Although our story is a largely depressing one of cultural and linguistic meltdown in progress, we think this new millennium also offers hope. In May about native delegates gathered in Kari-Oca on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, to attend the First World Conference of Indigenous Peoples and declare their desire for self-determination, to educate their children and preserve their cultural identity.
The last decades of the twentieth century have seen a resurgence of indigenous activism from the. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis Few people know that nearly native languages once spoken in what is now California are near extinction, or that most of Australia's aboriginal languages have vanished.
In fact, at least half of the world's languages may die out in the next century. What has happened to these voices? Should we be alarmed about the disappearance of linguistic diversity? The authors of Vanishing Voices assert that this trend is far more than simply disturbing. Making explicit the link between language survival and environmental issues, they argue that the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem. Indeed, the authors contend that the struggle to preserve precious environmental resources-such as the rainforest-cannot be separated from the struggle to maintain diverse cultures, and that the causes of language death, like that of ecological destruction, lie at the intersection of ecology and politics.
And while Nettle and Romaine defend the world's endangered languages, they also pay homage to the last speakers of dying tongues, such as Red Thundercloud, a Native American in South Carolina, Ned Mandrell, with whom the Manx language passed away in , and Arthur Bennett, an Australian, the last person to know more than a few words of Mbabaram. In our languages lies the accumulated knowledge of humanity.
Indeed, each language is a unique window on experience. Vanishing Voices is a call to preserve this resource, before it is too late. Excerpt Few people seem to know or care that most of Australia's aboriginal languages have already vanished and few are likely to survive over the long term.
Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages
Now there are hundreds of such satellites orbiting the earth. Increasingly sophisticated and rapid telecommunications brought about through computers in the late twentieth century have created a network of computers, popularly called the "information superhighway. Because the technology facilitating these developments originated largely in the English-speaking world, not surprisingly, English has become its lingua franca.
Until it was difficult to communicate via the internet in any language that could not be expressed in the standard English alphabet as defined by the American Standard Code for Information Interchange ASCII , set down in Similarly, the corporations and financial institutions of the Englishspeaking countries have dominated world trade and made English the 18 Vanishing Voices international language of business. Books in the English language have dominated the publishing business; there are few countries in the world where English books cannot find a market of some kind. Even other major languages, such as French and German, have continued to lose ground against English over the course of this century as mediums of scholarly publication.
By , 70 percent of the world's mail and 60 percent of its radio and television broadcasts were already in English. Compare this to the state of the language in the year , however, when the idea that English might become a world language was not seriously entertained since it was thought to have many flaws. At that time knowledge of English was virtually useless in traveling abroad.
Nowadays, it is regarded as essential. Language shift is thus symptomatic of much larger-scale social processes that have brought about the global village phenomenon, affecting people everywhere, even in the remotest regions of the Amazon. Many smaller languages are dying out due to the spread of a few world languages such as English, French, Chinese, and so on.
In today's global village, a mere handful of about languages are spoken by around 90 percent of the world's population. We will argue that this radical restructuring of human societies, which has led to the dominance of English and a few other world languages, is not a case of "survival of the fittest," nor the outcome of competition or free choice among equals in an idealized market place.
It is instead the result of unequal rates of social change resulting in striking disparities in resources between developed and developing countries. Another reason why language death has been ignored reflects a common but mistaken belief that the existence of many languages poses a barrier to communication, to economic development, and to modernization more generally.
Shouldn't we instead be glad that so many languages are dying out? Isn't multilingualism the curse of Babel? Wouldn't the sharing of a common language lead to better understanding? Monolingual English speakers are usually unaware of the fact that their circumstances are NOT the norm in a world that has long been and is still predominantly multilingual. Danish linguist Louis Hjelmslev related how a Finnish colleague told him of an American visitor to Finland who had heard about the complexity of Finnish, a language with over twenty cases and a pronunciation of considerable difficulty to the average English speaker, and unrelated to most other western European languages.
The American seemed amazed that a small population of only four million should maintain such a seemingly impractical language, which in effect cut them off from their neighbors and their neighbors from them. He proposed an exceedingly drastic measure to get rid of it by ceasing to teach Finnish and engaging instead a sufficient number of teachers of English to teach Where Have All the Languages f.
In one generation this little practical problem would be overcome once and for all. We can either laugh at the American's naive utilitarianism or decry his solution as draconian and imperialistic. Such misinformed views blinded by monolingualism, are, however, all too common, and part of the legacy of the Tower of Babel. Genesis relates how all people once spoke the same language, but God decided to punish them for their presumptuousness by erecting the tower and making them speak different languages.
The association of multilingualism with pernicious outcomes is still with us, as was evident, for instance, in media mogul Rupert Murdoch's speech on Australian radio in His gist was that multilingualism was divisive, and monolingualism, cohesive. Multilingualism was in his view the cause of Indian disunity, and monolingualism the reason for the unity of the English-speaking world. He rejoiced in the fact, however, that Hindi was finally spreading as a major lingua franca, due to the availability of Hindi TV programming being spread by his Asian television company, Star.
