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I fail to understand the motive for preserving languages just ... how greatly impoverished are the lives of those who don't?

Much of the great Irish poetry is available, I'm told, only in the original Irish. I think that alone is ... am very glad I speak English and don't have to read Shakespeare in, say, French, lovely as that language is.

When I spoke of "preserving languages" I meant as living languages, not as objects of study. Since you and Donna both misunderstood my point, it's evident I didn't make myself clear.

John Varela
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It is often the case that two Indians' only common ... that English should become the language of business and government.

Yes, English or Hindi. And human beings are perfectly capable of using two or more languages, depending on the situation and purpose. In fact the majority of the world's population grows up in a multilingual environment. You may be in the minority, then.

So what?
I fail to understand the motive for preserving languages just ... how greatly impoverished are the lives of those who don't?

Ancient Greek has in part survived in Modern Greek, even if pronunciation has changed and new words have been added. ... an English-speaking-only India would then gain economic power. What they need is more education for everyone, not a monolingual masterplan.

"India should stop supporting or promoting the native languages and really push English. The only objection might be that it is a vestige of "colonialism". But who cares if it can make the country more prosperous."
Rushtown can speak for him(her?)self, but I don't read "stop supporting or promoting" as the same thing as "actively discourage".

John Varela
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I think it's usually more a matter of, not actively ... any choice at all. By this natural mechanism, languages persist.

Not always. It's common experience in the US that the first generation born here speaks the parents' language only poorly ... all. Do any of the native-English-speaking Americans here feel impoverished because their families lost the ancestral German, Italian, or whatever?

Although most of my ancestors spoke English going way back, the two "foreign languages" I know of are different from what you ask for, because these weren't cases where scattered immigrants moved into a largely English-speaking community, they were residents of extremely large, established colonies where that language was dominant. I have a line of six or seven generations "Pennsylvania Dutch" (German) I don't think I ever felt much emotional connection there, and I'm pretty sure they were speaking English by 1830 if not before. The other such language would be the Louisiana French.
Do I feel impoverished... I don't spend a lot of time wishing the past was different than it was, but sometimes I do feel a sort of wistful longing, wondering what we have gotten ourselves into, and what we've lost without knowing.
I don't understand. You and I and our neighbors might ... paper, but as part of a living, breathing, community culture?

Your response is tangential to the point I was (apparently poorly) attempting to make. What I had in mind was ... a larger view, there is little lost. Her descendents don't seem to care, or they would have learned the language.

This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. The way I see it, the last death of the last person of that society is not deeply tragic in and of itself. It represents, however, several centuries of fighting, massacres, plague, discrimination, etc, that has trailed off into this lonely old woman. (She probably outlived her children, which does happen.)
Anyway, that's a hypothetical example. I think the death of languages is an interesting phenomenon, but I'd rather read about actual cases than trade generalized stereotypes. Do you remember any particular articles or languages? I remember looking through a chapter in a textbook in a bookstore about the language death, and it identified a variety of social and economic factors as possible causes.
Anyway, we're all on one of the winning teams here, ... have something to say about the value of preserving languages.

Suppression of a language, which is tantamount to suppressing a culture, will of course be resisted. But when a stronger culture overwhelms a weaker the people will often willingly change languages.

I can see people willingly (or grudgingly) adding a language in order to do business with their masters. But I can't see them happily changing the language they use to talk to their children and old folks and friends, unless the extended familes are broken up and relocated, they are punished for speaking the old tongue, etc.
The Dutch have happily added English as a useful extension to their language, but Nederlands is still the language of daily life, child-raising, socializing, community activity, etc. (Except where it's Friesian, or, in a few places, a form of German. Everyone learns Dutch in school, but some still use their own language in their own communities which the government tolerates, even though it must be inconvenient.)
Think of the spread of Arabic,

I don't know anything about that. I'm afraid it makes me think of coversion to Islam by the sword.
or the replacement of Greek with Turkish in Anatolia.

Again, I know nothing about that. Perhaps you can fill me in.
If a local language disappears, the victim of a stronger culture, so be it.

Which is it, a victim of brute strength, or willing adoption? I don't think you can have it both ways. If the Chinese invaders suppressed English, that's bad, but if the Arabs dominate the local nomads, that's just c'est la vie?
Of course, there are invasions that lead to intermarriages and cooperation, and invasions that don't. Makes a big difference.
If I remember correctly, you have Louisiana connections, as I ... French, making it fashionable again, but the chain was broken.)

Would your father's generation be the same as my generation?

Oh, I don't think you're his age. He was born in 1921, the generation that fought in WWII. For his generation, French was forbidden in school, and English was held out as being the language of the future, of modern scientific life, of progress, of good jobs. (French represented poverty and all backwardness.) He said he could understand his relatives when they spoke French, but he would never speak it. He joined the Navy and got away from the bayou and sugar cane as soon as he could, and only rarely went back to visit.
It's fairly normal to be rootless and nomadic in US life, and I don't want to oversentimentalize the extended family and village life and all that but sometimes I wonder what we're missing.
I don't think Cajun French is dead. I'll be in New Orleans in a couple of weeks for Mardi Gras, and I'll ask. I have a suspicion that my cousin, who is himself 1/4 Cajun, won't know.

Best Donna Richoux
An American living in the Netherlands
Not always. It's common experience in the US that the first generation born here speaks the parents' language only poorly ... all. Do any of the native-English-speaking Americans here feel impoverished because their families lost the ancestral German, Italian, or whatever?

