The Purpose of a Language

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The Purpose of a Language

Postby Moderator » Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:32 pm

2,500 languages threatened with extinction: UNESCO
by Amer Ouali Amer Ouali
PARIS (AFP) – The world has lost Manx in the Isle of Man, Ubykh in Turkey and last year Alaska's last native speaker of Eyak, Marie Smith Jones, died, taking the aboriginal language with her.

Of the 6,900 languages spoken in the world, some 2,500 are endangered, the UN's cultural agency UNESCO said Thursday as it released its latest atlas of world languages


I am wholly in favor of protecting and valuing cultures, but if the purpose of language is effective communication with others, doesn't the natural death of unused languages occur logically and naturally?

Yes we want to protect our history, but is the death of a little-used language something to consider a serious problem?

(And I'm sure my uncle, who is a Linguistics Professor at UCSB, would be aghast at my question.)
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Postby David Loftus » Thu Feb 19, 2009 4:35 pm

A language is not just a tool. It's an artifact in itself . . . if not a necessarily (or any longer a) living, breathing cultural organism, at the very least a record of how a particular set of human beings perceived and interpreted reality at a given locale in space and time.

And if we are in agreement that reality can never, ever be completely comprehended, by any particular tool or set of tools yet devised by human beings, then it should follow that every attempt (i.e., every set of language tools) ought to be preserved in some form to assist in our ever-ongoing battle to comprehend reality a little better than we have.

I don't think the situation can or should be analogized to that of evolution. Plants and animals -- and species -- must die in order to facilitate the survival of other plants and species. But languages do not require the expiration of other languages to survive.
War is, at first, the hope that one will be better off; next, the expectation that the other fellow will be worse off; then, the satisfaction that he isn't any better off; and, finally, the surprise at everyone's being worse off. - Karl Kraus


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