Should we worry about a language dying out?


Next question.

Okay. I’ll can actually try, if you insist.

But the answer is still yes, and it feels defiantly obvious to me. A language is a huge sweeping tapestry of words and grammar. A way of seeing and explaining the world. It’s a delineation of a specific culture or set of cultures, it’s a way of bringing people together. It’s a unifying factor. It’s a unique pattern of sounds.

I love unique patterns of sounds. Totally and utterly. Losing something different, some other way of speaking that while totally incomprensible to me (my language skills are appalling) is still woven with all the depth of emotion and meaning that words and tones are used to communicate.

I love hearing languages, just for the sound. I like being surrounded by people speaking in tongues strange to me. I once got two german girls to talk about sausages over my head whilst I lay in the sunshine. It was bliss.

Last night I was given a handmade zine with a guide to the grammar and pronounciation of the Galician language, as I’m visiting Galicia in september. I was lost, confused and scared, but my travelling partner was fiercely excited by the opportunity to learn a new grammar.

I can see how if everyone spoke the same language, co-operation would be easier. I won’t go into the tower of babel again, because I think I’ve told the story about eight times on here, but language brings people together, and so plurality of language divides us. It’s troublesome.

But the problem is that a unifying language would close down our differences too much. English has become so associated with cultural imperialism that it is soiled by it. It has become a way of imposing upon people. Overpowering and erasing  local difference.

It’s not okay.

And Esperanto, while a noble idea, is too flat, too devoid of culture to be exciting.

Because language shapes the way you see and understand things. It is a filter and grammar through which you understand the world. It’s an opportunity to experience another point of view.

I wish I had skill with languages, just for that. To be able to look at life from a slightly distanced angle. Like Beckett, Cricket’s first Nobel laureate, choosing to write in french to distance himself, adding perspective.

The proliferation of languages is important. The more languages exist, the more there is to learn, and the broader human experience can be. Culture can be defended, lifestyles and communities reified by shared linguistics.

Ways of speaking are ways of seeing and structuring. We need as many as possible. To let one die out, or to kill it with the ubiquity of English, would be horrible.

You lose a route to the past, a route to different, variety and multiplicity.

I have no skill with language, but I value languages highly. They are people, they are worldviews, they are shapes and perspectives.

Don’t kill them.

Illustration by Karen.


About Alabaster Crippens

Joiner of Dots. Player of Games. Unreliable Narrator. Dancing Fool.
This entry was posted in Questions by All Soul's General Paper, Special Guest Illustrations. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Should we worry about a language dying out?

  1. Bill Chapman says:

    Sorry.. It’s not true that “Esperanto, while a noble idea, is too flat, too devoid of culture to be exciting.” Not true at all. I’m writing from the World Esperanto Congress in Copenhagen where 1500 people from 65 countries are debating arguing, sharing ideas and good music. Esperanto works and has its own rich culture. Try some of the original crime and mystery novels in the language.

    Of course, your question deserves a firm yes, and Esperanto, as a second language for most of its speakers, plays a part in saving the smaller tongues.

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