LANGUAGE VITALITY, ENDANGERMENT, AND LOSS
I favor an approach to language vitality, endangerment, and loss that is more consistent with my work on the ecology of language evolution. I argue that the same competition-and-selection factor that accounts for the restructuring and diversification of languages also determines whether a language thrives or becomes moribund and eventually dies. The action lies in speakers' speech acts, viz., what particular language varieties they prefer to speak under what specific ethnographic conditions. Eventually one must assess language choices from the point of view of how speakers adapt to ever-changing ecological conditions (especially their socio-economic systems) and costs and benefits to their lives. My slogan is that "languages do not kill languages, speakers do." They do not do so deliberately. Language loss is a consequence of a series of adaptive responses to changing ecologies, often despite strong attachments that the relevant speakers show to their heritage. If linguists want to revert present trends, they should understand the ecologies that roll the dice on the lives of languages, and they should determine whether these ecologies can be changed, how, and at what cost, and they should focus not on the relevance of languages to linguistics but rather on how the languages (can) help their speakers survive in the changing ecologies. Chapters 6 and 7 of my book The ecology of language evolution elaborate these positions.
See "Lost Tongues and the
Politics of Language Endangerment" at Fathom, the source for online
See "Languages don't kill languages; speakers do" at University of Chicago alumni magazine.
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