Thursday, 8 January 2009

Linguistics and Ecology

I've recently read two excellent books on endangered languages. Although both take a different approach to this aspect of linguistics both explicitly outline a need for a greener attitude towards linguistics, drawing parallels between the importance of ecological diversity and linguistic diversity, and also highlighting how some aspects of human relationships with the surrounding natural environment may be tied up in the language. Lose some languages and you lose a whole wealth of knowledge about the plants and animals of the surrounding area.

Language Death by David Crystal, published by Cambridge University Press concentrates on the current situation for endangered languages across the globe and considers how some of them may be re-envigorated as living languages.

Language in Danger by Andrew Dalby, published by Allen Lane (Penguin Press) takes a historical approach, for example outlining how the Latin and Greek of the Roman Empire sounded the death knell for the other languages spoken in the areas conquered by the Romans.

For a fascinating book on endangered languages from a case history based perspective, I would strongly recommend Spoken Here by Mark Abley.

10 comments:

Dave King said...

Both sound fascinating. I must certainly try to read the Crystal one. Anything by him is, by definition, excellent!

Paul said...

What a fascinating field that is. There are hundreds of Aboriginal languages and dialects and their preservation is integral to preserving the intimate and spiritual knowledge of land and life contained in the culture. Diversity is critical in every arena, it seems.

Alison Wiley said...

So true that loss of languages, especially indigenous languages, means loss of knowledge of plants and animals . . . . which means loss of long-term human survival skills.
Good post.

Susan Richardson said...

I'd really recommend the Mark Abley book too. Thanks for the other two recommendations.

m said...

yes the Mark Abley book is really interesting espcially as I am learning one of those endangered languages - Yiddish

Mary
www.creativevoyage.co.uk

Gołębnik said...

I’ll add another recommendation for the Mark Abley book, and perhaps I should try the David Crystal one. Languages are arguably the greatest of all the fruits of human ingenuity, and it’s a tragedy that so many are being lost, along with their unique ways of looking at the world. Here in Britain we often hear arguments against ‘wasting’ money in supporting indigenous minority languages, but I imagine the complainers are the same people who welcome the building of Trumptown on the Aberdeenshire dunes – the kind of people who, to misquote Oscar Wilde, know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

(On a cheerier and entirely unrelated note, I just wanted to mention that I finally saw my first redwings of the season today!)

gel said...

CG,
Goes to the top of my reading list. In college, I studied linguistics for one of my degrees.Thx!

Deb G said...

I'll be adding these to my reading list too. It's an important and very interesting topic.

Julie said...

This is fascinating. I am very interested in dialects, as my own has become an endangered species (southern Outer Banks of the US). Development has threatened the existence of the people and animals. With that threat, language is also lost. As you so beautifully put it, there is a circular loss among people, animals, and the landscape.

Then there are those like me who have moved away due to loss of jobs. Our livelihood is also threatened by development. Other people not far away from me have the same problem (like the Geechee/Gullah communities). They have such an interesting history. It would be a shame to lose their culture, and I'm glad many are working to preserve it. I can't wait to read this book.

Thank you for your kind comments at my site. It has been a pleasure to meet you over these past few weeks, and I look forward to reading more of your work in the coming year. It is a joy to know that many people like you care about the earth and her people. Keep up the beautiful work!

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