Is English essential for success in Rwanda and countries like it? KATIE BROOMHEAD examines the role of the British Council

Have you ever thought of English being seen as a commodity? A market worth over £3 billion? (British council, 2010, p. 8) Or a language which is encouraged to be spoken by those who don’t?  If your answer to these questions is ‘no’, then you will be surprised to learn that this is the way English is spreading across the world today and is becoming a “power in itself”. So-called ‘linguistic imperialism’ can be described as “the intentional destruction of a powerless language by a powerful one” (Spolsky, 2004, p. 79), which is currently happening to smaller languages across the world today. But before putting blame for oppression of minority languages on languages like English, we have to consider why it has reached this state and dig a little deeper into the British Council.

Originally, the British Council was created to almost reinvent Britain after a threat to British prosperity, especially with the great depression in 1929 and the rise of Hitler in 1933. But now the British Council is a worldwide organisation used to promote the English language to those that see it as an opportunity for better lives and a branch to work across the world.

The British Council aim to “create friendly knowledge and understanding between the people of the UK and other countries” ( Not only do they promote the English language through TEFL courses and studying in the UK, they work with the education system in other countries and arts programmes and culture of the world (British Council).  For them, it is all about the links they create with other countries to make life easier for the UK and international relations. The British Council state “[w]e do this by making a positive contribution to the UK and the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust” (British Council).

Today, the British Council promote themselves with pictures of people from different nationalities looking happy, the UK countryside and children playing. But is that just a front to mask the profit they make each year from English? The British Council “is a unique semi-state body” (Gray, 2012, p. 141) which is a registered charity and operates as a business (Gray, 2012, p. 141). By operating as a business, a profit is made and in the case of the British Council, their profit is on a rather larger scale. The annual turnover for the 2009/2010 year was £705 million and to put into context of how much that could increase by each year, the profit increased by £60 million from 2008/2009 (Gray, 2010, p. 141).

Although the British Council plays a big role in promoting English, can the governments of countries also be to blame for the rise of English? Well, yes! Governments of certain countries have made the decision to make English their national language over their original language. This means children who have never spoken English before will suddenly start having all their lessons at school in English. Ouane and Glanz state “Africa is the only continent where the majority of children start school using a foreign language” (2010).

A good example of this language change is the African country of Rwanda, where KinyaRwanda was replaced by English in schools (Williams, 2011, p. 165). The main reason behind this cultural modification is the way English is viewed in African countries. They see it as “the first step towards the coveted white-collar job” (Williams, 2011, p. 165) and provides them with opportunities for careers outside their small communities. By choosing English in schools over their country’s indigenous languages, they have potentially chosen to lose their identity and culture to improve their relations with wealthier countries.

A greater understanding of the role of the British Council allows us to consider the need for a lingua franca across the world. This need, which has been filled with English, not only aids communication but also helps businesses, science and technology, society and international relations (Galloway & Heath, 2015, pp. 54-57).  We have to weigh up these advantages and disadvantages to decide if English is the cause of linguistic imperialism.

With all work the British Council do, they realised there was a need for a global lingua franca and helped to fill that gap by promoting English. People will always argue when language changes and, on a scale like this, it can cause global debates. It will be a debate that is always ongoing and there will only ever be opinions for and against English, just like every dispute. But you have to ask yourself, is English really that bad?

KATIE BROOMHEAD, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


British Council. History. 

Galloway, N., & Heath, R. (2015). Introducing global Englishes, London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Ouane, A. and Glanz, C. (2010). Optimising learning, education and publishing in Africa: The language factor. Hamburg, Germany: UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. 

Gray, J. (2012). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge.

Spolsky, B. (2004). Language Policy. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Williams E. (2012). Reading A: Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.). The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.164-171). Abingdon: Routledge.



Does English hold the key to Rwanda’s development? HARRY CANTRILL investigates

What is so special about the English language? Approximately 1.5 billion people speak English around the world, of which, only 375 million are native speakers (Statista). Why have so many countries adopted English as an official language in the hope that this will provide rapid economic and social development?

