LINGUIST List 14.1553

Sun Jun 1 2003

Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Mike Maxwell, Re: 14.1550, Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages
  2. John Limber, Re: 14.1538, Disc: New: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages
  3. M.L. Souag, Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages / New Languages?

Message 1: Re: 14.1550, Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages

Date: Sat, 31 May 2003 12:59:45 -0400
From: Mike Maxwell <Mike_Maxwellsil.org>
Subject: Re: 14.1550, Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages

There are so many errors of fact in this NYT article that a
point-by-point rebuttal would probably be longer than the original
essay. I won't attempt that here, but I will comment on one point.

In the context of the notion that language extinction is not permanent
because languages can be revived, no language can be brought back unless
it has been documented, where documentation includes large amounts of
text, grammatical and lexical analysis, audio recordings (or at the very
least detailed phonological analysis). Very few languages are
documented to that extent today, and few if any of them are endangered
languages. Most endangered languages are not documented _at all_.

 Mike Maxwell
 Linguistic Data Consortium
 maxwellldc.upenn.edu
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Message 2: Re: 14.1538, Disc: New: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages

Date: Sat, 31 May 2003 13:02:50 -0400
From: John Limber <limberattbi.com>
Subject: Re: 14.1538, Disc: New: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages

Speculation about the the parallel between species and languages goes
back at least to Leibniz (Waterman 1978). And it may well be that the
parallel between the panda and Ubykh is even closer than suggested in
this discussion so far. Panda's are in trouble because their
traditional environment for food and sex is changing and pandas'
behavior is not. Ubykh was in trouble because, unlike pandas,
the traditional Ubykh speakers apparently felt that as times change
- like it or not, another language would be more adaptive.

Linguists might -- like it or not -- consider whether something about
Ubykh itself led to its demise in modern human environments--
possibly its more than seventy consonants? Imagine a two year old
singing the Ubykh alphabet song--would they ever get to
"LLLMMNPPPP?"

Psychologists since (Ebbinghaus 1885/1913) have known that
phonological encoding is among the more basic cognitive processes and
that specific codes lead to specific outcomes in working
memory. Articulatory issues impact schoolchildren's reading and
mathematical capacities. It does not stretch the imagination to
consider that different languages might impact these cognitive
processes differently--if in nothing more than computational
"overhead" in mapping phonological neighborhoods of their mental
lexicons. Could Ubykh have choked to death on its own consonants?

Probably as I write, someone is preparing yet another comparative
neurolinguistic study contrasting blood flow, caloric uptake, oxygen
usage or whatever between speakers of one language or another while
encoding their language. Such comparative questions can be now be
addressed directly. Differences may be small but in terms of
reproductive fitness it may not take much advantage for one species to
replace another when environments change.

Ebbinghaus, H. (1885/1913). Memory: A contribution to experimental
psychology. New York, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Garlock, V. M., A. C. Walley, et al. (2002). "Age-of-acquisition, word
frequency, and neighborhood density effects on spoken word recognition
by children and adults." Journal of Memory and Language 45: 468-492.

Paulesu, E. et al. (2001). "Dyslexia: Cultural diversity and biological
unity." Science 291: 2165-2167.

Waterman, J. T. (1978). Leibniz and Ludolf on Things Linguistic:
Excerpts from Their Correspondence. Berkelely, University of
California Press.

http://www.evertype.com/alphabets/tevfik.html


John Limber
Department of Psychology
University of New Hampshire
10 Library Way, Durham, NH 03824-3567
Course info at:
http://pubpages.unh.edu/~jel
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Message 3: Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages / New Languages?

Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 10:40:13 +0100 (BST)
From: M.L. Souag <mls33hermes.cam.ac.uk>
Subject: Disc: NYT Essay on Endangered Languages / New Languages?

Tom Pullman quotes Andrew Dalby:

''Unlike other, earlier world languages, modern English will never
split off into distinct parallel forms, as the Romance languages
evolved from Latin. For a new language to emerge requires a degree of
cultural isolation, or at least independence, that has become
impossible. The world is simply too interconnected, by global
technology and a global economy, to think in new words.''

I would be curious to know whether other linguists' experience
supports this or not. In particular, I get the impression that when
the substantial majority of a country's population speak a mostly
unwritten language, as in the Arab world's "dialects", or Hong Kong,
or several African countries, that language is likely to change
extremely fast. In Algeria, for instance, dialectal poetry of two
generations ago is already difficult for younger speakers to
understand, not because the language has shifted to some more
standardized form but because its vocabulary has extensively borrowed
from French and standard Arabic and its grammar has changed in several
respects. If this is true generally, then we could have a variety of
new languages to look forward to, even assuming that present trends
continue.

Lameen Souag
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