25% Of World’s Languages Are Threatened
Posted: 03 September 2014 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]
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This is probably something that’s been discussed before, so I hope no one minds if I bring it up again.

I ran across this article today.  I love language, yet I am not bothered by the extinction of obscure languages.  Am I the only one?  Am I wrong to be unconcerned about losing languages?  And if so, what can be done about it?  Should people be forced to learn and use a language if they don’t want it?

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Posted: 03 September 2014 07:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It was to some extent discussed in this thread:
http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/forums/viewthread/3761/

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Posted: 03 September 2014 10:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I ran across this article today.  I love language, yet I am not bothered by the extinction of obscure languages.  Am I the only one?  Am I wrong to be unconcerned about losing languages?  And if so, what can be done about it?  Should people be forced to learn and use a language if they don’t want it?

The extinction of languages involves more than just obscure languages; it also includes dialects from all over the world.

The ubiquity of cultural and economic globalization has compelled people to conduct business in the dominant languages of the world: English, Spanish, Chinese and French. Because of this many native languages succumb to those dominant languages and suffer a slow death.

I think it should be a significant cultural concern that certain languages are becoming extinct. What is the outcome; a mono-linguistic mindset where people can only express themselves collectively rather than individually? 

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis articulates their theory that the way people think is strongly affected by their indigenous languages.

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Posted: 03 September 2014 12:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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The ubiquity of cultural and economic globalization has compelled people to conduct business in the dominant languages of the world: English, Spanish, Chinese and French. Because of this many native languages succumb to those dominant languages and suffer a slow death.

I’d add Hindi and Russian to that list, and that’s just the big names. (Although Russian may be endangering fewer languages in the post-Soviet world.) Which language is doing the threatening depends on the local conditions; often it’s one local language that is threatening another, smaller local language. The dominant factor isn’t globalization, it’s urbanization. As people leave their villages and small communities and move to cities, they sever their linguistic ties with the native tongue. Their children grow up speaking the dominant language of the new city.

Globalization, on the other hand, provides incentive for people to learn English (or another language, but it’s usually English) in addition to their native tongue, not in place of it.

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis articulates their theory that the way people think is strongly affected by their indigenous languages.

Evidence shows that the way people think is, at best, marginally affected by their native tongue. Sapir-Whorf is pretty much wrong, at least in its popular incarnation. People who speak a language with a word for “purple” in it, tend to recognize the color about a 1/100th of a second faster than people who don’t have a word for the color. The effect is there, but it’s so small as to be of no practical consequence.

What is the outcome; a mono-linguistic mindset where people can only express themselves collectively rather than individually? 

I’m not sure what this means or what it has to do with the question at hand. If everyone spoke English, they could still express themselves individually.

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Posted: 04 September 2014 12:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The dominant factor isn’t globalization, it’s urbanization.

I would surmise that both factors, urbanization and globalization, are equally responsible for the severing of linguistic ties with the native tongue

Globalization, on the other hand, provides incentive for people to learn English (or another language, but it’s usually English) in addition to their native tongue, not in place of it.

I agree, globalization does provide people with an incentive to learn English, but it also contributes to the loss of many languages.  As globalization increases languages such as Chinese, Spanish, Russian and English are predominately used by people to conduct business and to communicate outside of their own social milieu. Consequently, as fewer people use local languages, they gradually die out.

If everyone spoke English, they could still express themselves individually.

That’s true, but their expressions would be limited to the vocabulary of their language. For example, a book written in Italian can be translated into English but many of the nuanced expressions and dialects would be lost in the translation. I enjoy relating a humorous Neapolitan parable, which I try to translate into English, but it is not as humorous, nor is it as expressive or meaningful.

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Posted: 04 September 2014 03:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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As globalization increases languages such as Chinese, Spanish, Russian and English are predominately used by people to conduct business and to communicate outside of their own social milieu. Consequently, as fewer people use local languages, they gradually die out.