It takes but little reflection to find the many obvious flaws in Murdoch's reasoning, and to come up with cases in which the sharing of a common language has not gone hand in hand with political or indeed any other kind of unity. Northern Ireland is one such example from the Englishspeaking world that comes readily to mind. But there are many others from other parts of the globe. A very high degree of linguistic and religious uniformity in Somalia, for example, did not prevent a brutal civil war from breaking out there. Certainly, the attempt at Russification of the former republics of the Soviet Union did not ensure unity in that part of the world either.
Indeed, one of the first political acts undertaken by the newly independent Baltic states was to reassert their linguistic and cultural autonomy by reinstating their own national languages in place of Russian. After the demotion in status of Russian, Russia was not slow to accuse these countries of depriving Russian speakers of their linguistic human rights. Because languages and dialects are often potent symbols of class, gender, ethnicity, religion, and other differences, it is easy to think that language underlies conflict.
Yet disputes involving language are not really about language, but instead about fundamental inequalities between groups who happen to speak different languages. It is easy to lose sight of this point when language is often such a prominent symbol in the much larger struggle for minority rights. In , for example, Frisian language activists were involved in a street riot in the Dutch town of Ljouwert, protesting the inadmissibility of the Frisian language spoken by many of the members of the major indigenous minority group in Dutch courts. As we demonstrate in Chapter 8, language has played a key role in past struggles for cultural and political distinctiveness all over the world, zo Vanishing Vo ces and it continues to do so today.
In Quebec the controversial law requiring all signs to be in French only represented the symbolic ability of the Quebec government to control and maintain the Frenchness of Quebec in the midst of a predominantly anglophone Canada. Above all, however, it is an attempt on the part of Francophones to gain control over their own affairs, to exist as a people with their own identity and culture, and their own language. In introducing legislation designed to protect French, Quebec Francophones seek no more than to guarantee for themselves similar rights that anglophone Canadians have felt unnecessary to state as policy because they were implicit in practice already.
There has also been violence in Wales over the presence of English signs, and the purchase of vacation homes by people from England. Not surprisingly, signs carry a lot of symbolic freight. They do more than identify places and things. They reveal social hierarchies.
Jerusalem's political history is encapsulated in the city's multilingual signs. When the Jordanians conquered the Old City, their use of Arabic-English signs with Arabic on top signaled the political pre-eminence of Jordan. The absence of Hebrew in effect Figure 1. Cooper, The Languages of Jerusalem. When the Israelis captured the Old City in , they put up trilingual signs, this time with Hebrew on top, and English and Arabic underneath. The Arabic on a number of street signs in the Jewish quarter was painted over around , or defaced.
Languages and language varieties are always in competition, and at times in conflict, as the cases of Quebec and Jerusalem illustrate. There may be approximately 6, languages in the world, but there are only about countries—which means that multilingualism is present in practically every country in the world.
As the following chapters will show, however, the boundaries of modern nation-states have been arbitrarily drawn, with many of them created by the political and economic interests of Western colonial powers. Many indigenous people today, such as the Welsh, Hawaiians, and Basques, find themselves living in nations they had no say in creating and are controlled by groups who do not represent their interests — and, in some cases, actively seek to exterminate them, as is the case with the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.
More than iz Vanishing Voices 80 percent of the conflicts in the world today are between nation-states and minority peoples. All nation-states, whatever their political ideology, have persecuted minorities in the past and many continue to do so today. While not all states are actively seeking the eradication of minorities within their borders, they pursue policies designed to assimilate indigenous people into the mainstream or dominant culture. Many immigrants to the United States, for instance, were brainwashed into thinking that their languages and cultures were inferior and therefore had to be abandoned for the sake of being American.
As recently as it was illegal to speak Spanish in a public school building in Texas. The widespread assimilation of minorities in this way in democratic countries such as the US is generally ignored, since it is assumed that assimilation is voluntary and not coerced. Consideration of the larger picture, however, reveals a fuzzy boundary between forced and voluntary assimilation. Most older Saami Laplanders in Finland, for instance, were indoctrinated by the school system into believing that the speaking of Saami even at home weakened the child's knowledge of Finnish.
Many parents from various south Asian minorities now living in Britain have been told by teachers and social workers that speaking languages other than English at home would put their children's learning of English at risk. The research evidence indicates otherwise, as we show in Chapter 8, but most of the so-called experts who offer such advice are monolinguals and think of bilingualism as a problem in need of remediation. Children all over the world have been punished and ridiculed at school for speaking their parents' languages.
Political scientists once thought that the spread of both global capitalism as well as communism would eventually eliminate long-standing narrow allegiances to local ethnicities in favor of a broader loyalty to modern nation-states. Yet ethnic nationalism has repeatedly resisted the melting pot.
Ethnicity also grows stronger when actively denied or suppressed. Throughout its 74 years of existence the territory once called Yugoslavia has been a powder keg of ethnic rivalries going back centuries. The country that has been dissolving these past few years was an artificial creation of conflicting cultures held in check by a centralized Communist government until ; once the old regime crumbled, old tensions surfaced, leading to the unraveling of the country.
