5 oct. 2006

Inspired by a discussion at The Valve: A Literary Organ:

Here's a question: if I would rather live in a world with 6,000 language than a world with 3,000 languages, does that make me a Whorfian by default?

Language doesn't line up exactly with culture. A language is not a culture. But the amount of linguistic diversity is some index of the amount of cultural diversity on the global scale.

Some, like Walter Benn Michaels, are arguing that if the world loses a few thousand languages, there is no essential harm done, because, after all, no language is better than another! That seems to be a perverse argument, to me, though I cannot quite explain why. It doesn't depend, for me, on the particular value of this or that language. I don't believe that you should have to go to bat for each language separately. Logocide is always a bad thing.

It's a difficult question because there is no absolute number of languages a planet should have. Maybe we're lucky to have 6,000 even if some think we should have 12,000. There's no handy utilitarian standard either. It's not like the extinct beetle that could have cured cancer with its secretions.

I'm really puzzled by this question, but in the meantime I'm going to conclude that language loss is a horrible thing unless I come across a convincing argument to the contrary.

2 comentarios:

Steve Halle dijo...

Think of the removal of languages from the planet in terms of removing stars from the universe. Would anyone notice the stars were gone? In all likelihood, they would not. At least, not if the stars were in some distant quadrant of the universe, and no scientist ever looked to measure these stars or even cared if they were still there. The argument changes, though, if one of the stars to be removed were, say, the sun. We all would notice that. Thus it is with languages. One can argue losing a language in some far away place neither diminishes the possibility for communication on earth nor affects me directly. This stance would change, however, if my idiom was the one in jeopardy.

Rocco DiStreitlmahn dijo...

I think languages have value primarily for those who speak them -- as I alluded to at The Valve, I think what WBM doesn't account for in his assessment is this subjective value of a language to its speakers. I don't think there exists a moral imperative to preserve endangered languages, but I do think scholars, policy makers, and all speakers of non-endangered languages should be aware of the issue and realize that language death is, by and large in the era of globalization, symptomatic of the larger issue of political and economic coercion and control by the political/economic/linguistic hegemony of certain non-endangered-language speaking nations.