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The World's Languages Are Fast Becoming Extinct

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the culture-drain dept.

Communications 939

Ant sends news of a report, released a couple of weeks back by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Oregon, on the alarming rate of extinction of the world's languages. While half of all languages have gone extinct in the last 500 years, the half-life is dropping: half of the 7,000 languages spoken today won't exist by the year 2100. The NY Times adds this perspective: "83 languages with 'global' influence are spoken and written by 80 percent of the world population. Most of the others face extinction at a rate, the researchers said, that exceeds that of birds, mammals, fish and plants."

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939 comments

I welcome... (5, Funny)

ZiakII (829432) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806335)

I for one welcome our new Chinese/English speaking overlords.....its the first step to having Firefly back on TV.

What will happen to English? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806423)

What will happen to the grammatical, pronunciation, and spelling differences between British English and American English (as well as others)?

For example, British English uses collective nouns (Microsoft are instead of Microsoft is) while American English thinks of the collective noun as singular.

In the contrary, American English uses subjunctive form while it seems British English doesn't use it .

Then you have all of the people that don't understand the differences between intransitive (takes no object) and transitive. (Lay and lie, anyone?)

What is going to happen to the English language? Increasingly, I see blatant grammatical errors on signs in big box stores, advertising, and even documentation!

Is grammatically correct English where the native speakers understand the differences of English in different countries?

How students possible learn a native language like German and hope to speak it correctly with the proper articles if they don't even the grammar rules of a language with commonalities with the language that they would like to learn?

Is this why foreign languages are dying? Or is it imperialism? Or is modern communication technology giving English even more priority over other languages?

Anonymous Coward Sig 2.0:
www.openbsd.org
Protected mode > real mode

TAG STORY KDAWSONSUCKS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806425)

Piss off, kdawson.

Spanish (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806497)

You forgot Spanish.

I'm not so sure... (3, Funny)

psychicninja (1150351) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806651)

I for one welcome our new Chinese/English speaking overlords.....its the first step to having Firefly back on TV.
I, for one, prefer when nobody knows what I'm saying when I swear in Chinese.

Good thing? (5, Insightful)

icthus13 (972796) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806339)

Wouldn't this be a good thing? Less languages will mean more people speaking the same one, thus promoting better communication.

Re:Good thing? (5, Informative)

reddish (646830) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806427)

From The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:

"Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation."

Re:Good thing? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806441)

I have to agree that having fewer languages will eventually be beneficial, but we should keep in mind that there are some downsides as well. First of all, languages that don't get spoken are more difficult to be understood (ancient writings, for example). But on that same note, we may not even know exactly what certain words meant 500 years ago in current languages.

Also, there is a comment further down about how each language gives the same communication, but with different grammar/words... and while for the most part that is true, there are some aspects of languages that define certain cultures. Just the way that you express yourself in certain languages defines quite a bit about you. For example, in English you say "I dropped the rock."... admitting that you were the one who did it (even if it were accidental)... in Spanish you say that exact same thing a bit differently... and while it means the same thing, you think about the situation a little differently... "Se me cayo la piedra." or "The rock fell on me" (not 'on' as in 'on top of' but 'on' as in 'my computer crashed on me')... So spanish speakers are more prone to never think anything is their fault.

Sure, that sounds kind of stupid, but if you know a lot of native spanish speakers you will agree with me (there are exceptions, of course... on both sides).

Wiretaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806455)

And it makes it easier for law enforcement to understand what is said in wiretaps.

Re:Wiretaps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806555)

This is a foolish assumption, there will always be some kind of `cant or slang that people will use when they do not want others to know what they are talking about.
Anybody who has ever known anyone in organized crime will tell you this.

anonymous for obvious reasons.

Re:Good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806459)

Yep, that was more or less my response to. I guess it's a bit sad when just about anything vanishes, and sure people will get nostalgic, but in this case surely the benefits (being able to communicate with more people) vastly outweigh the bad?

Re:Good thing? (3, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806483)

I guess it depends on which side of the extinction you are facing.

Let me put it this way: would it be a good things if most of the worlds religions are facing extinction, wouldn't that be a good thing? Less wars? If most of the world's cuisines were facing extinction, wouldn't that be a good thing? Music styles and dance?

Try chatting with a Native North American one day, and ask how they feel about the extinction of indigenous languages. Here in the United States, indigenous people suffered deliberate attempts at extermination, marginalization, and assimilation. At various times, it was illegal to speak Native languages, practice Native religions, or hold traditional dances or ceremonies, such as weddings. A lot of Native tradition have disappeared, and those that still exist are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Not many Native Americans I've spoke to are happy about the state of affairs.

