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Language Death: Cultural Issue Or Moral Panic?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 1525 words Published: 13th Apr 2017

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The use of English as a spoken and a written language is a fast and growing trend and most countries have been adopting English even in official documents and people are not speaking their native language but increasingly communicating in English in a globalized society. As expressed by researchers, Americanization is a fast and dominant trend and countries are adopting English in schools, offices and media, TV and also music and entertainment. Movies in certain countries are made in English or with English subtitles although English may not be the native language. This means that the minority languages are dying out drastically and this radical change is language has to be noted and important theme among linguists. Language death is widespread as many language are being replaced by English and English is now taking over all other languages as people around the world find it easy to communicate in one language. With globalization, the rate of language becoming extinct continues to increase alarmingly and will possibly continue to increase in the future.

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2)What is language death?

According to David Crystal, a language dies when nobody speaks it anymore. Krauss (1992) establishes three types of prognosis for language death and provides the characteristics that would define language death in a specific way, with the prognosis being the probability of continuation or that a language would continue to be used and when it doesn't it is considered dead, or that a language would degenerate to some other language and this degeneration implies that language would get distorted or mixed with other language and finally disappear or the possible rejuvenation of a language which means an old or dying language would be rejuvenated or revived to a new language.

Language death occurs when languages become 'moribund'" and a language is no longer learned or spoken as a mother tongue by children and this sort of language that is not used has been considered as "doomed to extinction." A language may also be 'Endangered' and although still learned and used by children would likely to "cease to be learned by children during the coming centuries" so these are endangered. These two categories of languages that are either moribund or endangered according to Krauss make for 90% of the world's languages and only remaining 10% or 600 languages have been defined as 'safe', and these are languages that are "neither moribund nor endangered" and are not in immediate danger of extinction or death (Krauss, 1992).

3) Brief history of language death

There could also be certain status issues in language as seen in case of certain languages such as Irish and Sanskrit these are spoken only by traditional people and the modern or urban citizens of either Ireland or India do not speak these languages. In some cases traditional language is spoken by tribes or people of lower socio economic groups and speaking these languages could be associated with low socio economic status as members of high socioeconomic status tend to adopt language that have global appeal such as English.

According to Krauss (1992) there are 6900 languages spoken around the world and 3000 of these will not be spoken by the end of the next century and will thus be considered dead or extinct. Language death could have many factors as seen in the history of language and the endangering of language is due to a lack of speakers or there could be less government support in keeping the language from extinction. The threat to language is the pressure to give in to globalization and standardization as using one standard language has become the norm.

It has been estimated that the number of English speakers worldwide was 4 million in 1500 although by 2000 the number of English speakers would be 1 billion across the world Otto Jespersen (1938/68). There are speakers of English as a first or native language, speakers of English as a second language and speakers of English as a foreign language. (Pennycook,1994). Language death has been traditionally due to language being lost or not spoken in family and informal situations and this inflicted the death of the language or replacement with another language in church, legal and other official situations.

Traditionally language has also died when a majority of their speakers die due to natural disasters or genocides and similar conditions. For instance language spoken in El Salvador such as Lenca and Cacaopera are already extinct and Pipilonly is another language that has a few remaining speakers but there is a gradual shift towards adopting a language that others speak and understand and Spanish and English are becoming popular with older traditional languages becoming extinct in central and South America (Krauss, 1976). In Ceylon there has a death of the traditional Tamil languages with English being used instead and a scholar Sir Arunachalam commented that 'The root of the evil in Ceylon is that the vernacular is neglected'. In Africa, there is a gradual extinction of many tribal languages as these small tribes speak these languages extensively and many of these tribal members are remote from other human habitation and with their death due to harsh African conditions or poverty, there would be no one left to speak these languages.

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4) Why is language death an important issue?

Language death is an important issue as language is related to culture and cultural identity and loss of linguistic diversity could also be a loss of diverse cultures. The issue thus goes beyond language and touches on problems with culture as specific languages would have specific expressions and with the loss of language there would be a loss of such specific expressions and this means that there will also be a loss of knowledge or every few people would be able to relate to cultural knowledge or transfer certain cultural idioms and expressions to the next generation. These cultural expression would then die and a culture itself would die when language dies. Although this sort of scenario may be extreme, these are possibilities and to preserve culture, it would be necessary to preserve language and that is how language death and its analysis and knowing its causes and possible means of preservation of language or prevention of language death could also be studied along with this. Dixon (1997) has suggested that smaller societies and even tribes dealing with minority languages have complex hierarchies and communal relations and associated complex pronoun structures which may not be completely grasped or interpreted with a majority modern language. According to researchers, there is also a feeling of loss of valuable cultural components and information through the process of colonization and modern day globalization.

5) What is the relation between culture and language?

Language and culture are related as cultures and cultural identities are expressed with language and expressions that are peculiar to a language and with the loss of different languages it would be difficult to pass certain cultural nuances to the future generations as certain expressions are unique to certain cultural patterns. Language does not exist separate from culture but is an integral aspect of culture and when a language dies it also adversely affects the culture as the culture which is based on the language is suddenly usurped by some other language and this would mean that the cultural basis or roots are lost. It is important to preserve language to preserve culture.

6) Should language death lead to moral panic?

It is an open question whether language death is a cultural issue or whether it should lead to moral panic. If cultural identity is to be preserved, language death would definitely mean that there is a death of culture and diversity in this world. The colonisation and globalization issues could be issues of morality as imperialism itself raises ethical questions on whether a foreign culture or language has a right to claim ownership or whether it could completely usurp or conquer other cultures. These are problems that will become even more relevant in a globalized world with increased connectivity when there are practical advantages of speaking in one language.

7) Conclusion

Language death is an important both as a moral and cultural issue as languages are an integral part of cultural identity so language and culture are related significantly. People identify with a culture they belong to and thus they also identify with a certain culture and feel a sense of belonging to a group or society or even when they speak a language which is common in a cultural group they identify with the language as well. Other issues apart from culture, society, globalization that will be linked to language death would be morality when a minor language or culture is usurped or conquered by a global or stronger language. In the future a majority language could completely overshadow a minority language.


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