Imagine a world where no matter what corner of the globe a person travels to, they would be able to communicate with the natives in a tongue that is familiar to both of them. No more raised voices, as if by shouting you will miraculously become legible. No more quickly checking through your phrase book to find the word that you need, only to have the person opposite looking at you with a blank expression.
As English is spoken in all corners of the world, perhaps it is inevitable that as more and more people choose to speak this global language, they will turn their backs on their native tongue in favour of this ‘superior’ language. After all, English is already the official lingua franca of commerce, air traffic control and science. In fact, it could be argued that any individual in the world who does not have a grasp of the English language is at a significant disadvantage if they want to make an impact in this era of globalisation.
The number of languages dying out around the world is increasing at a considerable pace. David Crystal (2000), estimates that this is happening at a rate of one language being lost at least once every two weeks. For him this is akin to an ecological disaster and something that should concern not just linguists but governments and world leaders too. He is not alone in despairing at the impact the loss of these languages is having on the world. During the 2008 conference held in Ostrava in the Czech Republic titled Globalisation and its impacts on localities, Miroslav Černý ‘discussed the importance of languages for preserving the identity and integrity of nations in multiethnic regions’ (Černý, 2010, 51).
In spite of all these concerns, I can’t help feeling that all this anxiety regarding language loss is more concerned with the language itself, rather than the people who speak it. If an individual chooses to speak in a language that is not the language of their birth, surely we should respect their choice? Whilst it may have been common practice to punish people for speaking their native language in lands where colonialisation took place in previous centuries, this is now a practice which is virtually unheard of (Černý, 2010). The fact that a person either no longer speaks a particular language or chooses not to pass it on to their children is surely a choice taken because they no longer see the value in that language.
As Kenan Malik (2000) points out, the whole purpose of language is to enable communication. If a language is no longer spoken by enough people to render it viable, if its native speakers no longer see the value in keeping it alive, who are we to insist that they should continue to use it?
LISA KIRBY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK
Černý, M. (2010) Language Death versus Language Survival: A Global Perspective. In. Beyond Globalisation: Exploring the Limits of Globalisation in the Regional Context (conference proceedings), 51-56. Ostrava: University of Ostrava Czech Republic, 2010. retrieved 12.1.13 from: http://conference.osu.eu/globalization/publ/06-cerny.pdf