Kids, Language & Brains

13May/17Off

“English Only” Isn’t Wrong; It’s Simply Unfair to Children 2

Children depend on adults to take the long view.  When adults don't do this, children--the next generations-- pay the price. In the US that too often translates into monolingualism, as if that's an advantage. Around the world, that translates into the importance of many native languages being dismissed and with more and more languages being placed on the endangered list. For all of us, this translates into a form of cultural impoverishment because language is a complex cultural asset, carrying a world view varying richly from language to language. When a language disappears, its cultural content is usually lost too. Some cultures are fighting to maintain and reinvigorate their natives languages: Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland, Welsh in Wales, Breton in France, Hawaiian in our 50th state, and native American tribal languages, to name a few.  As long as there are fluent speakers of a language, it is still a living language. Keeping languages alive is a mission. In what he calls a bit of a push-back against globalization, linguist David Harrison of Swarthmore College is helping the 600 or so speakers of Papua New Guinea's Matukar Panau create a talking dictionary so the sound, syntax and structure of their language will not vanish completely.  Seven other unusual vanishing languages are also being recorded this way. That's hardly a dent in the half of the world's 7000 languages expected to disappear by the end of this century.  Digital communication tools such as YouTube videos, Facebook pages, ¡Phone apps, websites and specialized fonts are providing a kind of life support to many endangered languages. Being able to see the word and hear it is huge," according to linguist Norvin Richard at MIT.  Reviving a long dormant language becomes possible because of the technically robust digital compendiums that have replaced fragile wax recordings and magnetic tapes. Prof. Harrison, along with other scholars, points out that languages are irreplaceable records of experience and diversity of thought, the many intricacies of which can make you question your own perception of reality.  Robert Lee Hotz, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18-19, 2012.

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