Language wars, death of languages, minority languages, etc.

I am throwing out papers again and just wanted to note down this document:

The UNESCO Courier, April 2000, which had a special section dedicated to languages:
http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001194/119473e.pdf

There are a couple of interesting articles in it that address the diversity of languages around the world and the changes happening to them – and to the peoples that speak them. Interesting!

“From time immemorial, languages have come to birth, lived and died with the societies that engendered them.Today, however, they are dying out at unprecedented speed. As a result of what have been called “language wars ” , the great majority of the 6,000 languages spoken in the world today may disappear in the foreseeable future. Linguistic diversity is imperilled, and with it a part of the human heritage, for language is the cornerstone of cultural diversity, which is in its turn a mainstay in the preservation of biodiversity (pages 18-19).

There are many reasons for language wars in which English at the world level (pages 23-24) and other “ major ” regional languages gain ground at the expense of “minority” languages. But the big battalions do not always win,as the struggles to preserve Basque, Berber and Gikuyu illustrate (pages 24-28).

At the same time, coexistence between languages can and is being fostered (page 29). Through international co-operation to promote multilingualism, especially in education (pages 30-31); through specific national policies, as in India (pages 33-34); and through
grassroots initiatives like that of the Ecuadorian Shuar, who have used the rebirth of their language as a springboard into the modern world (pages 32-33).” (p.17 ‘Focus: languages: conflict or coexistence’)

“Are the vast majority of languages doomed to die out in the near future? Specialists reckon that no language can survive unless 100,000 people speak it. Half of the 6,000 or so languages in the world today are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people and a quarter by less than 1,000. Only a score are spoken by hundreds of millions of people.

The death of languages is not a new phenomenon. Since languages diversified , at least 30,000 (some say as many as half a million) of them have been born and disappeared, often without leaving any trace.Languages usually have a relatively short life span as well as a very high deathrate. Only a few, including Basque, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek , Hebrew, Latin, Persian, Sanskrit and Tamil, have lasted more than 2,000 years.” (p.18, Ranka Bjeljac-Babic ‘6,000 languages: an embattled heritage’ pp.18-19)

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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