Friday 18 January 2008

The Struggle For The World’s Languages


All over the globe minority languages are being marginalised by globalisation but efforts are being made to preserve and document what knowledge remains. Whether these initiatives are successful could have a major impact on how future generations look back on the twenty-first century. The time has passed when linguists could afford to be complacent.

Below is an article published by UNPO:

Over the last century alone, the number of languages practised in the world declined precipitously as communities became increasingly interconnected. Those seeking social and economic advancement in the first half of the twentieth century often found themselves adopting European languages to the detriment of their tradition dialects. As globalisation took a firmer hold on the globe in the wake of the World War II, regionalised dialects then had to compete with a burgeoning mass media and consumerism that promoted Western culture and values.

A fight back has been underway however. The fall of the Soviet Union freed countless regions from the cultural diktats that had long subjugated their languages. Many new leaders took the revitalisation of their national tongues as their first priority. In Chuvashia and Tuva this policy has led to a widespread resurgence in art, culture, and often greater international appreciation.

Nevertheless, it has been estimated that by the end of the twenty-first century, over 90% of the languages currently in use will become extinct. Those facing the extinction or marginalisation of their literary culture are widespread and diverse. From the aboriginals of the Australian plains to the Chechens in the North Caucasus, groups are finding their languages under threat.

Sometimes the threat of extinction is a legacy of policy decisions made externally by previous generations. In Abkhazia, the people are still trying to recover from the ban the language received during Stalin’s leadership. Likewise, the children of Tatars long dispersed and schooled in Russian are taking significant steps in resurrecting their language.

The visibility given to language is increasing too. Recognising the threat facing languages, UNESCO has declared 21 February of each year International Mother Language Day. At the state level language is also becoming a potent national attribute. In commemoration of legislation promoting the Chechen language, Chechnya adopted 25 April as its Chechen Language Day.

Scanian and Welsh are just two languages that have also found celebrity through association with successful musicians, writers, and artists. They have gained worldwide exposure through globally distributed media such as art and music, which has increased their support among the traditionally important sectors of young and non-native speakers.

Consequently, just as globalisation once fuelled the decline of dialects via centralised state controlled media outlets, it can bypass state controlled media outlets via tools such as the internet. As a result information on vocabularies, dictionaries and pronunciation are readily available and it has never been easier to broadcast independently to the world’s populations.

As a result, the desire to protect and preserve languages has perhaps never been stronger in the world, nor has it ever been equipped with such powerful tools. But the question now remaining is whether there are the native speakers who will be able to pass on their knowledge.

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