When a language goes extinct we lose an entire history. The loss of history is something I think about all the time now because I have grandparents who are getting old and could die any day. It was only recently that my sister asked my grandmother about what it was like growing up in Alabama and being part of the Great Migration and what it was like to be the daughter of a sharecropper and a domestic. If my sister had never asked and my grandmother had died, I would never know her history at all. That’s kind of what language death is like. What do we lose when a language goes extinct? Do we benefit from having a world filled with many languages?
In the lectures we had the example of Yachi, and many other Native American languages, that have such a rich history but is in danger of being lost. I had known about the boarding schools native children were sent to for years and how languages were beaten from children. According to English colonizers, English was the only language people should know because it was superior and being bilingual is too hard. Anyone who wasn’t a part of the dominant culture was told that they had to give up their languages. Having only one language benefits the people who don’t have to give up anything.
Without the languages that we have now, and the many languages we have had before there is no diversity. Sure, we would all be able to easily communicate with each other effectively, but a whole history would be erased from existence in order to achieve it. I believe these languages have a story that’s worth sharing.
If English was slowly diminishing, I would feel lost. There was a Buzzfeed video a few months ago, although not related to language death, that focused on the difficulties of not knowing your mother tongue. Many people in the video spoke on how hard it was to not be able to communicate with their grandparents because they don’t know the language. They felt lost because they can’t have a relationship with their own grandparents and are essentially cut off from all of their grandparent’s history because they don’t speak the language.
Some of the people in the video admitted that they had turned their backs on the language voluntarily because it would have made it harder to fit in with the English-speaking kids. I think in order to keep a language alive, there would need to be practices like those found in Wales. Welsh is taught in schools and many very young children only know that language until they are taught subjects in English. On the school playgrounds, the children speak in Welsh but it is not uncommon to hear English phrases like “throw the ball.” Welsh even has a strong presence on TV. The language is heard daily and children are immersed in it. I believe the Welsh serve as a standard of how to keep a language alive.
On the course:
This class was very interesting for me. I got to talk about code-switching in a class that also discussed AAVE. The only time I’ve ever been able to witness that is in classes that I’ve taken on African American history or with friends. That was refreshing for me. The talk of language in general was rewarding for me in this class. I liked the discussions on language and babies/toddlers and how different cultures approach child-rearing. I never understood why people did baby-talk, every baby or child I’ve ever been around I have talking to as if they are a normal person. It’s funny because my 9-year-old sister was always around adults when she was a baby. When she learned how to talk, she spoke in full sentences like the rest of us and liked to hold conversations with people. Unfortunately, she grew up without a filter (like all children) and bossy. We’re working on that.