Languages ​​not only serve to communicate, but to differentiate and exclude us

A few days ago I wrote down how irrelevant it is that linguistic diversity descends, as it is also irrelevant that it increases. Both one trend and the other have their pros and cons, and we cannot bet on any of the two without analyzing them conveniently.

The pros, however, tend to have a humanitarian and social nature (at best), or romantic, pseudoscientific and ethnic (at worst).

You are not us

One of the arguments that has been sent to me on Twitter regarding the aforementioned article, is that "languages ​​do not" die ", as if it were an accident, or as if better ones were imposed, power relations kill them unequal exercised after systematic impositions, prohibitions, etc. "

This is true, in part. We must not forget the socio-economic factors that support the languages, which the Yiddish expert summarized Max Weinreich: "a language is a dialect with an army behind". But the extinction of a language responds to many factors, even some that we don't even know. The purpose is to separate the truly worrisome from the extinction of languages: not the death of a language, but the fate of its speakers. Or as the professor of Political Philosophy of the University of Malaga points out Manuel Toscano: "What should concern us are the circumstances of injustice, oppression and poverty faced by so many minority language speakers."

Hurting people is wrong, but it didn't extinguish it from a language per se. Another thing is that we exaggerate the damage a person receives because he cannot speak his tongue. Is it superior to not being able to use the operating system with which you are familiar? The regulatory change of the English keys that they sell in stores? That Apple is such a closed and expensive system? That the novels recommended in the education system are other than the usual ones? That agriculture is robotized? That autonomous cars extinguish taxi drivers? That computer programming is a regulated study that offers more job opportunities than that of a Greek philologist?

An example is Latin, which suffered several phases of death, and each of them is infiltrated with innumerable motives. No one is behind his death. And if there were and that person would damage the speakers extraordinarily, he should pay for his crime. As I point out:

Would you like to encourage the learning and use of any tool and idea per se, just for the sake of diversity? Are you worried that people no longer cook with firewood? Or clitoral ablation? Are you alarmed by the lack of diversity? Does uniformation disgust you? For example: that we all meet the same traffic rules. Uniformation is necessary, diversity, too. You just have to define what we want more and less and in what areas. My article tries to explain why linguistic diversity is neither good nor bad. Uniformation is neither good nor bad. In strictly linguistic terms, it is irrelevant. But his passionate defense has something romantic, like the Luddites (...) You must explain to me, however, why you consider the language something different from a tool. Why a mechanical loom deserves special protection.


At this point, more or less scientific theories about the importance of a language can be launched. For example, which determines our worldview. Less languages, less diversity of worldviews. In reality, modern science suggests that the opposite is true: it is not the language that reflects the worldview, but the worldview that determines the language. If a language is adopted by a group of people, it will adopt the necessary changes to be useful in its socio-cultural context.. That is why Spanish is so different depending on the region of Spain that we analyze.

In 1940, Benjamin Lee Whorf He was the main promoter of the idea that language decisively influences how we perceive the world, as if words have the power to build reality. However, this theory has been partly discredited. What happens is just the opposite, that is, that the language rather reflects the reality of the speaker's world, and does so on the foundations of a universal grammar, as the linguist first proposed Noam Chomsky.

However, some languages ​​can partially influence our perception of things. According to a recent study, Greek has two words for different shades of blue, and Greeks are able to discriminate shades of blue faster and better than native English. Susan Ervin-Tripp, from the University of California at Berkeley, has also suggested that a Japanese-English bilingual introduces more emotion by describing a suggestive image if he does it in Japanese rather than in English.

If we know that we lose something, they are, at best, nuances. Losing them would be like losing the buggy, clitoral ablation, the Agora, the mega-philosophy, etc. Not to mention that languages ​​that die can be preserved very effectively: in a museum for etymologists to enjoy and study as much as they want. Why obsess with preserving not only one thing but the need to continue using it socially?

And the bad

Languages ​​are not only systems to communicate, but cultural identifiers. Languages ​​are often used as a system to exclude others and fracture empathic relationships. In New Guinea, for example, more than 800 languages ​​are spoken. Some are spoken in areas of a few square kilometers, and are as different from each other as French and English. In fact, its speakers try to change their way of expressing their neighbor's to increase the difference.

Almost 95% of the world's population speaks 5% of languages. And half of this population is concentrated in the 10 most spoken languages. Half of the languages ​​that exist in the world are only spoken by less than 10,000 speakers.

The value of cultural and linguistic diversity is taken for granted. We are facing a complete inversion of the biblical myth, where Babel ceases to be a divine curse to be seen as a true treasure that we can lose. But nevertheless, Are we aware of the price we pay for it? Are we not exaggerating? Maybe, and just maybe, we're not getting along our supremacist bias?

Video: How language shapes the way we think. Lera Boroditsky (November 2019).