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Inclusa
2011-Jan-23, 05:10 AM
Languages die out, examples include Tocharian and Latin.
There are, of course, even more forgotten dead languages.
The fact is that with language deaths, the knowledge and tradition that come with them also lost. Than again, is it more "practical" to pass these with commonly used languages?
Like preserving endangered species, there are active attempts to preserve endangered languages, too.

Hlafordlaes
2011-Jan-23, 05:47 PM
I used to mourn the passing of languages when I thought the Whorfian hypothesis had some shred of merit (looong ago). Any given language will have some unique traits, but nothing that transcends universals, so it's all arbitrary and relative value is in the eye of the beholder. At any rate, language change marches on regardless, and even English as it globalizes is fragmenting along the way, too. Speak and let speak, I say.

Jens
2011-Jan-24, 06:28 AM
Whether Latin is a dead language or not is disputable. There are two arguments against it: (1) it's still spoken by people, and has been spoken continuously since the time of the Roman empire, and (2) one can consider Latin to still exist, only as "modern Latin", fragmented into a number of near-dialects.

jokergirl
2011-Jan-24, 09:56 AM
That depends a little on how much you believe in that language shapes the mind. Of course, I have an easier time expressing certain ideas in German (French, Swedish...) than English, but it may well be the other way round in other cases.
I think that multilinguality in general is more to be seen as a bonus, rather than an impediment to understanding. People will always have local dialects and languages, and the more you know the more different perspectives on thinking you will have.

As for preserving dead language, I have been thinking about this a lot. As an academic, I of course believe in storage of all knowledge just because. But on the other hand, language seems to persist longer than cultures - a generation may well have learned the language still even though the culture associated with it was assimilated into a bigger culture long ago - like with Irish or Welsh. I'm not entirely sure what the actual merit of keeping a language artifically alive like that is.

;)

agingjb
2011-Jan-24, 11:26 AM
I would make a distinction between written and spoken language.

Jens
2011-Jan-25, 01:40 AM
I would make a distinction between written and spoken language.

It seems difficult to imagine a situation where a language would be alive in one and dead in the other, but I suppose you could think of some. Well, there are plenty of languages that are not written, so I suppose they are "dead" in the written sense.

Middenrat
2011-Jan-25, 02:34 AM
Jokergirl, perhaps the examples of Irish (Gaelic) and Welsh are unfortunate choices, for while the Celtic races certainly had a tough few hundred years under the Imperial yolk, the bulwark of their laguages served as some conservator of their cultures, which have weathered the storm and continue to flourish in the discourse of their own tongues. Some merit to be found here, I hope you would agree.

Gillianren
2011-Jan-25, 02:58 AM
Whether Latin is a dead language or not is disputable. There are two arguments against it: (1) it's still spoken by people, and has been spoken continuously since the time of the Roman empire, and (2) one can consider Latin to still exist, only as "modern Latin", fragmented into a number of near-dialects.

I think of Latin as a zombie language. For a dead language, it's awfully active.

As for preserving languages, I think it's a valuable historical tool. Even if they are left as relics, losing them entirely is a waste. Where I come from, whatever languages were spoken before the Spanish arrived are gone completely. They weren't written, and the Spanish forbid the speaking of them. By even just the Gold Rush, they were gone completely. Without a trace. Heck, the name we have for the tribe which lived where I grew up is a Spanish name.

Trebuchet
2011-Jan-25, 05:11 AM
Jokergirl, perhaps the examples of Irish (Gaelic) and Welsh are unfortunate choices, for while the Celtic races certainly had a tough few hundred years under the Imperial yolk, the bulwark of their laguages served as some conservator of their cultures, which have weathered the storm and continue to flourish in the discourse of their own tongues. Some merit to be found here, I hope you would agree.

With sincere apologies for pointing out a simple spelling/homonym error, I have to say I cracked up when I read "Imperial yolk". It sort of conjures up an odd image.

Gillianren
2011-Jan-25, 04:57 PM
An egg with its own dramatic theme music?

Strange
2011-Jan-25, 06:35 PM
I think of Latin as a zombie language. For a dead language, it's awfully active.

Exactly what I was thinking. It is not exactly dead, because it is still in use - to the extent they have to keep coming up with new Latin terms for modern stuff. (I was going to say "neologisms" but isn't that from the Greek?). On the other hand, I doubt anyone speaks it as a first language.

The other important thing about having a very wide range of languages available is for the understanding of how the brain handles language and (possibly) how language developed. If you had, say, Indo-European langages left, you could assume that the common structure of languages reflected some underlying structure in the brain. We know, from the variety of languages, that it isn't that simple. There obviously is some sot of relationship between the way language works and the way the brain works but it is pretty subtle. Chomsky's "universal grammar" looks to be dead. The more languages we have to study, the better we can understand all this. And with advances in brain imaging etc., it is going to be important to have (close to) native speakers to test new hypotheses with.

vonmazur
2011-Jan-26, 06:59 AM
Klingon? Is it dead??

