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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Not very magical, still... » » Preserving languages a waste of time? Preserving English? (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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Davit Sicseek
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Inspired by Jaxon's mention of cochlear implants, can anyone convince me that it's a good idea to preserve languages for anything other than academic purposes?

I post an extract below from:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/01/magazi......f=slogin
Quote:
So the good news is that progress has been made; no one any longer thinks that one language is better than another. But the bad news is that many languages are dying anyway. In fact, for various social and economic reasons, they are dying faster than ever. Many of the Native American languages that still exist are spoken by a very few old people, and while no one is trying to force them to stop speaking whatever it is they speak, no one is having much success in persuading their children and grandchildren to continue speaking it. So where the tragic figure of 19th-century language loss was a child discouraged from speaking her own language and made to speak English instead, the tragic figure of 21st-century language loss is an elder allowed, and even encouraged, to speak her own language but with no one around to speak it to. The 19th-century problem was about people who couldn’t use their languages; the problem now is about the languages themselves — “tragically,” they’re disappearing.

But why would it be a tragedy if English disappeared? Why is it a tragedy if Tlingit disappears? Although we can all agree it’s a bad thing to try to get people to stop using their language, it’s hard to see why it’s a bad thing if their language disappears. Why?
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tommy
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Ad absurdum
If there is a single truth about Magic, it is that nothing on earth so efficiently evades it.

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Jonathan Townsend
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Kindly have a careful read of Frank Herbert's Story "Try To Remember".
Then let's proceed to discuss why someone in the Sahara Dessert would care if you had many names for this thing we call snow. But do the reading first.
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Davit Sicseek
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Jonathan, would you kindly summarise the importance of the book I haven't read and do not own? It's going to be a very slow discussion otherwise.
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Jonathan Townsend
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Folks, your time online can be much enhanced by learning how to use search engines like google and then other tools - or asking for resources directly if you feel an urgent need and have not yet learned how to use "other" online resources to make your own acquisitions. In under a minute you could have gotten here and been enjoying it if you did not want to get the book from your local library.

It's going to be a slow discussion about language.

A good starting place would be after understanding the truth of "language is a tool to conceal meaning" - which BTW is not the thesis of the Herbert story - which is about the importance of congruent and sincere communication.

This site has the start of the story: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/b87189......rt/?si=0
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Davit Sicseek
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I don't mind being addressed by name. No need to diffuse your dissatisfaction with 'folks'.

As it happens, when I presented a topic for discussion, I was a little taken aback by your refusal in engage with the material I had posted and your attempt to redefine the starting point of the discussion by suggesting I hunt down a book. That being said, I was willing to play along and consulted Amazon (UK) which didn't list the book. As a second shot I looked for a wikipedia entry on the story - no luck. I also searched for the full author and title and didn't see it readily available on the first page of results. How much longer should I search? How much money should I spend on materials to enjoy your company in this light discussion?

I put it to you that my time (and that of the other readers of this thread) could be much enhanced by you participating in the discussion in a more accomodating fashion.

Trying to bring the discussion back to something a little more productive, assuming that Michaels is correct in his claim that languages are no better than one another (equally good at concealing meaning and capable of congruent and sincere communication). Other than for academic study, what good is the conscious preservation of languages?

People that speak a dying language are likely to be sad to see it go. Especially if they only speak said dying language. This is at best however a selfish reason for preserving an otherwise dying language.

I'm not suggesting that it's good to see languages die (although perhaps that is an argument that could be made), just that I see no reason to make efforts to preserve them - other than academic study.
-
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Jonathan Townsend
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Overview - it really depends on whether you care about the past.

*
Does the "conceal meaning" bit make sense? My usual reminder to folks is the well intended advice one might get from a fish: "you seem upset. Go soak your head in a nice fresh bowl of water for a few minutes till you feel better". Not such good advice if the receiver is not themselves fish or fishlike in that regard.

Funny line about money on education. Some folks get doctoral degrees in linguistics, anthropology, sociology, psychology in their pursuit of understanding of that subject.

I just figured folks would want to have some foundation in the ideas of congruence and meaning in context before dismissing the cultures and history of people they don't understand.

Here's a thesis for the very brave: One can explore some of a society by exploring what ideas and constructions relating ideas are basic to their language, and which require longer or indirect constructs. For example, we don't have a declension for "that which I would like the reader to believe even though I don't believe it".
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Davit Sicseek
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Quote:
I get tired of wondering why folks type when they could be learning.

So let's try the "conceal meaning" bit. Do you understand that much?

I spend a fair amount of time learning. But I also like discussing. Discussing with you so far is no fun, I prefer not to just shout authors and titles at people when I'm having a discussion. Perhaps you are spending all your time learning? Either way you are doing a mighty fine job at concealling meaning.

Quote:
Funny line about money on education. Some folks get doctoral degrees in linguistics, anthropology, sociology, psychology in their pursuit of understanding of that subject.

I've read and paid for a few books on language, most recently one by Pinker. I'm not an expert. It's not my profession. Is it yours? Language is Walter Ben Michaels profession. If you don't have a critique for my rejurgitation of his argument, perhaps you have a critique for his?

Quote:
I just figured folks would want to have some foundation in the ideas of congruence and meaning in context before dismissing the cultures and history of people they don't understand.

