It to learn and speak it. Today there are

It is known that there are 6000 – 7000 languages spoken today, and of those languages 40 – 60% of them are endangered. Linguists believe that in the next century, the number of languages spoken will drop by half to the lower thousands. This is because every two weeks a language disappears off the face of the Earth (‘Dying Languages’, National Geographic, 24th September 2009), along with the culture, information, and treasured memories that belonged to that language. A reason for this is that the last speaker of that language has died, or the next generation fail to learn and speak it. Today there are many methods to find out if a language is dying through specific grading systems. These systems look at several aspects of the language such as intergenerational transmission, proportion of speakers within the total population, functions and uses of the language, availability of written materials, government support, and determines its grade from 0 to 5, five being the highest. Over the years, linguists have collected information about language loss and have come up with various reasons as to why it occurs; The Colonial Period has lead to language loss as minority languages are deliberately suppressed and indigenous people are forced to speak another language (McCarthy, 2010). Globalisation and the Free Market Era added currency to the language of politically dominant nations which overwhelmed local languages and cultures (Hale, 1992).  There are many other factors seen today that have an impact on language shift. In terms of the social factors, society’s attitude towards the minority language are hostile (Baker) as well as discrimination against those who speak it. There is also a necessity to speak the dominant language in order to function in society. In terms of cultural factors there is an assimilationist belief that immigrants moving to America must assimilate and accept American culture, forgetting their native culture and traditions. Other individual factors include lack of opportunity to speak the language, peer pressure to speak the dominant language etc. Although linguists and anthropologists have worked hard at preserving these minority languages, there are still languages that die and along with that come various issues with language loss. These will be discussed in this essay in three main areas. Loss of Ethnic Identity Imagine you’re walking down the street and you walk past someone speaking another language. As soon as you hear this language you think about its origins and the people who speak it. You think about how that language has evolved through history to where it is today. You think about the amount of culture in that language. Maybe you are familiar with this language from various holidays and explorations of the country it belongs to. Maybe you understand some words and phrases. You then continue walking down the street glad to have had that experience with that language. Now imagine that language has died. You know nothing about the language or its history. You never explored its culture or learned its words and phrases from the locals. It all just disappears. In a way, a unique way of looking at the world also disappears (Fishman 1998; Nettle & Romaine 2000; Dalby 2002). And just like that their ethnic identity is lost. What is ethnic identity?Ethnicity is defined as the fact or state of belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition. This is one of the main things that makes a community diverse. Languages are often seen as symbols of ethnic and national identity. When someone hears another language, they associate it with a community of people with their own cultural traditions and values. For example if somebody starts to talk about Ireland, they think of the irish language along with guiness, potatoes and of course, leprechauns. The irish language itself has been an endangered language in the past but since has been revived and is spoken all over the country. When a language dies, so does its cultural diversity (Julia Sallabank, 2010,  ‘Language Endangerment: Problems and Solutions’). There is no longer anything that defines them. These people may have to emigrate to Europe or the USA for work or for asylum and have no choice but to assimilate and become new people, forgetting the place and the language that they were born into. As Lanza & Svendsen (2007) suggest, ‘language might become important for identity when a group feels it is losing its identity due to political or social reasons’. This is the real tragedy, being unable to speak the language they learned how to describe the world in (‘Four things that happen when a language dies’, Kat Eschner, 2017).Language is a way people construct their identities(Julia Sallabank, 2010, ‘Language Endangerment: Problems and Solutions’), a way for people to express themselves. Imagine not being able to put words to your emotions in the language you were born into. Your mother tongue is the language you most identify with as a person. It holds connections to your family and ancestors, it tells a story about you. So when a language dies, the inner life of its people disappears too. Would it be easier if we all spoke the same language?A lot of people might say this. It would be easier in a sense for translation errors or language barriers, however I believe there are more downfalls to us all speaking the same language. The most obvious is that the world would be boring. There would be a lack of cultural diversity that makes our world unique. Languages make the world different. People who learn languages learn more about the world they live in and are more encouraged to find out incredible things about what’s in it. This is why i think Ethnic Identity is very important when it comes to language loss. If a language dies, we lose that part of the world it belonged to. We lose the people, the history, the culture and the secrets of the land it came from, and that is too tragic a loss. Loss of Knowledge that comes with the Language Language loss can be culturally devastating  (Basu, 2009). It is known that when languages die out they are born anew or are replaced by others through language contact or through divergence due to lack of communication over distances (Dalby, 2002). This has been an ongoing cycle until recent years. Nowadays, more words are disappearing before linguists get a chance to explore them and the languages are dying and being replaced by ‘metropolitan languages’ (Nancy Rivenburgh). For instance the official language of Greenland is made up of extremely long words that can be altered for any occasion and there are as many of these words as there are sentences in English. Linguists aren’t being given as much opportunity to study these words because they are losing them to majority languages (‘Four things that happen when a language dies’, Kat Eschner, 2017). As we know more and more people are emigrating to countries with better work opportunities and standard of living. This promotes language loss as there is a tendency to shift to languages of wider communication (Julia Sallabank, 2010, ‘Language Endangerment: Problems and Solutions’). What a language can hold: We might not know it, but each language contains a little or a lot of information. It can be about constellations in the