Guest editorial |

Guest editorial

Languages should not be allowed to disappear

Leila Brickley, McPolin Elementary student

Have you ever thought about what would happen if suddenly, no one spoke English anymore? How about Spanish? German? Mandarin?

This is a real thing for many people in the world, whose languages are on the brink of extinction. To give you some idea of why we should save these rural dialects, let’s consider globalization, experts, and people with firsthand experience in language death.

Globalization and urbanization are common causes of languages extinction around the globe. Major world languages (common speech for business and communications) are not only widely used, but are the languages to speak if you want success. Many children from rural areas move to the cities to get jobs and support their family, and using a tribal language isn’t useful. (John McWhorter, Mar 21 2017). In some cases, parents don’t even teach their children their own first tongue. Since that language is widely unknown, knowing it won’t benefit the child’s future. In this case, parents and grandparents keep their language to themselves. This is how endangered languages start circling the earth. As researched using Google, language types are, “Severely endangered – language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves. Critically endangered – the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently.”

This is a topic of much debate among language professors and linguists. According to multiple experts, languages are a symbol of both innovation and individualism. They represent different ways of thinking. For example, in Russian, there is a different word for light blue and dark blue. In studies, Russians have proven 124 milliseconds faster than Americans on recognizing light blue versus dark blue, as they have practiced their entire life in specifying color shades. Languages also represent community. Having a language all to themselves is a special symbol of community and culture. American Jews who speak Yiddish are, in most cases, a tighter knit community than Jews who do not speak Hebrew or Yiddish. A language is not an essential part of a culture, but most would argue that it is a beneficial part. American Indianism would be much more common and visible today if they still had most of their languages.

However, there are some differing opinions. Mr. Kevin Malik of IO Labs says “And when governments try to prop languages up, it shows a desire to cling to the past rather than move forwards.” Trying to bring back the past has been shown to be a fatal mistake of many governments. This whole article supports the idea that language death is a part of the world and its timeline. Dying languages have been a large part of history, but don’t you think we should at least try to protect them?

There are many elderly people who are the last person speaking their dialect; when they die, the language will as well. One such person is Doris McLemore, the last known speaker of the Wichita language, an Indian dialect. She died on August 30th, 2016, taking the language with her. She recently said, “I would like for the children to know how the Wichita language sounded.” She dedicated 40 years of her life to preserving and archiving Wichita.

Another last-language-speaker is John Steckley, who speaks the Iroquoian language Wyandot. His Wyandot name is Tehaondechoren. He recently completed the first Huron-English dictionary to be published in 250 years.

Now, look around you, at the people of Park City. Look at our signs on the highway, featuring many different languages. Think about our dual immersion schools, educating children to be multilingual. Do you have a neighbor next door who talks like a tongue twister? Or a colleague, communicating in a way you’ve never heard before? Talk to them. Find out a little about their language, their country, and their culture. Learn a little of the knowledge that this person has to offer. Read some books on that language. Try a few words. When you do, you are preserving centuries of culture.

Endangered languages need to be saved. They are an essential part of our culture and history of the world. When a language is lost, we lose the thoughts of people who have thought in that language for centuries. People from Greece and Rome, Vietnam and Yugoslavia all have thoughts. Thoughts about the sun and moon, friends and pets, math and writing. All together, languages are the very thing that make us all human.

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