Rwanda became independent of Belgium in 1962 and had Kinyarwanda as their native language with French – because of their Belgian roots – being the second language and the language of education. Following a devastating civil war in the early 1990s and the loss of nearly 800,000 people, Rwanda underwent a change in government that saw them change their official second language from French to English in 1996.

President Paul Kagame, a former member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who seized control of the government following the civil war, received military training from the UK and American forces. This led to the Rwandan government placing a large value on having English skills. Gray (2012, p. 146) states that European languages are seen as a prerequisite to better employment opportunities by many parents. The Rwandan trade and industry minister Vincent Karega said that “English has emerged as a backbone for growth and development not only in the region but around the globe” (McGreal, 2008). Wiping out French from the education system after its long history in the country in favour of English shows evidence of neoliberal values. Neoliberalism is generally seen as the placing of value on things that were never produced as commodities, (Harvey, 2007, p.166). Where you would usually assign a value to a car or a house, under neoliberalism value is additionally assigned to e.g. culture, history and knowledge. Rwanda seems to have placed a very large value on the ‘cultural capital’ of being able to speak English. This is evident in the salary gap between professionals with and without English skills in Rwanda, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.harry

Source: Euromonitor International (2010, p.74)

As you can see, there is a difference of about 20/30%. In a country that does not possess the riches and wealth that Western countries such as America and the UK have, a salary gap that large will have a massive effect on the individual. Gray (2012, p. 145) states that European languages are seen as a prerequisite to better employment opportunities.  This adds weight to the idea that being able to speak English increases opportunities for people in non-native countries.

Williams (2012) argued that in fact the use of foreign languages is hindering the development of African countries. Williams (2012) conducted a study in Rwandan schools to see if the use of English as not only the language children are being taught but also the language of instruction is delivering adequate levels of English proficiency. The results of this study showed that only two out of 251 Year 6 students (0.77 per cent) had achieved adequate levels of English. The findings suggest that the Rwandan government’s implementation of English in classrooms through primary education is severely hindering students’ progression. This may have further implications on the development of the country, as a whole generation of students progress through their education without actually having English skills that are good enough.

This begs the question, is a system that was put in place to develop Rwanda actually having the reverse effect? Would the native language not have been a better alternative? To put this simply, if on the first day of school your teacher only spoke a foreign language to you and all of your lessons were taught in that foreign language would you have coped better than if it was your native language? Personally, I would have been permanently confused. Kinyarwanda is the native tongue in Rwanda. Instead of using English as the mode of instruction in primary education, the native tongue would potentially be more effective as the teachers and students are already fluent. In addition to this, I believe that English should be learnt alongside the use of Kinyarwanda because as demonstrated in Figure 1, English skills do provide people with better prospects later in life. However, the solitary use of English is a missed opportunity for genuine multilingualism, which could eventually mean Kinyarwanda dies out as generations of Rwandans only learnt to speak English.

HARRY CANTRILL, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Gray, J. (2012). English the industry. In A. Hewings & C. Tagg (Eds.) The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.137-163). Abingdon: Routledge.

Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of Neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McGreal, C. (2008, October 14). Rwanda to switch from French to English in schools. The Guardian. 

The most spoken languages worldwide. Statista

Williams, E. (2012). Language policy, politics and development in Africa. In A, Hewings & C, Tagg (Eds.) The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence (pp.164-171). Abingdon: Routledge.



Should speakers of ‘minority’ languages be ashamed to use their mother tongue? NOURA GOMAA explores the reasons for language death.

The subject of language death stimulates many differing opinions. Some believe language death is positive and good for the community, bringing people closer by using only a few languages. Others believe it is a phenomenon that should be prevented and with every endangered or minority language that exists today encouraged to be preserved.

