Q&A Time: Why not let languages die?

And I know I just posted, but I wanted to respond to a question Andy asked in response to the post before that. It’s a question I get a lot, so I may as well make the answer accessible.

Andreo :

Why are you opposed to language death? I haven’t given it much thought, so I’m not sure how I feel about it. Languages change all the time, right? So what’s the big deal? Maybe we’ll all end up speaking major languages, minority ones will die out, and then in a few centuries, it’ll all split up again. Unless you’re into the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Then I could see the argument for preserving linguistic diversity.

I’m not into Sapir-Whorf, but linguistic diversity is still worth preserving.  There are linguistic phenomena which exist in only a few languages–if we allow them to die, we don’t get the opportunity to study those phenomena which could be key to helping us understand language as a whole.

I’m also opposed to language death because language is a big part of culture.  When a community loses its language, it’s never something they do by choice, and it’s not something they can give back. Sure, there’s economic power in speaking a national tongue, but is that worth losing the ability to appreciate your culture’s stories, poetry, songs, jokes, etc.? You’re always going to lose something in translation.

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