Friday, January 25, 2008

Way better than Econ homework

Almost coincidentally, WBUR (Boston's NPR station) featured two linguists this morning. The two apparently had their efforts to save endangered languages documented in a film. They travel to Siberia, Bolivia, and India and talk to native speakers of languages that are dying.

Based solely on the interview, as well as audio clips from the documentary, they articulate why languages become endangered and why linguists care to "save" them. Both are obviously very complex issues -- languages die in part because the speakers choose (due to social status, economic opportunities, discrimination, forced assimilation or whatever) to speak other languages. What academics and communities do with those languages once they're dead is also complicated -- there are a lot of success stories of languages being revived if and when communities want to revive them; but scientists (and people in general) can also learn from the worldviews that languages illuminate. (For instance, in the course of interviewing speakers of dying languages, they find a "new" and fairly intricate math system, based in part on 12 and 20.)

Movie #273 in my Netflix queue...

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