There are many proposed reasons for language death, including cultural assimilation, natural disasters, youth, globalisation and movement of people (Brenzinger 1992; Crystal, 2000). But whilst coming across many different reasons as to why languages may die, stigmatisation was what caught my eye. Reading through pages and pages of how a language can die due to its speakers being ashamed to use it made me think twice. Why would anyone be ashamed of their language? Crystal discusses stigmatisation in his book Language Death (2000), and highlights that it is the speakers of dominant languages that are responsible for stigmatising the use of minority languages. He claims that “members [of dominant language] stigmatize the people [of minority languages] in such terms as stupid, lazy and barbaric […] and their language as ignorant, backward, deformed [and] inadequate” (Crystal, 2000, p.84). Comments like this could be deemed very offensive and aggressive, causing some members to defend their language, and others to abandon it. Crystal goes on to say that those who choose to abandon their mother tongue view their language “as a sign of backwardness, or as a hindrance to making improvements in social standing” (2000, p. 84).

One example is from Amna Khaled’s blog Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language? (2011), where she discusses how, although she had never lived in an English speaking country, she uses English in her everyday speech more than her native language, Urdu. She states that “[i]nstead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd” (Khaled, 2011). As a speaker of Arabic myself, I understand what Khaled is saying here, as it is also apparent in many Middle Eastern countries, with the idea that the more English you use, the more educated and respectable you are. Khaled concludes by saying “Urdu is a beautiful and graceful language and we owe our country the respect it deserves by speaking and portraying our true roots” (2011). Similarly, Stephen Prickett, in his book European Romanticism: A reader (2014), writes of the different languages and dialects that were present in Norway. He states, “[s]hould we […] give up this precious treasure from our past, which our ancestors have kept faithfully throughout their strenuous lives, and left to us like a sacred heritage?” (Prickett, 2014, p.619).  Some argue yes, that we should give up on a language that is no longer needed as it is a way of moving forward and developing (BBC, 2010). Prickett however, argues by losing their native language “we lost our fortune and our honor, therefore we lost the language of our fathers” (2014, p.619). He continues to say, “let us put prejudice aside, and not be ashamed to use the language of our own country” (Prickett, 2014, p.619). This type of attitude encourages speakers of minority or endangered languages to take action and implement language death prevention methods.

One example is of the Cypriot Maronite community who recently made efforts to bring back their heritage, language (called Sanna) and culture (Bielenberg, 2013). Brian Bielenberg (2013), in his chapter called ‘Involving youth in planning the renewal of a lesser used language’ attempts to describe why some speakers, especially young speakers, may be ashamed of their language. He states that speaking a language or language variety “different from their friends separates them from their peers” (Beilenberg, 2013, p.180). He explains how Sanna was “often ridiculed, leading many Cypriot Maronite families to promote the learning of Greek in the home from a very young age” (Beilenberg, 2013, p.183). Hale (1998) comments on this issue by believing that the economically dominant culture and society “encourages speakers of local languages to believe that their futures depend on switching from their native language to the dominant one” (p.215). However, after interviewing 24 youths, many of them said they are not ashamed of their language, and see it as their responsibility to keep it alive (Beilenberg, 2013, p.183).

No matter whether you think language death is good or not, I believe no one should feel embarrassed of their native language, but rather those who are stigmatising these minority languages should themselves be ashamed.

NOURA GOMAA, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Are dying languages worth saving? (2010) BBC Magazine online.

Bielenberg, B. (2013). Involving youth in planning the renewal of a lesser used language. In M. Karyolemou & P. Pavlou  (2013). Language policy and planning in the Mediterranean world (1st ed.). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Pub.

Brenzinger, M. (Ed.). (1992). Language death: Factual and theoretical explorations with special reference to East Africa (Vol. 64). Walter de Gruyter.

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Hale, K. (1998). On endangered languages and the importance of linguistic diversity. Endangered languages: Language loss and community response, 192-216.

Khaled, A. (2011). Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language?

Prickett, S. & Haines, S. (2014). European Romanticism: A Reader (1st ed.). A&C Black.

