Could English 'Kill' Other Languages?

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Could English 'Kill' Other Languages?

At the recent TEDx conference in Beirut, Lebanon, activist Suzanne Talhouk delivered a speech, the first in Arabic at a TED conference. In it, she pleads with the gathered academics and creatives to not abandon their native language. She points out that language is not just a collection of words, but an expression of culture, one of the things that can make a group of people truly unique when compared to others. Talhouk worries that English is effortlessly becoming the world's default language, and sees English's invasion of Lebanese and Arabic culture as harmful to the rich history of the Lebanese people.

Around the world, billions of people are learning English, sometimes at the expense of learning the nuances and unique attributes of their native tongue. The meteoric rise of the United States and Western culture in general has made English into not just a way to get ahead in the world, but in some cases, it seems to many to be the only way to lead themselves out of the poverty or instability of their home country. Talhouk sees this spread of English in favor of one's native tongue as a cultural homogenization, a true loss that, in the end, makes everyone worse off.

In literature, works translated into English are read widely around the world. But, once translated, does a book lose some part of its author's original intent? Is English killing other languages?

Sean May

News by Sean May

Sean May is, among other things, an author, journalist, graphic designer, video game fanatic and feared but charming space pirate (one of those isn't true, but which one?). His fiction work has appeared in Crimefactory and other publications, and his music journalism can be found at Has It Leaked?. His novella, The Case, and a short story collection, Crimewave, can be found on Kindle. Sean lives in Carmel, IN with his wife and a cat.

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Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 8, 2014 - 1:12pm

She doesn't make much of a case as to why it should be saved.

konzill's picture
konzill from Sydney is reading Writing the Natural Way January 8, 2014 - 7:28pm

Yet as a native English speaker. I'm happy to call a Croissant a Croissant, not a crescent shaped bun made of layered yeast dough. And call Sushi, Sushi, not a cold rice square with raw fish.  So why can't she ask for a menu (which is originally a French word, not an English one), is there no way to incorporate a foreign word into an Arabic sentence?

She says that the only way to kill a nation is to kill its language. I can think of many nations that don't have their own language at all, or share their language in whole or in part with a bunch of other nations. Indeed the countries that guard their language so stridently are in the minority, not the majority. And even where there is a ministry of language the general public ignore and laugh at them more often then they obey them. 

I kind of lost interest at that point, and stopped watching. 

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 8, 2014 - 8:49pm

Cree and Inuktitut are making a comeback in Canada - they were actively marginalized with the whole colonization thing, but with the help of the Internet, communities are once again asserting themselves. Then there's the whole issue with Quebec.

That's not to dismiss the languages that have been lost in the course of colonization. Nor to ignore that Vancouver's majority is now Chinese.

English is the de facto language for business and high tech, but it won't do you a whole lot of good in Japan.

Vincent Morgan's picture
Vincent Morgan from BC is reading Russia's Last Gasp January 8, 2014 - 10:25pm

My family came from the Rhondda Valley in Wales, and my father spoke Welsh flunently.

He moved to England and and then to Canada, and while he taught me a few Welsh words always took the position that that there was no point in learning what he viewed as an irrelevant and dying language. While I admire/envy anyone who can speak another language, I think that Dad had it right.

India and China are on their way to becoming the world's largest English speaking countries. English is now the world's language and there's no going back.    

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 9, 2014 - 6:18am

Vincent, I appreciate your experience and opinion, but the words "there's no going back" raise flags for me. Who knows where we will be in years to come. Maybe we'll communicate via music.

 

"I can't believe he F-flatted me!"

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated January 10, 2014 - 6:37am

Even if things change, that isn't going back.  Everyone on the other side of this just sort of assumes that other languages being alive and used, and the cultures that they support being active, is a good thing by default, they never make a case for it.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 10, 2014 - 12:24pm

the case of mutual-symbiosis being healthier for all those involved. A language is a way of framing the way one thinks about the world, and how one thinks. Apparently Inuit languages are better equipped to discuss quantum phenomena than, say, English, due to the way the words frame the idea of time (or don't frame it).

Monoculture needs to have a case made for it. Otherwise, what are all those complainers in Quebec bitching about? They should just learn English and get with the program.

postpomo's picture
postpomo from Canada is reading words words words January 10, 2014 - 12:25pm

Plus, I have heard a few US Americans in Florida complain vehemently when the VRU addresses them in Spanish before English. Somehow, people are tied to their maternal languages. Funny that.

Flaminia Ferina's picture
Flaminia Ferina from Umbria is reading stuff January 12, 2014 - 8:04am

Somehow, people are tied to their maternal languages. Funny that.

Yes. There is no way a hegemonic -- fixed -- set of English will ever be able to colonize the whole linguistic realm, the same way no hegemonic set of Latin has been. Latin contributed to new hybrid languages, then died its death no matter how hard it got pushed everywhere in and around Europe. 

We still carry the good old Latin morphemes in speech and writing though, and those of other ancient languages. 

Language is something alive. It moves. It breathes. It mates. The words chemistry, orange, sugar are of Arabic origin. For instance. Many Arabic words are of uncertain origin. 

And if we must worry, the dialects of genocided tribes are dying -- not mega languages like English, Spanish, and Arabic.