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Language in Danger: How Language Loss Threatens Our Future Paperback – 27 Mar 2003


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (27 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140290648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140290646
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.8 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,894,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Andrew Dalby is Honorary Librarian at the Institute of Linguists and author of Dictionary Of Languages (Bloomsbury 1998). He also writes on food. He lives in France.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By c-dog on 21 Jun. 2005
I read this book last summer, and, although it took the best part of two months to read, it is a highly interesting and enlightened account of a very real and almost insurmountable problem - the death of languages spoken by the human race across the globe. Dalby deals with the subject matter admirably, and he has evidently done a huge amount of research. I found it particularly interesting to find out more about the definite origins of languages, particularly English (to find out more, read "The English Language" by David Crystal), as it is such a mish-mash of influences, and he gives wonderful accounts of the Native Indian languages of America and various minority languages spattered across Europe, which one perhaps never knew existed. Anyone minutely concerned about the death of languages (due mainly to the influence of the English language abroad) or interested in any way in linguistics or foregin languages should give this a try. It's an extremely worthwhile read.
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The historical and continuing loss of global linguistic diversity is undeniable, but why should anyone bother? Taking a 'neutral' historical focus Dalby tries to outline why language shift occurs, making a convincing case why at an individual level people opt out of local languages or dialects and after a generation or so of bilingualism start teaching to their children a national or international language - increasingly English. Dalby suggests the erasure of language-embedded knowledge ('folk' medicine is the key example), the elimination of valid alternative perspectives/worldviews and the lack of opportunities for creative language mixing as the main losses to humanity as the numbers of languages spoken on the planet drop alarmingly.

The problem is that Dalby himself does not seem all that convinced - the almost-missing perspective is that language loss is a political as much as a linguistic concern. Minority languages are spoken by always marginalised and often oppressed groups. Portraying language shift as a personal 'business decision' rather than as the direct result of an attempt to stamp out an inconvenient culture is at best naive and at worst acquiescent to the worldviews of national power-elites or international free-market liberals.

Inadvertently perhaps Dalby delineates the self-imposed limits of 'scientific' or positivist linguistics. At last the Anglo-centric 'universalist' theories of Chomsky and Pinker, both essentially dismissing 'superficial' language variation as hardly worthy of serious study are now being challenged by Everett's Language: The Cultural Tool and others. However the 'trenchant' doctrine of non-intervention is still prevalent as its patronising view of language speakers as data sets to be mined for research papers rather than individuals and communities to be supported and nurtured.
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