Why do languages die out and does it matter? MEGAN MOODY explores the pros and cons of language loss

How necessary is the preservation of ‘endangered’ languages? As a monolingual speaker of a global lingua franca, it is difficult to understand the importance of preserving endangered languages, especially for the few remaining speakers of them. Languages are dying at a considerable rate around the world today. Crystal (2000:1) estimates approximately one language is being lost every two weeks. Despite the concerns of many linguists, the use of a ‘main’ language could become inevitable, with English being the front-runner. As English is an official, or co-official language in one third of the world’s countries and within 90 countries it plays a significant role.

According to David Crystal, 1.5 billion people use English as either a first, second or foreign language (2000:3). English is a global language being used in many sectors around the world, such as education, business, science and even air traffic control. This contact language lifts barriers and is useful for people to communicate around the world with ease. It provides access to wider sources of information. In particular the internet holds 60% of online content that uses English as the preferred language. As Kenan Malik (2000) argues, language has the whole purpose for the ability of communication. He points out that if there are not enough people to speak a language, then is it really worth keeping it alive. This is an important factor of the extinction of languages, as 19 out of 20 languages are not being passed down to younger generations (Krauss, 2007). This is mainly owing to the knowledge of a prestigious language representing a higher level of class and education, consequently resulting in greater opportunities for employment. For example, in Egypt the capability to speak English would increase your pay by potentially three times in some businesses. Thus as Woodbury states, “the fate of a language can depend on one generation”.

McIntyre discusses the alleged benefits of simply letting English globalize. He states that speaking one global language could “make travel easier, […] international communication more straightforward and provide more economic opportunities” (2009:76). However, it is questionable whether the benefits outweigh the consequences of allowing languages to die. The endangerment of languages is a widespread problem that many are determined to prevent. Crawford elaborates on this claiming that, “when languages die the world loses four big things: cultural diversity, cultural identity, intellectual diversity and linguistic diversity”. An argument against Crawford is that a language must die for a reason; therefore doubts arise surrounding the need to preserve it (1995:33). Some claim that the saving dying languages is unnecessary as cultural forms have been changing throughout history and will never be immortal. Therefore attempting to rescue endangered languages represents a need to cling to the past instead of focusing on moving forward.

There are possible advantages to the usage of a global language.Schneider (2011) points out that English is the language of trade and business that offers an easier way of communicating. Crystal explains that “sharing a single language is a guarantor of mutual understanding and peace, a world of new alliances and global solidarity” (2000: 27). This idea generates the question as to whether speaking fewer languages would be better for the sake of the world leading to the encouragement of language death. Crystal however suggests that speaking fewer languages creates ‘linguistic power’ (2003:16) meaning that for the people whose mother tongue is the global language there would appear to be a higher regard. For example 75% of Britons are unable to speak foreign languages, with a vast downfall in foreign languages being chosen for A-Level study in British schools.

Of course language makes up part of our identity and holds an extensive supply of culture. Are people losing part of their identity by choosing not to speak their native tongue? Or is it the case that languages have been naturally developing for hundreds of years, therefore the death of them is organic and a process of evolution.

MEGAN MOODY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Crawford, J. (1995). Endangered Native American Languages: What is to be Done, and Why? The Bilingual Research Journal, 19 (1).

Crystal, D. (2000). Language Death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Crystal, D. (2003) English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Krauss, Michael. (1992). The world’s languages in crisis, Language 68(1), 4-10.

McIntyre, D. (2009) History of English: A Resource Book for Students. London: Routledge.

Malik, K. 2000. Let them die in peace. 

Schneider, E. (2011) English Around the World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodbury, A.  What is an endangered language? Linguistic Society of America.


‘Should we try and prevent the death of endangered languages’? asks LAURA GALLIMORE

First it is important to define what ‘language death’ is. The Oxford English Dictionary (2007) defines it as “[d]isappearance of a language, especially where speakers shift progressively to another or others: thus e.g. of many languages in North America or Australia once spoken by people whose descendants now speak only English.”

