600,000 speakers in Wales. That doesn't count the numbers outside Wales - and I'm sure there would be many thousands more spread across the UK. There's even a Welsh speaking region in Argentina that sent an exchange student to my old school.

    I went to an university in the USA for a year as part of my undergraduate degree and there was a Welsh Society run by some of the students and staff. I was invited to a few of their meetings and aside from an odd accent when speaking some of the words they were far better versed in the vagaries of Welsh grammar than I.

    What I'm trying to say is that Welsh may be a minor language but is far from dead or dying, despite the efforts of the enlightened leaders back during the days of Empire. Those interested may want to look up the Welsh Not which was an 'educational' tool designed to discourage the use of the Welsh language in Wales.

  • Comment number 53.

    There is a strong link between language status and socio-economic power. There is in turn a strong link between language status and vitality. So if English is now dominant, it's because the socio-economic power of English speakers is high, and if e.g Gaelic has become a minority language in Ireland and Scotland. So if you want to promote these languages, of course you can't just tell everyone to speak it, but you have to consider ways of raising their status.

    Reasons for preserving endangered languages - unique forms of cultural expression and heritage, intellectual understanding about what it means to be human, as well as the light which language can shed on many other fields, but first and foremost because many speakers of endangered languages want to speak their languages but feel they have to shift to the dominant language to get a job or other economic and social opportunities.

  • Comment number 54.

    is language important?Ofcourse it is,especially in braile,there is no need to doubt it's need and the same would apply to all languages dead or not.To utter one sylible in any language is an achievement of human thought and ability to communicate,and it matters not, who that language belongs to.It is better to preserve the origins of language because we are unable to hear what was spoken of in the early days of man's progress from the old into the new but if one can read then imagination will do the rest.To forget how the english dictionary was first made up from other words from other languages would be unfare,especially the people who sat for days on end with their feet in straw to prevent their toes freezing as they worked to bring the dictionary to update.

  • Comment number 55.

    What is the point of a language no one uses? Language is to communicate, if no one is communicating with it the language has lost its point.
    There maybe some reasons for keeping things like Latin or Greek around in order to understand the common roots of European languages while they are still in existance, but even that is debateable.
    I seriously think we will all eventually (many hundreds of years yet I have no doubt) group around a single language. At the moment whether that is English or Chinese (suitable long term morfing will have taken place) I don't know.
    It is pretty unlikely to be French, German, Italian, Welsh...

  • Comment number 56.

    So many of these comments on the NO side are obviously from English speaking Monoglots that lack the cognitive apparatus to appreciate the different dimensions that speaking more than one language can add to one's life - and indeed to our collective life as a species.

    English is fragmenting, even within its native land, and yet I should be surprised if any of this contingent did not rile against what they see as the declining standards in English represented by Youf speak and street language.

  • Comment number 57.

    Work saving ... perhaps not. Worth preserving - definitely.

    With a language, just like clothing and daily habits comes an IDENTITY and That is what should be important to countries.

    In NorthEast Spain, around Catalunya, Catalan people are proud to be Catalan. They speak the Catalan langauge, they act Catalan, they wear Catalan clothes and have Catalan festivals.

    This is so far apart from what is happening in Scotland where we have no national pride on a national scale, no national concept of Scottish being Scottish. Gaelic is only a dying language because the government in Scotland refuses to let children accept and become part of their heritage. Other than the formalities of Scottish history and occasionally a bit of Scottish Dancing there isn't any significance placed on being Scottish as children grow up. It won't be long before we become another Luxemburg where for the most part the language used is not our own, nor are the customs and there is little left but a fragile remnant of national identity. Nothing but a crossroads.

  • Comment number 58.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 59.

    Language is a tool of communication more than anything else, so why bother with "dying" languages, which by their inclusion in that group, are falling out of use? Why force children to learn Latin if they're not going to use it?

    If they want to learn it then great, but don't force it on them. It's wasted time and money and distracts students from more important things that they could be learning.

  • Comment number 60.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 61.

    Wittgenstein In his Tractus Logico Philosophicus states "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"
    That might well mean that no fact could continue to exist without the existence of the language necessary to described it. If so, the death of a language would mean the death of every fact that could only have been described with that deceased language, and the non-existence of any thought that might have pictured that fact. Scary stuff. So it's worth keeping all languages alive - who can tell what bit of our world we could lose
    if a language dies.

