Listening to the lectures and going through the readings for this week it seems obvious that “we” (humans) lose something when a language goes extinct. Lecture 3 probably made it most explicit what we lose since it included a list of things we lose when a language ceases to exist. As a future social studies teacher, I have a personal soft spot for the history that is lost when a language dies.
But I think that it is just as, or more, important that when a language dies a way of experiencing the world dies as well. Even a weak Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis means that our language influences how we think about the world. Each language influences our thinking in slightly different ways. Some languages, like Korean or Japanese, make hierarchy explicit by altering verb endings or word use systematically. Other languages, like Provencal maybe, have a certain musicality that doesn’t exist in other languages.
Maybe a metaphor is the only way to really get at the meat of the issue. If languages are like songs (or genres of music), then we can look at the lyrics (the information being conveyed) or we can pay attention to the rhythm or melody (how information is conveyed). Some songs might be more efficient or clear with lyrics, some might have beautiful melodies. Some are hard to learn, others are easy. But no one is fighting for just one song or genre of music.
It would be beneficial for everyone to speak the same language. I think ever since Star Trek, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide, Sci-Fi stories have been showing us how useful a universal translator would be. But to assume that everyone should speak the same language and only that language is falling back on the old language ideologies. Of course, if any modern language was to gain the prestige of being the world language it would give native speakers of that language a huge advantage. I think this is why a constructed language would be best for a world language (like Esperanto). That way no one would start as a native speaker. The only problem is that once there is a world language it makes your local language less attractive (since the world language would have power attached to it).
An alternative to having a world language would be for everyone to be bi- or multi-lingual. This is the solution that most of the world has come to, but for some reason it is really difficult for English speakers to do. I remember reading that the UK had the fewest speakers of multiple languages in the EU (back before Brexit) and Americans are not any better. But maybe it has nothing to do with our language and everything to do with our culture, since Canada seems to be able to produce bilingual speakers.
Culture is also my answer to the question of what to do when your language is dying. Attaching the language to cultural events or activities seems to be the surest way of keeping it alive. If a language is used in religious ceremonies, or cultural festivals, or as part of any regular activity, I think it remains on life support since there is a way and a reason to transmit the language to the children of the community. The only other option, it seems, is to have power. The more power the speakers of a language have, the more attractive it is to learn or maintain the language.
Overall, I enjoyed this course. The lectures and readings were always useful and interesting, the quizzes tested what we learned, and I read some good posts by classmates. The system for posting and replying to posts was a little lacking, however. Maybe I am just suffering from D2L Stockholm Syndrome, but I actually think that posting in that forum would have been better. There was no easy way to see which posts I had already read, or which replies I had seen, so I ended up only reading a few posts each week and replying to one. I never responded to anyone replying to my posts and I never had someone respond to my replies. Basically, there was no conversation happening. This might not be a priority for the class, but I thought I would mention it.
As a side note, maybe someone will read this, the week 7 quiz had an error. Question 8 (at least my question 8) had two identical answers but only one of them was counted as correct. I’m not too worried about it, since I don’t need the points to get the grade I want, but if no one has mentioned it there it is.