RE: Saving the ethnosphere

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Mon Apr 29 2002 - 23:34:48 BST

  • Next message: Lawrence DeBivort: "RE: memetics-digest V1 #1031"

    Received: by id XAA15545 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Mon, 29 Apr 2002 23:39:27 +0100
    From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
    To: <>
    Subject: RE: Saving the ethnosphere  
    Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 18:34:48 -0400
    Message-ID: <>
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
    X-Priority: 3 (Normal)
    X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
    X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
    In-Reply-To: <>
    X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.00.2919.6700
    Importance: Normal
    Precedence: bulk

    Bill, you jump to so many assumptions that I am not even going to try and
    pull it apart for you.

    As for definitions: "obsolescence" is a standard concept in both systems
    analysis and living systems theory, to name only two academic disciplines.
    If that is not sufficient, any decent dictionary will define the term for

    Philip, I think, is talking only about obsolescing languages, as I did. How
    you get from there to 'might makes right' is beyond me. I am sure you will
    try and establish the connection for us... It might be more useful for you
    to say what YOU mean, rather than put words, and ideas, and indeed, entirely
    different fields of inquiry into the mouths of others. It sounds like you
    have a chip on your shoulder, and that it has little to do with what Philip
    or I said.

    You are right, the obsolescing language I mentioned is not quite extinct --
    that is why I said "obsolescing," i.e., in the process of become obsolete.
    It is not at this time being passed on anymore, and thus is likely to become
    obsolete/extinct. You indulge yourself in lamenting the impact of this
    process on "the people" and charge me with losing sight of them. If you read
    my email a bit more carefully, you will see that I did not lose sight of
    them at all: I reported explicitly that:

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

    As far as I know, there are no grammar books extant, and the only text,
    again as far as I know, are limited to one song.

    This may not conform to the certainty you seem to have about them, but you
    will at least have to concede that I did not lose sight of them. These
    "old" people do just fine using a current language and, as I say, view the
    old one as a curiosity. These "old" people grew up in a world where the
    obsolescing language was used slightly, they were never dependent on it.
    Languages do not come and go in a flash: it is a lengthy and incremental
    process of replacement.

    Languages that have a loose structure and linguistically permissive culture
    seem to let their languages mutate more easily than those with rigid
    structures or where the culture demands linguistic conformity. English is a
    great example of the former, though I must admit I shudder at the
    linguistically fadish approach to it that we see so much of today.

    I just overheard this morning: "Me and him gone to the store."

    Anyway, Bill, if you are involved in preserving obsolescing languages, I
    applaud you, and wish you luck. If you are seriously engaged in this work, I
    would very much like to hear about how you do it, and your thinking about
    the goals of the effort, and if there are any forms of obsolescing languages
    that are more valuable to preserve than others, or what the criteria are
    that you think should guide the prioritization of linguistic preservation

    Also, if you are a linguist, I could give you as much reference markers as I
    can remember on this, and you might be able to track some of down and get a
    better sense of where it is on that obsolescing trajectory. Who knows,
    maybe somebody has already moved to preserve it?

    Best regards


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of William Benzon
    > Sent: Monday, April 29, 2002 5:35 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: Saving the ethnosphere
    > 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
    > memosphere.
    > 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
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    > For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    > see:

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Apr 29 2002 - 23:52:01 BST