Monday, January 26, 2009
My favorite Xmas present:
This book , edited by Peter K. Austin.
My interest in language was sparked by encountering so many different cultures in Spain and now I'm afraid I love linguistics. It sounds so boring, doesn't it? Language math?
But this encyclopedia of language makes it incredibly interesting. I love all the infographics and photos. The book, divided into 11 sections, organizes the languages by number of speakers and region. There are also sections on endangered and extinct languages.
I've come across some very interesting issues in this book. For example, did you know that some languages utilize whistling? It is in a hunting community and the hunters use whistles so as to not scare off their prey. But they aren't just whistling a few words, they can hold entire conversations!
In our globalized world, we have more and more exposure to other cultures. My experience has been a good one, but globalization may also lead to language loss. Not that languages haven't died out before, but it becomes increasingly more important for people to know a common language.
Take the sherpas of Nepal, for example. A few decades ago (or more), they wouldn't have any need to speak anything except their native one. Now with climbing tourism, it is probably more and more important for them to learn a language the tourists speak. While I whole-heartedly believe in learning multiple languages if you have the opportunity, the loss comes when generations cease to pass down their native language. Take for example Soma Devi Dura, a nepali woman, who is the last remaining speaker of her native language.
I believe each language reflects its culture in a detailed way that a foreign language can never perfectly match. Therefore, each language that goes extinct represents the death of a culture.
Most spoken languages:
Chinese (Mandarin): 1,055 million speakers
English: 760 million speakers
Hindi: 490 million speakers
Spanish: 417 million speakers
Russian: 277 million speakers
Some less spoken languages:
Bole: 300,000 speakers (native to Nigeria)
Emberá: 80,000 speakers (native to Panama & Colombia)
Kriol: 24,000 speakers (native to northern Australia)
Kickapoo: 250 speakers (native to Americas, speakers now live in Mexico)
Gong: 100 speakers (native to the same-named people group of Thailand)
(all language facts from the afore mentioned book)