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Language Death (Canto)

4.4 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521012713
ISBN-10: 0521012716
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Gauging that half of the world's estimated 6000 languages are threatened with extinction in the next 100 years, Crystal (editor, Cambridge Encyclopedia) explains why this is problematic and what can be done about it. He analyzes statistics that indicate the number of dying languages, explains the physical and cultural pressures contributing to language death, and cites bi- and multilingualism as the key to maintaining linguistic diversity. He also appeals to multiculturalism, noting the unique contributions linguistic diversity makes to both the arts and the sciences. Moreover, Crystal provides six characteristics of successful language maintenance efforts, which ideally combine literacy and education with improving the economic and political standing of the minority-language community. This well-documented book serves best as a starting point for further research. Not listed in the bibliography are two related books also being published this year: in Vanishing Voices (LJ 6/15/00), Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine examine the current domination of a few languages and provide economic and ecological motivation to support linguistic diversity, while editor Joshua Fishman's forthcoming Can Threatened Languages Be Saved? (Multilingual Matters, 2000) contains case studies about a number of languages. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.DMarianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"His apparatus is remarkably useful and lucid. Especially valuable are his indexes of dialects, languages, language families, and ethnic groups...Language Death offers compact, profound, and easily accessible insights into the problem of linguistic extinction." Choice

Product Details

  • Series: Canto
  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 29, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521012716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521012713
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,243,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Crystal is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. He has written or edited over 100 books and published numerous articles for scholarly, professional, and general readerships, in fields ranging from forensic linguistics and ELT to the liturgy and Shakespeare. His many books include Words, Words, Words (OUP 2006) and The Fight for English (OUP 2006).

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Crystal has done a difficult job well: he has produced a scholarly book about the "death" of languages that is readable by non-linguists, but also useful to linguists. "Language death" means that the last speakers of a language die, leaving nobody alive who knows and uses the language.
Just as many people are actively involved in preserving species from extinction, Crystal argues that preserving languages is also important. He argues clearly and passionately for the value of every language, however small its population. Each language is part of mankind's intellectual accomplishment; as we lose each language, we lose some of our collective humanity.
I was disappointed that Crystal does not credit the work of missionaries in stimulating ethnic awareness and promoting literacy among many minority language groups, rather mentioning only cases where they have been detrimental to language use (though he does not document any such cases).
The book is highly readable, the topic is timely, the price is reasonable: read the book.
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Format: Paperback
I think that this is an extremely important book that should be read by politicians and concerned citizens in every country around the world. The mass extinction of languages that is occurring, and will continue to occur, from now on is a terrible tragedy in every respect. This book seeks to enlighten the reader by giving reasons why languages die, why people should be so concerned, and suggests ways to keep minority languages alive and well. The thought that more than 50% of the world's six thousand or so languages are going to die by the year 2100 should be enough to get many people motivated about preserving languages (and cultures), but the word needs to get out. That's why a book like this is so vitally important. Governments, as a general rule, need a good shove when it comes to projects like saving languages, which some cynics would dismiss as trivial or a luxury. The simple, straightforward manner in which this book is presented can be read and appreciated by anyone, not just linguists. What I liked very much about the book was that it never went overboard in blaming the so-called "language killers" like English, Spanish, Russian, Mandarin, and German. It offered concrete answers and laid a good portion of the blame on the people themselves, not just their oppressors. Incidentally, English is unique in that it is actually killing the other "language killers" in addition to minority languages, and (if current trends continue) may be the only language left on Earth by the year 2500!!
A book like this has a particular resonance for me because I have been studying Irish Gaelic for the last six months and I am determined to be fluent in the language within the next couple of years.
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Format: Paperback
This slim book is perhaps the best one in which to start reading about the danger of massive extinction of languages in our world.

The author, who claims to care much about this worrying issue despite admittedly never having spent longer periods in any endangered language environment, does a pretty good job systematically examining the causes of language death and what could be done to halt the process. He not only points out the fact that often communities themselves are to blame for not doing enough to pass on their native tongues to the following generation, but also examines what may have lead them to do so.

One shortcoming of the book is that very few actual "real-life" cases are mentioned to illustrate his points and breathe life into the subject, and those few cases that are mentioned only get a few lines - this leaves the text somewhat dry and academic.

He has also devoted one chapter to "Why should we care?", and as usual in books about this issue, that is where his writing is weakest. I found his arguments rather unconvincing, but also unnecessary - I personally don't feel the need to have practical arguments to care about preserving languages, which I think should be considered valuable in their own right.

A valuable extra in the book is the appendix listing organizations devoted to the preservation of endangered languages worldwide.
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Format: Paperback
I originally ordered this book because I was curious about extinct languages, people that decrypt and study them. None of it I've found in this book, which I don't regret since the book is about something more important. I would say this book focuses on social processes that make language death possible and makes many valid points on why it is bad. Indeed, a language dies only because people speaking it abandon it in favour of another language. And this they do because they abandon their culture in favour of a "domination culture". The book unveils how it's all tied together. Quite an eye-opener.
Eveything that Crystal writes about in this book will make perfect sense to anyone who lives away from home in a different country or just actively uses a second language in everyday life. Very insightful book. And the price is just a joke!
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