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< Back to question Should we preserve dying languages? Show more Show less

A language becomes endangered when its speakers do not pass the language down to the next generation and its remaining native speakers grow older and pass away. A language is considered dead or extinct when it has no fluent speakers. Languages change, shift, and die throughout human history, yet linguists and speakers of endangered languages go at great lengths to record and maintain such languages for research purposes or cultural heritage. If languages change and die naturally, are they worth preserving? What is the purpose of preserving a dying language?

No, we should not preserve dying languages Show more Show less

Languages change, shift, and die throughout human history. Preserving a dying language is not worth the effort it takes to record, preserve, and teach endangered languages to younger generations.
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Language death is natural

Language change and language extinction are natural to human history. We should not try to preserve less-spoken, minority languages that will die out anyway.
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Context

Many estimates and statistics claim that many of the 6,000-7,000 languages spoken in the world today will be extinct within the next 100 years. One estimate says 50% of those languages will disappear in the next 100 years while other estimates say up to 90% of today's language will disappear by 2115.[1] Should we do something about the steep decline in linguistic diversity in the world, or should we just let it be?

The Argument

Languages die off for many reasons, and many include political, economic, or cultural factors. Languages die-off also because of natural disasters, such as the 2004 earthquake and tsunami which affected India and Indonesia.[1] Environmental factors, such as climate change, cause speakers of minority languages to migrate where different languages are spoken. Migrants encounter the need to assimilate to the majority language and culture, leaving their minority cultures behind out of necessity. Just as the world is experiencing a decrease in biodiversity, the world is experiencing a decrease in linguistic diversity. Regardless of whether such processes are natural or not, these processes are unstoppable. People's assimilation into majority-spoken languages is just the natural order of things. Governments and linguists should not spend energy on preserving languages that will die out of natural causes because they can better use their time and research efforts elsewhere.

Counter arguments

Language death is not natural. Oppressive regimes, colonization, and government policies intentionally suppress minority languages in favor of more dominant languages such as English, Mandarin, Swahili, or Arabic.[2] Suppressing minority languages is cruel and unfair. Speakers of a minority or endangered language have the right to maintain their language, which includes their cultural heritage and unique knowledge.[3]

Premises

[P1] Natural forces cause languages to die. [P2] People cannot stop natural forces; they can only let them happen. [P3] Language preservation is not worth the energy.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Language death occurs because of human choice and intent to suppress languages. [Rejecting P3] With technology, language preservation is easier and more efficient.

References

  1. https://newrepublic.com/article/125501/languages-die
  2. https://globalvoices.org/2019/11/06/museums-of-the-mind-why-we-should-preserve-endangered-languages/
  3. https://www.un.org/en/observances/mother-language-day

This page was last edited on Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 15:58 UTC

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