That assumes monolingual speakers, an either/or choice. Most people in the world are bilingual, and a significant percentage speak three or more languages. Using one language for business and another at home doesn’t mean that one of those is going to disappear. The Netherlands is a good example of a nation where nearly everyone speaks quite good English, yet Dutch still thrives. 

Language death primarily occurs at the generational interstices, the biggest cause is that children are no longer taught the endangered language at home. That’s usually the result of the parents having left the original community of speakers. A secondary cause is large numbers of speakers of the dominant language moving into the community. You see this in Tibet and saw it in many of the Soviet republics, but it’s not as common as people leaving the community to seek economic opportunity.

but many of the nuanced expressions and dialects would be lost in the translation

That’s tautological. Of course translation means the sense is not communicated in the original dialect. That’s the whole point of translation. A dialect is a language. Perhaps you meant “regionalisms.”

I enjoy relating a humorous Neapolitan parable, which I try to translate into English, but it is not as humorous, nor is it as expressive or meaningful.

That may be true for individual texts. The ideas in any particular work of literature are tightly bound to the words used to express them. (Although a skilled translator can often express many of those ideas in the second language.) But it doesn’t apply to the language as a whole. You can express the same ideas in English as you can in Italian, or Mandarin, or Irish, etc.

And your argument is also biased toward the written word. The vast majority of the endangered languages are not written ones; there is no corpus of literature to be preserved. There are oral stories and traditions, but those change from generation to generation anyway. I’m not saying there isn’t a cultural loss with the demise of oral-only languages—far from it—just that the nature of that loss is very different from how you’re thinking about it.

An aside on translating regionalisms and the like, there is a great exchange on the first episode of the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who:

Rose: If you ARE an alien, how comes you sound like you’re from the North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a north!

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Posted: 08 September 2014 01:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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but many of the nuanced expressions and dialects would be lost in the translation

That’s tautological. Of course translation means the sense is not communicated in the original dialect. That’s the whole point of translation. A dialect is a language. Perhaps you meant “regionalisms.”

I understand that dialect is a language, but I was distinguishing dialect from expressions, because there are certain foreign expressions, regardless of the dialect, that can not be translated into English without losing the meaning or the nuanced effect.

You can express the same ideas in English as you can in Italian, or Mandarin, or Irish, etc.

Yes, that’s true but the translation might not be as accurate, or ardently expressive as it is in the original language.  As an example, Neapolitan songs must be sung in the Neapolitan dialect to achieve the artistic message of the language. The English versions of O Sole Mio, a famous Neapolitan song, are lyrically completely different from the original Neapolitan version.  The titles of the song are also different: It’s Now or Never, sung by Elvis Presley and, There’s No Tomorrow by Tony Martin are recordings that just used the melody of O Sole Mio, because the lyrics would not have the same meaningful expressions in English.

And your argument is also biased toward the written word.

Not true, the profane “fuck you” can not be translated to Italian, (or other languages, but I’m more familiar with Italian because it’s my second language) to retain the same effect. Italian has no equivalent expletive. In Italian we say vai fare in culo, (vaffanculo), which literally means “go do it in the ass” which would have a different context in English.

This is quite noticeable in foreign films where the translated subtitles sometimes have different tones or connotations from the original language.

I’ve submitted a few links below relating to these issues.

http://rawlangs.com/2013/01/24/how-do-languages-change-the-way-you-think/

http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703467304575383131592767868

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Posted: 09 September 2014 03:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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There’s a long debate, going back to Cicero and Horace, between word-for-word and sense-for-sense translation. Word-for-word translation preserves the structure of the original language, but often loses the meaning, as connotation, polysemy, idiom, and other semantic aspects are not identical in the two languages. It’s the opposite with sense-for-sense, you lose the structure but preserve the meaning and emotion. Both are legitimate approaches to translation, and which one is chosen depends largely on the purpose of that particular translation. In practice, most translators use a combination of the two methods. Using vai fare in culo for fuck you is a perfectly good translation—if you are aiming to convey the emotional import of the phrase—even though the two are not literally identical.

