Linguistic Ecology: Language Change and Linguistic Imperialism in the Pacific Region

By Peter Mühlhäusler | Go to book overview

1

The changing linguistic ecology of the Pacific region

Ecology shows that a variety of forms is a prerequisite for biological survival. Monocultures are vulnerable and easily destroyed. Plurality in human ecology functions in the same way. One language in one nation does not bring about equity or harmony for the members or groups of that nation.

(Pattanayak 1988:380)


INTRODUCTION

This book is about linguistic heterogeneity, its decline and the costs of such decline and loss. It is also a book about the study of human languages and the inability of most practising linguists to understand what is happening around them, that their very object of study is disappearing at an alarming rate, that the transition from polylingualism to monolingualism is accelerating, and that the prospects of survival of traditional languages and forms of communication are very slim indeed. To be sure, there is a growing body of literature on topics such as language death, minority languages, language maintenance and standardization. However, in most instances documentation is available for the disappearance of European languages and dialects in Western Europe and North America rather than the loss of traditional non-European languages. Moreover, the approach in most studies is particularistic rather than ecological. The main thrust of this book is that an understanding of language death and ecological matters go hand in hand.

According to Haugen (1985), the ecology of language can be defined as ‘interactions between any given language and its language ecology may be defined as the study of environment’. The term ‘language ecology’, like ‘language family’, is a metaphor derived from the study of living beings. The view that one can study languages as one studies the interrelationship of organisms with and within their

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