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When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge


When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge Cover

ISBN13: 9780195181920
ISBN10: 0195181921
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Publisher Comments:

It is commonly agreed by linguists and anthropologists that the majority of languages spoken now around the globe will likely disappear within our lifetime. The phenomenon known as language death has started to accelerate as the world has grown smaller.

This extinction of languages, and the knowledge therein, has no parallel in human history. K. David Harrison's book is the first to focus on the essential question, what is lost when a language dies? What forms of knowledge are embedded in a language's structure and vocabulary? And how harmful is it to humanity that such knowledge is lost forever?

Harrison spans the globe from Siberia, to North America, to the Himalayas and elsewhere, to look at the human knowledge that is slowly being lost as the languages that express it fade from sight. He uses fascinating anecdotes and portraits of some of these languages' last remaining speakers, in order to demonstrate that this knowledge about ourselves and the world is inherently precious and once gone, will be lost forever. This knowledge is not only our cultural heritage (oral histories, poetry, stories, etc.) but very useful knowledge about plants, animals, the seasons, and other aspects of the natural world--not to mention our understanding of the capacities of the human mind. Harrison's book is a testament not only to the pressing issue of language death, but to the remarkable span of human knowledge and ingenuity. It will fascinate linguists, anthropologists, and general readers.

Table of Contents

1. A World of Many (Fewer) Voices

2. An Extinction of (ideas about) Species

3. Many Moons Ago: Traditional Calendars and Time-Reckoning

Case Study: Urban Nomads of Mongolia

4. An Atlas in the Mind

Case Study: Wheel of Fortune, and a Blessing

5. Silent Storytellers, Lost Legends

Case Study: New Rice vs. Old Knowledge

6. Counting to Twenty on your Toes

Case Study: The Leaf-Cup People, India's Modern Primitives

7. Worlds within Words



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Jason Straight, August 23, 2010 (view all comments by Jason Straight)
Built up over tens of thousands of years, language is the single most complex and powerful storehouse of human learning. But as Harrison warns us, this vast array of knowledge is quickly eroding. Harrison's book is a call to action for linguistics and anthropologist and at the same time a fascinating account for the lay reader on the variety and richness of the world's fast-vanishing languages.
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Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Harrison, K. David
null, K. David
Anthropological linguistics
Language obsolescence
Linguistics | Sociolinguistics
Linguistics | Sociolinguistics and Anthropological Linguistics
Linguistics | Sociolinguistics & Anthropological Linguistics
Linguistics - General
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
77 halftones and line illus.
6.2 x 9.4 x 1.1 in 1.25 lb

Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Linguistics » General
History and Social Science » Linguistics » Historical and Comparative
Science and Mathematics » Botany » General

When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge
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Product details 304 pages Oxford University Press, USA - English 9780195181920 Reviews:
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