Dale

Ara Pacis
2011-Jan-26, 09:40 AM
Is Latin still spoken in the Vatican?

I think dead, but preserved, languages can have a long life as technical language and for naming conventions. Not only can we use them for naming non-planets way out in the Kuiper belt, but for naming children. After all, we often tell people that a name means "x" in language "y" but if we didn't have a linguistic separation from historic culture, we might be naming kids "x" instead of a synonym. In other words, someone can introduce a child with "This is my son, David" but not as "Oh, this is my son, Beloved-Of-the-one-true-God-I-Am-That-I-Am", which might come across as a little presumptuous.

parallaxicality
2011-Jan-26, 10:09 AM
I think dead, but preserved, languages can have a long life as technical language and for naming conventions. Not only can we use them for naming non-planets way out in the Kuiper belt, but for naming children. After all, we often tell people that a name means "x" in language "y" but if we didn't have a linguistic separation from historic culture, we might be naming kids "x" instead of a synonym. In other words, someone can introduce a child with "This is my son, David" but not as "Oh, this is my son, Beloved-Of-the-one-true-God-I-Am-That-I-Am", which might come across as a little presumptuous.

"David" is an English transliteration of a Latin transliteration of a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew name. I would say it is now an English word, not a Hebrew word. Fossilised language remnants, like flies in amber, do not speak to the survival of the species; grammar, pronunciation, semantics, and, perhaps most importantly, myth and values also play a role. The Latin of the Catholic Church is a very different language to the Latin of the pagan Romans, even if it may use the same words, just as the Latin of Newton's Principia is a different language to the Latin of the Church. The myths, values and semantics underpinning the words are completely different in each case.

There is a difference between a language that is dead, like Sumerian, and a language that simply developed into one or more daughter languages, like Latin or Greek. The English of today is not the English of Alfred the Great, but that's not because it died. Languages, unlike species (to date, anyway) can also be resurrected, as Latin, Cornish and ancient Hebrew have been. In the latter case though, the values and myths underpinning the revived language will be different to those underpinning the language as originally spoken.

A far more contentious issue for me is that of linguicide, the deliberate destruction of a language. This can happen via the destruction of its speakers, or the forced assimilation of the speakers' children. Gaelic (both Scots and Irish) was a notable attempted victim of this. It's impossible to know just how many native languages have been exterminated since the rise of European colonialism. This raises the issue, do the people whose ancestors committed the crime have the moral responsibility to preserve whatever shreds of the language remain?

grapes
2011-Jan-26, 10:11 AM
That depends a little on how much you believe in that language shapes the mind. Of course, I have an easier time expressing certain ideas in German (French, Swedish...) than English, but it may well be the other way round in other cases.I might should know this, but what is your native language?

jokergirl
2011-Jan-26, 10:41 AM
I might should know this, but what is your native language?

German.

I mainly picked the Gaelic example because it is still taught in schools, and at least from the accounts I have heard the teaching is not very connected to cultural history. It may have been just my experience, in which case I apologise to any Irishmen (and women) around.


Klingon? Is it dead??

Dale

Klingon (and Sindarin, and Quenya, and D'Ni...) is an artificial language. Not a zombie, but a cyborg.

;)

grapes
2011-Jan-26, 01:25 PM
German.
I figured that would be the case, that it would be easier to express yourself in your native language. I guess I was just checking for that one weird possibility, that a certain second language might have so much advantage that it even trumps one's native language. I myself do better in English of course.

jokergirl
2011-Jan-26, 03:25 PM
Well, as I was saying it depends on the concept. I have written two theses in two different languages and must say that with technical terms, there are definite benefits and drawbacks to either German and English. German is a lot less ambiguous in grammatical terms than English, which makes it a more precise language, but on the other hand this makes for huge and often not easy to read constructs.
This may or may not have to do with the lingua franca of the subject in question at the time of its invention, of course - the phrases and their meaning were coined to work in one specific language only. Mathematical language takes a lot of phrasing from German, while engineering and programming are very English-based. In fact, I prefer discussing programming in English at any time, even with other German-language natives. My current working languages are English and Swedish and my German is getting rusty...

;)

Gillianren
2011-Jan-26, 06:11 PM
"David" is an English transliteration of a Latin transliteration of a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew name. I would say it is now an English word, not a Hebrew word. Fossilised language remnants, like flies in amber, do not speak to the survival of the species; grammar, pronunciation, semantics, and, perhaps most importantly, myth and values also play a role. The Latin of the Catholic Church is a very different language to the Latin of the pagan Romans, even if it may use the same words, just as the Latin of Newton's Principia is a different language to the Latin of the Church. The myths, values and semantics underpinning the words are completely different in each case.

