Synopses & Reviews
Few people know that nearly 100 native languages once spoken in what is now California are near extinction, or that most of Australia's 250 aboriginal languages have vanished. In fact, at least half of the world's languages may die out in the next century. What has happened to these voices? Should we be alarmed about the disappearance of linguistic diversity?
The authors of Vanishing Voices assert that this trend is far more than simply disturbing. Making explicit the link between language survival and environmental issues, they argue that the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem. Indeed, the authors contend that the struggle to preserve precious environmental resources-such as the rainforest-cannot be separated from the struggle to maintain diverse cultures, and that the causes of language death, like that of ecological destruction, lie at the intersection of ecology and politics.
And while Nettle and Romaine defend the world's endangered languages, they also pay homage to the last speakers of dying tongues, such as Red Thundercloud, a Native American in South Carolina, Ned Mandrell, with whom the Manx language passed away in 1974, and Arthur Bennett, an Australian, the last person to know more than a few words of Mbabaram.
In our languages lies the accumulated knowledge of humanity. Indeed, each language is a unique window on experience. Vanishing Voices is a call to preserve this resource, before it is too late.
"Combining perspectives from anthropology and linguistics, [Nettle and Romaine] discuss how languages become endangered and why the loss of linguistic diversity matters." -- Science
"Language extinction is a great tragedy for human culture and for scholarship on all things human. This fascinating book is the latest word on this important issue, containing a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. If we have the good sense to rescue the priceless legacy of linguistic diversity before it vanishes forever, Vanishing Voices will surely deserve a good part of the credit."--Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and "Words and Rules
"Vanishing Voices is an urgent call to arms about the impending loss of one of our great resources. Nettle and Romaine paint a breathtaking landscape that shows why so many of the world's languages are disappearing and more importantly, why it matters. They put the problem of linguistic diversity into the wider context of global biodiversity, and propose the revolutionary idea that saving endangered languages is not about dictionaries and educational programs, but about preserving the cultures and habitats of the people who speak them. Along the way it's also a fascinating introduction to how language works: how languages are born, how they die, and how we can prevent their death."-- Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University
Warning that at least half of the world's languages may die out in the next century, the authors assert that such extinction is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem. Defending the world's endangered languages, the authors pay homage to the last speakers of dying tongues. 25 halftones. 14 line illustrations.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -224) and index.
About the Author
received his Ph.D. in Anthropology from University College London. He is the author The Fyem Language of Northern Nigeria
and Linguistic Diversity
(OUP). He lives in London. Suzanne Romaine
has been Merton Professor of English Language at the University of Oxford since 1984. She is the author of numerous books, including Language, Education and Development: Urban and Rural Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea
and Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics
(both by OUP). She lives in Oxford.