Some might answer, "Oh well, that's the way things go. Who cares if we lose a culture in the middle of the amazon? In history, there are winners and losers. It sucks, but it happens." Are those people willing to say the same thing about the annihilation that Jews were facing during WWII? If Hitler had conquered the world, he may have succeeded in exterminating the Jews. Would we be so quick to say "Oh well, the Jews lost out in the history of the world" as we are some tribe on an island? Why or why not?

Re:Good thing? (4, Insightful)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806623)

Let me put it this way: would it be a good things if most of the worlds religions are facing extinction, wouldn't that be a good thing?
It really depends on how such a situation comes about. I can forsee scenarios where less religion (vs religions) can be a good thing.

Religions are not always benevolent in their own right.

Would we be so quick to say "Oh well, the Jews lost out in the history of the world" as we are some tribe on an island?
You seem to be putting more value on one group of people versus another. Why?

Re:Good thing? (2, Insightful)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806627)

BS, no one is killing people and in modern times no one is outlawing things. Society likes uniformity to a degree and that is what is happening. I'm sure you yourself take great advantage of all the modern convenience like cheap goods despite the million upon million who lost their livelihood and I would say culture as a result of it.

Do you cry for the candle makers who lost their craft due to electricity? Or the metal or wood craftsman who were replaced by machinery? Do you cry for farmers who became redundant due to modern machinery? Do you cry for the nobles of old who lost their way of life because of democracy? Do you cry for the serfs who can no longer toil on their farms? Do you cry for the peasants who no longer die of now preventable disease?

Re:Good thing? (2, Insightful)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806669)

I guess it depends on which side of the extinction you are facing.
If English was facing extinction in favor of Chinese or French I'd be happy with that.

At various times, it was illegal to speak Native languages, practice Native religions, or hold traditional dances or ceremonies, such as weddings.
Those were "unnatural" (i.e. forced) attempts at extinction. This is natural (i.e. willingly happening on those that speak the language who give it up in favor of another language with those who refuse to give it up dying due to old age) and so much more palatable.

Re:Good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806685)

The barrier to make use of (or appreciate) minority cuisine, music, fashion or furniture is extremely low. You just can't compare that with languages. Learning a language take years of effort, and the sole benefit of learning a minority language is to be able to communicate with a few more people.

Re:Good thing? (3, Funny)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806727)

Let me put it this way: would it be a good things if most of the worlds religions are facing extinction, wouldn't that be a good thing? Less wars? If most of the world's cuisines were facing extinction, wouldn't that be a good thing? Music styles and dance?
Yes. Yes. And having experiences some of these: Yes. Yes and yes.

Oh, and Godwin.

Re:Good thing? (1)

philpalm (952191) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806489)

You also welcome the Microsoftization of the computer world too? All hail the language overlords who are awaiting a monopoly.... El mismo reason tu queres solamente ingles? The same reason you want only english so that no one can speak about secrets in front of you? Sure globilization is great if you are in the cat seat, but terrorists and anti-authoritarians will develope and use a different language to avoid being detected....

Re:Good thing? (2, Interesting)

Seumas (6865) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806493)

There are people who argue that different languages carry a certain value for different fields and endeavors, but I don't buy this. English is an incredibly adaptable, flexible, evolving, absorbing language, so there should never be a lack of words to describe any concept one comes upon.

Further, if and when we discover civilizations on other planets, having a unified planetary language could only be beneficial.

Not to mention, we can free up massive amounts of wasted highschool and college education hours that are spent teaching students a four year language that 98% of them will never ever use (or remember) two years after graduation.

Re:Good thing? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806667)

I agree. Every language lost embiggens all of mankind. Curse those non-English languages with their non-cromulent words.

Hmmm... something must be wrong with my spell checker... it doesn't recognise two words in the above sentence.

But do you know what the worst part of it is? Right now kids in chat rooms are inventing new languages, with strange and mysterious words like '1337', 'pr0n', and 'h@X0r'...

Seriously though, I think the only really useful second language you can teach in school is some form of sign language.

Re:Good thing? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806693)

> English is an incredibly adaptable, flexible, evolving, absorbing language

Spanish and Russian are too :-)
For one thing, English spelling sucks. I have read recently that difficult foreign leaders' names are spelled out "phonetically" in important speeches for president Bush and others. This is not because Bush can't read, but because English writing sucks. Spelling out someone's name "phonetically" is unnecessary and unthinkable in Russian. It is already spelled (sort of) phonetically.

