It is projected that between 50 and 90 percent of all languages spoken today will become extinct by the year 2100.
“What’s the big deal?” some people ask. “It’s not as if minority language speakers will suddenly not be able to communicate. Languages like Spanish or English or Chinese are better economically anyway.”
This line of thought is perplexing to me. Other animals exhibit empathy, tool use, even some elements of culture. Out of the vastness of the universe, only one species has demonstrated the ability to use language. It seems we have an instinct for language, something no other creature possesses. This instinct has pushed us to create something rich, colorful, and infinitely diverse.
And yet there are people who think this amazingly colorful, unique element of humanity is worthless.
This is something I posted on Duolingo:
Usually indigenous languages die because of racism, imperialism, and related dystopian issues. Communities rarely [if ever?] intentionally give up their languages because language is part of their culture – they are often forced to give up their language. For example, in residential schools, kids were punished for speaking their language and the result was they were afraid to ever speak it, even to their own children when they became adults. Some indigenous groups consider their language sacred, a literal gift from the heavens, so imagine the pain of not being able to speak it, either because you don’t know it or because you will be punished for speaking it.
I think this is one of the major reasons to support language revitalization – to help heal communities.
I think most minority language speakers would rather their children be bilingual than to just let their language die.
For people who speak English as their mothertongue, they may not understand what it is like to speak a language that is closely tied to one’s ethnicity, history, land, or culture. And I think that is why a lot of native English speakers ask questions like “Why not just let minority languages die?”
It is easy to underestimate the power of language.