Preserving Minority Languages
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Published: Thu, 16 Aug 2018
On the other hand, according to Anthony Ellis, it would be trifling to insist that extinction of language causes extinction of culture because language is not whole culture but just one part of it (Ellis, 2005). Nevertheless, according to David Harrison, linguist and professor of the Swarthmore College, languages ‘have been shaped by people to serve as repositories for cultural knowledge, efficiently packaged and readily transmittable across generations.’ (Harrison, 2007:7). In other words, it is crucial for human race to keep the conservation of minority language due to its cultural values: academic, ethnic and social values.
The first cultural value of minority language is its academic value. Linguists especially have academic passion for protecting and researching minority languages. They should study many different languages to restore their all functions and structures of endangered languages. It must also be noted that linguists need to train many youngsters at school to transmit their native languages to next generations. Moreover, one of most important reason why it is needed to keep minority languages researching is that academically new and attractive facts are always discovered in minority languages.
Ubykh, one of minority language of the North-western Caucasian group spoken by the Ubykh people until the early 1990s, was regarded as a language which has a large number of consonants (Romaine, 2007). Recent researches, however, show that some African language have more consonants than Ubykh’s. Furthermore, linguists found an African language called Hixkaryana, which has about 350 speakers. The reason why this language and its adjacent languages have an attention is that they are cases of language which place their object first when they make a sentence. For an instance, if the English sentence, I love you, is made, the sentence in Hixkaryana should be you love I instead of I love you. In the case of Korean and Japanese, they have the archetypal structural order, Subject + Object + Verb(SOV). They say I you love whilst English speakers say I love you. It is clear that contemporary English has self-evident sentence order, Subject + Verb + Object(SVO). However, Irish puts its verb first. Unfortunately, linguists predict that ‘object-initial languages’ such as Hixkaryana will vanish in the next century. (Nettle & Romaine, 2000:11)
At this point, it should be academically asked that why ‘object-initial languages’ are hard to survive in the modern era. This is the academic question which needs to be examined by researching minority languages. There will be a number of these kinds of academic questions from minority languages. This academic knowledge will be a great legacy for human race. This is why we preserve minority languages.
The second cultural value of minority language is the value about its ethnic identity. One of the most important factors of ethnic identity is language. In the time of globalisation, identity of people is defined by the language that they speak and write rather than the region that people live. For an example, although every people in London speak common language, English, it is unsure that all of them are English people because some of them have their native languages. It means that people can find their ethnic identity when they speak their native languages.
The importance of ethnic identity acquired by using native languages is closely related with national stature of each country. For example, one of the urgent issues of Ukraine after independence in 1991 was to establish its linguistic identity to rise up the stature of nation-state. After breaking up Soviet-union, one of differences between other nation-states and Ukraine was the influence of Russian. Unlike other nation-states, Russians was used in more widely and still made an impact on culture, science, management and so on in Ukraine. In this situation, Ukraine declared the new constitution and it expressed clearly that there is only one national language. By this process, Ukrainian became only one official language of Ukraine. People who used Ukrainian thought that people who still used Russian didn’t have any ethnic identity as the member of Ukraine (Zhurzhenko, 2002).
For another example of historically dark side, during the Japanese occupation in the past, Hangeul, Korean native language made by Sejong the Great in 1443, was strictly banned to use among Koreans as a colonial policy for ethnocide. Koreans were forced to change even their Hangeul names to Japanese names. Korea’s national stature could not help fall.
These historical facts above clearly demonstrate that language can not be divided from the ethnic identity. For this reason, if minority languages become extinct, the ethnic identity of those who use minority language will be disappeared as well.
The third cultural value of minority language is its aesthetic value. Every language has its aesthetic values. This is expressed by art works through languages such as novels, poets and even music. Research has shown that there is ‘the tendency to regard analogies between artforms and linguistic structures as relevant and illuminating.’ (Kraut, 2007:177). It is said that ‘Jazz improvisation is analogous to spontaneous speech.'(ibid). In other words, it means that all minority languages have their unique aesthetic values.
For an instance, China is unified multiracial nation and 56 tribes are living together in an extensive land. The numbers of minority tribes’ languages are around 60. Even though they are minority languages, their aesthetic values are proved by their literatures. Tibetian’s literary value is excellent and its Gesa’er, written in the 13th century BC, has been well-known as the longest heroic epic over the world. Dong, one of minority ethnic groups in China has their native language, Kradai. It is told that Kradai is a profusion of musical value because it has various tones and vocabularies. Kradai has been developed in unique musical ways of Dong’s people. It is known that Kradai is the most complex language over the world because it has 15 tones whilst the language of the Han race in China has 4 tones. As a matter of fact, its complexity contributed to make its aesthetic value. Therefore, it is natural that this great value dies if minority languages of China’s minority ethnic groups die.
For these three cultural values, which are academic, ethnic and aesthetic values, it is self-evident that minority languages are definitely deserved to be protected and transmit to their next generations as their great legacy. That is to say, minority languages are not a part of culture and a method of communications but culture itself. When a language dies, a culture dies.
In conclusion, it is urgently asked at this time to protect minority languages. Firstly, it is essential that the endangered languages ought to be found, stabilised all linguistic functions and all people help them be transmitted to next generations. Secondly, it is needed to make preserving minority languages be an important part of Conservation ethic. It means that people should realise that our language is equally one of the great natural environments and endeavour to protect our linguistic environment. Lastly, there has to be unremitting exertion for native language education even if it is minority language. For an instance, some Korean scholars pointed out to Korea’s education environment just focused on English instead of Hangeul, Korean language and predicted there will be no Hangeul after 200 years if we keep this education system. Minority language education is important especially for next generations. Therefore, the fact that extinction of a language engenders extinction of a culture should be remembered to all generations and make a great effort to preserve minority languages.
Ellis, Anthony (2005). Minority Rights and the Preservation of Languages. Cambridge Journals: 199-217. The Royal institute of Philosophy.
Harrison, David. K. (2007). When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge. USA, Oxford University Press.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7206411.stm (Accessed 08 November 2010).
Kraut, Robert. (2007). Artworld Metaphysics. Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008.
Nettle, D. and S. Romaine (2000). Vanishing voices : the extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Romaine, Suzanne. (2007). Preserving Endangered Languages. Language and Linguistics compass 1/1-2:115-132. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Zhurzhenko, Tatiana. (2002). “Language Politics” in Contemporary Ukraine: Nationalism and Identity Formation. IWM Junior Visiting Fellows Conferences, Vol. XII/2.
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