Language is the human method of communication that is either written or spoken, and it involves use of symbols (sign language) and words in an agreed way. Language can either be referred to as Bad (crude, course and abusive) or Good (Polite, smooth and meaningful.) Language can be considered dead, extinct or language glottophagy.
Language death can be compared to person’s death because for a language to exist there must be natives who can speak the language thus make it exist and flourish. Language thus dies when nobody speaks it anymore. Language is only considered to be alive when there are people who communicate in it.
A language is considered dead even if there exists one native speaker who has nobody to communicate with in the said language. It becomes extinct when the final native speaker who may have never recorded or written the language down dies taking every trace of the existence of the language with him or her.
According to (David Crystal p.11) a Language is considered dead when it is no longer spoken by anyone. Despite continuing to exist in either written or recorded forms, unless the fluent speakers exist it will not be considered alive but dead. The death of a language can be in various manifestations.Gradual death is where a language dies a slow death with its native speakers dying and the new generation adopting another language that is not originally theirs. This may take many years to occur.
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The second type of language death is bottom-to –top, which is very common among the new generation that fails to learn and use their native language and hence as the eldest in the community die they slowly extinct the language.
Radical language death is yet another type of language death, this occurs when a dominant Language overtakes the native language. The best example is how the colonial masters imposed their languages on their colonies, notably in Africa and part of Europe.
Finally we have Linguicide, this is the sudden death of a language, this occurs when the speakers of a language are wiped out totally by war, famine or diseases.
What cause the death of a language?
Language death shouldn’t be mistaken for language attrition or loss which is attributed to the loss of proficiency in a language at the individual level. Several reasons have been brought forward in trying to explain the possible causes of language death or extinction in a society.
Language death may be as a result of Sociolinguistic reasons as they touch on how language is used in a community and the society as awhole.The second cause may be structural linguistics as it entails the language structure and its fuctionalibility.
Usually the two perimeters go hand in hand as the language that is not frequently used in various domains will automatically face the shrinking process. Consequently its structural and stylistic variations and complexities gradually become simplified or eroded to a level that is non-functional.
The death may occur because the t pool of speakers is declining rapidly in small numbers because the younger generation is not interested in learning how to speak it. Further still the spheres in which the language is spoken may have shrank so much that the language is no longer in regular use as a mode of communication in its native community.
The other cause may be the erosion and over simplification of the linguistic structure to an extent of it progressively becoming non functional. Another cause of language dead is its endangerment which is a continuum process, or a sliding scale with ‘safe’ and ‘dying’ languages on the opposite ends of the scale. Bobaljik et al (1996) defines this as that occurring when its speakers are no longer left within a few generations.
Relatively, language death may be as a result of pressures on the weaker languages by the stronger ones .As (Herman Batibo, 63) notes no naïve language speakers are willing to give up their language willingly. They consider language as not only a vehicle of cultural accumulation and transmission, a communication tool but also a symbol of ones expression and identity. Thus any speakers of weaker languages will give it all in the fight against the dominance by stronger languages a factor that may in the long run not hold in favor of the weak language hence its death.
Where does the process begin, and how is it carried out?
The process of language death can either begin as a slow gradual process by the members of that language dying off slowly or it by a dominate language putting pressure on weaker language and within a period wipes out the weaker language replacing it with its own. The best example is how the ‘Terit’ natives in Western Kenya are also becoming extinct because of the pressures from the ‘Maragoli’ and the ‘Tiriki’ on one side and the ‘Kalenjins’ and ‘Nandi’ on the other. Due to the economic and population dominance of the other Tribes over the ‘Terit’ has given them no option but to give up their language involuntarily hence facing extinction in the immediate future.
Another process can be termed to as bottom-up death where the language starts loosing popularity among the new Generation who no longer want to learn it and communicate in it. By so doing the language becomes extinct as the generation ages their offspring’s follow in their foot steps a factor that culminates into its eventual death.
Death of a language also begins from an outbreak of a disease, a war of a natural disaster and rapidly kills the members of one language speaking community wiping it out totally and hence its death and extinction. It has been reported (UNESCO report of 2005) that about five Indian subcontinent languages were irretrievably wiped out during the tsunami that obliterated islands in the Bay of Bengal early 2005.
What is lost when a language dies?
The demise of any language is a loss for all mankind, but most of all a loss for its speakers. When an animal becomes extinct we lose a species and when people die a generation is lost, but the major question is what do we lose when a language dies? The answer lies in Lipski’s explanation, “We lose richness of cultural diversity and identities of humanity’s linguistic heritage “The other major lose is to the affected natives of the dead language as they are deprived of their mother tongue by death of the language considered to be their mother tongue. On the other hand Hendrik Stuurnman grew up speaking KhoiKhoi in the South African Northwestern state. He felt like he had drunk milk from a strange woman and grown up alongside another person since he could not speak his mother tongue.
According to K.David Harrison he based his argument on the philosophical reasoning behind biodiversity. He talked about the greater the variety of animal and plants species the more enriched our lives are, this can be related to the language diversity in that the people who live around many cultures and languages tend to be more tolerant than those who don’t. Through his argument he noted that preserving linguistic diversity might be a factor in creating a more peaceful planet.
According to Nettle and Romaine is quoted saying, "each language has its own window on the world."This is true in that as much as one language can be translated other words in that language remain intact no matter how much you try no language can be used in the place of another.Noteably is the example that the English language borrows some words from other languages since they have no translation for them. It is true that different languages reflect different views (The Economist 2004)
We should care for endangered languages because “each language has its own window on the world” (The Economist 2004). Every language is a living museum, a monument to every culture it has been a vehicle to. It would be a loss to every one of us if a fraction of that diversity disappears when there is something that would have been done .Further still; every person has a right to his/her own language, to preserve it as a cultural resource and to transmit it to their children.
In conclusion, when a child is born it uses language to communicate its arrival to this world by crying. When it grows up it learns to communicate with the mother what it wants and later into adulthood language plays a key role in communication, interaction and socialization and thus the death of a language would mean an alteration in the natural process.
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