We will see in more detail in Chapter 8 how the virtual collapse of the economies of the former Soviet bloc countries has revealed the difficulties of centralized planning that rides roughshod over regional and ethnic affiliations and their related languages. We see in these examples that languages perform a fundamental act of identity for their speakers: you are what you speak. If the language dies, as some predict, what do we have left to us? Then, I ask our own people who are we? Although the existence of distinct cultures within one nation has often been seen by the powers that be as a threat to the cohesiveness of the state, our examples and many more like them that we consider in coming chapters show that denying people the right to their own language and culture does not provide a workable solution either.
When large portions of the population are denied forms of self-expression, the nation's political and social foundations are weakened. This is not to deny the existence of considerable problems, particularly where the traditional patterns of behavior of a minority group conflict with those of the dominant culture in a society. We argue in Chapter 8 that a nation that incorporates cultural and linguistic diversity is also richer than one that denies their existence. Difference itself is not the problem, but rather lack of respect for difference, its meanings, and its values.
To preserve our languages is also to preserve ourselves and our diverse heritage—admittedly an ultimately selfish goal. Sociolinguist Joshua Fishman says that we should not be embarrassed about the fact that support of language maintenance is basically a value position, because the position of its opponents is also a value position. They assume it would be better if small cultures and languages were simply to die out. Just because people can evidently survive without their languages and traditional cultures does not necessarily mean that enforced uniformity is a good thing, or that nothing of consequence is lost when a people loses a language.
The first step in the solution to any problem is to acknowledge its existence and understand its origins. Only by understanding the historical and social circumstances which have created this threat can we hope to reverse it. Hence, the main purpose of this book is to inform the wider scientific community and the public of the threat facing the world's languages and cultures. The language endangerment crisis is only just beginning to be taken seriously among linguists and their professional organizations. It very much needs to be brought to the public's attention in the way that the environmental crisis has been popularized through activities such as Earth Day, held annually since Before the popular environmental movement, for instance, the US had no Environmental Protection Agency, no 2.
Consumer knowledge today, however, is such that many people now refuse to buy furs or sprays which damage the ozone layer, or other products known to have a negative impact on the environment. Recycling is today a household word. We are encouraged by the fact that even though it is only relatively recently that serious thought has been given to the possibility that human interference with nature was having disastrous consequences for the environment, many people now recognize that resources must be managed if we are to survive.
Although there is still a long way to go, this increased awareness has contributed to a slowing of environmental damage. Yet few people think of languages in the same way they do of other natural resources such as air, water, and oil, which need careful planning. Of the many similarities between threatened languages and endangered species, the most obvious one is their irreplaceability.
There is no substitute for either type of resource. By directing our efforts to saving the components of our global village— our peoples, languages, and cultures—we aim to preserve ourselves as a species with all its rich variation. As Joshua Fishman points out, in this sense the task of preserving languages is a "good problem" because its solution will contribute to solving related problems rather than to making things worse.
The solution to the environmental crisis involves preserving local ecosystems through the empowerment of indigenous peoples who live there. Preserving and creating small-scale community habitats in turn support languages and cultures. Environmental damage, like language death, has global effects, but the burden at the moment falls most heavily on the developing countries, which have some of the highest rates of biolinguistic diversity.
This is yet another reason why the extinction of biolinguistic diversity has been ignored: it is seen as largely a Third World problem. The destruction of the rain forest, for instance, affects directly and immediately developing countries in the tropics for the most part, but the aftermath affects us all. When the forests are burned or otherwise cleared, biodiversity is lost and there is atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases, which contributes to global warming. To explain what is happening to languages, and what it means, we have to understand the broader and more fundamental social pressures that are active in the world today, such as the huge differences in numbers and economic power between the peoples of the world.
These contemporary disparities have not come out of nowhere in the last few decades. To explain their existence, we have to consider the broad sweep of human history over the very long term, perhaps as much as ten thousand years. The task of this book is thus a very large one indeed.
We will not try to duck any aspect of it, as we are determined to pursue the 'Where Have All the Languages Cone? However, this does mean that our treatment of the issues in a book of this length will have to be painted for the most part with a rather broad brush. Although we will use concrete examples wherever we can, these are at times necessarily shorter on detail and nuance than we would like.
It is not that we think that detail and nuance are unimportant; they can make the difference between a culture surviving and its dying out. However, both the patterns seen through a telescope and those seen through a microscope are true patterns, and telescopes are good for finding forests, in which microscopes can then tell us a great deal about individual trees. In the next chapter we will take a telescopic look at the distribution of languages and linguistic diversity in order to assess the extent of language endangerment around the world.
Chapters 3 and 4 zero in on some specific examples of diversity. Chapters 5 and 6 provide a broad overview of the agrarian and industrial revolutions in terms of their consequences for the spread of languages and their speakers. Having identified the major forces that now threaten the common repository of biolinguistic diversity, the final two chapters focus on planning strategies for survival of the world's biolinguistic diversity, with Chapter 8 containing some specific examples of language maintenance efforts underway around the world.