  • Comment number 62.

    So those people here who take a Darwinian approach to language, i.e. survival of the fittest, would have no problem if English were to die out at the expense of Mandarin or Spanish - both spoken by more people than English?

    It's all too easy to shrug your shoulders at the loss of other people's languages when you are secure in the knowledge that your own is a global lingua franca - today, anyway.

  • Comment number 63.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 64.

    Are dying languages worth saving?
    No, though there will always be a handful of persons interested in deciphering the communications e.g. Akkadian, Sumerian, ancient Egyptian, Hittite, etc.
    The purpose of a spoken/written language is to provide a vehicle for communications. Unless you are intending to become a linguist, anthropolgist, archaeologist, or something along those lines, there is no need to encumber your time learning e.g. Sanskrit.
    Preservation is one thing; it is part of the history of humankind, like the library of Ashurbanipal, or the sadly destroyed library at Alexandria. Developing sufficient fluency begs this question: Who are you going to talk to?
    The world has already lost thousands of languages; most of them we never even knew about because they came and went like droplets in time e.g. Elamite.
    I can understand the arugment that people care about identity and would hesitate to lose a language spoken in their communities, but pragmatism tells me that Hurrian, Oscan, Urartian, Etruscan, etc. will not likely get you as far as a modern language.

  • Comment number 65.

    It is not a question of ancient languages needing to be preserved; rather a question of whether enough people want them to be preserved. If the will is there, then let the parties concerned get on with it, but in doing so, they should not expect special treatment from different but majority language speakers.

  • Comment number 66.

    To No 31

    Latin isn't a dead language. It's alive and kicking today in all aspects of Law, and Medecine. I admit you're
    unlikely to hear it in the local Supermarket or on Public Transport but that doesn't mean it's defunct

  • Comment number 67.

    Of course! To possess another language is to possess another soul: it's one of the best ways of getting into different cultures and mindsets... and great fun!

    I'm lucky to be able to pick up spoken language quickly (despite failing French O-level rather a long time ago), possibly due to having been raised speaking Welsh. It's a great pleasure to be able to use local languages when visiting places... a smattering of Malti goes a long way on Malta as even the locals think it's hard, and I once had a long conversation in French in the middle of Moscow with an army colonel who had no English!

  • Comment number 68.

    Just a thought - I don't know whether other races are the same, what I do know is the Welsh love talking behind your back. From experience I know they deliberately talk in Welsh when they know (or think)you can't understand them. I've walked in to many a pub and everyone is speaking English, as soon as they realise you're a stranger and don't speak the lingo, they revert to Welsh. Anyone else experienced that?

  • Comment number 69.

    35. At 1:07pm on 15 Sep 2010, 24 years and counting wrote:
    If we give up on endangered languages, we might as well give up on archaeology and such like while we're at it - it's almost like saying mankind has such an excess of knowledge we might as well discard with some of it. And THAT would indeed be..."irrational".


    Its nothing like that at all. To keep a language alive requires it both to be taught and used. I dated a Greek girl for a while and started getting quite fluent in Greek. 10 years later I've forgotten almost all of it because I simply don't need it or get a chance to practice it.

  • Comment number 70.

    Another thing I notice is when they list the languages spoken in the UK, they don't mention Scots.

    They mention Gaelic, but not Scots. Scots is, undoubtedly, a separate language from English. It has its own grammar and vocabulary, unique in form to it. It shares many words with English, but then Norwegian and Icelandic also share a great many words, yet are separate all the same.

    This is yet another example of endemic anti-Scottish racism at the EBC.

  • Comment number 71.

    1. At 11:24am on 15 Sep 2010, paul wrote:
    No objection to teaching dying languages, after all I was taught Latin at school.
    However when it comes to costly and pointless changing of road signs
    (Highland region in particular) then I think its gone too far.
    The signs are twice the size due to the translation element. Have so much content its difficult to sort it out unless you slow down to snails pace.
    And who are the Gaelic signs for, Tourists and visiting people from other parts cannot read them, the locals already know where the places are so don't need them, and they are the only ones able to read the things anyway.
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    Brilliant, your posting is the first and the best, good on you Paul.

  • Comment number 72.

    57. At 2:39pm on 15 Sep 2010, AGnomeCalledJimmy wrote:

    This is so far apart from what is happening in Scotland where we have no national pride on a national scale, no national concept of Scottish being Scottish. Gaelic is only a dying language because the government in Scotland refuses to let children accept and become part of their heritage. Other than the formalities of Scottish history and occasionally a bit of Scottish Dancing there isn't any significance placed on being Scottish as children grow up.

