Monday Books: Hold Your Tongue, Language under Threat; Language Death by David Crystal. Cambridge University Press

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), December 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

Monday Books: Hold Your Tongue, Language under Threat; Language Death by David Crystal. Cambridge University Press


Byline: DAPHNE ABERNETHY

AUTHOR David Crystal looks at present and future threats to languages - and to what can be done to counter them.

His balanced approach, while a trifle unemotional, nonetheless provides a succinct overview with a good selection of examples and case studies, providing something for everyone interested in either linguistics or indigenous cultural survival.

Crystal begins by looking at the scale of the threat to minority languages.

There are debates over the definition of 'language' and estimates of the number of languages vary, but a figure somewhere around 6,000 seems to be accepted by many.

Perhaps more important is the distribition of speakers, with four per cent of languages accounting for 96 per cent of people and 25 per cent having fewer than 1,000 speakers.

As the book points out, there are different ways of classifying 'danger levels' to languages, but there is no doubt that a large number of languages face extinction in the immediate future, while in the longer-term even quite widely spoken languages may be in danger.

But why should we even care about language death?

Crystal presents five arguments: from the general value of diversity, from the value of languages as expressions of identity, as repositories of history, as part of the sum of human knowledge, and as interesting subjects in their own right.

Crystal inclues some thought-provoking details and quotes. …

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