Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Language Revolution

"As many languages as he has, as many friends, as many arts and trades, so many times is he a man".

I just finished reading a book byDavid Crystal, a Welsh who writes in English.

It´s small, the cover is horrible, black with a ridiculous picture on the front. But it´s very good. The only pity is that it was published in 2004 so all the internet chapter, although I agree with him and it´s really interesting, I am sure some statistics are already old.

Some interesting/shocking/nice bits I have learned reading this book:

* In 1999, UNESCO had already created 21 Feb as International Mother Language Day - a date which commemorated the deaths on that date in 1952 of five students defending the recognition of Bangla as a state language of former Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

* In 2003 there were 191 members in the UN - nearly four times as many as there were fifty years ago.

* A language becomes a world language for one reason only - the power of the people who speak it.

* Spanish is in fact the world´s fastest-growing mother-tongue at present.

* Three out of four English speakers are now non-native.

* Some 4-5 million people spoke English late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This had grown to a quarter of the world´s population, some 1.5 billion, late in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

* Bilingualism, multilingualism, is the normal human condition. Well over half of the people in the world, perhaps two-thirds, are bilingual.

* It usually takes a generation for loan words to become integrated, though the internet seems to be speeding up this time-frame.

* A language dies when the last person who speaks it dies. Or, some people say, it dies when the second-last person who speaks it dies, for then the last person has nobody to talk to.

* Spoken language leaves no archeology. When a language dies which has never been documented, it is as if it has never been.

* What is happening today is extraordinary, judged by the standards of the past: half the world´s languages dying out within a century is language extinction on a massive and unprecedented scale.

* 96 per cent of the of the world´s languages are spoken by just 4 per cent of the people (!!)

* Internet offers a home to all languages. Spend an hour hunting for languages on the World Wide Web and you will find hundreds.

* The internet is the ideal medium for minority langauges.

* Children are born not just with a LAD (Language Acquisition Device), as Chomsky argued, but with a MAD (Multilingual Acquisition Device).

* A minority language needs every friend it can get, regardless of the kind or level of language the speakers display.

The book finishes with a Decalogue about the main preocupations which should be characterizing the linguistic mindset of the new milennium:

I. Concern for endangered languages.
II. Concern for minority languages.
III. Concern for all accents and dialects within a language.
IV. Greater concern for the expressive range of a language.
V. We need to become more multilingual.
VI. We need to accept change in language as a normal process.
VII. Concern for those who are having difficulties learning their mother-tongue.
VIII. Concern for those who have lost their ability to use a mother-tongue in which they were once proficient.
IX. We need to bring the study of language and literature closer together.
X. Finally, we need to appreciate, truly appreciate, the value of language in human development and society. Languages should be thought of as national treasures, and treated accordingly.

"The problem with the French is that they don´t have even a word for entrepreneur".
George W. Bush

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