The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #6 November / December 2013
Letter From The Editor
Price of Fame
by Erik Zidowecki
November / December 2013 | 

How many languages can you name? The average person can probably name a handful of languages when asked that question. A person who has an interest in languages could probably name a few dozen. A person _really_ interested in languages might name one hundred. Now that might sound like a lot, but considering there is an estimated 6800 living languages in the world, that number isn't really that impressive. It equates to only one to two percent of the world's languages really even being acknowledged by the people who like languages.

Now, this isn't really anything to be ashamed of. With such a huge variety of languages, it is only natural that a relatively small amount of them gain large exposure. But how did they get to that position? Are those languages somehow better than the lesser known tongues? What about the uncountable languages that have gone completely extinct? Who or what decides which become "important"?

I am of the mind that the aspects of a language have very little to do with its success, and that it actually relies almost completely upon the people that use the language. Languages and cultures are bound together, and so they rise and fall as one. If a group of people, be it a tribe, village or country is invaded and conquered, it is likely to find its culture oppressed and even wiped out completely, being replaced by that of the winner. There is a reason that Latin has had such an influence on so many other languages, and it wasn't because it had really cool declensions. It was because of a little thing called the Roman Empire, which dominated large parts of the world for centuries.

As a nation or people expands its territory, it makes its culture, religion, and language dominant. South America was full of indigenous tribes with rich traditions and tongues, until Spanish settlers found it and decided to take over. Through diseases, violence and religion, the natives soon found themselves to be minorities in their own lands. That became the fate of their languages as well.

This has probably been going on since before history was even recorded. The reason that English is so widely spoken has nothing to do with it being easy to learn and its uncomplicated spelling system; the British did a very good job of colonizing many parts of the world and forcing its _lingua franca_ on others.

Colonization isn't the only reason, of course. Chinese and Hindu have huge numbers of speakers, and thus have become "important" simply by expanding populations.

There is nothing really wrong with these languages becoming dominant, so we shouldn't start hating them for being bullies or just because others have died off in order for them to gain prominence. In most cases, it is completely arbitrary on the part of the languages. For example, if the Spanish hadn't settled South America, the Inca Empire may have continued to expand, and most there would now be speaking some kind of Quechua.

But we must remain aware that thousands of languages have become extinct or designated "lesser" or "obscure" so that a relatively few languages could achieve superstar status. Be kind when you encounter them, for it was only a chance of fate that we aren't all speaking Etruscan now.

Erik Zidowecki

Letter From the Editor
Writer: Erik Zidowecki
Petey: Godspeed replica

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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