Language Death

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The rapid endangerment and death of many minority languages across the world is a matter of widespread concern, not only among linguists and anthropologists but among all interested in the issues of cultural identity in an increasingly globalized culture. A leading commentator and popular writer on langauge issues, David Crystal asks the fundamental question, "Why is language death so important?", reviews the reason for the current crisis, and investigates what is being done to reduce its impact. By some counts, only 600 of the 6,000 or so languages in the world are "safe" from the threat of extinction. By some reckonings, the world will, by the end of the twenty-first century, be dominated by a small number of major languages. Language Death provides a stimulating and accessible account of this alarming trend, which, like the large-scale destruction of the environment, is both peculiarly modern and increasingly global. Language Death includes intelligent argument and moving descriptions of the decline and demise of particular languages, as well as practical advise for anyone interested in pursuing the subject further. David Crystal is a leading authority on language, and author of many books, including most recently Language and the Internet, (Cambridge, 2001). He is author or editor of several other books with Cambridge, including the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1997), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995), English as a Global Langauge (1997), Language Death (2000); and Words on Words (University of Chicago, 2000). An internationally renowned writer, journal editor, lecturer and braodcaster, he received an Order of the British Empire in 1995 for his services to the English language.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"His apparatus is remarkably useful and lucid. Especially valuable are his indexes of dialects, languages, language families, and ethnic groups...Language Death offers compact, profound, and easily accessible insights into the problem of linguistic extinction." Choice
New Yorker
"Not quite the Greek you taught me," wrote Michael Ventris to his old classics teacher after decoding an ancient Aegean script that had baffled experts for years. In The Man Who Deciphered Linear B, Andrew Robinson narrates the short, brilliant career of a self-effacing amateur, an architect who spoke at least ten languages and learned Swedish in two weeks. In Lost LanguagesRobinson places Ventris's work alongside two other famous decipherments -- that of Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone and the ongoing decipherment of outrageously complex Mayan glyphs -- before moving on to ancient scripts that have yet to be cracked, including Rongorongo, a script from Easter Island that looks as if Keith Haring might have designed it. Undeciphered scripts, one veteran of the field says, are "powerful kook attractors," while another cautions that "the simplest, most mundane and least surprising explanation of any inscription, is likely to be the correct one."

The reasons a language gets written down in the first place seem to vary. In the Mediterranean, says Andrew Dalby in his Dictionary of Languages the impetus was a need for reliable accounting. Bookkeeping, in other words, preceded books. However, David Crystal warns in Language Death that "when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been." Many scholars believe that the coming century will see the death of half of the six thousand or so languages currently spoken -- about one language every two weeks. Crystal's most piquant insight into the problem comes in a South African taxi whose driver speaks all eleven of his country's official languages but whose chief ambition is "to earn enough to enable all his children to learn English." (Leo Carey)

Library Journal
Gauging that half of the world's estimated 6000 languages are threatened with extinction in the next 100 years, Crystal (editor, Cambridge Encyclopedia) explains why this is problematic and what can be done about it. He analyzes statistics that indicate the number of dying languages, explains the physical and cultural pressures contributing to language death, and cites bi- and multilingualism as the key to maintaining linguistic diversity. He also appeals to multiculturalism, noting the unique contributions linguistic diversity makes to both the arts and the sciences. Moreover, Crystal provides six characteristics of successful language maintenance efforts, which ideally combine literacy and education with improving the economic and political standing of the minority-language community. This well-documented book serves best as a starting point for further research. Not listed in the bibliography are two related books also being published this year: in Vanishing Voices (LJ 6/15/00), Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine examine the current domination of a few languages and provide economic and ecological motivation to support linguistic diversity, while editor Joshua Fishman's forthcoming Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? (Multilingual Matters, 2000) contains case studies about a number of languages. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.--Marianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521012713
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Series: Canto Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 210
  • Sales rank: 1,543,291
  • Product dimensions: 5.51 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.47 (d)

Meet the Author

David Crystal is one of the world's foremost authorities on language, and as editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia database has used the Internet for research purposes from its earliest manifestations. His work for the technology company AND Classification Data Limited has involved him in the development of an information classification system with several Internet applications and he has extensive professional experience of Web issues. Professor Crystal is author of the hugely successful Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language (1987; Second Edition 1997), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (1995), English as a Global Language (1997), Language Death (2000) and Language and the Internet (2001). An internationally renowned writer, journal editor, lecturer and broadcaster, he received an OBE in 1995 for his services to the study and teaching of language. His edited books include The Cambridge Encyclopedia (1990; Second Edition 1994; Third Edition 1997; Fourth Edition 2000), The Cambridge Paperback Encyclopedia (1993; Second Edition 1995; Third Edition 1999), The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia (1994; Second Edition 1997) and The Cambridge Factfinder (1994; Second Edition 1997; Third Edition 1998; Fourth Edition 2000).
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Table of Contents

Preface; 1. What is language death?; 2. Why should we care?; 3. Why does languages die?; 4. Where do we begin?; 5. What can be done?; List of organisations; Further reading; Index of languages; Subject index.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 17, 2008

    A smash

    David Crystal's Language Death is persuasive and winning!<BR/>Easy read, I would also recommend Crystal's other books!

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