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In defence of learning dead languages
Posted: 16 September 2013 10:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Populist justification in the Guardian by Josephine Livingstone who is a doctoral candidate in English at New York University, where she also teaches literature, it says.

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Posted: 16 September 2013 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I concur with her arguments. It’s nice to see a newspaper publish something about language that is factually correct, isn’t over-hyped, and takes witticism seriously.

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Posted: 16 September 2013 09:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I was glad to see the inverted commas around “dead”. Languages don’t die.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 06:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Languages don’t die.

Huh?  Of course they do.  Latin and Old English haven’t died, they’ve evolved into new forms, but Sumerian is as dead as the dodo.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 06:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Furthermore, terms like “dead language” and “language death” are the standard ways to express the phenomenon of languages falling out of use or evolving into radically different forms. It’s a very conventional metaphor.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 09:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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A readable, balanced article.  It made me want to learn Sanskrit though I suspect that reading about it is the furthest I’ll get.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Professor Hubert Farnsworth: [showing Cubert, his clone, some of his inventions] And this is my Universal Translator. Unfortunately, so far it only translates into an incomprehensible dead language.

Cubert J. Farnsworth: [into the translator’s microphone] Hello.

Translator Machine: Bonjour!

Professor Hubert Farnsworth: Crazy gibberish!

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Posted: 17 September 2013 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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lionello - 16 September 2013 09:54 PM

I was glad to see the inverted commas around “dead”. Languages don’t die.

What is a ‘dead language’?

Ancient Greek,Portuguese Galician,Old Novgorodian, Latin, Coptic and Sanskirt, and there are numerous other dead languages from regions around the world.
I would think a dead language is also a language which is no longer learned as a native language. There were also many Native American Languages which died out during European colonialism.

Many languages that are near death are spoken only by elders and not by a younger generation. I submitted an article on Yiddish which seems to be heading toward a nursing home.

I read an article that of the 6,700-odd languages spoken throughout the world approximately 90% will disappear within 100 years. That would leave us with only about 700 languages.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 12:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Yes, the term “dead language,” is often defined as one with no (or only one) native speakers. Even languages that have significant numbers of second-language speakers, such as Latin, are moribund. Such languages have a codified vocabulary, fixed and unchanging grammar, no new slang or creative uses, etc. The fact that Lewis and Short, published in 1879, remains a standard and highly useful dictionary of Latin is a good indicator that Latin is a dead language. (Compared to English dictionaries which lose their non-historical utility after a decade or two.)

Of course there are exceptions. No one speaks Klingon as a native language, but it is rapidly expanding in vocabulary, slang, grammar, etc.

If a language leaves daughter languages, there is a gray area. For example, when exactly did Latin become Old French? But after the passage of time there is so much difference that no one can seriously make the argument that they are the same language. While the question might have been arguable in the seventh century, Latin and French today are different languages. Old English and Modern English are different languages, but one could plausibly make the argument from mutual intelligibility that Middle English and Modern English are the same. (I don’t think I’d make that argument, though. And in the end the answer doesn’t make any difference.)

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Posted: 17 September 2013 08:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Dern, guys, language, as you all know, is only a means and not an end.

Let’s define language:
Language is an evolutional device to transfer information through time.
When a language dies it never dies unless it has had no interaction with another language group that didn’t die.
“Dead languages” are only languages that have never interacted with our language clade.

It follows that we are the cat’s pajamas.

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Posted: 17 September 2013 10:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Dave: you, language hat and I clearly have different interpretations of the term “dead language”, and perhaps of death itself. That’s fine with me, and I hope with you too. I can’t help thinking of language as a continuum --- in the same way as I think of the immortal germ plasm of the first living creature on this planet, which lives on today in all living things, and will continue to live, until the end of life itself.  The language spoken on the steppes five hundred centuries ago (whether PIE or anything else), however academically “dead”, lives on in the languages it spawned, no matter how much they’ve changed (as for Sumerian --- well, there are words in the Hebrew language spoken today in my country, which might be of Sumerian origin). But I admit that this is a personal and very idiosyncratic view, not meant to abide by academic conventions (with which I would be the last to quarrel). I’m sorry if my remark ruffled any feathers. It wasn’t meant to, and if it did, it was ill-judged.

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Posted: 18 September 2013 02:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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My point (and probably Languagehat’s, although I won’t speak for him) is that the term “dead language” has a specific and widely accepted meaning. Of course, any language will leave a legacy, just as a dead person leaves a legacy in memories, children, writings, artifacts, etc. But those memories, children, etc. are not the person herself, who is gone.

“Dead language” is a metaphorical expression. It is not literally dead; for one thing, it was never literally alive.

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Posted: 18 September 2013 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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lionello - 17 September 2013 10:18 PM

Dave: you, language hat and I clearly have different interpretations of the term “dead language”, and perhaps of death itself. That’s fine with me, and I hope with you too. I can’t help thinking of language as a continuum --- in the same way as I think of the immortal germ plasm of the first living creature on this planet, which lives on today in all living things, and will continue to live, until the end of life itself.  The language spoken on the steppes five hundred centuries ago (whether PIE or anything else), however academically “dead”, lives on in the languages it spawned, no matter how much they’ve changed (as for Sumerian --- well, there are words in the Hebrew language spoken today in my country, which might be of Sumerian origin). But I admit that this is a personal and very idiosyncratic view, not meant to abide by academic conventions (with which I would be the last to quarrel). I’m sorry if my remark ruffled any feathers. It wasn’t meant to, and if it did, it was ill-judged.

Even if we accept this logic, there have still been languages that left no “offspring”, eg Etruscan

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Posted: 18 September 2013 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Latin is clearly a zombie language that continues to shuffle along in an imitation of life by eating people’s brains.

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Posted: 18 September 2013 11:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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But Etruscan did leave an imprint on Latin and other languages, even though they’re not direct descendants.

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Posted: 19 September 2013 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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My grandfather left an imprint on me, but he’s still dead.

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