Death of a language & invasions of the mind

Boa Sr, the last speaker of Bo’, “one of the ten Great Andamanese languages has died”. The death of Boa Sr and the language she spoke is the end of 65,000 years of linguistic heritage and culture.

It is estimated that a language dies every two weeks and by 2100 90% of languages of the world will be gone forever. It’s called Linguicide, death of language. There are between 3,000 and 10,000 languages which seems a a huge variable. The top 8 languages are spoken by 2.4 billion people [Mandarin, Spanish, English, Bengali, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese]. At the other end of the scale 96% of the worlds languages are spoken by 4% of the population. To go on, one quarter of the worlds languages are spoken by less than 1000 people and over half by less than 10,000 people. The chances of survival for many of these languages is therefore very slim given the number of speakers and the domination of the 8 major languages.

There is no great complicated explanation as to why languages are dying and the number of people speaking a language is no guarantee that it will remain. “Language imperialism” or the “invasion of English”, has meant that everyone “needs” to speak English in order to communicate with as many people as possible.

How did this happen? How did a dialect, spoken by a backward, semi-literate tribe in the south-eastern corner of a small island in the North Sea spread, like some malign pandemic virus, across the globe? Should we feel guilty that our way of speaking is obliterating so many other tongues? Is it not a more sinister kind of colonialism than that which we practised a hundred years ago? Once we just took their raw materials. Now we invade their minds, by changing the primary tool by which they think: “their” language.

One area where language imperialism most impacts on our lives is the internet. For African languages of which there are between 1,500 and 2000 , the good news is that Google Books along with East African Educational Publishers is publishing their books in a number of East African languages. The more languages are available online whether as Google searches or online books, blogs and so on the more chance of survival the 21st C.

Boa Sr sings “the earth is shaking as the tree falls with a great thud” – a metaphor for the death of a language and death of a people. Bo sounded like a beautiful language – I feel sad it has gone.

Links:
African Languages
Linguistic Map of African Langauges

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