Re:Good thing? (1)

Josh Booth (588074) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806707)

There are many reasons to keep some of these more obscure and esoteric languages around. English may be a very adaptable language, but we pay the price in inconsistency. Many of these languages are highly evolved for the small environments they developed in. There is a reason that Eskimo has so many words for varieties of snow, while we ignorant English speakers only have a few. Other languages define things differently, and therefore use those words differently than we do. This is very useful for understanding what other ways of thinking there are rather than the democracy and capitalism influenced English language. The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis posits that language influences how you think -- if we lose these languages, then we lose the thought processes those languages encourage. Not that it isn't possible to think that way in English, it would just be a bit harder.

Good thing? Absolutely not! (0, Redundant)

offaxis (573745) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806499)

"Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars then anything else in the history of creation."

Re:Good thing? (0, Troll)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806503)

Exactly, what are these people, part of some secret cult that celebrates Tower of Babel day? It's not like the languages are going extinct because we're going around executing its speakers (AFAIK). Here folks, record your dead language on this CD for the benefit of the linguists, and then good riddance.

I mean, where did these people get their alarmist rhetoric, an Al Gore training seminar? I was waiting to hear about how the languages were all being choked away by clouds of deadly CO2.

The real question is how do we eliminate 82 of the other 83 "international languages." I don't care which one you keep, as long as it's English. Just watch, this will be the one thing the French are willing to fight over.

Re:Good thing? (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806717)

I don't care which one you keep, as long as it's English.

According to this [wikipedia.org] page, if you chose your 'one true language' by the number of people who spoke it as a first language, English would be second or third on the list. And if you chose it based on the number of people who could speak it (eg first or second language), it still might not win.

Just watch, this will be the one thing the French are willing to fight over.
Is it just me, or is the frequency of cheese eating surrender monkey jokes increasing of late?

Re:Good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806531)

>Less languagues

You mean "fewer", maybe you should learn this one first :-)

Re:Good thing? (1)

Xzzy (111297) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806535)

Some guy for this Institute was on the Colbert Report last week, and one reason he gave was that many languages have very unique ways of expressing certain concepts(he gave an example, but heck if I can remember it). He considered the loss of these languages to be a loss of information. Not sure I agree that it is a good reason to spend a lot of time preserving languages, but it was kind of an interesting way to look at it.

Re:Good thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806605)

> Less languages will mean more people speaking the same one, thus promoting better communication.

Grammar Snark says, "Fewer languages will be of benefit only if people use them properly."

Re:Good thing? (1)

RalphBNumbers (655475) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806625)

True. But taken to extremes, it also means a monoculture. Having everyone susceptible to the the same brain-bugs is a dangerous situation.

Ideally, as with computers, we might use a common format, but lots of radically different independently developed systems to process that format. I'm not sure how well that model maps to human beings though...

Esperanto! (2, Insightful)

Tmack (593755) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806713)

Less languages will mean more people speaking the same one, thus promoting better communication.

Yes! Now that everyone is finally picking up on THE language, Esperanto [wikipedia.org], soon everyone will understand everyone else!!

tm

Is that bad? (1, Informative)

paul248 (536459) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806341)

So, in the future, it will be easier for people to communicate globally. Who cares about the old cruft?

Re:Is that bad? (4, Funny)

Psychor (603391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806563)

No it won't, don't you see? If languages continue to disappear at this rate, we will soon have none left! And without words, how can we attain a first post? The horror... it's unthinkable.

Re:Is that bad? (2, Insightful)

bocin (886008) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806721)

Who cares? The ones who seek to gain political power by setting us against one another. These folks wish to accentuate the differences between different ethnic groups. when the majority is portrayed as evil and the minority as victims both guilt and false empathy become very strong political tools. These tools are used to control the actions of both majority and the minority. When all humans can speak the same language(s) it will be the beginning of the end of this artificial dividing line. Perhaps then all can celebrate our inherent sameness. Perhaps then mankind can learn compassion and come to understand one another on a deeper level than even word alone can allow.

Maybe... (5, Insightful)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806343)

...we should look at is as the world population's inability to communicate is going extinct.

Not everything that is old, traditional, or entrenched has the value nostalgia makes us want to apply to it.

Re:Maybe... (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806501)

...we should look at is as the world population's inability to communicate is going extinct.

That's not the root problem. People using the SAME language often have an inability to communicate to each other.

and... (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806543)

...you think this situation, this "root problem" you are concerned with, will be improved by them not speaking the same language?