My parents were of the first US-born generation in their families. Both spoke fluent Yiddish and equally fluent English native quality in both cases (or so I have been told as to their Yiddish; their English I could judge for myself). I have written before of my disappointment that they, like most Jewish parents of that era, made a conscious decision NOT to teach their children Yiddish. There is much great literature in that language, and the Orthodox of Israel may yet succeed in reviving it as a supplement to Hebrew. Knowing Yiddish would have made it much easier for me to learn German I tried in college but never got past a smattering. "Improverished" may be too strong a word, but yes, I very much regret that they did not teach me Yiddish in parallel with English.

Bob Lieblich
Well, you asked
Robert Lieblich (Email Removed) wrote on 12 Feb 2004:
Not always. It's common experience in the US that the ... because their families lost the ancestral German, Italian, or whatever?

My parents were of the first US-born generation in their families. Both spoke fluent Yiddish and equally fluent English ... strong a word, but yes, I very much regret that they did not teach me Yiddish in parallel with English.

I agree with Bob. I wish my mother had not made a conscious decision to not speak Italian to her parents. Her older brothers and sisters all spoke it. I would have liked to learn it. My grandmother's English was quite poor and littered with Italian expressions. I'm pretty sure that my mother told my grandmother that she didn't want her to teach me and my sister Italian or to even speak to us in Italian.
My father's parents were also monolingual. I lost a lot of time having to learn German from scratch in high school and lost the opportunity of being able to speak the language with family members.

My number 2 son is fluent in three languages already, and I'm happy about that. His language abilities will serve him well when he gets to middle school and above, and when he finally decides on his life's work.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor.
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The Arabs invaded populous lands that had their own languages and strong cultures and traditions, like Egypt and Mesopotamia, and the old languages disappeared with a few exceptions like the Coptic spoken by the Christian minority in Egypt. Nowadays these Arabic speakers consider themselves to be Arabs, even though their ancestors were in fact Egyptions, Assyrians or whatever.
Similarly, you won't hear much Greek spoken in the former capital of the Byzantine Empire. Though these people all speak Turkish, they don't look at all like descendents of Central Asian nomads. The Turks disappeared into the population but their language superseded Greek.
I believe omething similar happened in Hungary as well.

These were instances of vigorous new cultures moving in and sweeping up the population to adopt the new culture, including its language.

John Varela
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The Arabs invaded populous lands that had their own languages and strong cultures and traditions, like Egypt and Mesopotamia, and ... these Arabic speakers consider themselves to be Arabs, even though their ancestors were in fact Egyptions, Assyrians or whatever.

Not exactly. When Egyptians talk among themselves about "the Arabs", they're not including themselves. They're proud of their part in Arab culture and they love their Arabic language, but they also know that they are the people who built the pyramids and that they had a vibrant, world-class culture when the Arabs were still culturally peripheral.
\\P. Schultz
My parents were of the first US-born generation in their families. Both spoke fluent Yiddish and equally fluent English ... disappointment that they, like most Jewish parents of that era, made a conscious decision NOT to teach their children Yiddish.

Since we are dealing with anecdoatal evidence here, I'll provide a few.

I had a coworker who was from New Delhi and his wife was a French Canadian. When their first child was born he said their plan was that he would speak only Hindi to the child, his wife would speak only French, and the child would learn English from caregivers and other children. A few years later I asked him how his experiment was going and he said, with a wave of his hand, "Oh, we gave that up a long time ago."
In my own case, my father was a native Spanish speaker but my mother was a monolingual English speaker. Since my father had no adult to speak Spanish with at home, he only spoke it at work (he was in the export-import business with Latin America). As far as I know he never tried to teach me, probably because like my Hindi friend he found it too much of a bother, especially since the other adult in the house couldn't participate.

Another anecdote. Some 25 years ago I was trying to staff a project in a Spanish-speaking country and wanted a bilingual secretary to work here in the US. Most of the applicants were US born of Latin American parents, who had learned their Spanish at home. They all spoke "kitchen Spanish", by which I mean that, all their education having been in English, their Spanish vocabulary was limited. A test I used was to have them translate a few sentences including the phrase "...this office approves..." Invariably "office" was translated as "oficina", which means the place where people work, instead of "despacho", which means office in the sense intended. I finally hired a speaker of kitchen Spanish she could still answer the phone and sent all my correspondence in English.

John Varela
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My parents were of the first US-born generation in their ... made a conscious decision NOT to teach their children Yiddish.

Another anecdote. Some 25 years ago I was trying to staff a project in a Spanish-speaking country and wanted a ... intended. I finally hired a speaker of kitchen Spanish she could still answer the phone and sent all my correspondence in English.

I recall a Greek PhD student all of whose university education had been conducted in English. Her English was passable, but distinctly foreign and a bit hesitant, and she struggled a bit with everyday fluency. One day she was asked what her Greek family and friends thought about her PhD work. She replied that they knew nothing about it, since she was unable to talk about it in Greek. Although a native Greek speaker, she simply didn't have the vocabulary to do it.

Chris Malcolm (Email Removed) +44 (0)131 651 3445 DoD #205 IPAB, Informatics, JCMB, King's Buildings, Edinburgh, EH9 3JZ, UK (http://www.dai.ed.ac.uk/homes/cam/)
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