(Dryden added a third mode of translation, that of imitation, where the translator creates a new work, distinct from but based on the original. An example might be the Canterbury Tales that Chaucer based on Boccaccio’s stories or the Old English poem Exodus, which is an English versification of a portion of the Latin biblical book. Most people today wouldn’t consider this third mode to be “translation” per se. A whole chapter of my dissertation is on Old English translation practices.)

When I said your argument was biased toward the written word, I was not referring to the difficulties of translation, but rather to the loss of oral knowledge, which would happen anyway as the material changes over time. Oral traditions are not fixed as written ones are and are going to “die” (or more accurately morph into something quite different) regardless of whether or not the language survives. I’m not saying the loss of an oral-only language isn’t a bad thing, only that the argument that “knowledge is going to be lost if the language dies” is a specious one.

The point, as it relates to language death, is that the ideas do not have to perish with the structure of the language. The sense is independent of the structure.

I’d recommend reading Walter Benjamin’s The Task of the Translator. Benjamin’s conclusions are somewhat out there, but he presents the nuances and difficulties of translation quite well and in a thought-provoking manner.

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Posted: 09 September 2014 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dave Wilton - 09 September 2014 03:38 AM

There’s a long debate, going back to Cicero and Horace, between word-for-word and sense-for-sense translation. Word-for-word translation preserves the structure of the original language, but often loses the meaning, as connotation, polysemy, idiom, and other semantic aspects are not identical in the two languages. It’s the opposite with sense-for-sense, you lose the structure but preserve the meaning and emotion. Both are legitimate approaches to translation, and which one is chosen depends largely on the purpose of that particular translation. In practice, most translators use a combination of the two methods. Using vai fare in culo for fuck you is a perfectly good translation—if you are aiming to convey the emotional import of the phrase—even though the two are not literally identical.

(Dryden added a third mode of translation, that of imitation, where the translator creates a new work, distinct from but based on the original. An example might be the Canterbury Tales that Chaucer based on Boccaccio’s stories or the Old English poem Exodus, which is an English versification of a portion of the Latin biblical book. Most people today wouldn’t consider this third mode to be “translation” per se. A whole chapter of my dissertation is on Old English translation practices.)

When I said your argument was biased toward the written word, I was not referring to the difficulties of translation, but rather to the loss of oral knowledge, which would happen anyway as the material changes over time. Oral traditions are not fixed as written ones are and are going to “die” (or more accurately morph into something quite different) regardless of whether or not the language survives. I’m not saying the loss of an oral-only language isn’t a bad thing, only that the argument that “knowledge is going to be lost if the language dies” is a specious one.

The point, as it relates to language death, is that the ideas do not have to perish with the structure of the language. The sense is independent of the structure.

I’d recommend reading Walter Benjamin’s The Task of the Translator. Benjamin’s conclusions are somewhat out there, but he presents the nuances and difficulties of translation quite well and in a thought-provoking manner.

Thank you for the edification, very much appreciated.

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Posted: 14 September 2014 08:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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An aside on translating regionalisms and the like, there is a great exchange on the first episode of the 2005 reboot of Doctor Who:

Rose: If you ARE an alien, how comes you sound like you’re from the North?
The Doctor: Lots of planets have a north!

The way the TARDIS translates has been played on a few times. In The Fires Of Pompeii, Donna wonders what would happen if she speaks Latin when addressing Latin-speakers, it translates in Celtic.

DOCTOR: Oh, yes. But don’t mind me. Don’t want to disturb the status quo.
CAECILIUS: [aside to Lucius] He’s Celtic.

In Vincent And The Doctor, Vincent van Gogh is in France and is translated Scottish: he assumes the Scottish Amy is also Dutch.

[ Edited: 14 September 2014 09:26 AM by OP Tipping ]
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Posted: 16 September 2014 01:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Back on the main topic, in a thread a few years back I started (partly in devil’s advocacy) with the view that there were benefits in the elimination of languages but in the end conceded that those benefits could all be obtained through bilingualism.

“What the World needs most is about 1,000 more dead languages – and one more alive.” - CK Ogden

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