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Last native speaker of Cromarty dialect dies
Posted: 04 October 2012 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I ran across this today while browsing news.  I doubt it will affect anyone personally, but I guess you never know.

Fisherman Dies, Taking Dialect with Him

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Posted: 04 October 2012 04:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Jenkins, of the Grauniard, chimes in:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/04/cromarty-gone-now-have-spanglish

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Posted: 05 October 2012 12:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I’m a fully paid-up member of an English dialect society, and in fact there’s a meeting of all northern dialect societies in Northumberland in a couple of weeks’ time where we’ll be hearing and learning about, many very different accents and dialects.  The reason for membership?  Dialect is part of my cultural heritage, part of my family history for the last 500 years or so.  It reminds me where I came from, where I belong, and in a small and undefinable way, where and why I’m going (other than six feet under.  But of course, if you take the point of view that the only place we’re heading is six feet under, you won’t know what on earth I’m talking about). I’m lucky to have that link to my past, the knowledge of what used to bind my family’s community together.  I know not everyone has that good fortune, but I’m proud to belong to a diminishing group of people who’ve lived in the same area and understand what influences were on my early life. Sentimental? Yes. But not exclusively so because belonging to a dialect society also informs and stimulates.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 05:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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“I think that’s a terrible thing,” said Robert Millar, a linguist at the University of Aberdeen in northern Scotland. “The more diversity in terms of nature we have, the healthier we are. It’s the same with language.”

I will probably be flamed for this, but I think the above statement is nonsense.  Language is dynamic.  It evolves.  Language extinction is not a new phenomenon at all.  People like to be able to communicate with each other.  Humans, by nature, standardize their languages to meet this need.  I think that comparing language to biodiversity is a mistake.  Living organisms tend to specialize because it is efficient.  It is not efficient for everyone to be speaking a different language.  If you want to lament the loss of an obscure tongue for sentimental reasons, or academic ones, that is understandable, but don’t say it is unhealthy, because it isn’t.

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Posted: 05 October 2012 07:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I agree.  I regret the loss of the dialect on aesthetic grounds--it reduces the cultural richness of humanity by some degree--but the comparison to the ecological effects of lost biodiversity is baseless, and as silly as the perennial claim that the latest changes in usage are a threat to the survival of English.

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Posted: 06 October 2012 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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There’s another potential loss in addition to cultural diversity, it’s the loss of data about the scope and varieties of language, which can be important in understanding how the brain works and how we think.

Language extinction is not a new phenomenon at all.

True. Over the course of human evolution we’ve probably lost some 100,000 languages (a ballpark figure, no one really knows), which makes the potential loss of 3,000 more seem not so significant.

But the pace with which languages are dying is unprecedented. We’re likely to lose half the world’s languages in a single human lifetime. That’s new.

Humans, by nature, standardize their languages to meet this need.

By nature we diversify our languages just as much as we standardize them. Languages grow as big as the cultures with which people identify. For most of human evolution, this has meant a cap of about 500 speakers of a given language, the most that could form a cohesive cultural group. The advent of cities allowed the numbers to grow bigger. And the large scale urbanization that accompanied the industrial revolution increased it exponentially. (When this happened varies with the region. Starting in the seventeenth century in Europe, but the twentieth century in Africa.) It’s not simply trade and global economics, it’s when people uproot themselves and move that language death happens. Mass communications doesn’t cause language death, but it is a necessary tool for maintaining the larger cultural groups.

So what we’re seeing today is very different than in the past.

It is not efficient for everyone to be speaking a different language.

Bilingualism and trilingualism is the norm for humans, and code switching between related dialects of is even more common. Multiple languages need not be a bar to communication. The rise of Global English as a second language is not the problem. Learning another language does not mean forgetting your native tongue. Language death is a multi-generational process, where the children are no longer taught their parent’s native tongue. (Which is another ding against Millar’s comments. Language death has nothing to do with bilingualism. So it doesn’t matter if “bilingualism strengthens the brain” or not. Which I agree is a silly claim.)

But I agree the comparison to biodiversity is facile. The survival of our species is not threatened by language death.

[ Edited: 06 October 2012 04:33 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 06 October 2012 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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There’s another potential loss in addition to cultural diversity, it’s the loss of data about the scope and varieties of language, which can be important in understanding how the brain works and how we think....

I think this may be the greatest loss.

I hope that extensive audio recordings were made. Recordings would at least be something to study.

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Posted: 08 October 2012 09:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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"It is not efficient for everyone to be speaking a different language.”

Efficiency is way overrated.

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Posted: 08 October 2012 09:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Progress only occurs when there is inefficiency.

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Posted: 08 October 2012 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I don’t understand so would you explain what you mean please, Dave?

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Posted: 08 October 2012 11:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Perhaps because if everything runs efficiently what need is there for innovation?

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Posted: 08 October 2012 12:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Innovation requires an excess of resources (time and money, mainly). If everything is maximally efficient, there are no resources to spare to innovate. You can’t afford to experiment or change, because if you divert any resources to do that the entire system stops working.

Biologically, evolution occurs where there are redundant and vestigial structures and organs or excess energy that can be put to new uses without killing or seriously injuring the organism in the process.

Innovation only occurs when people have the time to play around. Hence Google allows its engineers to use 20% of their time to tinker on pet projects. It’s not “efficient,” but it generates a lot of great (and not-so great) ideas.

[ Edited: 08 October 2012 12:10 PM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 09 October 2012 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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I understand the theory, and I appreciate in the grand order of things this may be so, but I don’t think it’s always applicable when you’re dealing at a lower level: with human beings who become bored with the (same) maximally efficient, or who have other wants or needs.  People will make changes in order to suit their needs at any one particular time and this may or may not be the most efficient, as we see in dialect and slang.

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Posted: 09 October 2012 03:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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It is applicable to language, although language as we know it is so inefficient that it’s hard to imagine what an efficient language would truly be like.

But a more efficient language would limit the number of phonemes to those that are truly distinct and cannot easily be confused or mixed, for example either / L / or / R / but not both; have only one unmistakable sense for each word; there would be exactly one distinct letter per phoneme; etc.

It wouldn’t stop innovation because the not all the resources used for change (namely time and money) aren’t contained within the system of language itself. You could form new words via compounding and affixes, but it would severely limit how language could be changed (as well as destroy a lot of rhetoric and humor).

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Posted: 09 October 2012 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dave Wilton - 08 October 2012 09:38 AM

Progress only occurs when there is inefficiency.

That is very true.  And standardization of languages is progress.

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Posted: 09 October 2012 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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And standardization of languages is progress.

In what sense?  And doesn’t that idea contradict the one you just agreed with?

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