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Vanishing Voices
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A dramatic account of the rate of language extinction, and how it endangers the future of biodiversity Few people know that nearly 100 native languages once spoken in what is now California are near extinction, or that most of Australia's 250 aboriginal languages have vanished. In fact, at least half of the world's languages may die out in the next century. What has happened to these voices? Should we be alarmed about the disappearance of linguistic diversity? The authors of Vanishing Voices assert that this trend is far more than simply disturbing. Making explicit the link between language survival and environmental issues, they argue that the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem. Indeed, the authors contend that the struggle to preserve precious environmental resources-such as the rainforest-cannot be separated from the struggle to maintain diverse cultures, and that the causes of language death, like that of ecological destruction, lie at the intersection of ecology and politics. And while Nettle and Romaine defend the world's endangered languages, they also pay homage to the last speakers of dying tongues, such as Red Thundercloud, a Native American in South Carolina, Ned Mandrell, with whom the Manx language passed away in 1974, and Arthur Bennett, an Australian, the last person to know more than a few words of Mbabaram. In our languages lies the accumulated knowledge of humanity. Indeed, each language is a unique window on experience. Vanishing Voices is a call to preserve this resource, before it is too late.
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Table of Contents

1. Where have All the Languages Gone ; 2. A World of Diversity ; 3. Lost Words / Lost Worlds ; 4. The Ecology of Language ; 5. The Biological Wave ; 6. The Economic Wave ; 7. Why Something Should be Done ; 8. Sustainable Futures ; References and Further Reading ; Bibliography ; Index

Promotional Information

Recipient of the 2001 Book of the Year Award from the British Association of Applied Linguistics

About the Author

Daniel Nettle is the author The Fyem Language of Northern Nigeria and Linguistic Diversity (OUP). Suzanne Romaine is Merton Professor of English Language at the University of Oxford and is the author of Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics (OUP)

Reviews

Creating an explicit link between ecological and linguistic vitality, Nettle (Ph.D., anthropology, University Coll., London) and Romaine (English language, Oxford Univ.) persuasively present the scientific value of saving endangered languages. Anecdotes, statistics, and graphs help address significant assumptions about why languages die and how a few languages have achieved world dominance. The authors provide useful background information and tackle underlying issues, some of which spurred another recent publication, Stephen G. Alter's Darwinism and the Linguistic Image (Johns Hopkins Univ., 1999). Among other books that offer detailed examinations of threatened languages are Endangered Languages, edited by Lenora Grenoble and Lindsay Whaley (Cambridge Univ., 1998), and Robert M.W. Dixon's The Rise and Fall of Languages (Cambridge Univ., 1998). Highlighting the wealth of scientific knowledge encoded in threatened languages, the authors promote not only bi- or multilingualism but also the economic and ecological benefits of cooperating with endangered language speakers. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.DMarianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

a "splendid and disturbing book." * The Irish Times (Dublin) * "Vanishing Voices is an urgent call to arms about the impending loss of one of our great resources. Nettle and Romaine paint a breathtaking landscape that shows why so many of the world's languages are disappearing and more importantly, why it matters. They put the problem of linguistic diversity into the wider context of global biodiversity, and propose the revolutionary idea that saving endangered languages is not about dictionaries and educational programs, but about preserving the cultures and habitats of the people who speak them. Along the way it's also a fascinating introduction to how language works: how languages are born, how they die, and how we can prevent their death." * Deborah Tannen, Georgetown University * ". . . this clear, cogent and immensely knowledgeable book. . . . Vanishing Voices is a book that needs to be chain-read, therefore: read it, then tell someone else to." * Prof David Crystal, THES * "Language extinction is a great tragedy for human culture and for scholarship on all things human. This fascinating book is the latest word on this important issue, containing a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. If we have the good sense to rescue the priceless legacy of linguistic diversity before it vanishes forever, Vanishing Voices will surely deserve a good part of the credit." * Steven Pinker, author of The Language Instinct and Words and Rules * Review from previous edition "[A] superb study of endangered languages.... The tapestry of supporting detail is every bit as compelling as the central thesis- from an examination of how indigenous languages function as museums of local culture to a history of the way in which dominant languages like English,Mandarin, and Spanish have vanquished more vulnerable tongues." * The New Yorker *

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