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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?

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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People choose not to speak a dying language

Speakers of endangered languages have the choice to continue or stop speaking their language. If a people group chooses to stop their language, then linguists or researchers should not interfere.


For some speakers of minority languages (such as Spanish-speaking people in the U.S. or Tibetan-speaking people in China), learning the majority language (English and Mandarin respectively) means gaining more access to education, work opportunities, and socioeconomic advancement. Majority languages signify and promote progress while minority, endangered languages are hindrances to progress and collaboration.[1]

The Argument

Speakers of endangered languages have a choice to maintain their language. Sometimes immigrant parents decide not to teach their children a heritage language because they think it will hinder their children’s chances for success in their new country. [2] It is a parent’s choice to decide what language they wish to raise their child in. In general, it is a people group's choice of whether or not they wish to pass their language and culture to the next generation. Linguists and language-enthusiasts want to maintain a language for “cultural heritage” or “preservation of knowledge,” but ultimately, the language at risk is not these researchers’ language. For successful preservation of an endangered language, the preservation process needs to have community support outside of academics or linguists.[3] If the community chooses not to participate in that process, it is this community’s right to do so. Outside researchers should not interfere with the minority language's shift to the majority language.

Counter arguments

It is not always a people group's choice to stop speaking their language as assimilating to the majority language is often out of political or economic necessity. For example, the U.S. has a strong, monolingual English culture; society pressures and expects immigrants to speak English. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the U.S. government built Native American boarding schools where Native American children were forcefully assimilated into European-American culture. Speaking their native language was disallowed.[4] Today, many indigenous North American languages are endangered or extinct.[5] The depleted number of Indigenous North American languages is an example of how a ruling government suppressed a people's group's language through forced assimilation. Parents may choose to raise their children in the majority language and not teach the minority language. Yet, children may grow up and feel a loss of cultural connection or a missed opportunity in not learning their heritage language.[6] Just because the parents do not find the minority/endangered language valuable does not mean the language itself does not have value to their children.



[P1] Language death occurs by human intention, that is, by humans choosing not to engage the language any further. [P2] People's choice to let languages die should be respected.

Rejecting the premises

[Rejecting P2] Though a speaker's choice to stop speaking their mother tongue is valid, this does not mean their choice will not affect future generations' cultural connection to the language or their desire to know the endangered language.




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This page was last edited on Friday, 4 Sep 2020 at 15:45 UTC

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