Synopses & Reviews
Of the approximately 5,000 languages spoken around the globe today, Andrew Dalby predicts that half will be lost during this century. How will this linguistic extinction affect our lives? Is there a possibility that humanity will become a monolingual species? Should we care?
Language in Danger is an historical investigation into the disappearance of languages and the consequences that future generations may face. Whether describing the effects of Latin's displacement of native languages in the aftermath of Rome's imperial expansion or the aggressive extermination of hundreds of indigenous North American languages through a brutal policy of forcing Native Americans to learn English, Dalby reveals that linguistic extinction has traditionally occurred as a result of economic inequality, political oppression, and even genocide. Bringing this historical perspective to bear on the uncertain fate of hundreds of pocket cultures cultures whose languages are endangered by less obvious threats, such as multinational economic forces, immigration, nationalism, and global telecommunications Language in Danger speaks out against the progressive silencing of our world's irreplaceable voices.
More than an account of the decline of linguistic diversity, Language in Danger explains why humanity must protect its many unique tongues. Since all languages represent different ways of perceiving, mapping, and classifying the world, they act as repositories for cultural traditions and localized knowledge. The growing trend toward linguistic standarization for example, politically designated national languages threatens the existence of more marginalized cultures and ethnic customs, leaving only a few dominant tongues. The resulting languages become less flexible, nuanced, and inventive as they grow increasingly homogenized. Dalby argues that humanity needs linguistic variety not only to communicate, but to sustain and enhance our understanding of the world.
"Even if short on solutions, this argument...is generally convincing....[Poses] the problem accessibly, and may even prod some readers into trying to learn or relearn another language." Publishers Weekly
"By the end of Language in Danger, most readers will likely agree with Dalby's analysis." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Although pessimistic, this title tackles a subject too important to ignore, especially in academia." Library Journal
Linguistic standardization threatens pocket cultures, leaving dominant tongues that become less flexible, adaptable, and creative as they grow increasingly homogenized. Dalby presents a far-ranging history of how languages have ceased to exist and what we can do to combat the loss of a variety of distinctive voices. He describes the political and social effects of Latin's rampage in the train of Roman imperial expansion, the aggressive extermination of Native American languages by brutal teachers of English, and the current precarious fate of hundreds of different regional cultures in the face of globalizing media and market forces.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 303-311) and index.
About the Author
Andrew Dalby is a linguist and a historian. He is Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Linguists and author of A Dictionary of Languages. He lives in the UK.
Table of Contents
List of Maps
1 Language and Our Species 1
2 Language and Change 39
3 Language and Community 82
4 Language and Nation 127
5 How to Become a Global Language 167
6 When We Lose a Language 207
7 The Loss of Diversity 252