“The Cosmopolitan Tongue: The Universality of English”
Saturday, February 6th, 2010 @ 9:30PM
Response to what people are saying about the John McWhorter article. –Article by Joel Deacon
Perhaps I just feel like being a devils advocate, but I would guess McWhorter’s opinion is not completely wrong. Moreover, in any argument one must acknowledge their biases, and the biases of a linguist might cause him or her to spout an ethical position that masks the selfish motive more true to her or his heart. Let’s face it, if there was only one language left, we would all probably be out of a job. Moreover, it is easy to allow personal interest to influence one’s ability to objectively view a situation. It is true that language extinction has often involved and continues to involve injustice, but this pales in comparison to other injustices.
Moreover, because that logic has some fault, one might successfully argue that it is other injustices that create the atmosphere for what we see as injustice in language extinction. Furthermore, as that point might not prove too strong, to encourage people to keep their native language instead of learning the more dominant, wealthy language because we want to study it is perhaps just another injustice. However, and this seems the obvious retort to what I said, why can’t these people in question just learn both or more? It is true that this can occur but if it were so easy then perhaps it would happen more often. Thus, I agree it can happen, but only when that group has the wealth and educational system to permit it. People have to judge what is most important for them, their language/culture or a new identity. Who is to say the new one will not be better, for that again is our judgment from the outside. A similar analogy is to tell underdeveloped countries not to develop because it will cause harm to the environment ,while we sip the champagne of our past development and meaninglessly speak ill of it.
Languages do divide. I have never seen two people become sudden friends because they spoke different languages. The opposite is not true. I know in some evolutionary theories of language change the idea is that the process will allow members of an in-group to easily tag members of an out-group. It is hard to justify atrocity to a being that can speak and it is harder when they speak the same as you: it is like killing your brother.
This definitely does not mean the loss of all these languages would be overall helpful for humanity’s collective future. We have no idea how different languages might affect our collective creative capacity. They may very well give us the needed perspectives to solve tomorrow’s problems. However, let us also not be so shackled by political correctness that we cannot question our very notions of what are acceptable scientific inquiries.
Read McWhorter’s article here:
Read what people are saying about the article in the “Discussions” tab of the FL Facebook group here: