Darwin Didn’t Study Linguistics

For most of us, the words “endangered” and “extinct” evoke the very images I’ve saturated you with in the debut weeks of this blog: drowning polar bears, exotic tiger rugs and rare panda births. But did you know that we are not only in danger of losing our beloved animal species, but also some of our diverse world languages?

Two more languages have been added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s list of the World’s Languages in Danger: Koro (India) and Jeju (Korea). According to UNESCO, there are some 3,000 languages classified as endangered. The organization’s Language Vitality and Endangerment Framework has also established a classification system to further subdivide world languages, rated from “safe” to “extinct.”

Yes, some languages will inevitably die out, evolve, or be overtaken by a related, but more powerful and prominent, language — a sort of Darwinian view of linguistics. But in a world of instant, international communication and online translators, do we risk losing our linguistic diversity?

A world without linguistic diversity is just like a world without biological diversity or genetic diversity — boring. In fact, language is one of the most important facets in characterizing a culture. Therefore, without linguistic diversity, we risk losing cultural diversity, as well.

Many of the more figurative lines among the world’s countries, cultures and languages have already been blurred — thanks to Hollywood, the Internet and air travel. One of the more positive results of this has been cultural interaction and integration — who would have thought, 100 (or even 20) years ago, that you could eat authentic Thai food in Omaha?

Admittedly, cultural diversity has been the root cause of countless battles throughout history. But if we don’t preserve it now, we could end up like, well, droids.

Click here to view UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.


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