by Anna Luisa Daigneault
What is a language? A cultural code, an invisible ink, the sonic architecture of how we think… A language is a breath of life, and when it is endangered, it becomes a fragile treasure. Webs of meaning start to fade, carrying with them stories untold, and impoverishing humanity as a whole.
What is a linguist? A wordsmith, a lover of terms… A deep-sea diver of minds. A sorter, a hacker, a surgeon of the soul – a kind of acrobat who goes careening into structural unknowns. A linguist of under-documented languages is an explorer who seeks to study languages that are well-known to its native speakers, but new to science.
Whether we speak one language or five, language defines our human experience. All of our interactions and communication are mediated by language. For those of us who love languages, we cannot deny the troubling nature of the following fact: more than half of the world’s languages and dialects are going to disappear in the next century. What does that mean for the speakers of those languages? What does it mean for humanity?
This unprecedented decrease in linguistic diversity is linked to globalization, among many other factors. It is time for the public to be aware about these issues, and to share opinions in the global dialog about endangered languages.
Along with two guest writers, Allison Taylor-Adams and Indira Sarma, I am starting a summer guest blog series entitled Body of Words. We hope that you will help us spread the word about our blog series, and respond to our posts with questions and comments.
We will be discussing various issues surrounding language loss and recovery, including: the impact of boarding schools on speakers of indigenous languages, the use of new technologies and social media in language revitalization, knowledge systems encoded in languages and what their loss means for mankind, challenges in language documentation and other relevant subjects.
By discussing these issues, we hope to dispel some of the misconceptions about endangered languages, celebrate language diversity and promote efforts currently underway to protect endangered languages. Stay tuned for our first article in the series, coming out on July 4th, 2012.
Living Tongues Institute regularly encounters perspectives on language endangerment that we believe our blog readers would find thought-provoking, fascinating, debatable and challenging. This guest blog series is a forum for such opinions. The views expressed belong to the author and are not necessarily shared by Living Tongues Institute.