Monday, February 11, 2013

Mass Extinction: Lingual Edition

Every fourteen days a language becomes extinct. According to this article over here, anyway. Every fourteen days a language dies. Now, the language doesn't necessarily disappear—there are still plenty of people who are knowledgeable about the language, and there are programs designed to keep the knowledge and use of a language available. However, the language disappears from any kind of societal usage. Other than having the pseudo-prestige of being somewhat fluent in a dead language, they serve no purpose. Dead languages have no more cultural or societal value. They are no longer spoken in everyday situations by everyday people. A piece of human history and culture vanishes every two weeks.

That's a good thing. That's a really good thing. First of all, let me make it clear. The culture does not disappear. As long as there are documented works of that culture, it will live on. The fact that we are currently creating a library of language means that in the future those cultural works can be translated into whatever dominant language there is. So the culture doesn't disappear, it just happens to not be practised. That's two very different things.

So we keep the knowledge and beliefs of that culture alive in books and in history. And as heartless as this might seem, it's a good thing when that culture merges with the current world. One of the biggest hurdles in lasting peace is language. If human kind all spoke one language, well, it would be a hell of a lot easier to understand each other. We already have enough communicative hurdles in societies that do speak the same language, we don't all need to be clucking out different tongues. That's just a mess. It's disorganized, and disorganization breeds discontent, breeds confrontation, breeds pain and chaos and mayhem.

Now of course I love language. Actually, I loathe it. It beats me around quite a bit. But I do love the things that can be done with language. I can write this blog with language. I can write books and stories with language. I can communicate with folks across the entire ocean with language. I can communicate almost any idea I have with language. And it would be a shame for languages to intellectually disappear. I think creating a library of language is a very good idea. It's a valuable resource for translating and for a great number of things. For artistry, for example. For expanding the current language. English—or American, as I speak—is already a big collage of languages. Of French, and German, and Spanish, and Latin. All boiled into one. That's because there isn't some heir to the Webster way sitting up there dictating language. People, average people speaking to each other, dictates language. If someone, one of these people, peruses this linguistic library and pulls from it some word that just feels pleasant rolling off their tongue and plunks it right down in the middle of a sentence, that's okay. If the word catches on, if that usage takes hold, they've resurrected part of that other language and made it part of their language. That's the simple nature of language.

In the future that the article I linked to above predicts, half of all languages will be "gone." But how gone will they really be? And, almost more importantly, how much of the "living" languages will actually be the language we know today? If, by 2100, Spanish has lost out to English how much of the English language of the year 2100 will be composed of words of Spanish origin? What are the chances that "Y" and "And" are both used in the same language. Pretty likely, I would say. And the best part of it all is that people will be able to understand one another. There will always be dialects which are different, sometimes vastly so, but in general since these come from the same root language people can overcome the dialect and learn to understand.

I think the supposed "loss" of languages is a good step in becoming a united species. Instead of fearing this inevitable loss of language, embrace it. Because it's also the inevitable gain of unity.

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