Two A World of Diversity Languages die like rivers Words wrapped around your tongue today and broken to the shape of thought between your teeth and lips speaking now and today shall be faded hieroglyphics ten thousand years from now. You have probably never heard of these languages, or thousands I A World of Diversity 2. One of us asked some graduate students in linguistics at the University of Oxford to write down the names of as many languages as they could think of. The number ranged from 50 to Even professional linguists perhaps would not be able to name more than a hundred.
A recent advertisement for "Teach yourself language courses" appearing in a popular magazine claimed to "offer introductory and advanced courses in most of the world's languages. However, this number represents but i percent of the total number of languages. Most ordinary readers are surprised to find that linguists estimate the number of languages in the world to be between 5, and 6, This chapter assesses the extent of the world's linguistic diversity, and its endangerment.
We will show that the geographic distribution of languages and speakers is very uneven. Unfortunately, the linguistic hotbeds are also very much at risk. We will show that by one estimate, 60 percent of all languages are at risk. This puts the problem of linguistic extinction on a par with the worst case scenarios for species extinction. More than half the world's languages and species could be gone by the turn of the next century. These striking correlations require close examination and must be accounted for. As we emphasized in Chapter i, the loss of linguistic and cultural diversity should be seen as an integral part of larger processes threatening biodiversity on earth.
Because language plays a crucial role in the acquisition, accumulation, maintenance, and transmission of human knowledge concerning the natural environment and ways of interacting with it, the problem of language endangerment raises critical issues about the survival of knowledge that may be of use in the conservation of the world's ecosystems. How many languages are there and where are they spoken? There are a number of reasons why it is difficult to say precisely how many languages there are in the world. In addition to languages, there are also varieties or dialects of languages, many of which are also at risk.
We confine ourselves here, however, to the topic of language endangerment. Another problem in deciding precisely how many languages there are in the world arises from the fact that many have no special names. The Gitksan generally refer to their own language as Sim'algax, "the real or true language," but the Nigsha and Tsimshian people do the same. Some languages have many different names. The Ethnologue, for example, one of the best sources of information on the languages in the world, lists over 39, language names, dialect names, and alternate names.
Sometimes linguists use names which are different from those that speakers themselves use. The language some linguists now call Kabana, spoken in Northwest New Britain, Papua New Guinea, was earlier called Barriai by one observer, which is a name the Kabana and Amara people give to their land. The name Nez Perce, given to the native American tribes in what is now Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, comes from French for "pierced nose"; the tribes call themselves Numi-pu, which means simply "our people. The Ethnologue, for example, says that Alagwa, a Southern Cushitic language spoken in central Tanzania, had 13, speakers in , but another source says it is extinct.
Recent fieldwork in indicates there are about 10, Alagwa people, nearly all of whom are bilingual in Rangi, and that Alagwa children now tend to speak Rangi among themselves. However, the most important reason the majority of the world's languages are known only to specialists and the speakers themselves is that many linguists work on only one language or sometimes a handful of related languages, and linguists have tended to work on the familiar and easily accessible languages of Western Europe spoken by large numbers of people.
One linguist estimates that some 4, of the world's languages have never been described adequately. In Papua New Guinea, for instance, which we discuss in the next chapter, perhaps a dozen of its some languages have been described in any detail. So while thousands of linguists have probably worked on French or English over the last years or so, there are thousands of other languages that have received little attention, and many hundreds that have received none at all.
Vanishing Voices: The Extinction of the World's Languages
The distribution of languages across the space of the world is strikingly uneven. Table 2. Almost half You will probably recognize most of these names. Most of these languages are spoken in more than one country, such as English, for instance, A World of Diversity Table 2. Similarly, Mandarin in addition to other Chinese languages such as Wu is spoken not only in mainland China, but also in Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. This is one reason the populations speaking these top fifteen languages are so large.
Most of the world's languages, however, do not show the same geographic spread as these top fifteen.
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Although as many as languages are spoken by a million or more people, 83 percent of the world's languages are spoken only in one country. Moreover, most languages do not even claim a territory as large as a country. In fact, there are approximately 25 to 30 times as many languages as there are countries, which means some degree of bi- or multilingualism is present to some degree in practically every country in the world. Accurate information on many languages is difficult to come by, however, because governments often ignore and even ban certain languages — 3d Vanishing Voices in some cases because they do not recognize them as languages, in other cases because they deny the right of a group who speaks that language to exist.
The Ethnologue counts 27 Quechuan languages in Peru, for instance, while the Peruvian government accords only six of these the status of language. The government's decision is political rather than linguistic. Another way to look at the uneven distribution of the world's languages is to look at the functions they are used for. Most languages at present exist in what sociolinguists call a diglossic relationship, a term used to refer to functional specialization between languages so that the language used within the home and in other personal domains of interaction between community members is different from the one used in higher functions such as government, media, education.
