The evolution of languages is inevitable due to the globalisation of language and the integration of different cultures and their languages. The need to find a common lingua franca is essential for people and countries in order for them to communicate. But do all of these necessarily mean that languages evolve so much that they eventually become extinct along with the culture attached to them?
Rymer (2012), in the National Geographic, states that “[o]ne language dies every 14 days. By the next century nearly half of the roughly 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will likely disappear.” The extinction of a language, when all native speakers of that language have died, is evidentially common and a process is likely to happen to the majority of the world’s lesser known languages. If a language does make it to a state where it is either endangered (when a language is unlikely to be spoken by children in the next 100 years) or moribund (where no more children are learning that language) it is likely to be at risk of becoming extinct in the long run.
Linguists in particular want to save languages, but due to globalisation they are being ditched in favour of the more dominant languages. According to Rymer (2012) “[p]arents in tribal villages often encourage their children to move away from the secular language of their forebears and toward languages that will permit greater education and success.”
The topic of language death is highly emotive. Some argue that language is the only way for a culture to last. On the other hand, many people argue that if a language is not used by a large number of people then extinction is inevitable. This being said, the majority of those people appear to speak one of the top world languages, English being the most prominent. BBC Today shared some public opinions on the loss of languages. One contributor believes “[t]he utility of a single global language, spoken by everyone as their mother tongue, would surely outweigh any loss of cultural heritage […] Let languages die their natural deaths -there are plenty left.” However, another states that “[e]very word has stories woven through it. When we lose a language, we lose so many words and stories. I’d like them to be remembered somehow.”
Languages are firmly rooted in the cultures of any society. When we lose a language as well as its speakers then don’t we lose a culture and a form of diversity? Let’s consider a language as a form of regional dialect. For example, from my part of the world (Staffordshire, UK) we use the word ‘sneep’ to mean to snub or emotional upset someone, I always think of the feeling when you’ve been told off as a child or the look of a child’s face when you’ve snatched a biscuit out of their hands. Although there are other ways of saying it, it doesn’t quite seem the same. Though this is only a minor example compared to an entire language that is on the verge of extinction, it is a way for people to appreciate, on some level, the effect of losing a language.
Svartvik and Leech (2006: 232) claim “English acts as a lingua franca in many different parts of the world, and is the nearest thing there ever has been to a global lingua franca”. Despite this, however, English is becoming codified in different ways due to the variety of speakers and will have to be learnt by native English speakers themselves .
The issue of language death is still an ongoing debate. The question is, does it matter if languages are heading towards extinction, or are we being too sentimental about keeping a language for the sole purpose of holding on to a certain culture when global lingua francas can take their place?
LUCY ALLEN, English undergraduate, University of Chester, UK