I'm not dismissing the cultures and history of anyone. I'm simply saying that I don't support positive steps to preseve a language. Coercion aside, if a new generation find themselves not speaking the language of their grandparents, it's because in their environment, the language of thier grandparents is not the most useful to them. Are you suggesting that people by accident of their birth should be forced/incentivised to speak a language that is not optimal for their environment? So as not to lose a link to a culture's history? So academics can study them?
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Jonathan Townsend
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I'm with you about spending money to fret over things which have no current value or foreseeable value to those who follow. Then again I also keep a wary eye on what was done to the local languages in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the indigenous peoples of this continent etc. My objective was to avoid the politics by getting directly to he implied question about how to find what makes a language special in context and what aspects of that language can be adopted into other languages. English does an impressive job of keeping all sorts of adopted notions alive. Underneath that notion is one giant question about the utility of language. That matter, the consequences and utility of language, is addressed in the story I cited.
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tommy
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Money talks all languages.
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Magnus Eisengrim
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How about the more general question: why preserve anything? Is the earth of sufficient value to preserve? What is the moral problem with blowing it up, or with contaminating it beyond living?

Why preserve species that are endangered?

Why preserve culture?

Why preserve our own lives?

These are by no means simple questions.

John
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.--Yeats
Michael Baker
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I am far from being a scholar on this or many other subjects, but I do believe I have a modest amount of common sense that goes along with gut instinct. In this regard, the first thing that popped into my head was a lesson supposedly learned by the tale of Hansel & Gretel. When leaving a path behind them, the less permanent the path, the more problems arose. I see a correlation of sorts there, not to mention a cheaper book. Smile
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Jonathan Townsend
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Are you asking if Bizarro Superman talk newspeak?
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Davit Sicseek
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Quote:
Then again I also keep a wary eye on what was done to the local languages in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the indigenous peoples of this continent etc/

People that still speak only regional languages in the UK are all but gone. The enthusiasts for those languages can be vocal, expecting public money to go towards preserving their language - whether that be road signs or lessons for their kids at school. I suspect that if I was starting school in rural Wales today I'd be pretty gutted in 20 years time when I consider that while I can speak Welsh, I could have spent that time learning Mandarin and have something that has far more utility.

Quote:
My objective was to avoid the politics by getting directly to he implied question about how to find what makes a language special in context and what aspects of that language can be adopted into other languages.

According to Michaels, languages are all adequate for the needs of their speakers. There aren't 'better' languages. Of course if he is incorrect on this matter then you may well have a point. As for identifying 'special' aspects of language and integrating them into other languages this strikes me as either falling under the 'academic' purpose that I mentioned initially or as something that isn't likely to happen. Even if one did find a feature of a language that was missing in English, the practicalities of adopting such a feature would be near impossible.

Quote:
How about the more general question: why preserve anything? .

While these are interesting questions, I'm not sure the comparison is useful.

Michaels' point is that all languages in themselves are equal. They all meet the needs of their speakers and if they don't, or the environment changes, or the speakers themselves diversify, the languages themselves follow suit remarkably quickly. It's also worth considering how many languages are already extinct? How many of those should be been preserved? And which one's should have made the cut? How many resources from society should have been channeled into their preservation? At what point does one take the descision that public money and charitable given is better directed towards education, healthcare and security rather than the preservation of a language no better or worse that all the others - just different?

I don't subscribe to the view that all cultures are equal. There are some cultures that have very little positive contribution to make. Of course, we can learn things from these 'bad' cultures, but that strays into the academic. Is anyone here of the opinion that there is much that we can learn from Nazi culture and that in order to do so, we should be preserving it, ensuring that (other people's) children are still indoctrinated by it and so on?
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Jonathan Townsend
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They call it plainspeak, common language, a word very close to 'patios' or ordinary - as the term Mandarin belongs to an age they have put behind them. Linguists from elswhere ... ahem.

For most of known history, China was the center of civilization. Pretty clever of them to give Marco Polo the notion of paper money to take home - huh? Smile

Another book to explore (freely if you just go looking as it's for free) is "Blindsight" by Peter Watts. Once again the notion of language comes under scrutiny but this time from a different angle.
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Davit Sicseek
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I mentioned Mandarin simply because noone would have a clue what putonghua meant. And certainly not 普通话. I'm of the opinion that the importance of Chinese history is overstated a little, but yes, they did come up with some good stuff. Fireworks can fascinate me for hours.

I'll look for that book too. I have quite a backlog... but one day.
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Jonathan Townsend
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critter
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It's important to anthropologists.
"The fool is one who doesn't know what you have just found out."
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Jonathan Townsend
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Quote:
On 2010-04-26 22:28, critter wrote:
It's important to anthropologists.


More thesis littering the halls of denial - as covered in the OP and article cited.
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Josh Chaikin
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I'll bite. If languages die, then languages die. True, it is tragic, but it's also the way of the world. Previously, languages would die due to conquest, colonialism, and whatever remaining brutalities litter the pages of history.

There are still a great many languages in the world today, most all of which show little signs of dying. Efforts to hasten this have been made...Esperanto anyone? To bring up more Socratic literature, I present Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn. Man suffers from the fallacious belief that the world is his to conquer and master; the mythology of our culture we're oblivious to. We're the only species that feels the world was created for him (in a more general, non-literal sense). Due to this, we're the only species that draws borders and uses other languages. If a dog from France sees a dog from Germany, he thinks "Hey, there's a dog."

Man...not so much.
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