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The Language Is Not In Danger, The Nation Is
An article from Dar Al Hayat...

Ayoon Wa Azan (The Language Is Not In Danger, The Nation Is)

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that 2008 would be the International Year of Languages. Half the earth languages or 3,500 out of 7,000 are threatened with extinction, as I said yesterday, but Arabic is not one of them. It will continue to exist as long as there are Islam, Muslims, and the Koran.

The UNESCO promised to play a leading role in protecting languages after it had been entrusted with the task of coordinating activities relative to the year of languages. While I wish the organization success, I know that the task is very difficult since some languages are spoken but not written and do not have an alphabet. If the last speaker of such a language dies the language dies with him or her. I have read about a language called Amurdag, and the only surviving person known to speak that language is the native Australian Charlie Mangulda.

I was in Paris where I attended the celebration of the contribution made by Saudi Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz to improve the presence of the Arabic language in UNESCO. The discussion about languages led me to research on the subject. Last summer witnessed an uproar provoked by a study published by The National Geographic Society and The Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages. The study warned that half the world languages are in danger of extinction in a few generations. Should the readers need to learn more details, they can find them in the October issue of The National Geographic.

In brief, the study designates five areas in the world where languages are vanishing very quickly. These are northern Australia, central South America, North America's upper Pacific coastal zone, eastern Siberia, the State of Oklahoma, and the southwestern United States.

The danger of extinction is the other negative aspect of human progress. Languages are not the only thing under threat, but the risk is greater as it reaches a 50% rate. Threat also involves 5% of the fish, 8% of plants, and 11% of birds, and 18% of mammals.

How does a language erode? It might be easier to explain how it does not erode. If adults dedicate themselves to teaching their children their mother tongue, the language is not at risk. And if people distance themselves from their language, it soon dies. The question is why people distance themselves from their language or renounce it.

Experts have identified two major reasons. The first is that the speakers of a primitive or an old language speak two languages and the second language, let us say English, is a modern language whose mastery facilitates finding jobs. In this case, the parents choose to focus on the strong language to give their children better chances to achieve success in life. Hardly do two or three generations pass than the speakers of the language forget it. As for the second reason, it has to do with the integration by the weak or primitive language of words, expressions, and idioms from the dominant language. Thus, the first language is gradually lost amid the congestion of civilizations and due to its inability to provide the words required for modern living.

Once again I say that if the readers wish to have more details, they are available. At the beginning of the year I bought a book entitled When Languages Die: The Extinction of the World's Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge by K. David Harrison. The book is published by Oxford University Press, but I confess that I have not read it yet as I am focusing on vexing political books that I need to read owing to the job requirements. However, I had read a presentation on the book that made me request it. Like the study conducted subsequently, it warned of the extinction of indigenous languages in specific and very different areas of the world. The endangered languages exist in the Amazon Forest and in the arid snowy Siberian plateau.

Some languages are certainly endangered in the Arab World such as in west Africa and the Sudan. Yet, the Aramaic language that is still spoken in Saydnaya and neighboring villages in Syria is not endangered. This was the native language of Jesus who did not speak Hebrew. For this reason there will always be Christians speaking Aramaic and teaching their children how to protect it after them. Aramaic was used in The Passion of the Christ movie that was directed by actor Mel Gibson two years ago. The film aroused a great uproar in Jewish circles owing to some expressions used in it.

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The Language Is Not In Danger, The Nation Is - by yaaqub - 12-31-2007, 01:08 PM

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