sky, medical cures or secrets to the land that we might not know about (‘What does the world lose when a language dies?’, Jeffrey Brown, 27th January 2015). Linguist Paroma Basu wrote for National Geographic in 2009 about what would happen when a language dies. Basu wrote “Each language is a key that can unlock local knowledge about medicinal secrets, ecological wisdom, weather and climate patterns, spiritual attitudes and artistic & mythological histories”. At the time Basu was working in India which is home to over 400 languages, at least seven major language families, but rapid language loss (Basu, 2009). Some of these languages have been given the opportunity to be preserved by linguists and the locals, but there are still languages dying faster than we realise. So with the loss of these languages, we also lose a connection with the world. We lose hundreds, maybe thousands of years worth of information. Imagine being in a certain rural village or town in Australia, Africa or even in the United States, and you need access to certain information but you can’t get it because the language that it was available in no longer exists (‘What does the world lose when a language dies?’, Jeffrey Brown, 27th January 2015). It could be for a medical emergency, information about the land that might be dying and you don’t know why, or it could be as simple as needing directions and you will never know what it is. When the language dies, we lose the ability to use the information it holds. Not only do we lose vital information with language loss, we lose all of the culture, history and traditions with it. This ranges from prayers, myths, ceremonies, poetry, to everyday greetings, leave-takings, unique terms for habits, behaviour and emotions (‘Endangered Languages’, Anthony Woodbury). For example there are songs sung by locals in an aboriginal area of Northern Australia and there are only a handful of people or less that can speak the language its sung in.What else can we lose? Not only do we lose all this knowledge about the language and the land it came from, we also lose information about ourselves. Language loss has broader implications for the understanding of how humans process language (Lenore Grenoble). We lose a lot of information about how languages work and how the mind works when we speak them (‘Four things that happen when a language dies’, Kat Eschner, 2010). There are a lot of studies done nowadays about how our brains work when speaking different languages and whether we think differently depending on what language we speak. We won’t get to the full extent of our mind’s compatibility with languages if one disappears off the face of the earth every two weeks (‘Dying Languages’, National Geographic, 24th September 2009). This knowledge is too important to the world to lose so fast. We are still discovering unique things about our world and we cannot do that without languages. There are so many things we just don’t know. For example there is a whistling language named Sylbo that is spoken in the Spanish Canary Islands. This whistling language is being taught in schools and is used by the locals as well as spanish. Its things like this that we will lose in the world when languages die. Decline in Communication Abilities Language loss can happen in two levels. One is when the entire language ceases to be spoken completely, the other is a more personal level of language loss (Erin Haynes, Heritage Briefs, 2010, ‘What is Language Loss?’, Pages: 1 & 2). Language loss is seen to affect history, culture, identity and different communities. But what about the families of those communities? Language is a tool used to communicate with people and to form a connection. How do families do that without this tool? That is what this issue is about.How this occurs: Throughout history one of the main reasons of language loss was assimilation into larger communities. This assimilation process was sometimes rather forceful. There is a case of this with indigenous communities in the United States, who have a history of promoting assimilation. A lot of schools would not tolerate students speaking languages other than english (Erin Haynes, Heritage Briefs, 2010, ‘What is Language Loss?’, Pages: 1 & 2). Spanish speaking students were punished at school for a speaking a word of their own language (Mendoza MacGregor, 2000). At the time of immigration a lot of people needed to assimilate into the new culture in order for them to function in society. Therefore they were forced to speak these majority languages such as English and Mandarin. This is when these immigrant families experience language loss in their own way.Language loss in families: In the case of elderly people whose younger generations have moved to another country with another language, it can be difficult to communicate with them. It is known that the older one becomes, the more difficult it is to learn a language. This is when communication can become harder with immigrant families. Experiencing language loss for them can involve simplified grammar and gaps in their vocabulary. They attempt to paraphrase speech and use morphosyntactic structures of English (Erin Haynes, Heritage Briefs, 2010, ‘What is Language Loss?’, Pages: 1 & 2). This is difficult in cases of immigrant grandparents talking to their grandchildren who were most likely raised in the new language instead of the family’s mother tongue. This can lead to slowed down attempts to communicate to the point where they stop and give up due to linguistic insecurity (Anderson, 1982) and unfortunately communication is disrupted between family members and causes a sense of cultural loss (Hinton, 1999) or even identity loss. This is a big issue with language loss as it not only creates a loss of ethnicity and knowledge but it also can break up families. Grandparents or even parents not being able to fully communicate with younger generations because they were not encouraging enough for them to learn their family’s mother tongue. They wouldn’t be able to get to know their grandchildren the same way they would if they spoke the same language. This is a very personal issue with language loss that I think some people wouldn’t realise. To conclude this essay, I believe language loss has an abundance of issues. Some of greater importance than others. These issues have an impact on the study of linguistics, culture, society and identity. These issues were discussed in three main areas in my opinion. Ethnic identity is important to all of us, and when we lose our language we lose that identity and the connection we had with the world. We also lose any knowledge or information that belonged to that language that had developed over hundreds of years, along with history, culture and traditions that we will never know.Language loss can also occur on a familial or personal level that involves communication declining among immigrant families. Grandparents not being able to speak to their grandchildren because of a language barrier is tragic. They no longer attempt to do so due to insecurities when trying to speak english with poor grammar. These were the main issues in my opinion of language loss, and I believe that these do the worst damage to the world’s different cultures.


I'm Dianna!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out