LINGUIST List 11.111

Fri Jan 21 2000

Disc: Species Extinctions

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristarlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Marc Hamann, Re: 11.100, Disc: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions
  2. whalen, Re: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions

Message 1: Re: 11.100, Disc: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 11:44:00 -0500
From: Marc Hamann <gmhberlove.com>
Subject: Re: 11.100, Disc: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions

>I am an ecologist who is married to a sociolinguist (with an interest in
>endangered languages) so we talk about linguistics and ecology. While at
>dinner the other evening, we spoke with some of my colleagues about the
>parallels between species and language and culture. What follows are a few
>propositions and questions that you might (or might not) like to comment on.


I think that the correlation which can currently be observed between
language and species extinction is indirect and represents a relationship
between the respective _causes_ of each phenomenon.

Species become extinct because their environment (including competitors)
changes such that their adaptations are no longer effective.

A language becomes extinct because the ethnic group either a) ceases to
exist or much more frequently b) assimilates linguistically to some other
ethnic group which offers some material advantage as a benefit of
membership. (see e.g. Wardhaugh 1988, "Languages in Competition")

In the current situation, it is the case that certain ethnic groups of
humans have developed certain technologies which offer them significant
advantages over those groups without. Thus many groups without consciously
or unconsciously assimilate linguistically to take advantage of those
benefits too.

Now it so happens that these beneficial technologies have the side-effect
of altering the environment in ways both beneficial and harmful to humans,
but which are almost wholly harmful to other species which rely on the same
environment. Hence massive species extinction wherever the technology goes.

Therefore the two types of extinction owe themselves to two different
aspects of the same set of technologies, even if in general they have
different causes.
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Message 2: Re: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2000 08:43:04 -0500
From: whalen <whalenlenny.haskins.yale.edu>
Subject: Re: Species Extinctions vs Language Extinctions

 Paul Klawinski brings up some interesting parallels between species 
extinction and language loss, but in my opinion, his assumptions got 
too specific. The basic commonality is isolation in a livable 
ecosystem. Klawinski focuses his attention on the recent loss in 
biodiversity, which can be tied to a levelling of ecosystems with the 
expansion of human intervention. Certainly earlier extinction periods 
were brought on by other factors. But the current loss in diversity 
in both fields does seem to be mostly due to movements and expansions 
of human populations (despite the common assumption that modern 
communication devices are largely responsible for language loss). The 
parallels between homogeneity in biological populations and in 
language systems is a topic that is less commonly explored.
 Doug Whalen DhW, President, Endangered Language Fund
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