Re:and... (1)

Telvin_3d (855514) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806577)

Hey, as long as we can't talk, we have an excuse for why we keep on shooting at each other. Take that away and it just looks stupid. You don't want us to look stupid, do you?

Re:Maybe... (3, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806583)

That is one way to look at it. However, I'd argue there's a lot more than nostalgia at stake here. I'm no linguist, but it seems fairly self-evident (and something that is backed up by linguistics) that different languages give rise to different ways of thinking about things. Certain concepts just don't exist in language X, but do in Y and Z. This can have a profound effect on higher level thinking in the language, as well as providing for curiosities, like that language that only has words for one, two and many. [newscientist.com]

Also, there's a lot of linguistic and anthropological history at stake. When languages go extinct, you lose a great resource for understanding the evolution of that language, as well as all the others that are related to it.

Well then, good riddance!! (1)

Mad Quacker (3327) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806345)

The less barriers for global human communication, the better. No, we haven't lost anything important. Human language always has the same features, just different sounds and grammar.

Re:Well then, good riddance!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806481)

you have lost direct access to a lot of the cultural heritage of the people in question, not just the sounds and grammar of daily communication.

Re:Well then, good riddance!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806591)

1. culture and language are inseparable.
2. human languages do not all have the same features.
3. there is no way to "save" a language

Re:Well then, good riddance!! (1)

aero2600-5 (797736) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806735)

Culture is in a constant state of evolution. New traditions begun, old traditions forgotten. The language of a culture is not 'inseparable'. The language a culture uses changes. It's evolution of that culture. Even if they don't use a different language, that particular language changes as well, or are you still calling things 'rad'? Maintaining any culture in some sort of static dimension isn't possible.

Also, here's a 'me too' comment for some other posts. Less languages is a good thing. I firmly believe that miscommunication is a major part of the problems of the human condition. Anything that helps to reduce those miscommunications is a good thing.

Aero

Why is this a problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806347)

Improving the ability for people to communicate is a postive thing, not a negative.

What is the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806349)

Just curious why this is a big deal. It would be nice if we all spoke some common language, like Minnesotan.

Re:What is the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806367)

this is the language considered ideal for bridge building, right?

mo vi do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806351)

Lojban will consume all.

This is a bad thing? (4, Insightful)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806353)

To me, extinction of lots of languages is a good thing ( especially if it includes COBOL :). With one common language, we may have a better chance of understanding each other. Remember the biblical tale of Babel, in which the profusion of languages was supposedly a punishment? How did we acquire the idea that languages have some values of their own? A language is a tool, to be replaced with a better one when it comes along.

Re:This is a bad thing? (2, Insightful)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806379)

Lots of information is recorded in the dying ones, much of which doesn't precisely translate to anything else. It's as if the world had upgraded to a new file system, leaving it unable to access a large chunk of its backups except through a few old computers, whose hardware was failing.

Re:This is a bad thing? (0, Redundant)

tsa (15680) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806491)

Yes but is that information still valuable to us? If it is, it will be preserved because people want to continue to use it. If not, no harm done if it dies with the language. People shouldn't try to conservate everything, but look to the future instead. You can't change the past, but you can try to make the future better for all of us.

Re:This is a bad thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806551)

Yes but is that information still valuable to us?
If I'm cursing you in my native tongue, I'm sure you would find it valuable.

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

Gonarat (177568) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806511)

Exactly. Not only do some of the languages contain information we would lose if the language is lost (i.e. the knowledge of the medicinal use of rain forest plants), but many of these languages are not written, so once all of the speakers disappear, so does the knowledge.

Ancient Egyptian was a lost language, but because it was written (and thanks to the Rosetta stone), we can still understand it, and the Egyptian people. Many Native American languages had no written version, but now have a written form. Cherokee is an example -- thanks to Sequoyah aka George Guess (thanks Wikipedia), it has a written form, and stories and knowledge can be saved.

All of these old languages tell a story about where the Human Race has come from, and serves as a store of knowledge gained through experience. It would be a shame to completely lose these languages, even if they are no longer spoken in daily life.

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806527)

Is it useful information, though? Do we need to know the Gaelic word for the brownie that takes the milk at the kitchen door? Do we need to know why some remote tribe hollowed out the heads of virgins and ate their brains? Do we need to know Linear A for that matter?

It's dead, Jim.

Seriously, information is lost all the time. Did you write down everything you did yesterday? Are you going to? Even if you did, how many other people did? Information loss isn't always a bad thing. That old file format... those files probably contained batch scripts for DOS, primarily. As it happens, I'm the author of a 6809 / Flex emulator that allowed me to recover all my files from the early 1970's. You know what? Aside from nostalgia, of which there was plenty, there was very little of relevance in all that data. Even in my Stylus text editor / word processor's files. Looking at my daily-driver PC today, the machine has more that is relevant, but man, does it ever have a lot of things that I could lose and not give a flying fig about.

