On Language Murder

I posted last month about a dying language, and the problem of language death.

Well, it’s not just in the far reaches of northern India that they’re dying, or in the refugee communities of modern cities. We are also killing them off in our universities. The problem is not that a language will die (this is not really a problem for French or German), but the value our culture places on the ability to think in other languages–and, correspondingly, all that travels with this loss, among which one might list brain plasticity; a growth in political, economic, and cultural parochialism; and specifically for scholars of literature, a lack of understanding that the metaphors we think by, often subconsciously, are culturally contingent.

I have two connections to this here. The first is to commentary on the death of the language programs at SUNY Albany: here is commentary from the Chronicle (7 Nov. 2010), and here is commentary by Stanley Fish from The New York Times.

Second, here is a blog post by David Crystal mentioning two plays about endangered languages: one by Kamarra Bell Wykes called The Mother’s Tongue, and a second by Julia Cho entitled The Language Archive.

This is rapidly developing into a syllabus for a course on the subject. Does anyone know of a course (or a part of a course) that has made this a focus?


Author: Derrick Pitard

I teach medieval and early modern literature, the history of the language, introductions to literature, Latin, and writing at Slippery Rock University.

One thought on “On Language Murder”

  1. A friend in linguistics told me about taking a class in grad school on language decay and death, but it was about the mechanics — which linguistic aspects die first (lexicon, morphology, etc.), what numbers constitute sustainability, and so forth.

    It would be a great class — do it!

    Sometimes I’m tempted to rewrite all my catalog descriptions as “Topics in….” That way, Topics in HEL could focus on language death one semester and MEOSL (Middle English Open Syllable Lengthening) the next. [j/k about MEOSL, of course]

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