Language Loss

Many linguists view languages as not merely a collection of words. Languages are forming a living organism that holds the associations and connections defining a culture. With the decline of the language, the culture connected to it gets lost as well (Grenoble, & Whaley, 1998). As a result, the number of people who have lost their cultural heritage is increasing. In fact, language loss has become an issue of great importance to a number of heritage language communities. According to Tom Colls (2009), “6% of the world’s languages are spoken by 94% of the world’s population. The remaining 94% of languages are spoken by only 6% of the population” (p. 1). What is the most horrifying about language loss is that it seems to be impossible to stop this process of decline. According to Erin Haynes (2010), the loss of language can take place on two levels, “it may be on a personal or familial level, which is often the case with immigrant communities in the United States, or the entire language may be lost when it ceases to be spoken at all” (p. 1). As a matter of fact, the last model of behavior has become a very wide-spread threat in native communities in the United States, due to the fact that nobody else speaks their languages anywhere in the world. With the shift to English that takes place in indigenous populations, their native language is likely to be lost. In fact, the loss of indigenous languages has attracted a great amount of attention in such a field of study as linguistics in these days (Kenny, 1996). For instance, Michael Krauss, a famous linguist, has predicted that ninety percent of the languages in the world are likely to be lost in about a century (Hale et al., 1992). In addition, most of America’s indigenous languages that yet remain are likely to be gone in that time too (Krauss, 1996). Despite the fact that there is no official language in the United States at the federal level (however, several states do have their own official languages), in reality, the language of the nation is English. Therefore, this fact may be viewed as oppressive for diverse Americans. This research is about such controversial question as whether English causes language loss or not. Tom Colls (2009) argues that, “If we are not cautious about the way English is progressing it may eventually kill most other languages” (p. 1). This research topic is interesting and attracts attention as it is concerned with the daily life people are living today, and because it directly affects the efficiency of the future of the world languages significantly. Language loss can be influenced by a large number of factors. According to Henze and Davis (1999), the loss of language is often viewed as oppression. In fact, the United States has a quite long history of repressing the active usage of languages that were non-English in order to promote assimilation of the speakers in the realm of education (Hinton, 1999). Social and economic forces are focused on making English a priceless commodity to a great extant even despite the fact it may lead to the other languages’ exclusion.  It is impossible to disagree that English causes language loss due to the politics of English-speaking countries, globalization and social stereotypes.

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First of all, language loss is caused by the politics supported by English-speaking countries. Language loss often takes place as a result of suppressive measures (Fase, Jaspaert, & Kroon, 1992), and “it is therefore regarded by some as a human rights issue” (Heynes, 2010, p. 1). The author also emphasizes that Native American students are maybe the most shameful example of assimilation to English (Heynes, 2010). In the late of the nineteenth century, mandatory boarding schools had the purpose to eradicate Native American cultures and languages. The schools kept students away from their communities and families for years. They were often brutally punished for speaking their native languages (Child, 1998). In order to protect their children from experiencing such hardships, a great number of Native American parents did not wanted to teach the new generation its heritage languages. In fact, there are many more examples of oppression of other languages by English.

Globalization has also contributed to domination of English over other languages. According to Kumaravadivelu (2008), “globalization refers to a dominant and driving force that is shaping a new form of interconnections and flows among nations, economies, and peoples (p. 32). Talking about the danger of globalization, Anthony Onyemachi Agwuele (2008) adds, “Globalization creates a sociolinguistic behavior that favors the expansion and acquisition of mainstream languages at the expense of the less empowered languages that have increasingly become endangered” (p. 1). Nowadays, English is a global language of technology and science. In reality, some countries move towards the use of English as the main language at universities (for instance, Netherlands). According to Hieber (2012), “the problem with globalization in the latter sense is that it is the result, not a cause, of language decline. Another bad answer, encompassed in the former definition of globalization, is trade and capitalism” (p. 1). Thus, as English is a global language, everyone who wants to participate in world economics face the necessity of learning and using it. However, Tom Colls (2009) argues that there is nothing bad about such an aspiration, “as globalization sweeps around the world, it is perhaps natural that small communities come out of their isolation and seek interaction with the wider world” (p. 1). Nevertheless, such interaction does lead to language loss (Kouritzin, 1999). As English is the language of computing and the dominant one on the web, once again, people feel the necessity to learn it in order to participate in global communication.

In modern society, English has become a symbol of success, and this is what stimulates people to stop using their native languages. Because of such stereotype created by Hollywood and entire show business (Mamula, 2013), billions of people around the world “are learning English, sometimes at the expense of learning the nuances and unique attributes of their native tongue” (May, 2014, p. 1). The incredible rise of Western culture and the United States has contributed to making English to be not only a way to go ahead on the globe, however, it sometimes seems to be the only way that can help people get themselves out of the instability and poverty of their native country.

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As shown above, English does cause language loss because of the politics of English-speaking countries, globalization and social stereotypes among many other possible factors. This research argues that the use of English de facto is reinforced through educational as well as government institutions, radio, television and the Internet, and private business. People believe in the stereotype created by media that in order to become successful, one should speak English and forget his or her heritage. Over the history, English-speaking politics obtruded the people in their colonies and Native Americans to speak English, adopt their culture and religion. These days, the pressure is not that strong and not that visible as it has been before. To have an opportunity to communicate with other people, search on the web or work with one’s business partners, he or she just needs to know English as his or her native one. Indeed, globalization should be viewed rather as a destructive power that damages or even wipes out that what makes people unique and different. Constantly increasing domination of English over the other languages may lead to their exclusion. As language loss can be destructive to a community, it should not be viewed as inevitable. People still have an ability to save some languages. Luckily, a large number of dedicated people all over the world have engaged in the challenge of resisting the loss of languages in their communities. Despite the fact that these attempts may vary in resources, size, results, and goals, all of them are dedicated to specific heritage languages in order to let them be spoken by future generations.