In Paraguay, for instance, Spanish is the official language of government and education, while Guarani, spoken by 90 percent of the population, is the language of most homes and everyday informal interaction. Languages compete continually with one another for speakers and functions, for reasons we will discuss in more detail in the next few chapters. When diglossia is stable, each language has its own set of functions and space without threatening the other. When one language encroaches on a domain typically controlled by another, this indicates a shift in the relative balance of power between groups speaking these languages.
Latin, for instance, at one time fulfilled all the functions a language could. It was the language of home, government, empire, science, art, literature, and church. One by one these functions were taken over by other languages until only the religious function remained. Most speakers of today's European languages do not realize that their languages were once in a diglossic relationship with Latin.
It took some centuries before English, for example, replaced Latin and French as the language of court proceedings, official correspondence, educational and scientific treatises. Isaac Newton and many other scientists wrote their works in Latin. Richard Mulcaster was among the first to question, in , why everything could not be written in English; it was not until , however, that the tradition of writing academic texts in Latin finally died out.
By comparison with classical Latin, English was still in many respects stylistically limited because it was not used across the broad range of contexts that Latin served. Furthermore, its use was confined to England and therefore its utility as the lingua franca of science and technology it was to claim in later centuries was at that stage doubtful. We saw in the previous chapter how the spread of English around the world was linked to the dominance of English speakers in the areas of science and technology, which in turn led to significant control of the world's economy.
Those who control particular linguistic resources are in a position of power over others. Linguistic capital, like all other forms of capital, is unequally distributed in society. The higher the profit to be A World of Diversity 31 achieved through knowledge of a particular language, the more it will be viewed as worthy of acquisition. The language of the global village or MeWorld, as some have called it is English: not to use it is to risk ostracization from the benefits of the global economy.
It is at least partly for this reason that many newly independent countries have opted to use the language of their former colonizers rather than try to develop their own languages. Moreover, the elite in these countries generally acquire languages through schooling, and use this knowledge to retain their positions of power over the majority of citizens who do not know them. This means that world languages such as English are widely used by people as second languages. Indeed, there are now more speakers of English as a second language— million, according to one estimate — than there are native English speakers.
Two thousand years ago there were about million people in the whole world; now more than that number speak English. Globalization has increasingly led to layers of diglossia on an international scale. Within Sweden, for instance, Swedish is in a diglossic relationship with a number of other languages such as Finnish, Saami, and the newer migrant communities such as the Greeks. While it is usually sufficient for a Swede to know Swedish and English, the Saami cannot afford the luxury of monolingualism, or even bilingualism in Saami and an international language.
The Saami need to know the dominant language of the state in which they live — either Swedish, Norwegian or Finnish—as well as some language that allows them to communicate beyond national borders. Within Scandinavia, Swedish has a diglossic relationship with other Scandinavian languages, with Swedish more often learned by others than Swedes learn other Scandinavian languages.
Within the larger context of Europe and beyond, however, Swedish is on a par with other Scandinavian languages and continental European languages such as Dutch in relation to other European languages of wider currency such as English, French, and German. The more specialized the function a language fulfills, the fewer language options there are. The United Nations, for instance, has a small set of six "official languages" and a slightly larger set of "working languages," but the majority of languages of its nearly member countries have no status at all. In many cases English or another language such as French or Arabic is the declared "official" language of a country, most of whose inhabitants speak another language at home.
The total number of official languages in the world is quite small — probably no more than languages have this status. English is now the dominant or official language in more than 60 of the world's nation-states recognized by the United Nations. Most of the scientific journals of the world are written in English and a few other international languages such as French, German, and Russian, which over the centuries have Vanishing Voices been expanding their functional and geographical territories at the same time as the space filled by other languages has contracted.
Most languages of the world are unwritten, not recognized officially, and restricted to local community and home functions. They are spoken by very small groups of people. The median number of speakers for the languages of the world is only 5, to 6,, and nearly 85 percent of languages have fewer than , These small languages are unevenly shared between the continents and countries of the world. The map in Figure z. Though the statistics involved are complex, this is effectively a measure of languages per square mile.
As the map shows, there are zones of high density amidst areas of relative paucity. In particular, the map reveals a dark band running through the tropics, with density falling away as one moves towards the poles. Most of the world's languages are spoken in the tropical countries of the dark band on the map. There are two great belts of high density: one running from the West African coast through the Congo basin and to East Africa, and another running from South India and peninsula Southeast Asia into the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and the Pacific.
The seventeen major countries of these two belts contain most of the world's language giants: Nigeria, with 4zy languages, Cameroon 2. These seventeen countries between them hold 60 percent of all languages around 4, in all , but only Z7 percent of the world's population and 9 percent of the world's land area.
If we add the three other giants, Australia with Z5O languages , Mexico z4o , and Brazil zio , we have over 70 percent of all languages in just twenty nationstates, among them some of the poorest countries in the world. These great belts of high language density shown in Figure z. These forests provide a home for 50 to 90 percent of all the earth's species, as well as a majority of the world's languages.
We believe this correlation is no accident, and later in the chapter we will return to the idea that linguistic and biological diversity have common locations, common causes, and face common threats. In contrast to the profusion of languages in the tropics, the temperate latitudes are rather impoverished. Europe has only 3 percent of all languages, and China, despite having 2,1.