    First point to make is that I'm Scottish, born, educated and spent my first 20 years in Glasgow.

    Gaelic is not, and never has been the 'language of Scotland'. At best it was the language of the Isles and the parts of Western Scotland colonised by the Irish in the dark ages. The Pictish North East of Scotland speaks 'Doric' and the lowlanders 'lowland Scots' (which is just scots-english) . Forcing someone from Aberdeen or Dumfries to learn Gaelic is like forcing someone from Lisbon to speak Spanish!

    The Scottish history taught in Scottish schools is a bizarre Tartan propaganda that glosses over the nastier parts to avoid all the usual bigotry rising to the surface. The Jacobite rebellion is taught as 'English v Scots' not 'Catholic v Protestant' which is what really happened. My Scottish ancestors at Culloden fought with the black watch and wore Red coats. My gran is descended from a Catholic Frenchman who fought for the Highlanders. When I pointed this out in school I was told I was wrong.

    "Scottish national dress" was invented by Sir Walter Scott and most of the clan tartans have no basis in history. Even the red highland cow is fake! Highland cows used to be black until Queen Victoria saw a red one and said 'I like that'

    Scottish heritage is like the red highland cow... looks authentic but is about 100 year old normally.

  • Comment number 73.

    As a child I used to feel 'sorry' for all the poor people of the world that couldn't speak English! I thought that they were just making strange sounds and were just trying very hard to be understood. I remember asking my elder brother ... Why is it that no one has bothered to teach them how to speak properly Is properly correct? It isn't in my dictionary! Proper is there but not properly. If so. Do we speak proper like? Any who I digress. My brother told me about 'other' lanuages and how the children learn them just like we leant English. That was when I first thought ...It dosen't matter what sounds you make. It's the way you say it and it's UNDERSTOOD that matters!
    YES 100% save every one of the lanuages we have and then some!

  • Comment number 74.

    "66. At 3:07pm on 15 Sep 2010, Pamela Read wrote:
    To No 31

    Latin isn't a dead language. It's alive and kicking today in all aspects of Law, and Medecine. I admit you're
    unlikely to hear it in the local Supermarket or on Public Transport but that doesn't mean it's defunct"


    I'd more or less agree. An understanding of Latin can allow you to just about "pidgin" your way out of trouble in Italy and Romania (speaking from 1st hand experience!) and worst comes to the worst you can probably find a catholic priest who can speak Latin and the local language.

    Mind you 'Cornelia et Flavia Cantant sub arborem' (which might raise a chuckle from some 30+ year olds) isn't the most useful of phrases.

  • Comment number 75.

    Language is not a fixed subject. Language is merely a tool of communication and is a living thing, changing all the time.

    In this change some languages will die and that is the way it is meant to be. Trying to keep dying languages going works against the purpose of language making communication more difficult.

  • Comment number 76.

    OMITTISSUM OMNINO VERBUM
    We have to remember the british people are famous for there literary genius and the richfullness of the spoken word.a language forged on the anvil of a history that encounted celtic,romano,saxon,nordic and franco norman influences.treasures such as the book of kells to chaucer through to shakespear and on to dickens and behond. the richness of the welsh poets the iluminated manuscipts in latin, i tell you.look upon such works and i gaurantee, you will protect all our languages.they are what we are,if you cannot see that,well,we are finished as a nation.it's schoolboy latin it's to make a point, don't get hung up over it....

  • Comment number 77.

    70. At 3:37pm on 15 Sep 2010, MathCampbell wrote:
    Another thing I notice is when they list the languages spoken in the UK, they don't mention Scots.

    They mention Gaelic, but not Scots. Scots is, undoubtedly, a separate language from English. It has its own grammar and vocabulary, unique in form to it. It shares many words with English, but then Norwegian and Icelandic also share a great many words, yet are separate all the same.

    This is yet another example of endemic anti-Scottish racism at the EBC.




    Where do you stop? Geordie shares many words with Norwegian, most Southerners can't understand a word of it. Is 'geordie' a language too?

