A Detailed Synthesis of Language Death: Causes and Consequences

Matt Billas
CLCS 1103W
Over Past 500 Years:
◦ ½ of the world’s languages have disappeared
Of 7,000 Languages that Remain:
◦ ½ in danger of disappearing within this century
Bottom Line:
◦ Language death demands attention
What is Language Death?
◦ -Not a simple dictionary definition
◦ -Understanding of all aspects
How Does it Occur?
◦ Process/Mechanisms
◦ Contributing Factors
What if anything should be done about it?
◦ Revitalization and preservation efforts
◦ Potential impact and consequences
◦ Synthesize the works of experts in the field to
create a detailed solution
Gradual Process Assumption
◦ Similarities to biological processes
 Evolution, Adaptation
◦ Native LanguageBilingualismForeign Language
 Why? (Dominance, Mobility)
◦ Seen in many publications
Multi-Process Model
Sudden Death
Radical Death
Gradual Death
Bottom-to-Top Death
(Mufwene, McWhorter, Janse)
(Muntzel and Campbell)
Historical Events
◦ Neolithic Revolution
◦ European Colonization
◦ Imperialism, Nationalism, Capitalism
(Mufwene, Janse)
◦ Economic opportunities, migration, economic
transformations, industrialization
◦ Government policies, repression, discrimination,
Genocide, Natural Disasters (Crystal)
◦ Loss of unique expression of oneself and soul
◦ Conservation of cultural heritage, oral history
(Janse, Anderson, Harrison)
◦ Linguistic diversity (Crystal)
◦ Loss of knowledge (human mind, natural world)
(Crystal, Anderson, Harrison)
Revitalization Efforts
◦ Education, Media, Govt. (McWhorter, Janse)
◦ Role of linguists, Research (McWhorter, Janse, Crystal)
◦ Hotspots and technology (Anderson, Harrison)
Multi-Process Model vs. Gradual Death
◦ More encompassing
◦ Supported by historical examples
◦ All of those mentioned by authors
◦ Historical Events, Socioeconomic, Sociopolitical
Revitalization and Consequences
◦ Education, Media, Technology, Govt., Linguists
◦ Question: Are these efforts necessary?
 If Language death is natural…Should it be stopped?
Anderson, Gregory and K. David Harrison. “Global Language Hotspots.”
Swarthmore.edu. 22 Oct. 2011.
Campbell, Lyle and Martha C. Muntzel. “The Structural Consequences of
Language Death.” Investigating Obsolescence: Studies in Language
Contraction and Death. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. University of
Hawaii. Web. 22 Sept. 2011. 181-195. <http.www2.hawaii.edu>.
Crystal, David. “Millennium Briefing: The Death of Language.” Prospect Nov.
1999: 56-59. DavidCrystal.com. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.
Janse, Mark. “Introduction.” Language Death and Language Maintenance.
Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2003. Academia.edu.
McWhorter, John C. “Most of the World’s Languages Went Extinct.” Making
Sense of Language. Ed. Susan D. Blum. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 192-205.
Mufwene, Salikoko S. "Language Birth and Death." Annual Review of
Anthropology. 33 (2004): 201-222. University of Chicago Humanities. Web.
22 Sept. 2011. <http://humanities.uchicago.edu>.