In Chapters 4, 5, and 6 we will consider the processes which have so inhibited diversity in these locations. The patterns we have shown in Figure 2. However, just counting languages is not itself the way to assess either linguistic diversity or linguistic endangerment, as we shall now see. Hotbeds of linguistic diversity If some horrific catastrophe wiped out all the languages of western Europe tomorrow, we would lose relatively little of the world's linguistic 34 Vanishing Voices diversity.
As we have just seen, Europe has only about three percent of the world's languages, and most of the largest European languages are also widely spoken outside Europe. More importantly, however, most of the languages of Europe are structurally quite similar, because they are related historically. If we were to lose the same number of languages in Papua New Guinea or South America, the loss would be far more significant, because the divergence between languages there runs much deeper. Unfortunately, such catastrophes have happened in the past and have probably already resulted in the loss of a great amount of diversity, as we shall see in Chapters 5 and 6.
Clearly, we need a way of quantifying the divergence between languages, and to do this we must have a way of classifying them. Linguists have several such techniques. Here we mention only two of the most important ones: genetic and typological classification. Genetic classification takes account of the common historical origins of languages. Typological classification, on the other hand, disregards this factor in order to group languages together on the basis of contemporary structural similarities, such as a common word order, or the same number and type of vowel sounds.
Japanese and Panjabi, for instance, do not stem from a common parent and are therefore completely unrelated, but they share the grammatical property of being verb-final.
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This means they put the verb at the end of the sentence instead of between the subject and object as SVO SubjectVerb-Object languages like English do. This is significant because the basic word order of sentences is very often a good predictor of the word order of other constituents. Not only do verbs come before subjects for example in Hawaiian, where 'ike ka wahine ia'u, meaning "the woman sees me," translates literally as sees the woman me: nouns also come before the adjectives that modify them hale ke'oke'o li'ili'i in Hawaiian, for "small white house," is literally house white small.
The fact that the Polynesian and Celtic languages have VSO word order in common is not due to a common historical origin, but simply an important and far-reaching structural property that happens to have evolved in both cases. Genetic classification, on the other hand, is concerned with historical relationships, and groups languages together into so-called families that share a common origin.
This common history is the explanation for the structural and other similarities found in a family. Looking at the words in Table 2. Hawaiian and Maori, on the other hand, are Polynesian languages belonging to the Austronesian family. Linguists have used genetic classification to assign most of the world's languages to a smaller number of families. Some of these are well known. We give but two examples here, Indo-European and Sino-Tibetan. The Indo-European family, containing zoo some languages, is one of the most widespread and certainly the best documented.
It covers most of Europe and extends through Asia Minor into India. Of the top fifteen languages in Table z. Since Despite the successful spread of Indo-European languages, however, there are also branches of the family at risk. It is one of the most threatened groups of the indigenous languages of Europe, with Manx and Cornish already extinct, as we shall see in Chapter 6. After the Indo-European family, Sino-Tibetan is the most populous family in the world, containing close to a billion speakers. Most of these languages, however, have fairly small numbers of speakers, except for Chinese.
The eight languages grouped together under the label "Chinese" account for the vast majority of Sino-Tibetan speakers. Linguist Johanna Nichols, in a recent comprehensive survey, estimates that there are 2. She calls these families stocks. Some of the stocks may be linked to others into higher-level, more distant units, though more distant relationships than the stock level are difficult to prove and often controversial.
On the other hand, some linguists would not accept the reduction even to 2. For example, some authorities recognize at least that many families for South America alone. The distribution of stocks is also very uneven. A couple of huge stocks, Austronesian in the Pacific basin and Niger-Congo in Africa, have nearly 1, languages each. In Chapter 5, we will consider the forces which gave these peoples, and hence their languages, such a large geographic range. On the other hand, there are a number of stocks consisting of just one language. These are known as isolates, languages which have no demonstrable relationship with any other.
Japanese and Korean are probably the best-known and largest isolates. New Guinea has more than its fair share, such as Taiap, whose case we encountered in Chapter i and will consider further in Chapter 6. Basque, spoken in parts of France and Spain, is another. There are many more, especially in parts of the world where little research has been done, and many are in danger of dying before they can be discovered and documented. Isolates are particularly intriguing because they may represent what is left of an area containing much diversity in the past.
As last vestiges of an earlier population, they give us invaluable hints about the prehistory of regions. The geographic distribution of the Z49 stocks identified by Nichols is shown in Figure z. As we can see, the Old World is rather poor in stocks. Africa, for all its 2, languages, has just zo stocks, and despite the huge expanse of Eurasia, it musters just z8 stocks 6 in Europe, iz in Northern Asia, 10 in South and Southeast Asia. In sharp contrast are New Guinea—with almost as many stocks as all of Eurasia—Australia, and above all, the Americas, with over of the world's Z4 Figure 2.