    One of my funniest moments (I have 2 Geordie born Parents but was born and raised in Glasgow) was when I was an army Radio operator: on one radio net was a guy from Govan, on the other was a guy from Sunderland. I had one ear from each earphone held either side of my head and the Duke of Westminster (my colonel) standing behind me. I had to do a three way translation from Glaswegian into Sunderland into "Queens English" and back again. I should have got a medal! God knows why we bother with code... no foreigner evesdropping would have understood half of it.

  • Comment number 78.

    68. At 3:35pm on 15 Sep 2010, Toothpick Harry wrote:
    Just a thought - I don't know whether other races are the same, what I do know is the Welsh love talking behind your back. From experience I know they deliberately talk in Welsh when they know (or think)you can't understand them. I've walked in to many a pub and everyone is speaking English, as soon as they realise you're a stranger and don't speak the lingo, they revert to Welsh. Anyone else experienced that?



    I've had a Welsh post office worker pretend only to speak Welsh 30 mins after hearing him speak english in a corner shop, a German ticket seller do the same (and when I was intentionally rude about him in English you could tell by his eyes he understood) and Greek and Chinese waiters come out with some spectacular abuse in their native languages (I can swear in Greek too and my uncle was with me in the chinese restaraunt... he's got a chinese wife and lived in hong kong for 30 years so responded in kind).

    I suspect all nationalities do this.

  • Comment number 79.

    They should start the discussion by demanding that residents of the UK speak only english - boyo!

  • Comment number 80.

    gaelic, where do i start.... have never in my 31 years of living all over scotland met anyone who spoke it, its on the roads signs up north.... why? if you are a tourist you cant read it and if your a local you will know where to go.. in my local diy store ( big name) the doors have entrance/exit in gaelic!!!!! why

    its a dying language for a reason . it serves no real purpose anylonger

  • Comment number 81.

    It's a pity English has such a stranglehold.

    There are better languages (more information conveyed with fewer words) but they are difficult to learn.

    It is just possibe that one of those dying languages is technically better than English. Most English people get the grammar wrong and it's acceptable now.

  • Comment number 82.

    It is worth language experts recording as much as they can about dying languages for the historical record, and for possible future scientific interest. Apart from that, if a language cannot keep itself alive naturally, then it should be allowed to die naturally.

    There is much 'multicultural' nonsense that includes the idea that knowing languages other than your native tongue somehow enriches one's life. I believe for the vast majority of people this has little truth in it. I learned French at school (and I'm glad I did), although I never got to a stage of speaking it anywhere near fluently. I visit France perhaps once every ten years for holiday trips. My school French comes in slightly handy then, but that's about it. So according to the multiculturalists, my life has been 'enriched' by a language I speak (badly) once every other ten years. Well, I hardly think so in any practical sense.

    In fact, for most people, I would question the value of making much effort to learn languages well, other their own native tongue. Of course if you are going to live in another country with a different language, then you should learn that language. But then most people are unlikely to live in another country. If you are simply visiting a country as a short stay tourist, most people can get by through learning simple phrases or taking a basic language course. It's not worth the investment in time learning another language well if you are only going to use it once in a blue moon.

  • Comment number 83.

    There aren't enough people studying existing, healthy languages, let alone useless, dying ones. Let's get our priorities in order.

  • Comment number 84.

    How about ensuring that 'dying' languages like English are kept alive? And I don't mean any of this jargon that you hear outside of the television newsrooms these days.

  • Comment number 85.

    The Scottish parliament, well really the SNP, are spending a fortune on a language that is only used in one or two areas of Scotland. The South of Scotland have never spoken gaelic and that is where the vast majority of its population live. Lowland Scots is not considered a language even though prior to the act of union it was the state language of Scotland. It is considered uneducated to speak "lalands" as it is thought to be simply English with a dialect. I don't see anyone jumping around trying to save it and quite right.

    If people want to talk Gaelic or Welsh then let them do it but this is the UK and all government and local authority documentation should be in English.

  • Comment number 86.

    As a novelty its Ok to learn a minority language but not at the tax payers expense.The universal language at present is English because of how the world trades.In the future this may change but if you look to China there are more people learning English at any one time than the entire population of our country and thats just one country. Minority laqnguages die out because they cannot keep up with the pace of change.Sad but true.

  • Comment number 87.

    Language should be used as a means of communication. If a language needs saving, then that means nobody is using it, so why waste time and money artificially keeping it around?

  • Comment number 88.

