Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | November 1, 2009

Babel 2.0?

Linguist and Columbia University professor John McWhorter, writing in World Affairs, wonders how devastated we really ought to be when a language dies, noting that by 2110, the 6,000 languages in use today are expected to number 600. Key quote:

At the end of the day, language death is, ironically, a symptom of people coming together. Globalization means hitherto isolated peoples migrating and sharing space. For them to do so and still maintain distinct languages across generations happens only amidst unusually tenacious self-isolation—such as that of the Amish—or brutal segregation.

And I love how he ends the piece (emphasis mine):

Would it be inherently evil if there were not 6,000 spoken languages but one? We must consider the question in its pure, logical essence, apart from particular associations with English and its history. Notice, for example, how the discomfort with the prospect in itself eases when you imagine the world’s language being, say, Eyak.

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