Linguistic Aspects Of Ethno Cultural Diversity English Language Essay

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'If you know one word of your language, speak that word. Speak it badly. Speak it well, but speak it. That word will know the joy of being spoken and you will know more about who you are.'

-William Harjo LoneFight,

Nvce Mvskoke

'Every language spoken in the world represents a special culture, melody, color, and asset and to everyone the mother language is certainly one of the most precious treasures in our lives' (Guvercin). Indeed, as the researchers of Unesco Ad Hoc Expert Group on endangered languages emphasize, preserving each language in the world, all of which has unique characteristics, embodying traditional, social, cultural features, in other words comprising historical and cultural heritage of every speaking community, is crucially important (1). Another writer continues to refer to the same fact, stating 'languages contain generations of wisdom, going back into antiquity', emphasizing that languages play a crucial role in constructing ourselves, our way of thinking, expressing ourselves, and shaping our world (Reyhner). It is very apparent that 'our language is a God's blessing that our forefathers received thousands of years ago' (Fishman 240), thus enabling the survival of all the languages, especially endangered languages in the world is utmost important.

As Woodbury emphasizes a language is under the risk of being endangered when it is 'falling out of use' and gradually becoming extinct in the near future, and leading to a lost of an entire culture (1). Unesco finds out and states that 'half of the 6,700 languages spoken today are in danger of disappearing before the century ends…', as a matter of fact the critic Bernard also emphasizes an interesting data that about 4% of the languages in the world are spoken by about 97% of people, however about 96% of the languages in the world are spoken only by about 3% of the people in the world (142). As it is stated that 'of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century' (Wilford), indeed World Resources Institute indicates that 'languages are now becoming extinct faster than birds, mammals, fish or plants', and 'half of world's languages may become extinct by 2100' (Davis). Besides, National Geographic's Enduring Voices Project points out that 'every 14 days a language dies', and '…taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain'.

The interview of the newspaper, the Economist with Harrison, who is a linguist at Swarthmore College, reveals that a 'language hotspot' is an episteme stressing the regions in the world, the languages of which are under the high risk of linguicide. As the researchers of the Institute for Endangered Languages (Living Tongues) refer to the map of National Geographic, which indicates 'top 5 language hotspots'; Northern Australia, Central South America, North-West Pacific Plateau, Eastern Siberia, and Oklahoma-Southwest. Indeed, Living Tongues continues to emphasize that measuring the precise levels of endangerment is not wholly possible, however through their system of a five-star scale to rank endangerment, they stress the concepts of 'extinct', 'moribund', 'highly endangered', 'endangered', 'threatened', 'thriving', explaining them respectively as 'no speakers', 'youngest speakers over age 60', 'youngest speakers over 40, 'small community undergoing shift', and 'stable or growing community with speakers of all ages who use the language in all or most spheres of life'. They also indicate other hotspots in the world such as Central South Africa, Oklahoma-Southwest, Northern South America, Western Melanesia, and Caucasus following respectively the other indicated top 5 hotspots, with high/medium/ low levels of threat of endangerment (Anderson, Harrison). As the writer Aldhous states that 'this extinction crisis is so severe that the list of hotspots may change rapidly' (1).

There is a great number of languages in the world, all of which either have recently become extinct or vanished long ago, and considered as dead languages, without a possibility of resurrection. The classification of dead languages is carried on as such 'ancient languages', all of which vanished 'more than a millennium ago' such as Egyptian (Ancient), Neo-Hittite, Ugaritic, Tangut, Aquitanian etc., 'extinct languages', which disappeared 'during the last millennium' such as Dieri, Coxima, Baygo, Miriti, Abishira etc., and 'historic languages'; 'representing an earlier distinct stage of a living language' such as Old Irish (to 900), Ottoman Turkish (1500-1928), Old High German (ca. 750-1050), Ancient Greek (to 1453), Middle Korean (10th-16th cent.) ('Language/List of Dead Languages'). In the Interdependent Newspaper, it is stated that in the United States, 74 languages are considered as endangered, while 54 languages already vanished. 'Eyak, an aboriginal language spoken in Alaska, has just recently been lost with the death of its last speaker, Marie Smith Jones, in 2008'. Besides, the writer goes on to exemplify saying that 'other known examples of recently extinct languages include Manx from the Isle of Man in 1974 with the death of Ned Maddrell; Asax from Tanzania in 1976; and Ubyh from Turkey in 1992, when Tevfik Esenc died' (Novik).

'Some, like Utin and Sanskrit, have left their tombs adorned with rich Uteratures. Others, like Lenca and Nyunga have been buried beneath the tongues of their oppressors' (Binion and Shook 3). Indeed, there are several reasons and theories about why and how languages in the world go extinct. Socioeconomic, political, cultural, and religious reasons are considered as the main ones for language endangerment (Fernando et al. 2). As Mufwene indicates that the main reason for a language under the risk of endangerment is because of the power game among countries, in that the language of the country, the economy of which is powerful dominates (213). To exemplify this situation better, it should be taken into consideration that minority language speakers who may adopt the majority language thinking that the minority language isn't highly accepted in the society, or out of 'fear of persecution' etc. play a crucial role in causing the endangerment of a language. These consequences are generally as a result of 'one language-one state ideology and with the introduction of the Western education system and economies' (Fernando et al. 2). Furthermore, it is important to stress once again regardless of the reasons behind the extinction of the languages, the outcomes are pretty much the same leading to 'the loss of linguistic data, cultural and environmental knowledge, and the unique identity attached to each mother tongue' (Binion and Shook 3).