There are also some imbalances with the Americas, represented by 59 languages and South America by only Nichols captures the distribution of diversity by identifying what she calls residual and spread zones. Residual zones have high diversity; they are inhabited by small groups, from many different stocks, with many different language types, among whom bilingualism or multilingualism is the norm. Papua New Guinea is the classic case, as we shall see in Chapter 4. A residual zone will contain a good deal of the world's possible linguistic diversity in microcosm.
In the spread zones, on the other hand, some historical processes involving differentials of power, as we shall see in Chapters 5 and 6 have allowed one language or set of closely related languages to push out over a wide geographical area. This spread obliterates, displaces, or absorbs other languages. It is important to stress that the reasons particular languages spread and others contract has nothing to do with the languages themselves.
It is people who spread languages. In early human history these spreads were motivated by considerations of local ecology: people tended to move from a poor resource base to a richer one. Where another group already occupied a desirable area, there was potential conflict. More recent spreads have occurred due to the rise of agriculture and conquest. For example, the spread of Latin led to the extinction of Etruscan and various other languages. Before the Roman conquest there were probably more non-Indo-European languages, such as the survivor Basque, in western Europe.
The spread of a new language in an area causes some structural features to spread at the expense of others. Spreads, then, deplete the linguistic diversity of an area. The current low diversity of Eurasia and Africa is the result of several millennia of sustained spreading of a few groups, as we shall discover in Chapter 5. However, even here there are pockets of residual diversity which have escaped the forces of homogenization, such as the Caucasus mountains, whose fiercely independent residents have been shielded from the march of peoples on the plains below; Ethiopia and Kenya, off the main route of the Bantu expansion which we will discuss in Chapter 5 ; the Kalahari desert, home to the San hunter-gatherers with their unparalleled "click" languages; and Tanzania, the only African country with all four of the higher-level language family groupings.
Most of the rest of the world—the Americas, Australia, the Pacific basin—is effectively a residual zone, which accounts for its greater stock richness. Within each area, of course, there are local spreads and local residua, but the background level of diversity is high. However, the spreads which began by depleting the diversity of Eurasia and Africa are A World of Diversity 39 now continuing their business overseas.
If Johanna Nichols had arrived on the scene one hundred years later, she would very likely have found a New World completely covered by Indo-European, a residual zone turned into a spread zone. The causes of this threat are the subject of much of the rest of our book. Nichols concludes, surely correctly, that the pattern of high diversity found in the Pacific and the Americas can be regarded as primordial: that is, close to what we would expect of language in its natural or default state. Indeed, in Chapters 4 and 5, we will argue that for around 90 percent of human history the whole world was probably a vast residual zone.
Thus, our closest perspective on what human language is like should come from these relatively undisturbed areas. Unfortunately, these are the very places we know least about—and time is running out, as we shall now see. Endangerment: the extent of the threat How much of the world's linguistic diversity is endangered?
The honest answer at this stage is that we don't know precisely, but when forced to guess, the proportion different linguists come up with is alarmingly high. In Chapter i, we cited Krauss's statistics on the number of languages that are moribund in different parts of the world. These are useful, but extremely partial; many languages are endangered that are not yet moribund.
http://yvyjilep.tk These are the languages which might yet be saved. Another way to look at it is to examine the functions that different languages fill. As we have said, by , English was the language of 70 percent of the world's mail and 60 percent of radio and television broadcasts, and it is increasingly the sole language of international trade, finance, higher education, and science. Fewer than 4 percent of languages have any kind of official status in the countries where they are spoken, although over recent decades this situation has been improving, with Welsh, Maori, and Aymara, for example, obtaining recognition in their respective countries.
However, even official support is no guarantee of vitality. After having been banned in , for instance, the Hawaiian language has been coofficial with English in the state of Hawai'i since , but it is still in a precarious condition with fewer than 1, native speakers. Irish, which has the strongest public support, is ironically probably the demographically weakest of the modern Celtic languages. As the national language of Ireland, it has the dubious distinction of being one of the few endangered languages with a state ostensibly dedicated to its preservation, and yet it is still dying because it is not being passed on to the next generation.
We will examine both of these cases in more detail in Chapter 8. Conferring status 4O Vanishing Voices on the language of a group relatively lacking in power doesn't necessarily ensure the reproduction of a language, unless other measures are in place to ensure intergenerational transmission at home. As we will see over the coming chapters, conferring power on the people would be much more likely to do the trick.
It is political, geographical, and economic factors which support the maintenance of linguistic and cultural diversity. These need to be considered holistically, as part of an ecology of language, an approach that sees language as part of the larger natural environment. Perhaps the only way to get some idea of the extent of endangerment is to look at the sizes of living languages. The differences between the continents are readily apparent. The languages in Australia and the Pacific and the Americas are mostly very small, over 20 percent having fewer than speakers, and almost all with fewer than , Africa, Asia, and Europe, by contrast, as well as some giant languages, have a fair number of mediumsized languages , million speakers.
Such languages are probably safe from extinction in the short term at least. Recall from Chapter i Krauss's belief that a language with fewer than 10, speakers is probably at risk. This is a crude generalization, but it may nonetheless be useful as a first approximation. It would mean that 60 percent of all languages are already endangered. These latter areas are the hotbeds of genetic and typological diversity we have just identified.
