Monday, May 05, 2014

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages

Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages Mark Abley

Abley starts in Australia, then travels to Oklahoma, the Isle of Man, Provence, Wales, and then New York, looking at minority languages that are in danger of dying out, and what people are trying to do in order to save them (with varying degrees of success.)

Along the way, he provides a potent argument for the role a language plays in culture and why keeping the small, endangered languages alive is important. (His argument is compelling enough that I personally feel it broadens out well as to why it’s important to learn another language-- not just for trade or commerce, but as a way to provide another way of looking at the world.)

Abley’s not a linguist, and I know that some of this book irks actual linguists and scholars in the field, but I think his non-expert approach really works in making the subject accessible to non-expert readers.

My main complaint is that it’s fairly European/North American-centric. While other areas of the world are touched on, I think it would have been stronger to look at other areas of the world more in-depth.

Parts of it are heart-breaking as languages and cultures die, stamped out by English and other dominant forces. But the things people are doing to try to save their language were inspiring, and, of course, we can always look to Wales and Israel to see how a dead language can come back.

Language death isn’t something one often thinks about, but it’s becoming more and more of an issue, and as a language dies, so much dies with it.

Book Provided by... my local library

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