Losing out on languages

“Some languages are slowly becoming extinct because they gradually fall into disuse in society,” says professor

Gulf News

Extinct languages are described as those that are no longer in existence or have any speakers left. This could happen for many reasons, such as when a language is replaced by another due to globalisation.

Professor Ali Shehadeh, chair of the Department of Linguistics at the UAE University in Al Ain, sheds light on the topic of language extinction.

He said: “Some languages are slowly becoming extinct because they gradually fall into disuse in society, communication, mass media and education. Speakers of such languages, especially younger generations, gradually and increasingly start to use another more dominant language at the expense of their mother tongue. Over time, fewer and fewer speakers use these languages until they die out completely and become extinct. For example, in 2007 researchers found that there were only 18 people who spoke a language called Manchu in an isolated village in China, all over 80 years of age. When these people die, the Manchu language will become extinct.”

This slow process of extinction will impact identity and culture of the specific population of people.

Shehadeh said: “As we know language is closely associated with identity and culture. When one’s language is lost, part of his or her cultural identity is lost, too, including one’s traditions and customs. Such people will suffer cultural loss as a result of the loss of language, which consequently affects the demography and the human population as a whole.”

Apart from the human race, it also has a significant impact on history.

Shehadeh said: “History, literature and culture of any society or social group are typically written, recorded and preserved in the society’s or social group’s written or oral language. When the language of such society or social group becomes extinct, members of this society or social group lose contact, both physically and psychologically, with their relics including history, literature and culture. This results not just in the death of language, but also in the death of one’s tradition, literature and culture.

”Endangered dialects and language can be preserved in several ways. Two major ways to do so are by recognising, respecting and encouraging language diversity and language use in society, communication and the media as a whole and second, by prescribing and teaching endangered languages and dialects in the school curriculum, including the language schools, colleges and centres of learning.”

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