According to Crystal (2002:19), “[a] middle position would assert 50% loss in the next 100 years […] To meet that time frame, at least one language must die, on average, every two weeks or so.” It is important to bear this statistic in mind as it means in order to start saving languages we must start preserving them now. If we leave this too late then there may not be any languages left to preserve.

One main reason proposed for saving dying languages is that we would lose an aspect of diversity if we lost languages. Nettle & Romaine (2002: 7-10) believe that linguistic diversity is “a benchmark of cultural diversity. Language death is symptomatic of cultural death: a way of life disappears with the death of a language”.  This can be seen in languages such as Hupa where there is now only one known speaker living in California. Hupa was the language of the Hupa Indian tribe native to the USA. Perhaps losing this language may mean losing literature such as songs, poems and books or even words and definitions of entities we have never seen or heard of before.  Nettle & Romaine (2002) also believe we could lose valuable information about how languages vary and the limits of human language if languages continue to die out.

Not only is losing languages potentially bad for our cultural education and linguistic research but Khan et al. (2015) believe a variety of languages enriches lives overall because of the beliefs, experiences and knowledge we share using it. They claim that “with disappearance of a language there is likely to be a serious loss of cultural legacy and inherited knowledge to the nation and to the world as well”.

Could the use of one language globally for such important aspects of life be killing off other languages, rendering them useless?

Mufwene (2005) discusses the claim that English is ‘a killer language’, powerful enough to wipe out other languages, particularly in Europe.  Would using this one language help or hinder us? Benefits of using one language globally are obvious for the people speaking this language; it would be easier to communicate globally, easier to travel or emigrate, the use of media platforms could be shared as well as political discussions being open to everyone with no language barriers (Schulzke, 2014).

Interestingly Marácz (2016, p.32-36) looks further into the idea of using one language in politics. English is currently used as the lingua franca of European parliament which means people use English to communicate if they do not speak the same native language. Marácz (2016, p.32-36) suggests that this has influenced the spread of English to Europe because of its use as a mediator language in government and of successful politicians. Schulzke (2014: 227) calls this use of English to discuss ideas globally “a neutral language” where “mass competence in a single language can also help to ensure that language differences cannot be used as a basis for political exclusion”.

However idealistic this idea of global communication sounds, one language would mean the loss of other languages… and this is already the case.

Perhaps looking at language death in history could help us to decide whether language death is something we should care about. For example, there are many languages that have already become extinct and this has been happening for centuries. A good example is the loss of indigenous languages in Italy when the Romans colonized Europe. Latin overtook indigenous languages because of its use by powerful people in government. Looking back, Latin became an extremely influential and highly respected language which is still respected today. However, even Latin has died out over time and is no longer spoken in our modern society. Does this suggest that even the strongest languages evolve and die out eventually?

It can be seen that we need to make a decision about the future of the world’s languages quickly in order to preserve languages that are dying out.  Luckily, linguists have already started recording endangered languages such as the organisations the ‘Endangered languages project’ and ‘UNESCO’. As it stands English is still growing globally and as long as language death is being investigated we can begin deciding the best course of action.

LAURA GALLIMORE, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Crystal, D. (2002). Language death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Khan, M. T., Humayun, A. A., Sajjad, M., & Khan, N. A. (2015). Languages in danger of death – and their relation with globalization, business and economy. International Journal of Information, Business and Management, 7(2), 239.

Language death. The Oxford English Dictionary (2007). (2nd ed.) OED Online. Oxford University Press.

Marácz, L. (2016). Does Global English Support the Development of Social Europe?. Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, European and Regional Studies, 9(1),31-38. 

Moseley, C (2010). UNESCO, Atlas of the world’s languages in danger. R

Mufwene, S. S. (2005) Globalization and the myth of killer languages.  In: G. Huggan & S. Klasen  (eds.) (2005) Perspectives on Endangerment.  New York: Georg Olms Verlag,45.

