28 August 2008

Words Fail Us

linguistics professor and author shares a personal selection from the thousands of languages on the brink of disappearing

How about if we all volunteered to learn an endangered language? - You can put me down for Ket:

Ket is the only Siberian language with a tone system where the pitch of the voice can give what sound like identical words quite different meanings. (Much like Chinese or Yoruba). To add to the difficulty for any westerner wishing to learn it, it also has extremely complicated word structure and grammar.


Anonymous said...

Languages should be like file formats: open and standardized; and the fewer the better.

Maybe that's too harsh and silly to say; however, the world is so much smaller today than it has ever been in human history, so there's no need for so many [spoken/written] languages. Out of 7bn people, I figure 90% speak fewer than a dozen languages:

1. Chinese (937,132,000)
2. Spanish (332,000,000)
3. English (322,000,000)
4. Bengali (189,000,000)
5. Hindi/Urdu (182,000,000)
6. Arabic (174,950,000)
7. Portuguese (170,000,000)
8. Russian (170,000,000)
9. Japanese (125,000,000)
10. German (98,000,000)
11. French (79,572,000)

Glyn Moody said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. I'm a great believer in the power of diversity, and being able to choose - not least how you express yourself.

For me, every language that is lost represents the loss of a way of saying, thinking and seeing the world: we are all the poorer for it.