The languages being lost here aren't even mainstream languages. Let them go, I say. The harm done by not being able to join your (relatively) local mainstream society seems to me to far outweigh the harm of losing Great-Great Auntie Matilda's recollection of the boat trip off the island.

While we're at it, let's try and lose pathological dialects like deep mumbly southern drawls and ebonics. They aren't doing anyone any good either.

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806557)

Translation: I'm a lazy cultural bigot, so everyone think and talk like me so I don't have any problems. If I'm not interested, it's not worth preserving.

Re:This is a bad thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806443)

You're right. We should all consolidate programming to C, so as to facilitate the interchange of ideas. It's basically the same as any other programming language, just a slightly different grammar etc. I mean, they're all Turing complete. I for one would like to see Python gone once and for all.

Re:This is a bad thing? (1, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806513)

Using a ludicrous Biblical analogy like the Babel story doesn't really help your story.

Language and culture are closely linked, and the loss of languages means the loss of cultures, as they get swallowed up in the behemoth of global "culture", which is frequently neither all that global nor all that cultured.

Languages aren't just about the present or the future, they are about the past. They are the cultural DNA which can teach a great deal about the kinds of people are ancestors were, about the kinds of associations they may have had with other peoples and in many ways about the underlying nature of the society in which they evolve.

It's easy for a pack of computer geeks who largely speak English as a first language to sit here and talk about the extinction of some language you may or may not have even heard, but oddly enough a lot of people do care. In the Americas, a great deal of effort is being put into restoring dead or nearly dead American Indian languages in the hopes of rescuing dying civilizations. No one is under the illusion about the Haida, the Welsh or the Frisians that their languages are going to be dominant, or that they are going to be able to get away without being able to speak the major languages in their part of the world, but it is about preserving something of the past so that their descendants have some sort of ability to put themselves in a historical continuity.

Just as important, in my humble opinion, is preserving languages, because they have become the invaluable tools for tracing human movements and bring back the past. Imagine trying to decipher ancient Egyptian without the Coptic language. Imagine trying to investigate the origins of the Indo-Europeans or the Sino-Tibetans without a plethora of related languages, even with a relatively small number of speakers, to be able to formulate rules of sound change.

The really sad part is that it is, by and large, English speakers who have this ridiculous, insular and arrogant attitude. In Africa, for instance, it's not uncommon to see people who know three or four languages; usually their own tongue, plus some neighboring ones and French or English. In fact, I'd say that in North America, very little effort is put into teaching second and third languages, all because of the arrogance of "English is the only languages that matters a damn".

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806585)

This was modded Troll? Will somebody starting beating the shit out of those giving these fucking retards moderator points. I mean these guys are so fucking dumb they're mothers laugh at them.

Fuck you, you stupid piece of goat garbage, you small-minded worthless pile of rotting foetid cat feces. You wouldn't be worth the carbohydrates it would take to kick you in the balls and throw you off a bridge.

Re:This is a bad thing? (2, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806743)

No, the reasons that Americans speak one, possibly two, languages are that:

1) Speaking four languages will get you understood virtually everywhere in the hemisphere.

2) The vast majority of people will have to travel an extraordinary distance to find someone who speaks another language on a regular basis.

3) Because of 2), it's almost impossible to gain or maintain fluency in more than two languages.

The African languages are often fairly closely related to one another within a confined geographic area, making it relatively easy to gain proficiency in another. English and French serve as linguae francae to Africa, allowing more long-distance communication, so people have a strong incentive to learn them. I'm picking up Spanish because my area now has a large enough Hispanic population that it's worth my while to know it. Before, it wasn't. As for cultural continuity, who the hell cares? I don't think my life in 2007 USA is likely to be greatly improved if I learn to speak Gaelic, which my dirt-poor Irish great-great-ancestors did.

Re:This is a bad thing? (2, Insightful)

shanen (462549) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806521)

Let me guess. You're an American, right? You think the only language that needs to survive is American English, right? Why should you have to deal with any of those ugly alien thoughts, especially the new and different ones.

Me, I don't think any of us have a perfect understanding of anything. Actually, one way to interpret Godel's theorem is to say that no language can do that. The various perspectives and representations all have some degree of validity and invalidity--but comparing them and thinking about the differences is especially interesting and sometimes even useful. As Dijkstra said (at least once), he found it very useful to try to translate any new idea into his other language. If he discovered that there were problems in the translation, it often signified that there was something wrong with his conception.

