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

4.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: London: Penguin, 2003; First printing of this edition edition (2003)
  • ASIN: B000OQ80UW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In general, I found this book a good addition to the list of those publications dealing with the sad and worrying issue of the disappearence of many of the world's languages.
The author is obviously sympathetic towards minority languages and is trying hard to come up with some practical arguments for their preservation.
However, I found 2 major shortcomings (?) in this book.
First, it contains a (too) long chapter on the theoritical question of what language actually is and how languages have developed. While this might be of interest to some, it isn't directly linked to the main topic, and may make some readers put the book down with boredom.
Secondly, it deals in greatest length with examples of language extinctions from the historical past: Latin 'killing' European languages, English 'killing' Celtic ones in centuries gone by. Again, these are of some interest, but have little to do with the situation today, when minority languages face unprecedented pressure from globalization, television and universal education, none of which were factors centuries ago.
Therefore I think the present/recent examples would have deserved more detailed coverage.
They do get some to be fair, but not as much as they should.
As usual, the emphasis among current examples is on native North American languages, a group already spoken by very few only, and mostly doomed.
There are also interesting examples mentioned from Australia - but described as mere anecdotes.
Finally, this book does give at least some coverage to countries where most of the presently still existing languages are being spoken under heavy pressure from a 'national language': eg. Indonesia, the Philippines or Nigeria. Unfortunately the interesting and complex situation in these countries receives a far less-detailed coverage.
All in all, this book is interesting and will hopefully go some way towards raising awareness of this important issue.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars 3 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a bit too history-oriented 8 April 2004
By Laszlo Wagner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In general, I found this book a good addition to the list of those publications dealing with the sad and worrying issue of the disappearence of many of the world's languages.
The author is obviously sympathetic towards minority languages and is trying hard to come up with some practical arguments for their preservation.

However, I found 2 major shortcomings (?) in this book.
First, it contains a (too) long chapter on the theoritical question of what language actually is and how languages have developed. While this might be of interest to some, it isn't directly linked to the main topic, and may make some readers put the book down with boredom.
Secondly, it deals in greatest length with examples of language extinctions from the historical past: Latin 'killing' European languages, English 'killing' Celtic ones in centuries gone by. Again, these are of some interest, but have little to do with the situation today, when minority languages face unprecedented pressure from globalization, television and universal education, none of which were factors centuries ago.

Therefore I think the present/recent examples would have deserved more detailed coverage.
They do get some to be fair, but not as much as they should.
As usual, the emphasis among current examples is on native North American languages, a group already spoken by very few only, and mostly doomed.
There are also interesting examples mentioned from Australia - but described as mere anecdotes.
Finally, this book does give at least some coverage to countries where most of the presently still existing languages are being spoken under heavy pressure from a 'national language': eg. Indonesia, the Philippines or Nigeria. Unfortunately the interesting and complex situation in these countries receives a far less-detailed coverage.

All in all, this book is interesting and will hopefully go some way towards raising awareness of this important issue.
Because of the disproportionate emphasis on old history and the situation of minority languages in English-speaking countries, I would actually only rate it only 3-4 stars, but I gave it 5 to even out an unfair 1 star rating of a silly "review" (which has now been removed)long sitting below mine.
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much emotion and hyperbole, too little facts 9 Sept. 2009
By K G R - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Dalby is obviously an accomplished linguist and knowledgeable about the subject of languages in general. Dalby argues that Earth is fast headed to a monolingual future, and that we should take proactive measures to stop this. Unfortunately, like most of the literature on endangered languages, Language in Danger is inherently anti-English and anti-Western in nature. The author tries to refute the notion that speaking common languages is beneficial by pointing out that many wars have been fought between speakers of the same languages. Does he seriously believe that we'd all be better off if we needed translators to communicate with our fellow humans? Like other anti-English authors, he seems to ignore the fact that people from different parts of the world need a common means of communication. Dalby seems to wish that English was not studied globally, and similarly that more commonly spoken languages were less promoted. Logically, there is simply no other way (at least until the day when universal translators are devised) for people from various parts of the world to communicate. In an increasingly globalized world, members of minority language groups cannot live within a cloistered world of their own people and ignore the rest of us. While obviously minority languages are dying off at an unfortunately high rate, this has occurred throughout human history, and will continue to do so. However, the evidence by no means shows that the world will become "unilingual" ever, never mind any time in a few centuries.

However, the book does have its saving graces. It obviously brings the plight of endangered languages to light. There are great historical anecdotes detailing the reason for linguistic substitution both past and present. The author could have made this book so much better if he avoided an anti-English bias (one wonders if the author realized how many fewer readers his books would have if read only by native English speakers), and offered more practical solutions to the problem of language loss and acknowledged that languages at some point have always become obsolete and will continue to do so. While I obviously have serious problems with this book, if you are interested in the subject of language loss I recommend this book to you.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too little evidence, too much hyperbole 29 Mar. 2006
By DFG - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm VERY picky about my linguistics books because I've just read too many by hobbyists that turn out to be full of errors. Unfortunately being an actual linguist doesn't stop the author of this book making sweeping statements that simply aren't factual, or rubbishing statistics because he has a "feeling" that the opposite is true.

He predicts that English will be the only language spoken anywhere in the world in the not-so-distant future, and on what basis? His main "evidence" for this seems to be the fact that Quebec French is adopting English forms of speech. Absolutely nothing is put forward to justify the conclusion that English will replace French in France, though, or Spanish or Arabic or Chinese in the countries where those languages are spoken. Yet somehow he arrives at that conclusion anyway.

Dalby also makes shockingly racist comments about the Travelling community in England, and for all his dire warnings about the deaths of languages, offers no practical solutions whatsoever for how to prevent them - except that people should stop spreading English.

An easy enough read for those of us interested in the subject, but unfortunately contributes very little of substance to it.
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