- 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: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,840,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Language Death (Canto)
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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
Top customer reviews
The book started slowly for me: the first section is an argument in favor of language preservation, and a discussion of language death, and I found the arguments in favor of preservation to be a bit long and over-drawn. But then, I didn't need to be persuaded; I think language diversity is a good thing, and those not yet so convinced may need more work. But the book is overall well-done, well-written, and concise, and entertaining and thought-provoking as well.
An earlier reviewer (who's also a buddy of mine) suggested that the book gives insufficient credit to Bible translators in the job of language preservation. I'd suggest that Crystal may have a slight bias against Bible translators, especially when he refers to the work done by Bible translators as being biased. I might prefer describing it as narrowly-drawn, rather than biased.
But having said all this, the book handles a tough task in a easy to read manner, and gives a good introduction.
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.
Crystal's book is organized according to five questions. In the first chapter, "What is language death?", he introduces the problem of the increasing disappearance of most of the world's tongues and how they are classified. "Why should we care?", the second chapter, explains the loss we face in the disappearance of each language. Crystal counters myths about language diversity. The existance of so many languages, he notes, is actually good for the market, for instead of fouling up capitalism, it creates competitive advantages when company A decides to deal with a minority group in its own language while company B thinks everyone should just learn English and consequently loses business. He also dispells the old myth peddled around by the Esperanto movement that having a single world language would create peace on Earth--after all, the 20th century has seen some bloody civil wars in places where people speak the same language, Cambodia, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda...
"Why do languages die?" lays out how political oppression and globalization drives the disappearance of languages. One further cause that Crystal mentions, which I had never thought of before, is how the AIDS crisis in Africa will result in the death of myriad languages simply because all their speakers are dying. "Where do we begin?" recommends coordinated action, with both grassroots efforts to instill pride in one's native language combined with top-down government funding to finance traditional-language arts. "What can be done?" continues the previous chapter with a more long-range view.
If you find languages fascinating in the least bit, you should read LANGUAGE DEATH.