Perhaps a simple example will help clarify the point of how the data compression works for communication by language. If I say "cow" to you, I activate an entire group of mental models in your mind. They might include hamburgers or milkshakes or your childhood days on a farm. However, the main model should be a particular kind of largish animal. What happens if you say the word "cow" to someone from India? Well, even if he's fluent in English, he's likely to trigger quite a different set of mental models. Where you thought of "hamburgers" he may link to "sacred". If he isn't so fluent in English, the first step is likely to be a translation to some other language and the linked mental models are likely to be quite different from anything you were expecting.

Those other mental models are not wrong, but they are different. Some of them may work better for certain purposes than others, but that's the way of all problem solving. My theory is that asking the right question is about 90% of the work needed for finding the correct answer.

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

Trogre (513942) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806629)

Just so long as we don't have to pronounce 'solder' so that it rhymes with 'fodder'.

(Hint: it's supposed to rhyme with 'older')

Re:This is a bad thing? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806677)

You seem to confuse language and culture, they are related but not the same. An Indian person would associate something with cow not because he speaks Indian (natively) but because he grew up in a culture which associates those two ideas.

Re:This is a bad thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806731)

That's precisely the problem. If this keeps up, it won't be too long before god punishes us again!

More seriously though, using your tool analogy, you wouldn't use the same tool for every job. So although English/French/Spanish/Chinese may work well enough for the things people talk about in those languages, maybe the less popular languages are better suited for the people who speak them. Small Amazon indian tribes probably have a vastly different need than people in downtown Manhatten.

Dang, break out the Zodiac (1, Funny)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806355)

I want to stop this unmanaged fishing of languages before they all go extinct! Where's my big rubber boat? Let's stop these language trawlers and hit them where it hurts!

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806357)

Good. Communication is a good thing. Less languages == better chance of communication with other people from all over the planet == human race evolves towards a better future.

Reminds me ... (4, Funny)

Dhrakar (32366) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806361)

Heh. That reminds me of an old joke. What do you call a person who knows 3 languages? 'trilingual' What do you call a person who knows 2 languages? 'bilingual' What do you call a person who knows 1 language? 'American'.

Re:Reminds me ... (5, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806587)

Hey, it's not our fault that we were taught the universal language as children.

Re:Reminds me ... (1)

speaker of the truth (1112181) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806737)

Exactly. Even Wraith and Ancients from thousands of years ago speak English (except they're not suppose to [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pegasus_Project_%28Stargate_SG-1%29]keep records in that language[/url]).

Re:Reminds me ... (2, Interesting)

huckamania (533052) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806645)

The problem for most Americans is that they never get to practice their second language. A second language is usually a requirement for graduating high school. Same is true for most colleges. Unfortunately, if you don't have a chance to use it, you forget most of it.

This probably explains why most 2nd generation Americans don't speak the language of their parents.

Spanish is probably the only other language besides English that a majority of Americans will ever get a chance to use in the US. Even so, I know lots of Hispanic-Americans that don't bother learning it.

Census Dot Gov (2006) (1, Informative)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806723)

What do you call a person who knows 1 language? 'American'.
The latest census (2006) here my own state (California) revels that 42.3 percent of people speak a language other than English at home. So while this Slashdot story may remind you of an old joke, we are all reminded of how much of a joke you anti-American racists are.

Hey, English in the USA is doomed (3, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806375)


A few decades from now, we'll all be speaking spanish!

Re:Hey, English in the USA is doomed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806703)

That always semed a bit hysterical. Was there any evidence to that, or were the pundits just insane?

Do we really need... (1)

dkarma (985926) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806391)

forty or fifty different languages consisting only of clicks? Many of these languages are spoken only by one or two tiny tribes many in papua new guinea alone. Sure it's sad but c'est la vie.

Globalization = combining people (1)

mind21_98 (18647) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806399)

I think this has to do with globalization. It's become easier to move around, so one has to learn the most common languages (English and French) in order to succeed. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it might not be all that good for certain things either, as seen here...

Re:Globalization = combining people (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806533)

It's become easier to move around, so one has to learn the most common languages (English and French) in order to succeed.

If anything, it's probably going to be Chinese, Spanish, English, Hindi and Arabic. The power that French had seems to have waned considerably.

Re:Globalization = combining people (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806689)

Maybe in Europe, to some extent, but it's still a major language in Africa, Polynesia and the Far East.

