Sunday, December 7, 2014

Language Loss

Chloe Jones
chljones@pdx.edu













Loss of Languages Correlated to Loss of Biodiversity

I recently had a pretty self-centered realization. I was thinking about my blog post, reading about current happenings in the online world of biodiversity news, looking for something “interesting” that I wanted to write about. Then I realized that what I care about when it comes to biodiversity is…us. People. I care about how it affects us. I care about how harming biodiversity harms cultural diversity and history. While I strive to communicate the importance of biodiversity to my peers, I realized it is the interconnectedness of the outside world and the worlds we create that is interesting to me.

Then an article by John Vidal caught my eye: “Why We are Losing a World of Languages.” (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/why-we-are-losing-a-world-of-languages) I am kind of a language nerd and immediately was wondering about the link between biodiversity and language loss. Vidal writes about a recent study that shows a direct link between disappearing habitats and loss of languages. As the world becomes less natural, that is to say more technologically advanced, more “developed,” more urbanized, biodiversity declines as well as language diversity.

A Penn State article (http://news.psu.edu/story/149076/2012/05/08/endangered-species-languages-linked-high-biodiversity-regions) states that areas in the world with the most biodiversity are also the most linguistically diverse regions on the planet. Tropical forests compared to tundra or deserts have substantially more linguistic diversity. Vidal uses the example of New Guinea, which is the most linguistically diverse place in the world as well as a highly biologically diverse island.

So why does language loss matter?  From the Penn State article: “The languages we speak define how we think and understand the world.” I had an old language professor tell me that she was a different person when she spoke different languages, that each language she spoke was a different lover. I think a lot of people have that feeling. Languages are not just words, but represent entire cultures, lifestyles, traditions and history. So as massive urbanization and globalization increase, we are losing entire cultures that live alongside biodiversity. 40% of the world speaks at least one of eight languages: Mandarin, Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian and Japanese. Of 7,000 languages in the world, half have less than 10,000 speakers. This is the type of biodiversity loss that I understand and that feels really real to me. The disappearance of people’s history, culture is directly related to the loss of biodiversity. Vidal quotes a report in his article—“we are “eroding the differences between one part of the world and another.” Food for thought…


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