On loss of languages


It depends on ALL OF US, not on the Internet.

Consider these facts, and comments:

  1. Of the over 6,000 languages still spoken (in 2020), almost 3,000 of these are classified as endangered on the EGIDS scale.
  2. This has happened and is happening, all over the world, often with support from not just the cultural supremacist right, but self-declared left utilitarian developmentalists as well.
  3. It takes remarkably little to destroy a language. If you can halt transmission to younger generations of a population, it will simply disappear as its speakers grow old and eventually pass away.
  4. Active policies of linguicide can do this… simply taking away the ability to transmit the language.

The extinction is everywhere

On loss of languages /img/linguicide.jpg
CAPTION: Source: Procaffenation, from Curious case of linguicide, February 2020

Language extinction is especially frequent around indigenous communities in developing countries, and their cases are the most urgent. But language extinction happens everywhere. To make just one example, from World Wide Web greatly accelerates the phenomenon:

  • When it comes to technology support, there are massive differences between Europe’s languages and technology areas
  • Support for English is ahead of any other language
  • But: even support for English is far from being perfect.
  • “At Least 21 European Languages in Danger of Digital Extinction!” (in 2012…)

And the Internet makes things much worse, of course

The quotes in the initial paragraph come from “A Quiet Death: The Acceptable Loss of Language”.

Digital Language Extinction has been a a problem since the invention of computers, and the World Wide Web greatly accelerates the phenomenon. Today, “Only digitally thriving languages can take care of themselves!”

The bright, complicated side

This matter is complicated, and it really affects every language, except what? English, Mandarin, Spanish and a handful, maybe a dozen others?

I remember being shocked, also offended, during a vacation in California in the 90s. I was with a relative of mine, who had been living there for one year with her family, including a son that was about one year old then. While strolling in a park, she talked to her baby, in Italian obviously. When we walked by another woman, she scolded my relative for that!

Because, she said, my relative was doing the baby no good by keeping him fully bilingual, rather than just turning him, even inside his own family of first generation immigrants, in a full-time, monolingual speaker that would then not risk discriminations, feeling awkward and so on.

Outrageous, really. And really stupid too.

Then again: my own kids speak and write English much better than me at their age, and they achieved this much more quickly, and much more cheaper, almost for free, than me. They started watching videogame streaming and tutorials on YouTube, and engaging in many discussions on the related, obviously English-only forums, then moved on to read, write and study “serious” stuff. Thanks to those spontaneous, almost unconscious efforts, they now have an edge over their peers who snobbed the same activities, and now can’t do more than asking for a McBurger.

And this happened only thanks to the Internet. The same Internet that, while destroying (by carelessness, mainly) several language every year, we have to thank if, today,

And a permanently preserved, too. It only depends on us, and on the respect and care that (at least) everybody who can read this text should have for every other language. As usual, the real problem is not technological, “just” social and human.

Final, OBVIOUS request: Translations of this post, or any other post on this website for that matter, in any language are always very welcome! Just email me.

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