Metcalfe's Law at Work (4, Interesting)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806431)

Maybe things will turn out like Firefly/Serenity predicted: Mandarin Chinese and English would be left as the two languages spoken by all humans.

I know that Mandarin is slowly taking over in China with its a hundred plus dialects of Chinese. Even dialects with millions of speakers are falling into disuse by the younger people who prefer to speak Mandarin instead of their native dialect. The government has put no effort into this but since they use Mandarin in school everyone in my generation can speak it. It then becomes a networking effect or Metcalfe's law. Mandarin is just much more useful than the other dialects because you have a billion speakers instead of just a few million. Why bother using those? Plus the regional dialects are what the parents and grandparents use. Mandarin is the cooler, hipper dialect.

It'll be sad when the regional dialects die out because some of them are much older than Mandarin and some classical Chinese poems only rhyme properly in the south dialects such as Cantonese.

Just a quick nitpick (1)

SvnLyrBrto (62138) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806571)

> Maybe things will turn out like Firefly/Serenity predicted: Mandarin Chinese
> and English would be left as the two languages spoken by all humans.

Japanese apparently survived into the Firefly era. I can't recall actually hearing any dialogue in it, but there were definitely several instances of written Japanese (hiragana and katakana) visible in the series.

cya,
john

An Inconvenient Language Root (4, Funny)

dswensen (252552) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806439)

Damn you global warming.

How will they blame George Bush for this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806631)

I eagerly await finding out how George Bush is to be blamed for this.

Re:An Inconvenient Language Root (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806719)

Warming? Surely you mean Global Wording.

The Onion on dying languages (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806447)

Klingon Speakers Now Outnumber Navajo Speakers [theonion.com]

According to a report released Monday by the Modern Language Association, speakers of the Star Trek-based Klingon language outnumber individuals fluent in Navajo by a margin of more than seven-to-one.

"Navajo, a 3,000-year-old Native American tonal language belonging to the Athabaskan/Na-Dené group of tongues, is clearly dying and will likely be extinct by 2010," MLA president Frederick Toback said. "Fortunately, though, the sad, steady decline of this once-proud Native American tongue has been more than offset by a rising interest in Klingon culture."

Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806473)

Hope the next one to go is 1337speak.

14 Days (4, Insightful)

pokerdad (1124121) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806509)

I recently heard that a language goes extinct every 14 days, which for some reason pisses me off. No, I'm not pissed off that languages are going away (though I can see more value in them than some here), but rather that it would be expressed that way. Clearly it is meaningless to talk about this kind of change in a time frame of days, so the only reason to state "every 14 days", instead of a more meaningful figure like 250/decade would be to try to manipulate the listener into action.

But while linguists would like to make this out to be a calmity similar to wildlife extinction (hence the manipulation), there really is no practical solution to this situation; you can't force a language to live on - people either have a use for it, or they don't.

progress being made? (2, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806537)

70% of the world can't even read or write their own languages.

a single language will go a long way towards resolving disputes and possibly even wars.
Different cultures must assimilate into the global culture or become obsolete.

On the other hand, these disappearing cultures have a lot to teach us.
Tribal wisdom must be translated and passed down to be preserved for the remainder of human history.

Re:progress being made? (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806611)

a single language will go a long way towards resolving disputes and possibly even wars.


Yeah, after all, the Brits and Americans never fought, neither did all those German states or all those Latin-speaking folks. I mean, they all lived in harmony, and never took to arms.

Where the hell do you people learn your history? I'm thinking you probably don't.

Re:progress being made? (1)

Zombie Ryushu (803103) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806671)

I agree, perhaps this will mean the prevention of another burning of the library of Alexandria. The bad part is, yes, alot of tribal Wisdom will be lost that shouldn't. As for Spanish overtaking English, I don't think so, I think thats just racist fear mongering. No, I think eventually English and Chinese will drive Spanish to extinction.

Just make sure we leave a few Rosetta Stones. (1)

WoTG (610710) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806547)

Languages have always come and gone... actually, I guess they've mostly gone as communication over wider geographies has become possible.

Anyway, I propose that we make giant stone cut modern day equivalents of the Rosetta Stone so that future archaeologists will have something to kickstart translation efforts when they pull fragments of text off of buried DVDs or whatever we leave behind.

Vanilla Culture (3, Insightful)

some old guy (674482) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806569)

This is merely another symptom of humanity lurching steadily toward a drab, gray, intellectually sterile future, where cultural diversity will be eclipsed by monotony. In a monolingual, monocultural future, people all around the globe will be able to talk alright, but there will be much less to talk about.

