When do voices vanish? Upon the death of languages....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/06/09 12:25 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/06/09/3186017.aspx

From down the hall, Jennifer Shepherd (yes, the person who did the cool graphic I talked about before) has recommended a book by K. David Harrison, entitled When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge.

I have to admit I was intrigued, especially when I saw that one of the dustcover pull-quotes was from Suzanne Romaine, herself a co-author of a book I have on my shelf from about seven years prior (written with Daniel Nettle) entitled Vanishing Voices: the extinction of the world's languages. Her pull-quote reads:

Harrison tackles the question of what is lost when a language dies from the vantage point of field studies with some of the few remaining speakers of endangered languages in Siberia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. When Languages Die reveals an astonishingly rich catalog of human intellectual heritage and scientific knowledge on the verge of disappearing as many of the world's small languages become extinct.

Since I enjoyed the previous book, I figured getting the new one after a recommendation from both someone I trust and someone I have previously heard from on the subject would be a good idea. It should be arriving this next week.

so this weekend I will re-read Vanishing Voices. It has been a few years since I read it last, though I think I have taken the odd quote from it for presentations now and again. But the context of that first book will be nice, I think, when looking at the new one.

And maybe when they are both read I can do a post or three about both of them. It should make for an interesting comparison/contrast, especially with the gap between them and the chance to see if any of the fears or aspirations of the first book have been or are being either further dashed or realized (even in the preface of Vanishing Voices they said "Although our story is a largely depressing one of cultural and linguistic meltdown in progress, we think the new millennium offers hope.")....

A fascinating topic that I am eager to overload on. :-)


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# Mike on 9 Jun 2007 3:39 PM:

David Crystal's earlier "Language Death" is a good read, and I've been meaning to take on Mark Abley's "Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages".

# K. David Harrison on 21 Jun 2007 6:39 PM:

Hi Michael,

Thanks to you (and your colleague Jennifer Shepherd) for your interest in language endangerment and for checking out my book "When Languages Die". I'd be very interested to hear your perspective on the language extinction crisis and how we might better leverage technology to avert it.

Best wishes,

K. David Harrison

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