Re: Saving the ethnosphere

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Tue Apr 30 2002 - 03:39:11 BST

  • Next message: Philip Jonkers: "Re: Saving the ethnosphere"

    Received: by id DAA15897 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Tue, 30 Apr 2002 03:45:04 +0100
    X-Originating-IP: []
    From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    Subject: Re: Saving the ethnosphere
    Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 19:39:11 -0700
    Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed
    Message-ID: <>
    X-OriginalArrivalTime: 30 Apr 2002 02:39:12.0320 (UTC) FILETIME=[362D1C00:01C1EFF0]
    Precedence: bulk

    >Subject: Re: Saving the ethnosphere
    >Date: Mon, 29 Apr 2002 17:35:00 -0400
    >on 4/29/02 2:33 PM, Lawrence DeBivort at wrote:
    > > "Mindless fool"?
    > >
    > > I think Philip is referring to the preservation of obsolescing
    > > 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
    >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
    > > one.
    > >
    > > I know a language that has now become extinct. I like it aesthetically,
    > > 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
    > > 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
    >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
    >as the motions of the stars. You both seem to have completely lost sight
    >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
    >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
    Name calling doesn't help anything. But I have some knowledge of American
    Indian languages and I have watched them disappear over the years because
    they are no longer of use to the people whose parents spoke them. The same
    applies to European and Asian languages that came over here with immigrants.
      They disappear from the lives of the children of the people who brought
    them because they are no longer useful to anyone. You can't use them to
    study in school or buy something when you shop. They won't help you learn
    how to fix a car or become proficient in mathematics or literature. They
    only thing they are useful for is to remember the old ways of people who no
    longer carry on the type of existence in which the language was useful.
    Language helps you cope with and exist in the society in which you live. A
    language that doesn't deal with such a world is doomed to extinction
    because, like all memes, it was chosen for its usefulness as a tool for
    living. When it ceases to be useful, it ceases to be used. When we no
    longer use it, we lose it.

    I base this opinion on watchine my wife and daughter lose their skill with
    Taiwanese after coming to America. My wife still speaks the language
    because she talks to a number of friends in that language on a daily basis.
    My daughter only uses it on rare occasions when she talks to her mother.
    But my wife has lost the ability to read and write the language and my
    daughter has almost lost the ability to speak it, simply because they have
    no real reason for doing so. Most of what they need to do in life needs to
    be done using English. My daughter's only child only speaks as much Chinese
    as was taught in a local college for two semesters. It was not even the
    same dialect his mother speaks. A year later he's already forgotten most of
    what he learned from lack of practice. None of my other children speak
    Chinese of any dialect. After my wife and I are gone, so will our family's
    use of Chinese. The same process is happening all over the world. I forsee
    a time when the world will only use half a dozen languages and perhaps a
    time when there will only be one, with several local dialects. That's
    memetic evolution in a nutshell.



    Chat with friends online, try MSN Messenger:

    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 : Tue Apr 30 2002 - 03:58:48 BST