Thursday, December 17, 2009

What we all lose when languages die

From "Schott's Vocab: A Miscellany of Words and Phrases," in today's New York Times:

French linguist Claude Hagege writes:

"Interesting conceptions of reality are embedded in dying or dead languages and their grammar, which should be saved from extinction (cf. On the Death and Life of Languages, Yale University Press, 2009 (pp.191-203):

• Initiatory languages (for example Damin, the initiatory language of the Lardil tribe in Mornington Island (Northern Queensland, Australia) ) exhibit a sophisticated blend of abstraction and concern for concrete details, which assumes a whole body of subtle mental activities, very suggestive for present research in cognitive sciences. The same applies to the existence of three or even four past or future tenses in certain endangered languages in Africa and Papua-New Guinea, each of these referring to a precise moment in time."

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