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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.
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)
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.
Posted November 17, 2008