Thursday, September 20, 2007

Invasive Languages: Invasive Species?

“Every fortnight, another language dies; some 40 per cent of the world's languages are thought to be at risk. Now a new study has identified those that are most endangered. Claire Soares reports.”[1] As I think about invasive species and their effect upon endangered species, I usually think of the terms as two sides of the same issue; reverse and obverse. Having a life long passion for Latin and Indo–European philology and historical linguistics, I am as concerned about the decline in diversity of languages as I am with the impact of the decline of biological diversity.

The result is a rather odd epiphany that suggests to me that some languages such as the one I am using right now, are invasive species; that is, some languages, such as English are linguistic species which are by their very success and spread and tendency to displace native languages, invasive. As with any good biological invasive species, linguistic invasive species are extremely successful in their adaptation, and their displacement and potential for being a major factor in the eventual extinction of a native species, linguistic or biological.

“How do researchers know when a language is dying? Does "endangered" mean "doomed?" SIL is concerned for languages, the people who speak them, and the cultures they express. Many factors contribute to a language becoming endangered. SIL makes concerted efforts to survey languages, evaluate their vitality, facilitate language development, and where possible, prevent loss of language and culture. The danger of languages dying out is real, but SIL believes every language and culture is part of the mosaic of humanity.”[2] To me, this is the language of sustainable environmental systems; the same genera of questions strugglijng with the same possible outcomes.

“In their respective fields, these various communities of researchers and activists have called attention to the effects of rapidly occurring global processes of socioeconomic and ecological change on the very objects of their concerns: human cultural and linguistic groups and their traditional knowledge; biological species; and the world's environments. An ever growing body of literature on endangered languages, vanishing cultures, and biodiversity loss has been accumulating in recent years, attesting to the perceived gravity and urgency of such issues. Underlying this concern is a common interest in the future of humanity and the earth's ecosystems. However, communication among all of these research and advocacy communities, while highly desirable and indeed necessary in this context, has been slow in developing.”[3]

Any thoughts?

[1] © 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
[2] Copyright © 2007 SIL International


1 comment:

pkaustin said...

The hype surrounding the media splash by the so-called "Living Tongues Institute" fails to mention that there are several other groups around the world who are doing work of this kind, and who have been doing so for some years. Have a look at or or At these websites you will see descriptions of hundreds of projects quietly doing similar work, many of them in much closer collaboration with communities and with much more focus on language revitalisation and support than the people you report on.