Nettle, D., & Romaine, S. (2002). Vanishing voices: The extinction of the world’s languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schulzke, M. (2014). The prospects of global English as an inclusive language. Globalizations, 11(2), 225-238. 

The endangered languages project powered by google, the endangered languages project language map.


Why do languages die out? And should we care? JENNIFER CROMPTON looks at language loss

Why do some languages outlive others? What causes a language to die? Should we care if a language dies? These are all questions that come to mind when we think about the topic of language death. Language death is defined as when “a language is no longer spoken by anyone as their main language” (Cambridge Dictionary online). Some examples of languages that are already dead include Latin, Ancient Greek and Ancient Hebrew (The Linguist List).

So how does language death occur? There are many reasons why a language is no longer used by anyone as their native language. One of these reasons is a decline in usage by younger generations. If a language is only used by the older generation, when they eventually die, then there will be no one left to speak the language. As Crystal states, “[i]f you are the last speaker of a language, your language– viewed as a tool of communication – is already dead. For a language is really alive only as long as there is someone to speak it to” (2000, p.2). Also, as bigger, more dominant languages spread, children whose parents speak a minority language often grow up learning the dominant language of that area. The Linguistic Society of America explains that the fate of a language can change in just one generation (Woodbury, A). For example in Alaska, the Yupik Eskimo language was spoken by all the children in one community twenty years ago, but today the children only speak English.

If speakers of a certain language feel that there is a stigma attached to that language, then they may be less likely to speak it. Crystal says that “many languages are being viewed by their speakers as a sign of backwardness, or as a hindrance to making improvements in social standing” (2000, p. 84). Crystal uses the example of the indigenous languages Quechua and Aymara in Peru, whose speakers are swapping to Spanish, the more dominant language (2000, p. 84). The stigmatisation of a language can also go one step further, as some countries have an outright ban on their minority language, such as the ethnic Kurds in Turkey, who by law cannot teach their language (Linguistic Society of America).

Another reason for language death is cultural assimilation. This is when the more dominant culture starts to influence the smaller minority culture until its characteristics begin to show and are adopted in the minority culture (Crystal, 2000, p. 77). Colonisation is one form of cultural assimilation, for example in Australia and North America where the indigenous people were defeated (Crystal, 2000, p. 77), and English eventually became the dominant language of both of these countries.

Most of the debate around language death centres on whether we should care that certain languages are dying and others seem to be more important. One argument that suggests we should care about the death of language is that language has links to cultural identity and knowledge, and these will be lost if the language dies. As K David Harrison writes for the BBC, the last speaker of a language can “tell how their ancestors calculated accurately the passing of seasons without clocks or calendars. How humans adapted to hostile environments, from the Arctic to Amazonia” (Harrison, 2010).

The other side of the debate suggests that if a language dies, it has done so for a reason and we do not need to try and preserve something that is not needed. Another article from the BBC News says that cultural forms are lost all the time and trying to hold on to a dead language “shows a desire to cling to the past rather than move forwards” (BBC News, 2010).

So can anything be done for a language that is already dead? The answer is yes – as shown with the revitalisation of Welsh and Cornish in the UK, and the Native American language of Wompanoag amongst others (Powers, 2014). Many of the successes are due to movements and projects, but Crystal points out that “[t]he conditions have to be right for there to be a likelihood of success: the community itself must want to save its language” (The Guardian, 1999).

It seems that this debate will continue so long as languages keep dying out. Some will feel like it is a huge loss if a language dies, whereas others feel like the world might be an easier place if we all could speak the same language.

JENNIFER CROMPTON, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


BBC News. (2010). Are dying languages worth saving? BBC Magazine online.

Crystal, D. The Guardian. (1999). Death sentence.

Crystal, D. (2000). Language death. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Dead Language. Cambridge Dictionary online

Harrison, K. D. (2010). The tragedy of dying languages. BBC News. 

