“Coming together” for language death

October 29, 2009

I am in Austin for CILLA IV, and I am looking forward to three full days of interesting talks on Latin American indigenous languages, especially Amazonian ones. Skimming the New York Times this morning I saw a brief mention of what seems like a rather odious article by John McWhorter about language loss here. Here is a brief quote from the article:

At the end of the day, language death is, ironically, a symptom of people coming together. Globalization means hitherto isolated peoples migrating and sharing space. For them to do so and still maintain distinct languages across generations happens only amidst unusually tenacious self-isolation—such as that of the Amish—or brutal segregation. (Jews did not speak Yiddish in order to revel in their diversity but because they lived in an apartheid society.) Crucially, it is black Americans, the Americans whose English is most distinct from that of the mainstream, who are the ones most likely to live separately from whites geographically and spiritually.

The alternative, it would seem, is indigenous groups left to live in isolation—complete with the maltreatment of women and lack of access to modern medicine and technology typical of such societies.

Language death is consequence of people “coming together”? In Amazonia, as in much of the world, language death has everything to do with genocide and political and economic oppression. Does that count as “coming together”?

I’m almost speechless. But I’m out of time for now.

One Response to ““Coming together” for language death”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    Correct. While “coming together” may be a good thing, repression & genocide are the norm between white & native in the Amazon. Friendship would move more towards bilingualism than flat-out language death.


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