Ah, well. As the late great Kurt Vonnegut wrote, "So it goes."

Re:Vanilla Culture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806647)

In a monolingual, monocultural future, people all around the globe will be able to talk alright, but there will be much less to talk about.
How do I talk about anything with someone who doesnt understand me?

Re:Vanilla Culture (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806661)

Learn the language.

A sad thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806589)

The (in)ability of the world to communicate with each other has very little do with language and syntax, rather semantics, tolerance, and understanding are the issues. The loss of languages is sad. It's a sign of losing the past that has much to offer. No, the good old days weren't always perfect but when a language is lost, the songs of the past are also lost. No, translations aren't the same.

I've been to Papua-New Guinea, which alone has 800 languages. One village I stayed in spoke a language that 10,000 people spoke. They sang a song for me about an old story, a myth if you may, of a girl and boy who were separated by a river but also separated by things that went way beyond a river. I have no idea what a single word was that they sang but it had an effect of me that wouldn't have been there if they sang in English. It's their story, in their language. It's their songs of the past that are worth preserving for the future. If there should come a day when those words are forgotten, I will mourn.

Secret Information (3, Interesting)

paleshadows (1127459) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806603)

here are some reasons why we'd want to preserve dying languages [from the paper]:

When a language is lost, centuries of human thinking about animals, plants, mathematics, and time may be lost with it, Swarthmore's Harrison said. "Eighty percent of species have been undiscovered by science, but that doesn't mean they're unknown to humans, because the people who live in those ecosystems know the species intimately and they often have more sophisticated ways of classifying them than science does," he said. "We're throwing away centuries' worth of knowledge and discoveries that they have been making all along." In Bolivia, Harrison and Anderson met with Kallawaya people, who have been traditional herbalists since the time of the Inca Empire. In daily life the Kallawaya use the more common Quechua language. But they also maintain a secret language to encode information about thousands of medicinal plants, some previously unknown to science, that the Kallawayas use as remedies. The navigational skills of peoples in Micronesia, meanwhile, are similarly encoded in small, vulnerable languages, Harrison said. "There are people who may have a special set of terms ... which enable them to navigate thousands of miles of uncharted ocean ... without any modern instruments of navigation."

Re:Secret Information (1)

jjohnson (62583) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806653)

This isn't really compelling to me since, without the secret knowledge they've encoded in micro-languages, we've far surpassed those cultures in medicine, science, navigation, etc... They may know a particular plant that cures the gout, but we've got protein-folding. I'm just convinced there's a real loss here.

It's not the languages that matter... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806659)

It's the culture. Expiring languages take with them many different cultures. When the world "normalizes" the language, we will all become culturally similar.

Think about it for a second... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806675)

Of the thousands of remaining languages, hundreds are ancient American Indian languages spoken by four or fewer living persons, all over the age of eighty. Once, maybe ten years ago, my Dad and I looked these old languages up. I can't imagine how many of those five hundred or so have died since then. Perhaps the languages we should be most concerned about are the ones with written literature and history. If someday, no one can speak some arbitrary hunting language with no writings or recorded history, I don't believe humanity has lost anything particularly important.

Speechless, I do be. (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 6 years ago | (#20806725)

I don't know how to say how I feel about that report. Maybe the right word has gone extinct.

There is one simple statement to this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806733)

Other than "So what"...I don't think there is much more to say....

losing languages is bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20806739)

For everyone saying "good, getting rid of languages to use a few common ones will facilitate better communication", you forget that while there are plenty of words with common ground (the same definition usually), having different languages breeds different concepts. One of the most important tools humanity has at it's disposal, besides language, is imagination, which is related to randomly or selectively combining different ideas, concepts and other data. By filtering out languages to favor one language, solely for the advantage of improved communication between individuals, you are _also_ filtering out perceptions generated by the different base concepts found in different languages.

In short, losing diversity of language is akin to losing the diversity of species in nature, which nobody in their right mind considers a good thing. You're losing differences that encourage change and even growth, especially when you bring two different cultures of language together. After they had gone their separate ways in days of old, we've brought them together again in modern times and learned what each culture discovered by looking at the world in various different aspects. But just like so many people in technology see the advantage of NOT having an OS mono-culture, we should also see the advantage of not having a mono-culture of human language.

I'd even go so far as to say that separation and re-merging of cultures of languages should be an encouraged social cycle in my opinion. Learn separately, come together later and compare notes, and repeat process. Is that a perspective anyone else bothered to think of, or were you too interested in making sure anyone in the world could understand you when you asked for food, clothing, shelter, money, internet access and/or porn?
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