List of extinct languages. The Linguist List.

Powers, B. (2014).  5 inspirational stories of language revitalization success. Languages around the globe

Woodbury, A.  What is an endangered language? Linguistic Society of America.

Should we accept or mourn the loss of languages? JESSICA WOOLLEY surveys some opinions

The debate surrounding language death and the preservation of endangered languages contains numerous opinions, some which are emotive, and others that are based on more concrete evidence.

In a study on endangered native American languages, James Crawford lists four common arguments amongst linguists which outline why we should care about language death. Crawford’s first point outlines how the death of a language results in linguists missing out on valuable information that could have otherwise contributed towards their science (1995, p. 31). For the second reason, Crawford discusses an argument shared by many others, i.e. “the loss of linguistic diversity means a loss of intellectual diversity” (1995, p. 33). The third reason is the loss of cultures, and the fourth reason, which Crawford (1995, p.33) describes as being the most important one is “the human costs to those most directly affected,” as in the loss of a culture’s and individual’s identity.  This therefore creates challenges when it concerns the solutions to family, poverty, and school issues, and ultimately jeopardizes the success of small communities in the modern world (1995, p.33).

Such losses are a reality for many communities across the world, especially in linguistically diverse countries like Nigeria. Take Kasabe, a language spoken in Mambilia (which is a region in Cameroon), for instance. On November 4th 1995 Kasabe existed, but with the death of its last speaker, it disappeared by the 6th of November 1995 (Crystal, 1999). The linguist who analyzed Kasabe, Bruce Connell, remarks how the last speaker told him that “his mother had been born in the same village where he himself grew up [therefore] indicating several generations had passed” (Connell, 1997), but all is assumed to be lost with the death of the last speaker.

Yet, not everyone shares Crawford’s list of concerns about language death. As Nettle and Romaine explain in their book Vanishing Voices (2000), some argue that instead of trying to save endangered languages, it would make more sense to spread and encourage the use of dominant languages so that smaller communities can experience the same high standards of living as people speaking the dominant languages (2000, p.151). Nettle and Romaine further define this line of argument as being the benign neglect position: those who would prefer to let endangered languages gently disappear over time think that it would be right to do so because of the correlation formed between language death and the extinction of species. They argue that extinctions have occurred throughout history, so why worry about the loss of languages? (2000, p.153). Even though Nettle and Romaine do not support the benign neglect position, and go to great lengths to undermine it in their book, there are other linguists who do, to some degree, support part of it. For example, the linguist Peter Ladefoged argues that in some countries, such as Tanzania, tribalism goes against what it is that they are trying to achieve – unity (1992, p. 809). Thus, attempts at preserving endangered languages in places such as Tanzania would not benefit communities in a way that linguists would originally hope.

But what about the people who purposefully choose to speak a more dominant language? According to James Harbeck, some speakers of endangered languages choose to speak a dominant language because they “see their language as limiting: if they or their children are to be successful, they need to know the language of education, of science, of business” (2015). And just as Ladefoged discusses in his own study, not everyone sees their language as being sacred like some linguists suggest (1992, p. 809). For example, young speakers of Dravidian, which is spoken in southern India, want to be a part of modern India and simultaneously honour their ancestors. But in order to be a part of both, they have decided to stop using Dravidian on a regular basis (Ladefoged, 1992, p. 810).

Whilst it is easy to get caught up in the debate, I think it is important to consider the opinions of all those affected by language death, and what it is that they desire. But overall, the question still remain – should we preserve endangered languages?

JESSICA WOOLLEY, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester, UK


Connell, B. (1997). Moribund Languages of the Nigeria-Cameroon Borderland. Symposium on Language Endangerment in Africa. Leipzig, Germany, 29-31 July 1997.

Crawford, J. (1995). Endangered Native American Languages: What is to be Done, and   Why? The Bilingual Research Journal, 19 (1), 17-38.

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