Well, of course the Latin of the Church and the Latin of Pagan Rome are different. Just as the English we speak and the English Chaucer spoke are different. True, the Latin of the Church is probably more Medieval Latin, but the point is that it was still a living language for centuries after the Empire officially became Christian. As for Newton, the reason Latin was the language of science until quite recently was that everyone educated already had to learn Latin anyway for religious reasons. The Latin of the Church and the Latin of science are intertwined.


There is a difference between a language that is dead, like Sumerian, and a language that simply developed into one or more daughter languages, like Latin or Greek. The English of today is not the English of Alfred the Great, but that's not because it died. Languages, unlike species (to date, anyway) can also be resurrected, as Latin, Cornish and ancient Hebrew have been. In the latter case though, the values and myths underpinning the revived language will be different to those underpinning the language as originally spoken.

I disagree that the English of Alfred the Great is not dead. Old English is a dead language. No one speaks it. (By the specific standards of linguists, of course; people study and speak it all the time, but there are no native speakers left.) Yes, Middle English's various dialects evolved out of it, but there was a point at which it stopped being Old English, where Old English existed no more than Australopithecus afarensis.


A far more contentious issue for me is that of linguicide, the deliberate destruction of a language. This can happen via the destruction of its speakers, or the forced assimilation of the speakers' children. Gaelic (both Scots and Irish) was a notable attempted victim of this. It's impossible to know just how many native languages have been exterminated since the rise of European colonialism. This raises the issue, do the people whose ancestors committed the crime have the moral responsibility to preserve whatever shreds of the language remain?

I think it's the duty of anyone who can preserve it to do so. The original settlers of my hometown tried to preserve the native language in a place name, but it was long since extinct. Scattered to the winds by the Spanish. However, were there some left, I don't think you'd have to be Spanish to have an intellectual obligation to save what you could if you were the one to find it. Maybe you couldn't learn it yourself, but you could draw it to the attention of people who could. I don't think the English have an obligation to learn Welsh, but I think there is an obligation shared by historians and linguists to ensure that someone still can. I also don't think the extinction of languages is original to European colonization.

Jens
2011-Jan-27, 02:02 AM
Fossilised language remnants, like flies in amber, do not speak to the survival of the species; grammar, pronunciation, semantics, and, perhaps most importantly, myth and values also play a role.

I sort of agree, but I think it's more a question of simple usage. If a language is still used, meaning for communication, it is alive.


There is a difference between a language that is dead, like Sumerian, and a language that simply developed into one or more daughter languages, like Latin or Greek. The English of today is not the English of Alfred the Great, but that's not because it died.

That's a distinction I agree with and that I mentioned early in this thread. It can be argued that Latin is still alive, namely as Spanish, Portuguese, French, Romanian, etc. It evolved into these languages, so in a sense, they are Latin in the same sense that modern English is part of the continuum of English. But of course, as Gillianren said, classical Latin is dead in the sense that old English is dead.

Inclusa
2011-Jan-27, 03:59 AM
Linguicide happens quite a bit; than again, people assimilate into the major populations from time to time. For example, Manchurian is a highly endangered language today because of historical reasons.
Jens, do you think Ainu (Native Japanese language) will be dead sooner or later?

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Jan-27, 09:27 AM
Languages die out, examples include Tocharian and Latin.
Thinking of them as mother tongues, then they died out in rather different ways. For Tocharian, we would have been able to say (as today we can with many present-day dying native American and Australian languages) these are the last native speakers, and when they died the language ceased to be a living language. Because the languages their children spoke were completely different, unrelated, languages, such as Uigur or something. But the "last mother-tongue Latin speakers", if they can be identified, didn't think their children were speaking a different language from them. Rather it gradually evolved into modern languages. More likely we can't really identify any "last mother-tongue Latin-speakers", the process was too gradual to have a clearly identifiable break-point.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Jan-27, 09:38 AM
do you think Ainu (Native Japanese language) will be dead sooner or later?
I'm not Jens. Ainu certainly had a near-death experience. By about 30 years ago it reached a point where the number of mother-tongue speakers was of the order of 100, and not much more than 15 speakers using it daily. Apparently there is now some revitalisation of it. But if it does manage to survive from there as a language that is anyone's mother tongue, I suspect we will find in retrospect it went through a period of very rapid change with adoption if substantially more Japanese influence than previously. There is a risk that it will become (if it has not already done so) no one's mother tongue, in which case, like Latin, it will be "surviving only in captivity". But languages can become mother-tongue languages again from this situation, consider Hebrew.