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Circumstances and causes around language death and if its changed over the years - Research Paper Example

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Circumstances and causes around language death: the Case of Canadian aboriginal languages. The phrase “language death” has a certain finality about it, but in the field of linguistics it is often quite difficult to define exactly when it has occurred. Crystal suggests a simple definition: “ A language dies when nobody speaks it any more” (Crystal, 2002, p…
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Circumstances and causes around language death and if its changed over the years
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Download file to see previous pages 2). This paper discusses the phenomenon of language death, and examines what causes it. Using the example of Canada, the circumstances which help and hinder this process are discussed. It has been noted that language is a very big factor in the formation and sustaining of identity, and that there is therefore a link between the survival of aboriginal languages and the general wellbeing of individuals and of the aboriginal community as a whole. This finding has been substantiated by a recent empirical studies in Canada, where there are some communities which have preserved indigenous languages alongside other communities where the indigenous language has is no longer spoken: “The common theme that cuts across all of the research efforts is that any threat to the persistence of personal or cultural identity poses a counterpart threat to individual and community wellbeing.” (Hallet et al., 2007, p. 393). Specific analysis of suicide rates in young people found that there is a correlation between the death of the original language in the local community, and suicide among young people. The reason why this should be the case appears to be the fact that there is a strong connection between language, culture and identity. Young people who grow up without being able to speak the language of their ancestors, or even that of their grandparents, experience alienation from their own culture, and this causes a rise in public health problems. Using the analogy of a “coalminer’s canary” Hallet et al. show how youth suicide can be a marker of cultural distress, and how this is related to language death. In communities where the indigenous language is not being passed on to the young, suicide rates are higher. The case of Canada is an interesting one, because there is still today a large variety of experience occurring in terms of the way indigenous languages have prospered or died off within a country that operates predominantly in English and French at the national level. In an article from the mid 1980s the examples of North American/Canadian Indian languages Micmac and Maliseet are used to illustrate the way that a whole world view is built into the very structure of the language, including concepts of time, the physical environment, the weather and personal relations. (Leavitt, 1985, p. 266) The indigenous culture embraces time as a continuous process, rather than fixed blocks, while the physical environment is perceived in relation to the speaker, and not to arbitrary compass directions. Weather is spoken of in terms of on-going actions, while relationships are ordered in complex subject/object interactional forms. These structural forms are closely connected with the landscape and lifestyle of the indigenous nomadic societies of previous centuries. The death of such a language causes a dislocation of the community from its traditional understanding of all these key areas, and this, it seems, is why language death causes so much cultural stress. One proposed cause of language death is the “killer language” theory. It is proposed that a language which is attached to powerful national or international forces can sweep over an area and wipe out all other languages in its path. Examples such as the imposition of European ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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