The death and life of languages
February 21, 2012 11:32 PM Subscribe
Help me sort out the best way to approach language preservation, as an academic interest and as a guideline for volunteer work.
posted by mammary16 to writing & language (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I understand this is a very complicated topic, and that there are multiple ways to approach this. I am a consultant working in language education, and am interested in volunteering / starting projects related to language preservation. I am very new to this field, so I don't know who the big players are, what the big struggles are, and the best way to go about my research. I have a few questions I was hoping the community could help me with, as I know there are many skilled and intelligent linguists on this site.
One thing I'm curious about is the many different approaches to language preservation. It seems to me there are a few reasons to try to preserve endangered languages, for example:
1. to preserve cognitive diversity, i.e. the 'ethnosphere'
2. to preserve cultural identity (which is a very politically charged area, as it is tied to notions of nationhood fex. Kurdish language)
Hoping that the mefi community can make some suggestions re:
- books / resources on language preservation
- big names in the field
- major initiatives at universities
- online efforts (w/r/t to materials development and online education in general)
- start-ups / initiatives
- regions where this is a particular concern
I'm interested in resources that are very applied in nature (i.e. not something like 'The Death and Life of Languages', which I read and enjoyed). Also interested in a Pareto approach to the problem (applying 20% of effort to achieve 80% of effect).
As an exercise, I requested the endangered language databank from UNESCO (who were kind to oblige) and have been making some analyses. Would be great to identify 10 languages as a start (for developing some sort of online platform, open educational resources, etc.) -- of course that decision is highly subjective, but am curious to hear what the community's opinions are on which languages could really use a boost.
From one perspective, English education (and other world languages like Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesian, Spanish, etc.) is a benefit to development; for many people learning a world language can be a lift out of poverty. I'd be interested in counter-arguments, or examples where language preservation contributes to development.
There are strong demographic / economic / historical forces involved in language death but I would love to contribute to stemming the tide in some way.
In case I seem like someone wanting to interfere in a delicate process (without sufficient background or skills) my interest is not just in assisting with projects / volunteering but also on the possible degree programs being offered, the leading academics, institutions, etc. Also, I am interested in assisting organic efforts to preserve languages (i.e. by the communities actually affected), providing assistance with technology and materials development.
I'm planning to speak to academic departments about this issue but am also curious to hear a variety of perspectives (hence, Metafilter!).
I apologise for the broad nature of this question, and am thankful in advance for any pointers. Thanks y'all.