Re: Saving the ethnosphere

From: William Benzon (
Date: Mon Apr 29 2002 - 22:35:00 BST

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    Subject: Re: Saving the ethnosphere  
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    on 4/29/02 2:33 PM, Lawrence DeBivort at wrote:

    > "Mindless fool"?
    > I think Philip is referring to the preservation of obsolescing languages,
    > William, not the destruction of human beings and their habitats.

    Well, he just stuck a broad general comment at the head of an article that
    talked about, among other things, "the destruction of human beings and their
    habitats" -- as you put it. He didn't say anything to disapprove of that.
    But he did casually refer to "redundant languages" and "superfluous
    languages" just as you refer to "obsolescing languages," terms not used or
    defined in the original article. Mr. Jonkers didn't provide definitions of
    those terms, nor have you of yours. As far as I know, these are not
    standard terms in any academic discipline. So, how are these notions
    defined? Who determines which languages are redundant or obsolete and
    what's the criterion? Languages evolve, they change, but obsolesce....?

    I'd considered the possibility that Mr. Jonkers made his comment without
    having read much more than the title of the argument. But, if so, that
    hardly absolves him of making a mindless comment. OTOH, your comment seems
    quite deliberate.

    > Agree or
    > disagree with it, he offers an interesting POV, not a mindless or a foolish
    > one.
    > I know a language that has now become extinct. I like it aesthetically, but
    > don't think that it has diminished human capacities to have lost it.

    If you know the language, then it's not quite extinct. It may not be a
    living language in the sense of being spoken a written today, but it exists
    in the form of texts and perhaps grammar books.

    That article was talking about languages and ways of life which may well
    disappear from the face of the earth without leaving a trace. No written
    texts -- not even a Bible translated into the language -- no reference
    grammars, no recordings of music, no films or video tapes of rituals, no
    photographs of dwellings, nothing.

    > The
    > descendants of the people who spoke it are alive and flourishing, and view
    > the lost language as an historical curiosity -- not a catastrophe.

    What about the people who see their world dying, who know that, when they
    get old, there won't be anyone around to speak their native tongue? I'm not
    particularly concerned about their descendents 100 years from now. I'm
    concerned about them, now.

    You and Mr. Jonkers seem to dismiss those living people entirely. Instead
    he talks of a "natural process in an environment with progressive global
    communication" as though this process were as utterly beyond human influence
    as the motions of the stars. You both seem to have completely lost sight of
    the people who speak these languages. As far as you're concerned, they're
    just part of this natural process, losers in the natural evolution of the

    One consequence of this way of thinking is that you give tacit approval to a
    morality of might makes right. "Let progress roll over them like waves on
    the beach. In 5 or 10 years they'll be forgotten. Who cares, it's all
    natural." That's what you seem to be saying.

    I stand by my original comment.

    Bill Benzon

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