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Dying Languages

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on November 3, 2009 3 Comments

John McWhorter’s recent essay, The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English, received a lot of attention. He revisits and contextualizes the piece in Dying Languages Should Be Saved: But Will They Be Spoken? Interesting takes, what do you think?

McWhorter

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3 Responses to “Dying Languages”

  1. daveski on: 6 November 2009 at 5:29 pm

    I’m still no sure I’m on board with where McWhorter’s coming from and where he’s going in this argument. Although he repeatedly states that he’s as interested as anyone in the world maintaining its linguistic diversity, and gives a nod to the problematic histories that have languages like English, Chinese and Spanish as major global languages, it still feels like he sees people’s support for linguistic diversity as less than “logical”, based to a large degree on “aesthetic sensibilities”.

    But here I am on a blog that purports to be multilingual, writing in…you guessed it, English! What gives?

  2. NZ on: 9 November 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I agree that there are dying languages out there and sooner English will be one of them. That is why I’ll try to learn as many languages as I can.

  3. Tuller on: 23 November 2009 at 10:39 am

    McWorther’s discourse is reminiscent of Thomas L. Friedman “The World is Flat” according to which globalization is an even and homogenous development and that the unflat pockets, those where people refuse to be integrated into the process, these isolated communities of whom violence against women and lack of modern medicine is so “typical”, need to be flatten. His discourse is neoliberal with attempts at humanitarianism; it is sickening. Eventually, Friedman calls for military forces to flatten these unruly and backward pockets.
    McWother is a linguist, and therefore is fascinated by languages and treats them like objects, “aesthetic” objects. He is like a mechanic who loves to dissect cars but does not see their social relevance: the fact that “people” make and drive them for diverse purposes.

    The thing with McWorther’s view is that it reflects the ways in which some preservation/revitalization efforts also tend to commodify languages as their “marketing” strategy.

    Whether we are for revitalization or not, for the universalization of English or not, we have to ask ourselves about our conceptualization of languages.It starts with our own language experiences.
    Maybe McWorther has no personal connection to his language(s), simply a purely aesthetic fascination but if other people express their belief that Language reflects and embodies the world we experience and create, who is he to deny that claim on the basis that he does not feel that way?
    Being a linguist does not make him an authority in determining the value of a language. It simply means that he can record and analyze the sound waves of Bantu clicks and not care about the human beings that produced them.

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