Krauss makes a category of the main reasons behind the aim of preserving languages, and saving them from extinction. He emphasizes four major reasons as 'the aesthetic reason', 'the scientific reason', 'the ethical argument', and 'to understand the world'. For the first reason that is the aesthetic one, he accentuates that every single language in the world has its own 'beauty', in that each of them has their own linguistic features, and in many ways contributed to the world through leaving behind written or oral traces. For the second reason, he stresses that 'language diversity also includes the knowledge of the world that is embedded in every language, which we cannot afford to lose. Languages contain traditional wisdom, for example of medicinal plants- which tree has bark that may prevent cancer, but the name of that tree is about to become extinct'. The other reason, the ethical argument is that 'who gets to choose which languages survive and which do not?...allowing survival of the fittest to prevail over human rights in this matter, even though as human beings we are also supposed to be endowed with reason and the ability to control our impulses and plan rationally for the future'. For the fourth reason, he stresses the importance of understanding the world, on which we live, as well as realising that 'our intellectual and linguistic diversity also forms a system necessary to our survival as human beings…Our lack of concern for indigenous languages implies that we have now reached some new Babel-like pinnacle of wisdom that allows us to make this unilateral and irrevocable decision to let ninety some percent of our languages go' (4-10).

Many theories have developed in an attempt to save a language from the demise of endangerment, as the critic Aikiawa states that 'Based on this principle, UNESCO has developed programs aimed at promoting languages as instruments of education and culture, and as significant means through which to participate in national life' (13). UNESCO's The Red Book of Languages in Danger of Disappearing is among these programs, which has a crucial contribution to enable an endangered language to survive. The main aims of this project is to 'to systematically gather information on endangered languages, to strengthen research and the collection of materials relating to endangered languages for which little or no such activities have been undertaken to date, and that belong to a specific category such as language isolates, languages of special interest for typological and historical-comparative linguistics, and are in imminent danger of extinction, to undertake activities aiming to establish a world-wide project committee and a network of regional centres as focal points for large areas on the basis of existing contacts; and to encourage publication of materials and the results of studies on endangered languages'. It is also highly crucial 'to work with the endangered-language communities toward language maintenance, development, revitalization, and perpetuation' (UNESCO, 5).

As the writer Malone stresses, as a consequence of the gradual extinction of a large number of world languages, many scholars such as 'applied linguists, educational anthropologists, and multilingual educators' have alarmed and begun to make some efforts for the survival of the endangered languages. 'Education in minority languages' is considered as vital for the preservation of these kind of languages, in that the writer connotes a rationale for introducing minority language education into formal education systems, providing evidence from actual programmes that adequate curriculum and instructional materials can be supplied in a reasonably economical way, and describing a general resource that can guide the development of curriculum and instructional material for minority language education in general and for endangered language education programmes in particular.' (332-333). Other critics stress that there are a number of indigenous people, collaborating with linguistics in an attempt to save the endangered languages, Marie Smith Jones, a 80-year-old woman, is just one of them, promoting Eyak, an Alaskan language. In the United States, a Linguist in the University of California, Macri promotes a programme 'at UC Davis, in which speakers of Native American languages are made available to students of whom have no prior linguistic training (Raymond et al. 1). Furthermore, as the writer Ivanova states that 'in 1990, then-President George Bush signed the Native American Languages Act, stating that the United States has a responsibility to work with tribes to ensure the survival of their unique cultures and languages' (2).

It should be indicated that from educators, linguists, researchers to indigenous people, in other words anyone feeling responsible for contributing to the survival of endangered languages conduct different methods to combat with the demise of these languages. UNESCO emphasizes five crucial ways to save endangered languages. The first one is 'basic linguistic and pedagogical training' that is to enrich teachers with new linguistic methods and train them. The second one is 'sustainable development in literacy and local documentation skills', which is to 'establish local research centres', where local endangered language speakers can regularly come and provide the survival of the languages through studying, documenting, enriching their own endangered languages. The third and fourth ones are 'supporting and developing national language policy and educational policy', meaning 'more social scientists, and humanists, and speakers of endangered languages themselves' should be participate in such attempts to save them, as well as the need for several education programs carried out in endangered languages. Lastly, 'improving living conditions and respect for the human rights of speaker communities' are highly needed (UNESCO, 7-8).

Finally, the vitality of the preservation of endangered languages is justified through acknowledging the ideas of several writers presented above. Indeed all of these writers have not only different point of views but also different methods towards endangered languages, however they all serve to the same purpose that is both to conserve the languages and maintain the cultural heritage that languages reserve in themselves, all of which has very close relation to the main point of the paper. Simply, the relation of culture and language is presented through stressing the fact that language is a living being, it not only evolves in time, but it can also fade away to periphery, and die, as well as the language hotspots and the risks that lead to the endangerment of a language is presented through referring to the theories of such writers as Woodbury, Wiford, Anderson & Harrison etc. Furthermore, some examples are provided in terms of the languages that are vanished long ago or recently such as Dieri, and Eyak, along with theories why and how languages go extinct, and the aims of preserving a language are all provided so as to raise the consciousness of the vitality of the preservation of every single language in the world.