Linguistics

May 7, 2020
folder_opencategory: Literature

In his BBC News article of 18th February 2012, “Digital Tools ‘to Save Languages’”, Jonathan Amos notes that the world will lose about half of the spoken languages by the end of the century. He, however, states that technology can reverse the trend. He explains that social media are used by some tribes ‘to re-engage their young’ to learn their native languages. Some have applications and YouTube videos that ensure the original pronunciations and meanings are retained. Although globalization has been blamed for the eroding cultures, it can be used to give small languages a ‘global voice and a global audience’. Amos cites linguist Dr. David Harrison who helps to preserve endangered languages by creating talking dictionaries with native pronunciations. He has 8 dictionaries with ‘32,000 word entries in eight endangered languages’. His actions were motivated by his vanishing language that prompted him to create an online dictionary ‘recording 14,000 words’. Through other avenues such as Facebook, about 200 natives connect with each other and keep their language. Amos quotes Dr. Harrison who states that many languages ‘inevitably will be lost’, though digital platforms can still be used to save some. He argues that through maintaining languages and cultures, people retain more knowledge on nature than through scientific literature.

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The second article appeared on Survival concurred Amos’ work about extinction of some languages. The article, “You Can’t Google It and Get It Back” notes that the losses of languages today is ‘faster than they can be recorded’. It quotes examples of Eyak, once spoken Gulf of Alaska and Bo from Andaman Islands have lost their last fluent speaker in 2008 and 2010 respectively. The article argues that extinction of a language means the loss of ‘years of thoughts and ideas’. The article blames globalization on the extinction of these languages through infrastructural developments and adoption of other cultures and languages such as English and French. Like Amos, the article concurs that the loss of language leads to troubles with understanding nature. These languages are more endangered because they lack ‘any form of documentation’. The article also agrees that the Internet can be used to prolong the lives of these vanishing languages, and some of the infrastructures should be stopped and others reversed to retain the languages. It notes languages are full of ‘spiritual and social insights’, which are universally important.

Like the other two, Stephen Leonard’s article of September 2nd 2011 “Death by Monoculture” agrees about the massive loss of languages by 2100. Increased competition for resources and other factors will lead to a change in ‘sum of the world’s cultures’. The author argues that the environmental and cultural vulnerability ‘are interwoven’ due to the latter’s help to the people in understanding the former. Leonard blames the loss of languages on ‘globalization and consumerism’. Unlike the other two, Leonard’s article claims that technology might not be the cure for the dwindling languages because of their lack of focus because of few speakers of a particular language. Leonard says that technology can produce content in ‘top 50 languages maximum’. In order to effectively run consumerism, fewest languages are encouraged citing 95% of Internet content being generated in ‘just 12 languages’. In defending the extinction of languages, Leonard also argues that languages are ‘much more than a syntactic code’ because their loss equals destruction of ways of ‘conceptually framing things’. Through a language, people have a deep understanding on the environment as they can describe it in more than one way. Furthermore, the ability to speak a language does not equal the ability to speak it as a native. Losing a language leads to the loss of ‘orchestra of voices’ in which the intonations are made.

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Question at Issue

The three articles share a common stand that languages are slowly endangered and many face extinction with globalization being a key driver. The question then is: should the benefits of globalization be discarded in order to retain native cultures and languages? Globalization is a fairly new concept that has changed the face of the Earth. It has brought cultures together and has been instrumental in social and economic revolutions. The disappearance of languages is an undesired trend because of the values attached to them, but those that are getting extinct are only used by a few people. The concept of use-disuse is vital in the survival of features rendering something unimportant with little or no use. Despite many cumulative years of creation of languages and cultures, are they of any value if they only benefit a handful of people, or should people embrace trends that benefit masses?

The authors have strongly defended the need to retain as many languages as possible due to their invaluable benefits. They also agree that combining many cultures through globalization has accelerated the loss. While the first two agree that the Internet can be used as a tool to delay the loss, the third article argues that the Internet has no significant role in the trend. Notably, Leonard’s article fails to make any recommendation on how the trend of extinction of languages can be stopped, whilst the first two pointed at online dictionaries for these languages. Moreover, none of the articles has given a clear value of creating these dictionaries when there are, for example, only five members of the said native language. The three articles, further, give a view that globalization has eroded some of the languages since minority groups have lower bargaining power against projects such as infrastructure and land uses. Particularly, none of the three is highly optimistic about saving languages, but the use of the Internet can be applied to detain the erosion. Through the Internet, people can connect and keep together their languages irrespective of their geographical distances.

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Globalization is a phenomenon that is unlikely to change and has both its benefits and problems. The increased population and pressure on resources has led to the movement of people and changing ways of living. The hardest hit aspect of the social fabric is the culture as people are creating new mini cultures whenever they become to collaborate with their different backgrounds in order to live together. Pressure on land cannot allow native groups to continue enjoying their activities such as hunting and gathering, while the same land could be used to generate food for thousands. Such realities are hard to change or discard since they shape human behavior and possible compromises such as the common language.sappearing languages are weak and lowly significant in global and national spheres. Although they are rich in information and understanding of the environment, the same information would only be valuable to a few people, say fewer than 100. Instead of concentrating efforts on tens of people on a global scale, it would be more beneficial to spend resources on documenting information from the languages that affect larger numbers. In this regard, the world should be ready to lose small languages since they are only relevant to a small number and have little effect on the general understanding of the globalized world. The world cannot have thousands of applications for each of the languages. Moreover, globalization is too valuable trend to lose since economic empowerment has rendered it as such.

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