South Am. At present, however, it is probably the best measure until more research is done. A large language could be endangered if the external pressures on it were great, while a very small language could be perfectly safe as long as the community was functional and the environment stable. For example, small size has been a stable characteristic of languages in Australia for millennia, and this does not mean they have always been dying out. However, small languages can disappear much faster than large ones, and current technological and socioeconomic forces are difficult for small communities to resist, although larger groups may have the resources to do so.
Thus, in present circumstances size may be quite critical in determining survival. These figures, then, may give a reasonable projection of endangerment. If they do, the situation for languages is just as bad as biologists' worst projections for species diversity. Indeed, there are many commonalities and concerns in the biological and the linguistic extinction crises. It is to these linkages we now turn. Biolinguistic diversity: some correlations between the linguistic and biological worlds We mentioned at the outset of this chapter that according to biologists' more pessimistic predictions, half of the world's species will be extinct or on the verge of extinction by the end of the next century.
Most estimates of extinction rates show them to be significantly higher than the processes creating biodiversity could compensate for because it takes much more time for evolution than extinction. Niles Eldredge, for example, estimates rather conservatively that we are currently losing species at the rate of about one a day—which adds up to over the course of a year.
Wilson, on the other hand, suggests an annual extinction rate of about 27, species, or about three species every hour! This amounts to more than 50, times the so-called background rate before human intervention. Nowadays, the rate of extinction may be as high as 60, to 90, species annually. Even Eldredge's much smaller figure is dramatic on its own, but to put these estimates in proper perspective, we need to know first how many species there are, and where they are found. Only then can we assess the size of the problem of extinction of the world's biodiversity. Ecologists have unfortunately faced similar difficulties to those of linguists in trying to answer the question of how many species there are, and how many are at risk.
Despite more than years of research, no one really knows how many species of organisms inhabit the earth today. Estimates vary widely from 3 million to 80 million or more over- Vanishing Voices all, with similar variation in estimates for groups such as insects, plants, and animals. Only some 1. As we found was the case with languages, much of the world's biodiversity has not yet been catalogued, particularly in the tropics, which are among the richest areas.
According to Robert May, scientific adviser to the UK government, only 4 percent of the researchers engaged in classifying plants and animals work in those parts of the world where the greatest diversity exists.
Every two weeks a language dies. Wikitongues wants to save them.
The distribution of these scientists is also ill-matched to the species richness of the various taxa. We saw that the same was true of linguists, who have tended to concentrate on more familiar languages spoken by large numbers of people, most of which belong to the IndoEuropean family. The attention of biologists, like that of linguists, has also been highly selective. We know much more about particular kinds of species — namely animals with feathers and fur—than we do about insects or plants. Plants, for example, have commanded little public attention in conservation campaigns, although they are more fundamental than animals in supporting life on earth.
People around the world utilize over 40, species a day, and most of them are plants. They provide the raw material for many medicines and the genetic stock from which agricultural strains of plants are developed. Insects, which account for 8 5 percent of all animal life, have attracted less scientific investigation and aroused little public concern despite their significance. In Africa termites and ants alone outweigh all the mammals put together.
Wilson, for instance, says that if insects were to disappear, humanity probably could not last more than a few months. Most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals would crash to extinction about the same time. Next would go the bulk of flowering plants and other terrestrial habitats of the world, and the land surface would literally rot. Although most of the 4, some mammal species of the world have been classified, quite a different picture emerges for creatures other than mammals or birds.
There may, for instance, be somewhere between zo,ooo and 40, species of fish. No one knows for sure. One biologist was amazed when he first went to Lake Malawi to study its rich fish life. Half the fish pulled up in every trawl were unnamed species. It is the most species-rich lake in the world, with as many as 1, different types of fish—more than in all of the Atlantic Ocean.
Virtually all of them are endemic: that is, they exist nowhere else in the world. The significance of Lake Malawi can be better appreciated when we consider that a total of only 75 to new species of fish are described annually. Although every place is unique with respect to its combination of flora, fauna, language, and customs, some places are more unique than others. We examine one such place in Chapter 4 when we take a close look at Papua New Guinea, A World of Diversity 43 a country with about 5 percent of the world's biodiversity in its , some species, but only i percent of its land area.
As we saw was the case for languages, we need some way of assessing which parts of the world are most diverse and which are most at risk. To do this, we must have a measure more revealing of diversity than simply counting numbers of species. No single measure will capture completely the enormous complexity of life on earth. How do we factor in dimensions such as rarity and endemism the equivalent of language isolates , in relation to the genetic variety and species richness in a particular area, in order to arrive at a measure of overall ecosystem richness?
Our earlier example of Lake Malawi would score high on measures based on sheer numbers of species of fish as well as on endemism. Presumably we would also want to recognize greater diversity in an area containing both redwoods and dandelions the equivalent of typological diversity in linguistic systems than one containing a pair of more similar species such as dandelions and daisies. Figure 2.