    To preserve and teach dying languages is a costly waste of teaching resources and unneccessary. Instead of wasting time, effort and cash on minority language teaching we should ensure spoken and written English is a requirement of every UK resident.

  • Comment number 89.

    Its nice to just have a voice, many near extinct species dont.

    I wonder what they would say about humans.

    I am sure if they had the capacity it would include mainly 4 letter words.

    Is saving a language worth use of such effort and resources when the survival of other species is far far more important.

  • Comment number 90.

    No, not in terms of teaching them in schools, a waste of money and it's completely futile to try to stem the evolution of language.

    The vocabulary, grammer, and pronunciation of dying languages should be recorded however - to help in any future linguistic research.

  • Comment number 91.

    I'm not sure how "saving language" is defined. Frequently a language dies out through different types of genocide. As communication develops so do words and regional differences. So, new language is being developed all of the time. I look at it as a tree, that loses some leaves and branches as it grows upwards.

    Personally, I enjoy learning other language. Though, i have little talent for it. Mandarin Chinese, is currently the most spoken. So, I'm struggling with that.

    I have lived in Mid-Wales and while there learnt some conversational cymraeg. If the english had lived so long under a jackboot, they might speak english only; when an oppressor is in the room? So ease-up, learn gaellic then you can joke about them too, .......... the sais!

    Yakky-da fella'

  • Comment number 92.

    Every effort made and pound spent to keep the celtic languages alive is simply not enough in reparation for the English parliament's genocide, penal laws and economic warfare against the Highland Gael, the Irish, Welsh & Cornish that is the cause of decline of native Gaelic/Celtic speakers.

  • Comment number 93.

    We should try to record dying languages, so we don't lose their unique view of the world. But to preserve them if no-one wants to use them? That is a waste of effort.

    What is interesting in the comments above is how many people want to kill living languages - where there are large numbers of native speakers who are stongly attached to their language.

    Once upon a time Britain was home to numerous languages but state supression killed many of them off. There seem to many people keen to finish the job. You must all speak my language - English - or else.

    I use a different language at home than I normally use out at work or in the wider community. My wife is deaf so we use British Sign Language. It is her first language and I've learnt it as a second language.

    Sometimes having a second language just opens a window on the world. I reduced a room of native English speakers to paroxysms of laughter yesterday by teaching them a sign for something for which we have no adequate word in English.

  • Comment number 94.

    I supposed thats another useless degree subject these stupid universities can use to dupe students into studying - languages that are dead and not spoken today.

  • Comment number 95.

    #57. At 2:39pm on 15 Sep 2010, AGnomeCalledJimmy wrote:
    "This is so far apart from what is happening in Scotland where we have no national pride on a national scale, no national concept of Scottish being Scottish. Gaelic is only a dying language because the government in Scotland refuses to let children accept and become part of their heritage. Other than the formalities of Scottish history and occasionally a bit of Scottish Dancing there isn't any significance placed on being Scottish as children grow up. It won't be long before we become another Luxemburg where for the most part the language used is not our own, nor are the customs and there is little left but a fragile remnant of national identity. Nothing but a crossroads."

    You may be right about Scottish pride, but the language you speak (I assume you're talking about English) belongs as much to Scotland as it does to England. Forms of English have been the predominant tongue spoken in the Scottish Lowlands since the 7th century, hundreds of years before England even existed as a unified country.

  • Comment number 96.

    There are many among us British who do not want to have to face what our colonial inheritance really means. But, in truth, we can’t ignore it for it is written all over us.

    When speaking of the Gaelic High School in Glasgow, Philip Howard states that it is "offering Gaelic to children of people who don't speak it". He goes on to describe this as "like a conservation of lost glories. It's very romantic to try and save a language but nonsense."

    His initial statement here is only tenuously related to fact. In fact, many of the children at the Glasgow Gaelic high school do have Gaelic speaking parents from the Highlands who are at present working in the city as economic migrants. Glasgow is, in fact, founded on the two great economic migrations of the Gaelic speaking peoples of north west Scotland and Ireland. So, in fact, although some of the other pupils may not have Gaelic speaking parents, they do come from families whose Gaelic speaking ancestors were forced to migrate to the city in the 19th century - in some cases as a result of the Highland Clearances.

    Howard's following comment on the "nonsense" of trying to "save" a language is similarly myopic and, like the comment of Kalim Malik, displays an innocence of the politics of language change that would be charming were it not so duplicitous.

