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Should we preserve dying languages? Show more Show less
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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?

Yes, we should preserve dying languages Show more Show less

Languages have cultural, scientific, and personal value. Linguists and speakers of endangered languages should work together to record, preserve, and pass down endangered languages.
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Languages contain a wealth of knowledge

Languages are more than just a means of communication—they contain a wealth of cultural, historic, and scientific knowledge that can benefit humanity.

Context

We use language to describe the world around us. By preserving endangered languages, we preserve a particular understanding of the world. Amongst indigenous people, particularly, their understanding of the local environment may well surpass the dominant culture's.

The Argument

Languages contain a wealth of scientific knowledge. Indigenous peoples, whose languages are often endangered, know about their surroundings better than outsiders. Speakers of minority languages may have centuries’ worth of information on local geography, information about animals and the environment, navigation, botany, meteorology, and more.[1] If the last speaker of such an endangered language dies, then the vocabularies and science about indigenous peoples' environments are lost as well. Languages contain historical value. If the language has been around for centuries and does not have a written form, losing the language could mean losing centuries’ worth of history and knowledge.[2] Like knowledge about the natural world, historical knowledge is important to preserve. Future generations of a people group can have access to their cultural heritage, and future researchers can trace human histories of migration and change. Languages are scientifically interesting. Each language has a unique grammar system, and each language's grammatical and phonetic system are worth studying to better learn about the human capacity for communication. Studying language systems helps linguists address humans' brain development, cognitive capacities, and even communicative disorders.[3] Endangered languages are part of humanity's capacity for knowledge, and such knowledge should be preserved so we do not biasedly rely on the knowledge and culture of the few majority languages widely spoken around the world.

Counter arguments

Language barriers hinder scientific advancement.[4] Much of the scientific knowledge out there is already in English. To better promote global scientific inquiry, scientists should just focus on translating papers and information into English or other widely-spoken languages.

Proponents

Premises

[P1] Languages contain unique, valuable information. [P2] Scientific and historical knowledge is valuable to record and preserve for future generations.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P1] Language knowledge can be translated to other widely-spoken languages.

References

  1. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140606-why-we-must-save-dying-languages
  2. https://blog.cyracom.com/why-language-preservation-matters-according-to-experts
  3. https://www.sapiens.org/language/endangered-languages/
  4. https://phys.org/news/2016-12-languages-major-barrier-global-science.html

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This page was last edited on Saturday, 22 Aug 2020 at 18:38 UTC

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