Pros and Cons re Preserving Languages

Resty Cena

From Resty Cena ( comes this reminder about the pros and cons of preserving our languages:  “Just so we’re aware that there is another side to the story.” Cena, in the words of PEAC, is “an independent higher education professional doctorate from the University of Alberta and a linguistics professor at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. He is an accomplished author of numerous books and text books on Filipino Language and Culture. He is a strong advocate and believer on the modernism of the Tagalog Language.”

Cena was referring to an article, “Languages Are Vanishing:  So What?” written by Roy F. Baumeister published in Psychology Today, which is in response to an article in The Economist, “When Nobody Understands” written by Peter Austin from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

Let’s revisit Peter Austin‘s article (including comments):

Peter Austin

When nobody understands

The electronic age drives some languages out of existence, but can help save others

Marie Smith: no one to talk to

THINK of the solitude felt by Marie Smith before she died earlier this year in her native Alaska, at 89. She was the last person who knew the language of the Eyak people as a mother-tongue. Or imagine Ned Mandrell, who died in 1974—he was the last native speaker of Manx, similar to Irish and Scots Gaelic. Both these people had the comfort of being surrounded, some of the time, by enthusiasts who knew something precious was vanishing and tried to record and learn whatever they could of a vanishing tongue. In remote parts of the world, dozens more people are on the point of taking to their graves a system of communication that will never be recorded or reconstructed.

For the complete article, click on When Nobody Understands.

You may also check “When Languages Die“, a video interview of K. David Harrison who wrote the book of the same title.

Here’s Roy F. Baumeister‘s opposing view (including comments thereto):

Roy F. Baumeister

Languages Are Vanishing:  So What?

Most of the world’s seven thousand languages will no longer be spoken by the end of this century. So what? Should we moan, resist, or say “Good riddance!”? This post was stimulated by a story in the news magazine The Economist on the extinction of languages. It notes that 200 African languages have recently died and another 300 are endangered. In Southeast Asia, another 145 are on the verge of disappearing. And so forth.

Any loss can seem threatening, and so the knee-jerk reaction to warnings about languages is an urge to conserve them. The Economist article editorialized liberally, such as by saying the acceleration in the rate of language extinction is “alarming.”

For the complete article, click on Languages are vanishing so what?.

3 thoughts on “Pros and Cons re Preserving Languages

  1. The author [Roy F. Baumeister] is partly right, actually. Conserving/promoting all languages, even the about-to-die ones with three to ten speakers is kinda too idealistic, and it really doesn’t bother me that much as well if they die out.

    Here’s where the author went wrong: “The purpose of language is communication.”

    Language, because it’s part of culture, is also a SYMBOL of identity. As a symbol of identity, it implies a lot of things that extend beyond the mere communication purpose of language. National/ethnic pride is boosted when the language that SYMBOLIZES the nation is used, especially when these languages are alive and kicking, in spite of having smaller number of speakers compared to world languages. Hence, language has political and even economic dimensions, which the author has failed to see.

    And the author is going against nature. Having one language cannot be achieved. Even if English will eat up all other languages, dialects of it will form, and eventually evolve into separate mutually unintelligible languages.


  2. No sé por qué el gobierno filipino insiste en la enseñanza del inglés norteamericano. El español pone de inmediato al pueblo filipino en contacto con su pasado, es decir 400 años de cultura filhispana. Cuando uno da una vuelta por Manila se da cuenta que los nombres de barrios, calles, paseos, plazas etc… están en castellano. Además se palpa la cultura filhispana en los nombres y apellidos de la gente, en la cocina filipina, en los bailes etc…

  3. Google translates the above comment as follows:

    “Do not know why the Philippine government insists on the teaching of American English. The Spanish immediately puts the Filipino people in touch with their past, or 400 years of culture filhispana. When you give a tour of Manila realizes that the names of neighborhoods, streets, avenues, squares etc … are in Castilian. Furthermore filhispana culture is palpable in the names of people, Filipino cuisine, at dances etc…”

    “Spanish immediately puts the Filipino people in touch with their past, or 400 years of” is the operative thought in here. Filipinos, especially the so-called “nationalists” think of those 400 years as a poignant long past of being abused, oppressed, denigrated to the status of slaves who didn’t even deserve Spain teaching them Spanish ostensibly to keep them in the dark. (The Mexicans were treated differently and they were taught Spanish by their Spanish conquerors–and Spanish became their national language.) Compare that to the relatively shorter period of American colonization during which those same Americans tried their best to teach us English and everything else that is good or bad about America and the west, and you see what happened… As is clearly demonstrated here, language, given the status of an equal opportunity implement, is enormously powerful to impress and conquer the soul of a people…

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