While reading this week’s articles and listening to the lectures, I found the idea of linguistic extinction to be particularly interesting. This is a concept I have been exposed to before and have always been intrigued by its causes and whether or not it’s culturally crucial or even respectful for a linguist to step in to help preserve that language. With most of the languages that are becoming extinct, it’s largely because adult generations choose not to pass the language on to their children, and they must have a reason for doing this. Although it is always disappointing to see a language become extinct, it’s an ethical battle of whether or not somebody from outside of that culture is overstepping their boundaries by intervening to keep that tradition going.
I’ve learned that many people choose not to pass the language on for a couple of different reasons, but the main one is so that children can use the main language in their area so that they can be more socially acceptable. I’ve seen this example with children from developing nations: their parents want to provide them with the best opportunities, and unfortunately one of their ways of doing so is to not pass on an indigenous language, as it could be seen as “lesser” by those who are going to potentially help that child succeed in academics and life in general. I have also noticed this trend with second generation immigrants. Oftentimes, individuals who immigrate anywhere do so to create a better lives for themselves and their families. Similar to the example from developing nations, they feel that one of the best ways to do so is to make sure the child is speaking the main language of that country – English in the U.S., for example. I believe there is a statistic that by the time we get to third-generation immigrants, the majority of them do not speak any of their family’s native language at all. I had a friend whose grandfather was from Poland, and he told me that he chose not to pass the language on to his children because if they lived in America, he thought they should only speak English. For this reason, my friend had no knowledge whatsoever of the Polish language, and his dad didn’t know much either.
All of these examples fall into the ideology of contempt that many Europeans adopted toward indigenous languages during colonization. Because those languages are looked down upon, people from those indigenous populations felt the need to assimilate linguistically – for lack of a better term – in order to achieve any amount of success. These are also great ways to think about the idea of moribund languages. In the case of my friend, for instance, Polish was not passed down to the next generation, meaning it had no chance for success within that family. There are many languages throughout the world whose only speakers are older generations, which is due to social factors. It’s only logical that a language will not survive if it is not passed down to the next generation, but I think it’s interesting to think about why the older generations have chosen not to pass their language along to their children.