    Both men offer essentialist arguments that language change is the result of vague and indefineable ‘competing forces' such as ‘globalisation’ and suggest that people will continue to speak a language only if it useful or if they want to.

    This argument is manifestly inadequate. Both men maintain that the British government should not give funding to support minority languages – these languages should live or die on their own merits. If that is the correct course of action now, what do these men say to the fact that the British government has for centuries used billions of pounds in a sustained effort to wipe these languages out (and not just within Britain). If they think, as I do, such efforts were abhorrent (and, had they occurred today, in breach of international law on human rights) then what is the right way to respond now to our previous expensive ethnocidal and genocidal intentions?

    According to the historian Edward Cowan, the British Government has, since the mid 18th century, spent billions of pounds on what he calls the "so called defence of the Highlands". He shows that what this 'defence' ("one of the single greatest outlays of imperial Britain") amounted to was centuries of military occupation and the establishment of schools and other institutions designed to, as one early British king put it, "abolish and extirpate" the Gaelic language and culture. Other state sponsored acts of cultural terrorism of the time included burning and laying waste homes and villages, rape and enslavement - all of it paid for by the taxpayer and all designed to exterminate Gaelic culture.

    Howard's comment that "language is the only absolutely true democracy," although it might seem realistic to an anglo-centric commentator, is a view that comes from 'la-la land', when seen from my perspective as a Gaidheal – a member of Gaelic culture and a speaker of the Scottish Gaelic language (I can only speak for my own culture and people, but I suspect this will also be so for the other marginalised cultures of Britain).

    To understand the power of the tyranny that seeks to control attitudes towards language use and preference, consider, for example, a forum in a state funded British institution which in its 'house rules' gives preference to English over other official indigenous UK languages such as Gaelic or Welsh (defined as official in the EU's charter for regional or minority languages). Here is one of the 'house rules' for this BBC ‘have your say’ forum:

    "We reserve the right to fail contributions that...Are written in anything other than English - other languages, including Welsh and Gaelic, may only be used where expressly permitted."

    Because the BBC's national audience is now so overwhelmingly English speaking it may seem incongruous to ask for equal rights for comments that are made in British languages other than English - languages which so few people can speak these days. However, as I have shown, the fact that Britain is now almost, but not quite, in a monoglot state is a fact of centuries of political decision making, a fact which Howard and Malik, and the author of the opinion piece that we are commenting on, either ignore or have failed to understand.

    Another example of the subtle tyranny that seeks to control our attitudes to language and its use, can be seen in the construction of this very opinion piece. It contains the words of one expert who speaks in favour of the support of minority languages. He is allowed just one sentence to speak in support of minority languages.

    There then follows eleven (count them) paragraphs of argument as to why they should not be supported.

    Is this a fair, balanced and impartial distribution of opinion? I think a fair, balanced and impartial observer would be forced to conclude that it is not.

    Therefore, it seems to me that this forum itself could be accused of reinforcing, and thus exemplifying, the tyrannical colonial mentality that has endangered the majority of indigenous languages of Britain.

    There are many among us British who do not want to have to face our colonial inheritance. But, in truth, we can’t ignore it for it is written all over us.

  • Comment number 97.

    My mother tongue is dying.

    I was raised on BBC English. It is being supplanted by something different. Less "grammatically correct" English is now spoken and written, it seems, but I'm just having to live with it. More important in the long run, in my opinion, is the ability to communicate, which requires a common (usually second) language. Latin used to fit the bill, now "English" does. My language is dying, but its child develops away from home.

  • Comment number 98.

    Language is always evolving. Some fade away, others come in.
    lol

  • Comment number 99.

    Just because a local language is dying, does not mean that the associated knowledge dies with them. Language is a means of communication not knowledge and we probably have lost more languages and diaslects than we care to remember. In a limited sense the use of major old languages such as Latin gives us the derivative meanings of words. We cannot speak ancient egyptian but we can read their heiroglyphs and we can do the same for Aztec and Mayan civilisations. We cannot preserve everything.

  • Comment number 100.

    If a language is dying, there is a reason for it: the nationals to whom the dying language belongs to do not make enough effort to keep it alive.

    Come to think about it; is English alive?
    Sounds like a stupid question, but really, how intelligible do you think the contemporary English is to a 14th century English speaker?

    The report talks about Bo language being dead. It's not. It has been amalgamated in other languages.

    Please stop wasting money, please.

 

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