Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On the Extinction of Cultures

I found this story on the New York Times website, which if you haven't read is doing away with the Times Select feature which is fabulous news and makes me really happy, but it is a story about the World's Languages Dying Of. Here's the lede:
Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear in this century. In fact, they are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.

That's pretty frightening. The story goes on to say many of the languages being lost are aboriginal or tribal languages in such places as "Northern Australia, Central South America, North America’s upper Pacific coastal zone, Eastern Siberia and Oklahoma and Southwest United States." I guess it is kind of inevitable that in our world of disintegrating borders and globalization and increasing hegemony of the West that languages would die of,but it's still kind of sad because learning languages, the more obscure the better makes you feel like an expert and a part of some foreign and exotic land that only you have the entry visa into.
Also language is such a big part of culture that with the dying of these languages it also means that these cultures are becoming extinct as well. I remember a conversation I had in Rome with a couple of kids in my program who went to Trinity as we were around Campo dei Fiori (which is already incredibly touristy) and one of them was kind of complaining that the Italians didn't speak English and trying to convince us that the world and traveling would be so much better if everyone spoke the same language and we tried to convince him of how much of the charm and culture and history of a place would be lost in his perfect world and it sort of frightened me that there are people, college educated people at that, who would espouse such an ideal, which was a long long preface and set up to show this Get Fuzzy comic that I found this Sunday that reminded me of this type of view (here is a larger view if the one below doesn't blow your hair back)

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